HPN and Aruba: A Match Made in Heaven

By Frank van Breugel, Contributor
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From when I started working around the mid-1990s, HP Networking (ProCurve) had always been around with their switches. HP Networking (HPN) goes back to the 1970s, known then as DSD-Roseville. However, that was even before my working life.

It really became interesting when HPN introduced the purpose-built custom ProVision ASIC in its 4000M switches in 1998. This gave the company the opportunity to build affordable switches with features and performance right at the edge of the network. A very big advantage of a custom-built ASIC is the fact that it is programmable to add features into the hardware without changing the silicon itself. The ProVision ASIC was kept after the acquisition of 3Com in 2009. In addition, even when HPE acquired Aruba Networks, the ProVision ASIC was still “in the game.”

Apart from having the advantages of the ProVision ASIC, the bright minds at HPN followed their own path and philosophies throughout the years. A big differentiator in my view has been the architecture or philosophy in ports. Where most other vendors followed Cisco with port modes like access, trunk or hybrid, HPN back in the day decided to step away from that idea. A port is just a port, plain and simple. When you need VLANs on it, you just “stick” those to the port. No need to change a port mode when you want tagged VLANs. This approach is very easy today when you need to have multiple VLANs on a port via RADIUS Authentication. (The trouble you run into when it is not an HPE Aruba switch, boy oh boy).

Another differentiator is the way HPN looks at the noun “trunk.” They do not use it on the port modes directly, but a trunk (in HPN’s view) is a group of ports (static or LACP). I think this is a better use of the noun “trunk,” as it relates to the trunk of a tree, which gives the tree its shape and strength. I like this metaphor as HPN’s trunk gives the network its shape and strength. In 2009, HPN added a “small” addition to the trunk feature as it introduced distributed trunking, which can be seen aspredecessor for the modern MC-LAG found in the new ArubaOS-CX switches.

In 2002 a company called Aruba Networks was founded to take a different approach at wireless networks. They started creating central managed wireless networks, where a central WLAN controller manages all APs, instead of having to manage them separately.

A big differentiator Aruba Networks introduced in WLAN controllers was role-based access control, where every wireless device is assigned a user role upon connection to the wireless network. A user role can be seen as a mini-firewall that controls and protects the user’s connection to the network. This security feature is hardwired into ArubaOS, the operation system of Aruba’s Mobility Controllers.

Another big thing at Aruba is the need to make the configuration of the wireless networks easier and more accessible. It should just work like it is supposed to do.

Aruba’s use of GRE tunnels in both tunneled node and in their remote APs (RAPs) is a good example of simple, effective and creative!

In 2015 HPE acquired Aruba Networks, and the way it has worked through this acquisition proves the company’s ability to think different. Instead of retiring the brand name Aruba Networks, HPE decided the opposite: It retired the brand name ProCurve and rebranded the ProCurve switches to Aruba switches. A very bold move!

In my opinion, both companies have it in their DNA to think different and to be proud of being different. Let’s call them the “odd” boy or girl in the classroom that thinks outside the box. Being different gets you places nobody will ever get to. That is why both companies make just a perfect match, hence their first big new core and aggregation switches (832x/8400) are out of this world! HPE Networking and Aruba Networks have it in their roots to do things in their own way. I think this is a major part of being the leader in the market, a leader by nature.

What's Next?
Putting it all together will be my next post here, where I will write about the boundary between security and networking and how this is the ‘sweet spot’ for Aruba Networks.