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Aruba to make legacy wireless play

Companies will be able to turn fat Wi-Fi access points into more useful thin APs through a scheme Aruba will announce.

Aruba Wireless Networks will introduce a program later this week allowing enterprises to consolidate legacy Wi-Fi access points under a centralized switching system, using open-source software. The plan is to be officially announced Thursday.

The program is designed to help Aruba compete with enterprise wireless vendors such as Cisco Systems. It will enable businesses to centralize the management and security of both Aruba and third-party access points, or APs, the catch being that companies must use an Aruba switching system.

Aruba will make boot code for its access points available on SourceForge under an open-source license. The company is also launching a certification program to ensure that its code operates correctly on third-party access points. Once the software is running on an AP, the hardware becomes, for all practical purposes, an Aruba AP.

"The boot code runs on an AP and tells the AP to look for our switch," said David Callisch, Aruba's communications director. "Once it does that, the switch uploads a software image to the APs. It turns them into Aruba APs."

The program takes interoperability beyond the ability to exchange data and enables the switch to control functions such as power transmit levels, channel assignments and radio frequency, or RF, management, Callisch said. It adds functionality such as RF monitoring, adaptive radio management and wireless integrated decision support.

Aruba is not doing any of the code porting itself. If a vendor chooses to port the boot code itself--as Netgear is currently doing--the hardware can be officially certified under the new "Aruba Certified" scheme. But any developer can modify the code to work on any Power PC-based access point with an Atheros radio, Callisch said, though these projects won't get Aruba's official certification.

For example, Aruba isn't actively targeting Airespace or Trapeze Networks access points but says there are "no technical barriers" preventing the open-source community from running Aruba code on this hardware.

"We wanted to be much more aggressive than we're being, but there's a certain decorum needed in the market to do it correctly," Callisch said. "That's why we open-sourced it. We could have said, 'Hey, we're going to sell code that runs on Airespace APs,' but we would have been in lawsuit heaven."

Power PC-based 802.11 access points developed by Accton Technology and resold by companies such as Foundry Networks, Extreme Networks and Nortel Networks have already been certified, Aruba said. The source code will be made available on SourceForge March 14.

The result for enterprises should be the ability to move from standalone "fat" access points to a centralized system using "thin" APs without having to junk existing hardware, Aruba said. For access point vendors such as Netgear, participation in the certification program allows them to reach an enterprise market, Callisch said. Netgear doesn't currently sell enterprise-grade equipment such as switches.

Matthew Broersma of ZDNet UK reported from London.