Document That Small Business Network Environment- Whether You Are the Customer or Provider

Small networks can still be complicated. But too often a slew of information that should be recorded for the benefit of the customer and the technology providers gets overlooked, because… well, it’s small.  That is, until the environment needs to be troubleshot or serviced in some way, and big questions can arise from sloppy or lacking initial documentation.

See the article I wrote on the topic at IT Toolbox, or skip write past it and check out a simple version of a checklist you might use to get you started when making sure the important documentation basics are covered when buying or providing a small business network.

This isn’t meant to be comprehensive or all-inclusive, but it is the kind of information I make available to my own small-site customers. It gives us a common frame of reference, and empowers the customer to better understand what they just purchased (which I find they almost always have been frustrated with from “the last guy”).

Open Mesh Adds Switches To CloudTrax

I wrote about Open Mesh right here back in 2014. Though I run a number of “brand-name” networks that range in size from small to humongous, I also have a real appreciation for non-mainstream vendors that bring a compelling story. Open Mesh is at the top of my list in that regard, for a number of reasons:

  • I believe in the effectiveness of cloud-managed networking
  • I get tired of huge licensing fees
  • I don’t believe that every environment needs a feature list longer than my arm, and the pricing and code bugs that go with it
  • I like a company that empathizes with the customer when it comes to TCO, versus ramming contrived performance tests down our collective throats to justify stratospheric pricing
  • I like rooting for “the little guy” as long as that little guy is legit

Now, back to Open Mesh.. Let’s play a quick game.

Riddle me this: what model AP is in the following picture?


Is it-

a. Bluesocket (Adtran) 1920 AP
b. AirTight (Mojo Networks) C-55 AP
c. Open Mesh MR1750 AP
d. Any one of several other APs that look like this

The answer? It’s ALL of them. I currently have two of the Open Mesh MR 1750 3×3 11ac APs in test at Wirednot HQ. As you can hopefully see, Open Mesh has opted to use a fairly popular “industry standard” AP form factor (though the other APs listed are actually 11n). This decent-quality AP lists for $225 and requires NO LICENSE to use with the excellent CloudTrax dashboard (shown here).


CloudTrax is peppy, well laid-out, and suffers none of the browser wonkiness of certain NMS systems. Open Mesh has done a great job with providing cost-effective cloud-enabled Wi-Fi, and they have a loyal following despite not being heavy on advertising. That’s a good thing… which just got even better.

Now, Open Mesh has switches.

Like Open Mesh’s APs, the new switches are priced to sell and are also managed WITHOUT LICENSES in CloudTrax. Here’s my own S24.


Between the APs and switches, Open Mesh provides a lot of value. Though the product set is arguably lacking a router/gateway component, it still has to be experienced to be believed. It’s that good, for that cheap.

Caveats: I should mention that I’m not huge on the use of mesh in any WLAN setting. This is where one AP uses radio for backhaul to another AP to eventually find it’s way to the wired network. It cuts throughput way down, and can be wonky depending on the vendor. Open Mesh has a strong history in using mesh connectivity. While I’m a fan of Open Mesh, I tend to run every AP home-run with it’s own UTP except for the absolute rare case where that’s not possible.

In my simple testing, Open Mesh is standing up well to Meraki, Ubiquiti, Ruckus, and Aruba APs in what approximates an SMB environment. I’m not in an HD setting, nor am I attempting to do any sort of conclusion-seeking performance bake-off. At the same time, there’s been nothing I’ve thrown at the MR1750s on the S24 switch that they can’t handle as well as any of the other APs I run. I’m not advocating ripping out your enterprise network for Open Mesh, but I can say that it’s absolutely worth looking at and judging for yourself.




Am I the Only One That Thinks the Auto Industry Feels Like Government-Sanctioned Organized Crime?

I recently spent some time with a local car dealer. I told him that I enjoyed my vasectomy more than I liked being at his business, and I meant it.  The problem? Oh, there are a few to talk about. We went through two “sessions”, shall we say.

