So Where Did “That” Blog Go?

I wrote this blog out of deep frustration:

Aruba Blog

It went pretty far, pretty fast out into the techno grapevine- as evidenced by the fast-climbing blog stats, public and private feedback from others feeling similar HPE/Aruba pain, and the rather rapid response to my actual problem. So, I complained and something got fixed- victory is mine, no?

It’s not that simple. I pulled the blog down because I actually felt bad for a handful of folks that I care about, as they are left looking at my words born of frustration applied to a situation that THEY know sucks and can’t fix themselves.

Because the blog is down, let me summarize with less rancor for anyone who missed it why I put on my Mean Hat and purposefully used Words That Hurt.

  • Market leaders need to act like market leaders. If you buy a company that has it’s act together, you better have your own act together when it comes to the customers that you also bought. HPE has failed here in terms of their support portal and related issues in my opinion, based on my experiences.
  • There’s something wrong when everybody you deal with- as in everybody– from VAR to SEs to senior support to corporate folks all apologize repeatedly (and sincerely) on behalf of a process that is out of their hands and that leads to support being unavailable when you most need it.
  • Being a customer of a big networking company is not a privilege, despite big companies trying to foster that mindset through various glitzy conferences and marketing programs. This is pay-to-play, like any business. In a perfect world, everyone involved benefits from the relationship. But in the end, its the customer dollars that pay for all of that warm-fuzzy-infomercial-feeling stuff- AND the expectation that when we need the very support we bought, that it will be available without jumping through hoops. Deny us that, and priorities feel seriously out of whack.
  • As I mentioned in the blog that you can no longer access, I figure I’m down almost a man-week (or in my case, a rugged, manly man-week) all told since Aruba was ingested by HPE just trying to get access to the support that we paid for. Hence, my TCO now looks like (WHATEVER WE PAID ALONG THE WAY + 40 HOURS OF TIME BETTER SPENT ON REAL WORK).
  • Some of us do not have time to donate to vendor screw-ups. We don’t tolerate wasted time, hidden costs, or inflated TCO. Throw any or all at us and expect the fangs come out if we’ve been burned too often. We have to account for our own time to our own managers, and too much in the “wasted” category might mean we made a poor vendor choice.

So I had a lot on my mind when I penned the now-down blog. But as I interacted with essentially anyone and everyone who either fixed the situation, voiced support for my opinions, or shared that they agree and are doing everything they can to get through whatever odd force is at work at HPE that has led to “we’re still working on trying to integrate the Aruba stuff” this long after the early 2015 acquisition, I came to realize that these people are all as much on the losing end as customers like me are. Each of them had a good thing going when Aruba was just Aruba, and have been waiting for HPE to finally get it right. (And I hope they do, I harbor no ill will beyond not wanting to be jerked around.)

The blog came down simply to not heap insult on their injuries.

Through the processes and communications tied to all of this, I’m pretty sure that I heard (as did others- voiced in numerous conversations) that soon HPE will be restoring the Aruba support portal to being it’s own thing again. Hopefully that really does happen, and it gets handled right, for everyone’s benefit.

Ekahau’s Sidekick Changes the WLAN Site Survey Game

Some 15 years ago, I got my start in wireless networking. I had a year or two of pen and paper manually-recorded WLAN surveys, and then I discovered Ekahau Site Survey (ESS). It was a curiosity at first- but I’ll never forget the first time I used it for real and discovered how tremendously accurate it could be. This was Harry Potter stuff, long before there was Harry Potter, and it has become the absolute design and survey tool of choice for many a WLAN professional. Fast forward many years and versions of ESS, and the software (and company behind it) have only gotten better.

Now, we’re at a place where wireless professionals struggle to find the right adapters for survey and analysis work in an age where WLAN can run faster than USB adapters or even native built-into-the-laptop WLAN network radios. We also deal with inconsistencies across survey adapters, mismatched MIMO between survey adapters and WLAN hardware, and battery drain that comes with powering an adapter for long hours during survey and analysis projects. The time has come for a new  paradigm, and Ekahau is answering the call with their freshly announced Sidekick.

The prototype unit I’m testing is roughly the same size as a medium-ish access point. It’s comfortably wearable/carry-able in a variety of strap configurations, and connects to the ESS computer via a USB cable used to pass data from it’s own WLAN adapters (not the same as a USB-connected adapter, and the difference is important).  And it makes the already excellent ESS suite even sweeter.

