Riverbed is synonymous with WAN acceleration, and rightly so. The company has been doing this, and doing it well, for a number of years now. As a little bit of trivia, the first Steelhead server was sold in 2004 to Environment Canada. But with so much of the world going mobile-first, Riverbed intends to keep serving their customers. There are a number of wireless AP vendors out there, so what characteristics make Riverbed’s Xirrus attractive?
Recently at Tech Field Day 15, we stopped by Riverbed’s offices. One of the first questions that delegates have when setting up at a new location is “What’s the wireless password”. In this instance, little did we know that we would be playing into the demo. Not that anything bad came of it, but rather it added a touch of realism to the demo (we’ll get to that later).
OFFERING MORE THAN JUST CONNECTIVITY
We’re all familiar with wireless network access. It has been commonplace for well over a decade now – heck, I don’t think kids these days would understand the concept of not being able to access the internet when not sitting at a desk. But, network access is just one application that a wireless AP can provide.
Xirrus is Riverbed’s wireless AP division. The APs come in many different sizes, which is great as they can be used to scale to fill your need. For example, Riverbed helped with the wireless network for Microsoft’s Ignite conference, which had 15,000 attendees in one room for the keynote. By using access points that have up to eight radios built-in, the number of endpoints that can receive services can scale quite high. Numbers like that make it clear that you can’t get away with your standard, off the shelf wireless AP from Best Buy.
Once a user connects to an access point, you can enable a login. This login may be a typical request for an email address, or it can also be tied to external authentication systems such as Facebook or Office 365. This is where the “extra value” starts to shine. This is when the user becomes a data point. If the same user signs on to multiple devices, you’ll be able to link them to all of those. From that point, you can apply policies at the user-level so they have consistent experiences across platforms and devices.
Everyone loves to see charts and numbers, but how might this be useful? Say for example you are setting these APs up in a store front environment, across multiple locations. Are you looking to reduce congestion in the aisles? Via the metrics available you can see where the congested spots are and look at moving displays apart to spread out the crowd. Are you interested to see if customers still visit the same displays after they are moved apart? You’ll be able to see that based on the data. You might find that %90 of the customers still visit both displays. This would be a great opportunity to put a “featured item” in the path between the two.
Another great use case that was presented was applying policies based on the company org chart. Say you want to ensure that your C-level execs aren’t hindered when it comes to their network usage, even if it is Twitter. By applying the policy to the user, and not the device, you don’t need to worry about ensuring you always know what devices the executive team will be using.
Deploying wireless is easy … in fact it can be too easy. Take a look at how many misconfigured routers are routinely put on the internet. Deploying reliable on secure wireless takes extra effort. The amount of effort is heavily dependent upon what solution you end up using. One of the goals of Xirrus is to take care of as much of that work for you. It does a good job of that with the help of tools like using existing authentication engines and cloud-based provisioning.
As with most components in IT, things evolve over time. Back when wireless networks were first coming out, they were all about providing access without cables. Over time we’ve started to see new uses that go beyond just basic access. Similar to how network administrators have been prioritizing VoIP traffic for years, those same administrators can now not only provide priority to key users, but start to show some value-add from systems that might otherwise been seen as “an IT cost”.
You can find videos from all of Riverbed’s Tech Field Day appearances at http://techfieldday.com/companies/riverbed/
Disclaimer: I was invited to participate in Tech Field Day as a delegate. All of my expenses, including food, transportation, and lodging were covered by Gestalt IT. I did not receive any compensation to write this post, nor was I requested to write this post. Anything written above was on my own accord.