Session #1. Not Really Ready to Buy, But Wanting a Lay of the Land.  This one went as follows:

  1. Walk onto lot, no appointment. Very little real research done.
  2. Fairly nice guy gets a pickup truck ready for us to test drive.
  3. Drive said truck, we’re mildly interested in it but haven’t done the “new car thing” in a while. Let’s just see how the numbers shake out…
  4. Same fairly nice guy works up those numbers. As he’s running through them, we see MSRP, then price go down then price go up. and up.
  5. Confusion ensues, several attempts to explain it. We *almost* comprehend (between wife and I, we have 8 college degrees) but also have no desire to buy the truck on the spot, given “the numbers”. It’s late in the day.
  6. Same fairly nice guy says “we’ll just give you the truck at $500 over our invoice. You don’t have to haggle, we make $500. It’s easy! I’ll show you the invoice” Remember this.
  7. We say we’ll think about it. Then manager walks in, less than three minutes later and says “what’s it gonna take? We can probably move the price down some more, like maybe $500?”Hmmm… so manager just contradicted sales guy, because they certainly aren’t selling that truck with no profit. This point is also important during Session 2.

Session #2. Really shopping. Vehicle researched. Acceptable price determined. Back to dealing with these paragons of virtue.

  1. Point out vehicle to fairly nice guy. Inform of my desired price.
  2. Funny math ensues, guy goes straight to payments.
  3. I share that I don’t like that he’s skipping past “price”, ask him to slow it down.
  4. Math doesn’t add up, at all.
  5. Here’s where I get schooled in the bull shit- as in the excrement that comes out of a bull’s ass- that is car buying. Let’s employ a visual aid.
  6. So… you got your fairly arbitrarily assigned “MSRP”. Is SUGGESTED. You’ll never really know what the car truly costs. Why is this industry allowed to function in a way that the buyer is denied TRUTH?
  7. Skip down to “Price”. When you go to WalMart and buy shoes, you pay sales tax (most of us do, at least) on THE PRICE. Not so with cars. Price is not price, and you can’t win… Here’s New York’s approach:
    Calculating New York auto sales tax can be tricky. If you purchase a vehicle from a dealership and there are manufacturer incentives and rebates associated, the auto tax you will pay is determined by the sale price before the reduction.  
  8. Now fairly nice guy’s math is starting to add up, and it smelled really bad. Except his rather shocking math as presented including tax was legal. The way they deceptively bandy the word “price” around is both unethical and also common among dealers. I bitched and moaned that nowhere was any of this reflected on the advertisement. His answer, backed up by the manager- this is how everyone does it. (Or- we’re no sleazier than anyone else and the state gets their cut.)
  9. I say… then you’ll need to lower the MSRP. He says… we can’t do that. We’ve given you our best deal.
  10. I point out that last night’s “best deal”- that $500 over invoice- was completely bogus. Fairly nice guy says “Oh… the manager has access to dealer cash I can’t see”. Uh-huh. How about I just deal with the manager then? Why deal with a a lowly sales guy who can’t see what manager sees? And what supposed invoice were you going to show me, given what the manager had to say?
  11. Finally, I pissed, punched and sarcasmed my way to a deal that I could stomach. But I have no doubt I still paid too much- because I have no idea what this car or any new car COSTS. It’s all vagueness, games, double-talk, and lies. I don’t care how much research you do- the average schmuck is doomed.

Not only is the government in on it with the BS tax stuff, but our tax dollars bailed this industry out during the big economic crumble, propped it back up, and Congress did nothing to reform the sleaze that pervades.

Utter Gaul- the customer survey.  Fairly nice guy shows us his “I love me” wall. Lots of awards, because he gets such high ratings on the post-sale surveys. Really now?  It’s very important that we rate him and the dealership with absolute perfect scores, so he gets his next award.

Sorry to break it to you, Slick, but that won’t be happening. Where I come from, you don’t get gold stars for being part of a crime syndicate.

So how low is people’s esteem when it comes to car dealers? Do some Googling, see how many hits you get:

  • “New Car Scams”- 4,050,000 entries
  • “Auto Dealerships are Crooks”- 329,000
  •  “Auto Industry Scams”- 881,000

In closing, this is not the first new car I’ve ever bought. But I paid a lot more attention this time, and when you do, it really sucks. I don’t know how people in the sales side of this industry live with themselves as professional truth-distorters, and I don’t see how the government doesn’t demand reform on behalf of customers.

