Aruba Networks has adopted network management software that will hook up standalone "fat" access points into switched wired networks - letting users keep kits that would otherwise be rendered "orphaned."

"As switched architectures develop, there are a lot of thick APs out there," said Gary Singh, senior product marketing manager at Aruba. "Some five million have been sold, and it's a sunk cost, now centralised architectures are the way to go."

Companies that have wireless in a few conference rooms, are putting it across the building and need a centrally managed system that handles roaming between them - especially if users are starting to access the WLAN for voice with handhelds.

To tie-in these legacy APs, Aruba has turned to the Airwave Management Platform (AMP) by ambitious wireless management company Airwave.

"We want to be the HP OpenView of wireless," chief operating officer Greg Murphy said to us. It already manages fat APs from Symbol, 3Com and the market leader Cisco, whose Aironet AP makes up the majority.

Airwave is in fact sold by HP itself to manage probes and APs used by its recently-launched wireless switch.

Aruba is not the only one to see the opportunity, but Singh and Murphy say their solution goes further.

Bluesocket (and its erstwhile competitors ReefEdge and Vernier) addressed part of that problem some years back, Cisco has launched a blade - based on its Airespace purchase - to integrate its Aironet fat APs, and Symbol launched a solution in 2004.

"Cisco and Symbol recommend you convert to thin APs, with a 'brain transplant,' that takes out the intelligence," said Singh. "But you lose functionality, such as security, since older APs can't support AES encryption."

Customers with a full coverage of fat access points, can upgrade to a switched network just by buying the switch and the software, and connecting up the existing APs said Singh, instead of ripping out and replacing the APs.

By so doing, they will slash the hardware cost - since APs make up about half the cost of a switched WLAN - and a potentially huge bill in man-hours.

"The other option would be to deploy both," said Singh. "But nobody is doing that. It's too complex. We make all the traffic flow through the Aruba controller, so the thick APs can be managed by AMP."

It might seem backward looking for Aruba to put this effort into lower value sales, to users with legacy access points, when we have been told the market for new wireless LANs is due to explode.

"It's a sign of the increasing maturity of the market," said Murphy. "You would say we had a hole in our head, if we didn't support legacy APs."

One early user, Yale University, is using AMP to tie together a lot of standalone Cisco APs: “This integration will save us time and money because now we can manage that older legacy environment infrastructure from the same console we use to manage the Aruba hardware,” said Joe Paolillo, director of network services at Yale.