Last week myself & @mrs_Bopp had the pleasure to attend the Aruba Networks Airheads conference in Nice France. We were there by invitation of Aruba Network resulting out of our work done through Haiti Connect to which Aruba had donated a substantial amount of hardware back in 2010. I had a good amount of communication with Aruba staff prior to the event and was really looking forward to the event. The fact that it was in Nice might have contributed to that also. The flight from Dublin to Nice was quite uneventful but the arrival was slightly dampened by grey skies and rain!! As we had just left a *sunny* Dublin this was not what we expected. Luckily this was compensated for by the welcome in the hotel which Aruba had arranged for the conference attendees. The venue was very slick and polished and the Aruba crew was all smiles and very helpful. We finally got to meet Jeanie, Sue & Bart with whom I had contact prior to the event. As our flight hadn’t arrived until 4 pm there was no opportunity to attend any of the Monday workshops but there was the cocktail party that evening to look forward to. We brought our bags up to the room, plugged in a multitude of devices to charge up and discovered that the *free* wifi was limited to 2 devices per room. The signal wasn’t very strong either. Clearly they weren’t using Aruba equipment
The cocktail party was very entertaining with copious amounts of food & drinks. It was great to meet so many different “Airheads” from all over the globe. At one point we were in a discussion with people from Ireland, the UK, South Africa, Saudi, Sudan, Netherlands and Austria. The discussion ranged from wifi to politics, the price of petrol, taxes and more. All in all a very invigorating and entertaining evening. Bed came at 1 pm and was very much needed after a 4:30 am start.
After breakfast and some excellent coffee Tuesday started of with a splash caused a James Bond type opening show followed by the opening word by Duncan Fisken (VP EMEA) followed by Keerti Melkote (Aruba Networks founder & CTO) who spoke about Aruba Networks’ Technology Vision. Keerti’s talk was very interesting as it gave a clear insight Aruba’s approach to the development in user connectivity requirements, device ownership, usage patterns and how to make all this manageable. (I’ll ad a link to the presentation when it is available online). Next there was a short break followed by a client panel on BYOD issues after which it was time for me to take the stage to talk about the use of WiFi in disaster response and about the work of Haiti Connect. I wasn’t sure how the presentation would be received but I can now safely say that it went down very well. The slick set-up with two monitors displaying the slides for the speaker as well as very visible timer made it very easy to speak in a coherent manner. I easily filled the 45 minutes allocated.
After lunch there were a number of break-out session giving some hand-on experience of different WiFi related technologies and applications. I first attended the one on “Designing Outdoor Mesh” which was a delight as it clearly dealt with issues such as antenna modulation, signal propagation, interference etc which area areas that are not covered often enough in WiFi network design. It also provided a good insight in the various mesh network topologies and applications as well as use of Arubas Outdoor RF planner. Next were two sessions on “Advanced wireless security” (interesting but I was starting to flag a bit and needed coffee) and one on “Clearpass access management”. The Clearpass session was a real eye-opener. Aruba is clearly on to a winner with its solution to the BYOD issue. While it allows for excellent user & network management the really impressive feature for me is the easy device “onboarding” which allows a user to easily connect to the network and authenticate after which pre-set network policies are applied according to user, device and application. This means less work for the network support department as well as the fact that users can do this in “remote” locations where there is no direct access to network/sys admin people. I can see this working very well in disaster response scenarios where a network is rolled out quickly and where a very heterogeneous user environment exists. Policies can be pre-set or easily added or changed by network admin staff without the need to come close to any of the users or client devices.
After a long day of seriously getting ones geek on it was time for some top class relaxation and Aruba had really pulled all the tops out on this one! We were bussed to “Chateau de Cremat” which is in a stunning location on a hilltop North of Nice with magnificent views across the mountains and the Mediterranean in the distance. After some Casino Royal themed entertainment we were treated to yet another excellent meal and some very drinkable wine from the chateaus own cellars. Around 10 pm the busses departed again and while some hardcore people wanted to go clubbing in downtown Nice we decided to go back to the hotel and have a few more beverages on the rooftop terrace.
Wednesday unfortunately heralded the last day of the Airheads conference but luckily it went out with a bang in the form of tow excellent presentations by Dominic Orr (CEO, Aruba Networks) and Mike Wiley (Manager Global Networks @ Google). Dominics presentation was titled “License To Win” and ran us through Aruba’s technical & strategical development right from the beginning to into the next few years. It gave an excellent insight not only in Aruba Networks but also into the market that it operates in. Mike Wiley’s presentation was titled “Google’s Global WLAN Deployment” but it dealt with more than that. It illustrated clearly how people require ubiquitous connectivity, how they benefit from this and how to best deliver this.
What I have come away with from this conference is the impression that Aruba is very much on top of their game with both their hardware & software products. Both are excellent product ranges which complement & support each other. There is the obvious debate about controller vs controller-less architectures but with the Aruba Instant AP’s they are moving in both areas now. While I’m very much a hardware kinda guy I have learned through experience that a network deployment & management tool which is intelligent and adaptive is worth its weight in gold. Aruba’s MOVE & Clearpass hold great promise in that area and I can’t wait to test it in the live environment!