Did I mention that my vasectomy was more enjoyable than this loathsome experience?

Code Bugs Do Have Real World Consequences

I’m not sure if my expectations are just too high for today’s world. When I buy a new vehicle, I don’t want to see surface rust forming two weeks after it leaves the lot. I don’t like the current presidential election and the horrible choice that voters have to make. And I actually expect that network vendors will put out decent code, or at least be very up front and open when significant faults are found. 

You see, those significant faults have real-world consequences. They bring operations to a screeching halt, and diminish organizational credibility. And ill-conceived “work arounds” and cavalier vendor attitudes to the customer’s bug-induced plight just make matters worse.

Here’s a real-world example.

I had a carefully worked-out maintenance window to upgrade both ends of a site-to-site VPN topology that spans Syracuse to London, using my favorite cloud-managed vendor’s gear. I’ve done this procedure at least a half dozen times, and have installed at least 30 of this particular security appliance. My Syracuse work was coordinated with a gent on the other end, and we’d do one end at a time. But… we never got past my end.

I configured the new appliance with what few settings it needed: IP address, gateway, subnet mask, and DNS servers. I saved them, then I waited for the indications that the box had made contact with the cloud and pulled down it’s updates. But those indications never came.

Like many a networker would do, I went to verify that the settings that I entered were correct. Curiously, there were NO settings saved. OK- maybe I forgot to save… The second try yielded the exact same result as the first. It was time to open a support case- as my maintenance window ticked away and my partner in London waited patiently.

I opened the case, then immediately called the support line (for the sake of expedience). I was told that this particular appliance has a firmware bug straight from the factory and that I’d need to find a DHCP-served network to use because it won’t actually save anything you enter with out-of-box firmware. When I asked if this was documented anywhere, I was told very matter-of-factly “we don’t share that information with customers” and that it shouldn’t be a big deal to just use DHCP.


Most places I’ve installed these appliances don’t have DHCP services readily available, because ultimately the appliances use a static IP and eventually ARE the DHCP servers for inside clients. And, I don’t tend to lug around an extra SOHO router just on the off-chance I’ll have to jam something in that can act like a DHCP server to get around a code bug that my vendor doesn’t feel customers need to know about before they actually try to use the product.

Let’s skip to the end:

  • I got to use some of my best “military” language after I realized the gravity of the situation
  • The maintenance window was busted, and the scheduled change didn’t happen
  • I probably lost credibility with my London partner as I was the Guy in Charge for this
  • My vendor has absolutely lost my confidence given the bug, and the “you should just be okay with this” attitude. I’m just not sure I can trust them at this point
  • This vendor had my respect and trust for years, and those have pretty much been undone with this one incident

So… I dragged the appliance off to where I could hook it up to a DHCP server and it could get a firmware upgrade. We’ll have to do the same on the London end, and then reschedule the outage and maintenance.

Sadly, the examples don’t end here. Same vendor- different hardware set. Also dealing with a long-running problem with a feature set that absolutely adds to the appliance’s stratospheric price tag. The work around? Don’t use the feature. The feature that I bought- to use. It’s insanity, and it’s way too frequent.

And I can just deal with that, because code bugs are pretty much a way of life anymore with certain vendors.


Of Malfunctioning Boats and Wi-Fi Support

boats_230_odyssey_20742179I have an old power boat, and it has recently taught me a life lesson that very much applies to Wi-Fi support. Every boat should have a name, and this vessel is the Sweet Baboo. She’s a 22-foot Cuddy Cruiser, built in 1985. It’s powered by a 5.7L OMC motor (basically a Chevy 350). This is my first “real” boat, and it has humbled me… A boat like this is really just another vehicle to keep up, but it has mystique and mystery to the new boat owner and the passengers that ride on it, just like Wi-Fi often has mystique and mystery to many networkers and clients.

Just a bit more background, if you’ll indulge me. I consider myself a pretty good shade-tree mechanic, and I do everything I can on my vehicles when it comes to maintenance. I like to save money, and know HOW a job was done, in exchange for my time and skinned knuckles. But I do know my limits, and know when it’s time to get professional help.

Stay with me- I promise the Wi-Fi angle comes into play soon.

