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Optical/IP Networks

Aruba Gets Edgy

Startup Aruba Wireless Networks has grabbed $25 million in new VC funding, is launching a new set of products, and is rebranding as "the mobile edge" company, in what it claims is a bid to take the market where top-ranked enterprise WLAN rival Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) "cannot go." (See Aruba Secures Funds, Mobiles.)

The new products and strategy build on existing Aruba software that allows users to tunnel back to their corporate wireless LAN using one of Aruba's "skinny" access points on the road. (See Interop Unwired.) The plan now is to "extend access to the corporate wireless LAN network across the Internet to any location," according to Aruba's VP of marketing, Keerti Melkote.

In order to do this Aruba is offering two new portable APs that can tunnel back over the Internet to its controller using 802.11x/WPA2 security for the connection, which is terminated back at the box, using a new supplicant developed by partner Funk Software Inc..

The $495 AP65 is a mini-model intended for business travelers, while the $195 AP41 is intended for users that want to connect to the office from home. "They will set up the connection to the corporate network for you," says Melkote. "So now the edge of the network goes where the user goes." [Ed. note: "Mobile Edge." Geddit? Hmmm, tough crowd.]

So who's buying this, and why would they need it?

Melkote says that the edgy new products currently appeal to those at the "executive level" who want the security of the corporate network and applications they use at the office -- like VOIP -- to be available at home and on the road.

The ability to do this has been enabled in part by the heavy focus on beefing up wireless security in the WiFi industry, to the point where Melkote claims 802.11x is good enough for secure connections over the Internet.

"If it's good enough for the air, it's good enough for the wire," he says.

The other factor, Melkote claims, is that wireless LAN will help to reduce the cost of this widening of the corporate boundaries, because companies will have to pay for fewer wired broadband connections into the home.

And this is where the startup, which is, by some counts, ranked third in the wireless LAN switch market -- after Cisco and Symbol Technologies Inc. (NYSE: SBL) -- reckons it can outpace its larger rivals.

Melkote says that the point of Aruba's rebranding is to highlight its strategy to use wireless LAN to build out and extend corporate networks until 802.11 becomes "the primary means of connection."

Over time, this would mean a reduction in the number of wired ports sold, which wouldn't be good news for present-day Cisco or any of the other networking incumbents.

"They cannot go where we're going, which is to leave the wired network alone, and reduce the number of ports sold," says Melkote.

Naturally, this strategy assumes that Cisco, which has taken aggressive strides into the nascent WiFi switching market over the last year or so with the acquisition of Airespace, doesn't have a complete stranglehold on the market.

But the firm's VC backers must have some confidence in the startup. The firm's newly announced $25 million VC round takes it to $84 million in total funding. The new round was led by Artis Capital Management LLC and joined by existing investors.

— Dan Jones, Site Editor, Unstrung

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