Aruba Networks has been a leader in enterprise-class wireless LANs for over a decade, and was one of the first companies to build scalable WLANs designed for very large deployments. As Wi-Fi technology has accelerated to today's 1.3-gigabit-per-second 802.11ac products, the requirements placed on wireless LAN controllers have similarly grown. Aruba 7200 Series Mobility Controllers feature very high levels of performance across the board, and models capable of handling more than 2,000 access points (APs) are available.
For this review, we tested the entry-level model in this line, the 7210 (running ArubaOS 6.2), which is designed for up to 512 APs and 16,384 simultaneous users. An eight-core processor, wired throughput of up to 20Gbps (large packets), and four 10-gigabit ports are all included in the compact, 1U rack-mount chassis.
The shipping box contains a quick-start guide that quickly connects a browser-based device to the controller for initial setup; the setup wizard walks the user through the configuration process. Our test unit was configured for stand-alone operation with campus (local) APs, but the device can also be configured as a master for other controllers and for use with remote APs as well. From that point forward, it's just a matter of filling in the blanks, covering the usual configuration (VLANs, ports, firewall, etc.) and policy information. Wireless LAN and access point information is similarly very easy to configure.
Conveniences such as a DHCP server and an internal authentication server are standard. In operation, changes to those settings should be required only on very rare occasions, which makes the 7210 truly plug-and-play.
Monitoring and status information presented during ongoing operations is robust and informative.
Why It Works for IT
IT organizations are now looking at trends in geographic coverage and AP density, traffic, capacity and throughput, and how those requirements will grow in an era of 802.11ac-based gigabit-class wireless LANs. Network management and operations groups should take a serious look at the 7210 (and perhaps its bigger brothers as well), because it's been designed and implemented with such capacity and growth in mind. It's worth noting
that this product serves both as a controller and management appliance, with all required functionality available through a browser interface.
Setup, as noted previously, is a breeze, and ongoing operations are well organized and easy to understand. That wasn't always the case with Aruba's software; earlier products could prove complex to configure. Now, anyone with an operational knowledge of wireless LANs and networking in general should feel right at home fairly quickly with this product.
Extensive documentation is available, and a quick reviewof the ArubaOS 6.2 user guide showed it to be well organized, easy to use and informative.
There are only a limited number of ports on the 7210 (common in WLAN controllers today), and SFP+ adapters are used (also the norm), so external gigabit-class PoE switches will be required. We recommend 10Gbps uplinks on these, matching the capabilities of the 7210.
Some planning for capacity is required in advance of selecting a particular 7200-series controller. A larger model might be desirable from the start to accommodate growth even if the current demand falls within the 7210's operational parameters. It's a bit noisy when the fans are running at high speed, but should be right at home in an equipment closet or data center.
Many software features are priced separately and require separate licensing, but it's easy to add those into the 7210 console.