Something about being a new boat owner made me kind of silly. Every oddball problem this old boat has had seemed exotic somehow, until very recently. After all, every part on the thing is a “marine” component. It has a marine carburetor, a marine ignition system, a marine gearshift, etc. Which for a while made me think that somehow they were all forged by unicorns in Magic Marine Parts Land, and for whatever reason I’d get stupid when it came time to troubleshoot. I’ve seen Wi-Fi have the same effect on network troubleshooters… somehow everything they know about basic network troubleshooting goes out the window because Wi-Fi is also exotic and different.

Finally, working through one lingering, long-term headache I was able to get my boat mind right, and to draw parallels with Wi-Fi support.

I got through that problem, but I did some really knuckle-headed things along the way. I threw away money and time because my troubleshooting methods were not sound. I looked past “the basics”, and often got sparkly-eyed that my problem had to be some exotic marine thing, just like many people get sparkly-eyed and start dicking with controller settings, adding APs, and taking other fruitless steps to solve exotic Wi-Fi problems that often end up being not so exotic.

The boat problem? Well, Sweet Baboo would start nice, idle great, and run really well at low speed. Give her some gas to speed up this big beast, and the motor would stall or fall back to idle speed at 2,500 RPM every time. Put another way, I had crappy performance.

I went through the troubleshooting steps in the repair manual fairly diligently, but also (in retrospect) bit on many red herrings, hoping for an easy fix. But… even easy fixes can hide behind complex symptoms and pre-conceived notions. I fixated on “it’s GOTTA be this!” at least a half-dozen times after reading online user forums. In those user forums, I latched on to the sage advice of frequent-posters that seemed to be revered by the other folks in the forum. And it turns out they were wrong every time. Or rather, I wrongly applied their analysis to my situation because they seemed to know their stuff.

All the while, because this boat is an exotic marine craft, my brain refused to acknowledge that when I let myself apply sound troubleshooting techniques I have fixed a wide range of cars, computers, F-4 and A-10 aircraft, broken furniture, swimming pool pumps, blenders, and more over the course of my life. I wasn’t letting myself simply proceed as I would normally in the course of troubleshooting anything, because I had never worked on a real boat before. I made it into something it wasn’t, in my mind. I KNOW this happens in Wi-Fi support often.

I ended up needlessly replacing (or tearing into):

  • Every ignition component (some two or three times)
  • Fuel pump
  •  Carburetor
  • Shift cable
  • Electronic shift module
  • Throttle cable
  • Exhaust flapper valves
  • Fuel lines

I’m sure there were other things that I hosed up along the way, too. I broke things trying to fix things- but then again, I was dealing with an exotic marine situation so my buffoonery was OK, right? Well, no- it’s not OK. I’m somewhat embarrassed of my conduct, and I can’t describe the frustration I felt over two seasons of fighting this problem. But again, I have seen people approach wireless support in this same scattered, desperate way.

Anything and everything feels like a WIRELESS problem when you have a problem and happen to be using Wi-Fi. Those not trained or acclimated to the Layer 1 and Layer 2 implications of Wi-Fi can do really dumb, desperate, nonsensical things that they would NEVER do on wired networks. For some reason, we all have things that make us forget what we should know when we most need it. For me, it was this boat. For other folks, it’s troubleshooting Wi-Fi.

After replacing component after component, fiddling with this and adjusting that, I was SURE I had a bad carburetor. There was simply nothing else it could be. So I ordered a pricey replacement… and it changed nothing. Floundering around out in the middle of the lake after putting the new carb on the engine, I was livid. At me, at the boat, at the Boat Gods, and pretty much everyone and everything. I called my wife, and admitted defeat. I told her that we’d have to tow the pig off to a marine mechanic, and take our chances that we could find one that was reputable. But as I was limping the Baboo back to the dock, I had an epiphany. Two thoughts collided in my brain at the same time, and they would lead me to resolution.

I was filthy from repairs, hot from the sun, and pissed-off low-down feeling. I had dozens of hours, and at least a thousand mostly wasted dollars on this escapade. At my lowest, one part of my brain told me “Come on… you’re better than this.” And another asked “listen you schmuck, how would you approach a seemingly complicated wireless problem?” It might sound cheesy, but I was recharged. I pulled up at my dock with a plan. I WAS GOING BACK TO BASICS. This damn boat was the client, and I had a client problem. And it was a similar problem to hundreds of other boats/clients that I had read about online. The solutions were usually proven to be simple, and I empowered myself at that moment to start over, with simple in mind.

