Beacons Beckon in the Next Generation of Customer Experience June 10, 2017
Aruba Atmosphere is one of the coolest geek experiences to be had. Conference organizers go out of their way to ensure attendees are engaged, entertained, and educated from the moment they leave their hotel rooms for breakfast until they drag themselves back late at night (or the next morning). Not many convention facilities can accommodate the world’s largest mobility conference—especially when extra plans are made for a VR gaming arcade, extra space is reserved for tables of delicious hors d’oeuvres in the technology exhibit areas, and live, professional musicians open keynotes and perform in common areas during breaks.
Atmosphere 2017 was held at the Gaylord Opryland Resort in Nashville, which was the perfect venue in terms of size and amenities. But the Opryland Resort is huge. Bigly. Seriously, if you haven’t been there, it’s difficult to describe its enormity. Multiple, giant, atriums are connected by a maze of corridors to accommodate nearly 3000 guest rooms, 15 restaurants, 85 event rooms, and ballrooms as large as 150,000 square feet. Pleasing your Fitbit is the least of your concerns.
The Meridian mobile app platform, which Aruba acquired in May, 2013, is the industry leader in indoor, location-based services using Wi-Fi and BLE beacons. It aligns tightly with the company’s vision for enhancing user experience at the mobility edge by providing accessible and easy-to-use tools to create and improve mobile apps that engage users and the mobile devices they’re already carrying.
At Atmosphere 2017, not only were Meridian-driven solutions freely available to attendees, they were arguably indispensable. In my case, it took over twenty minutes to briskly walk from my guest room to the ballroom where the keynote presentations were held, and that’s only if I took the most direct route. With a mind-numbing maze of hallways, atriums, bridges, escalators, and staircases, it was quite easy to find one’s self lost or late.
Prior to the conference, Aruba’s planning teams created a custom conference app for iOS and Android that contained not only highly detailed (yet easy to read) maps of the entire property, they included blue dot wayfinding. This created an equivalent to “indoor GPS” via the placement of dozens—of not hundreds--of Aruba Beacons throughout the resort. Within an hour of my arrival, I gave in to temptation and installed the app. From any non-guestroom area (presumably as an attendee safety measure beacons were off-limits near rooms) my location was nearly pinpointed, and by typing in a search term or selecting a point of interest from a list, turn-by-turn directions were at my fingertips to ensure I didn’t miss a minute of the action. By integrating conference registration databases on the back end, I could even locate my friends and colleagues if they chose to share their location! Need the hours or menu for a restaurant? Meridian Apps make it easy to incorporate contextual data based on location. Not sure where to catch an Uber or Lyft? Just ask the app.
Not every retail or hospitality organization shares Opryland’s complexity driver for location-based services, but Aruba has made Meridian’s tools easy enough to use that much of the work can be handled by non-IT staff.
Meridian Editor has a new look if you haven't seen it in awhile.
Meridian Editor is a cloud-based hub of sorts that organizes and updates content for Meridian-powered solutions. Within Editor, AppMaker lets users customize templates to create cross-platform mobile apps in hours instead of the weeks it takes using traditional “from scratch” development methods. In addition to wayfinding, frameworks are built-in to provide quick roll-out of directories, list pages, calendars, web pages, etc. As such, the apps can transcend turn-by-turn directions and become discovery portals that surface rich, contextual content when and where users find it useful.
This combination of ease of use and flexible functionality presents practical use cases for a broadening set of entities. Retail stores could take advantage of Meridian’s analytics to measure the success of display racks, better understand traffic patterns, or use push notifications to promote targeted campaigns. Hospitals could build easy-to-use apps for guests to locate patients and loved ones to track vital, up-to-date information. Schools could provide easily updatable directories of facilities and navigation assistance to new students. For those who have already invested in mobile apps, the Merdian SDKs allow developers to incorporate these powerful features without starting over.
One caveat: Wayfinding drained my iPhone 7+ battery at an alarming rate, and several other attendees I spoke to noticed the same thing across multiple mobile platforms. Radio use represents a significant power consumption challenge for mobile devices (one of the main reasons we don't see more advanced Wi-Fi chipsets in our phones and tablets), so this wasn't entirely surprising. Still, the average user will be taken aback by a 20% battery drain in 30 or so minutes, so efforts to make this technology more power-efficient will be required for it to become truly mainstream.
Overall I was won over by the usefulness of Meridian Apps at Atmosphere and convinced of its potential in the market. I look forward to Meridian Apps solutions appearing in app store updates at an increasing rate over the next few months, and can’t wait to see how some of the more creative minds out there keep us engaged.
Cloud Management Central to Aruba’s Future June 7, 2017
A recurring theme at Atmosphere 2017 was that innovation at the Mobile First edge is occurring at a breathtaking pace, and the keynotes, sessions, and demo opportunities showcased that mindset everywhere I looked. This year I was part of a team privileged to attend several deep-dive sessions presented by HPE Aruba business units, and the developments around Aruba Central are too compelling not to mention.
For those unfamiliar with Central, it’s Aruba’s cloud-based platform for management and monitoring of its access-layer network solutions—specifically Aruba Instant access points and certain switch models. It’s a rather straightforward solution: Simply have the equipment shipped to a location where Internet access is available, and provide basic guidance to someone on-site (no engineer required!) on connecting the devices with patch cables, and within a few minutes the devices check-in with the Central cloud. Configuration can occur remotely via any modern web browser. The only other real ingredients required are DHCP and some reasonable firewall allowances.
Once configured, switches and access points are monitored with much of the same visibility as AirWave. In fact, Clarity has been incorporated into Central as a tab, providing rich insights into performance of devices and behavior of users on both the wired and wireless networks. If guests are having trouble connecting via a captive portal, or if DNS is having problems (because it’s always DNS, right?), Clarity surfaces those issues in a way the clearly identifies the issue and organizes the data so it’s actionable. Clarity also brings synthetic testing of the wireless network by allowing an access point to pose as a client device in order to gauge performance and test connectivity remotely before the real client devices even attempt to attach. These features are tremendous additions for many targeted users of Central: Network administrators who need to deploy and manage networks at scattered, remote locations such as retail stores, field offices, clinics, etc.
A Reporting tab allows a flexible array of reporting on network trends. These reports include network performance, PCI compliance, and security. They can be generated on-demand, or setup to run periodically and sent to a one or multiple email addresses.
Notifications can be configured to alert network admins to configured events of interest. These might include an access point going offline, rogue access point detection, or an attack on the network infrastructure.
One of my favorite features is integrated console access. Web management consoles are cool, and make life much easier when trying to summarize and visualize data or configure multiple devices via policy or template. But nothing replaces the good, old command line interface when it comes to sinking your teeth into a problem. And, no… menu-selectable commands don’t measure up (I’m looking at you, AirWave). Console cables don’t extend well over the Internet, however, so Aruba’s inclusion of an embedded, virtual console scores high marks in my gradebook of essential features. Without leaving Central, the command line is presented in most of its glory, without wading into flow control, stop bits, or parity.
As a big fan of web-based administration of infrastructure, the best part of Central from my perspective is that it represents the future of Aruba’s management, monitoring, and business insight solutions interfaces. Expect the things you love most about AirWave to continue finding their way into Central, and with Aruba’s massive investment in third party integrations via APIs, eventual connectivity with other great solutions that extend and improve functionality around guest access, security, and analytics.
You can read more about Aruba Central here, as well as sign up for a demo account where you can add your own devices and experience it yourself. Let me know what you think!