Early on in the troubleshooting process, I had pulled the fuel pick-up tube from the gas tank (a 60-gallon monster built into the floor of the boat). I had EXPECTED to find a filter screen at the bottom, but didn’t. Not knowing better, I assumed at that early point that there was no such filter on THIS boat. I was wrong- and simply looking closer at that pick-up tube a second time revealed that the filter was INSIDE the tube where you can’t see it. And it was gummed up with crud pretty good. It was letting enough gas into the system to allow for starting and low-speed operations, but was blocking the increased fuel needed at higher speeds. I had “looked” right at the problem before skipping over it because it didn’t match my assumptions, and at that fateful moment I also turned a simple fix (blow it out with compressed air and carb cleaner) into a two-season exercise in grasping at straws.

I’m not sure what specific analogy to make here to wireless troubleshooting, but I do know that THE ESSENCE of my boat problem and what happens when the unskilled or “blame the WLAN” types get involved with wireless performance problems are the same. Sometimes Wi-Fi doesn’t work because non-Wi-Fi components have faults, but if you lock on to blaming the APs or controller early on, you’ll often never find the issue. Assumptions, poor methodology, and not looking at the basics thoroughly and with an open mind can lead you down rabbit holes. It’s not fun when you do it to yourself, and I really should have known better after decades of honing my troubleshooting approaches.

Just like my boat really is not “exotic and mysterious”, neither is Wi-Fi. But to support either, you have to have the right mindset and not be afraid to just use good sense and thorough checks of the basics as you proceed.

But as I’ve just shown here, that is easier said than done- even for the best of us.


No Thank You, Apple- I Don’t Buy Your Slanted Views on News Headlines

My relationship with Apple products has always been a warm-cold affair. I (mostly) love their device build quality, but loathe that Bonjour hasn’t yet been scrapped by a company that now wants to be seen as an Enterprise player. I’m thrilled with the the under-the-hood resources that the latest Macs have for WLAN support types to leverage, yet I’ve spent more than a decade dealing with Apple’s well-documented Wi-Fi bugs and the deeply flawed “I have an Apple device, if it’s not working right then it must be your network!” mentality that the company has carefully cultivated. The examples are many, and I only claim them as MY OWN feelings on Apple. If you disagree, I respect that. We all have our own frames of reference, live and let live, and all that…

Now, I find myself fed up with not so much a technical issue regarding Apple, but one of politics and what I would call an abuse of power. This takes the form of Apple’s extremely anti-Trump/pro-Clinton views being force-fed to the masses that own iDevices.

I’m not “for” either candidate, as in my mind we have a callous asshat running against a career criminal (you figure out who is who in that equation), and both lie, empty-promise, and shape-shift their way through this gloomy time in American history. But Apple only generally targets Trump with it’s choice of “Siri Suggested” headlines, largely giving Mrs. Clinton a free pass on her own many transgressions and unfulfilled promises. It seems like negative Trump headlines outnumber any mention of Clinton by at least 20:1, and all Clinton headlines are picked from friendly (to her) news outlets like CNN. If there was any modicum of equal shame, I wouldn’t be writing this blog.


I’ve been watching this anything-but-subtle campaign go on for weeks, and I’ve had enough. I opted to shut Apple up when it comes to their attempted swaying of public opinion on the iDevices I use, and you can, too. Here’s how:


It’s this simple:

  • Go to Settings, then General
  • Select Spotlight Search
  • You’ll find “Siri Suggestions” is enabled- simply disable it

After this, you won’t see any news headlines on that “Swipe All the Way Right” page again. You can’t choose what news outlets Apple cherry-picks it’s headlines from, so I opt not to have them pick anything.

In closing- I’m not the only one not digging Apple’s approach to presenting it’s own news selections. A quick search shows many a discussion like this.

(Thanks for reading- and though I have no interest in dragging politics into my blog, I also don’t tolerate unfair play very well. End of rant!)