Onboard the Sidekick is it’s own long-life rechargeable battery, and two enterprise-grade 2×2 802.11ac adapters. Compatible with ESS version 9.1 on both Windows and Mac (yes, that’s right), Sidekick makes the work you do with ESS faster, more precise, and enables a more test-instrument-like experience over the old USB dongle model paradigm. And forget about breaking Sidekick when you ding it against a doorway like with external adapters.

Sidekick shows like this in my Windows OS network adapters view:

Sidekick2

And like this in my ESS program:

sidekick1

Sidekick 5

The Ekahau Site Survey utility gains a new dual-band crispness that is uniform across any PC running it, and the entire package just feels like a major step forward in multi-adapter capability.

sidekick4

Whether a single Sidekick is shared among a couple of teams or several teams with a mix of Mac and Windows PCs all have Sidekicks, the new magic strips away all of the variability that came from a mixed bag of adapters at survey time while also providing long battery life (and a platform from which a slew of expected feature evolutions) which can only lead to better wireless when put in skilled hands.

And it looks darn pretty.

Sidekick-box-700x773

Sidekick is big news today for Ekahau. It was my pleasure to beta test it, and to also hear how the awesome technical minds behind the Sidekick plan on expanding its capabilities in the future. But that’s a blog you’ll have to wait for.

Pricing? I *think* under $3K, will update when I know for sure. More information, including full specifications, at http://ekahau.com/sidekick

The Annual WLAN Admin Nail-Biter

load

Riddle me this: what vertical sees this kind of curve once or twice a year? That spike on the right will almost triple in the in the next week, if that helps. Let me put you out of your misery if you don’t know… that’s the “back to school” client count at my big university as the Fall Semester gets ready to spring back to life.

For WLAN administrators in the education sector, there is a definite cycle of highs and even-highers (you thought I was gonna say highs and lows, you little rascal. We don’t have lows any more) associated with the academic calendar. Now that I’m in the thick of yet another upswing, I thought I’d share with you all what is on my mind (and no doubt the minds of many people on campus) during this couple of week period that comes ’round every year when it comes to the network.

  • Stability Above All. It doesn’t matter what the WLAN product specs are, are how fancy our organizational marketing is the WLAN is unstable. We stop making any significant network changes almost a full month ahead of the opening period, and rely heavily on the quality of the underlying code and build quality of all of bits and pieces coupled with our network designs. Stability is the absolute primary goal in my mind.
  • Scaling and Predictability. Our WLAN environment will serve almost 30K simultaneous devices from over 4,000 access points at the busiest parts of our days. All of our infrastructure was bought and provisioned for large client devices and future growth. But sometimes- even when we’re operating well within vendor spec- flaws emerge when thousands of clients get busy on the network. We have gone so far as to abandon features that introduce unpredictability at scale, because of the importance of stability.
  • Performance. You can have a stable, predictable network that really doesn’t perform all that well. We strive to provide network services that perform with such consistent zoom that they are taken for granted while being used and missed when our clients go elsewhere.
  • Ease of Use. A significant portion of our users are new every year, and have no experience with a secure, non-residential WLAN environment. You don’t get thousands and thousands of clients quickly on-boarded to that secure network environment if you’ve made it too onerous. The longer getting all of the various device types onto the WLAN takes, the higher the risk of customer dissatisfaction.

As I write this at lunch during the busy move-in week, things are looking very good on all of these points. Our trouble tickets are low, or support staff are in great spirits, and by our many barometers, our clients are generally happy. That’s not to say we’re “done”. Part of our annual exercise is also realizing that big numbers on graphs may not reflect that our clients are really and truly using the network in ways now- as they get settled on campus- like they will a week from now. As it is every year, vigilance follows getting to our big numbers.

Thanks for reading.

Transparency as a Service- Yes, Please

Whether it’s in our personal relationships or technical careers, honesty and transparency go a long way. None of us are perfect, and even our best efforts can be undermined by an errant cut and paste, a cocked connector, or any number of soft or hard goof-ups. You know the routine- fix it quick, own up to it, and have a talk with yourself (even if the boss gives you a free pass) about what you’ll do different next time to not repeat the error.

Transparency and honesty show character and confidence- you’re big enough to admit your snafus, because they hopefully don’t happen often. But take it in the opposite direction and your credibility goes in the toilet. Show that lack of transparency or repeat the offense too often, and there may be no salvaging your good name. None of this is news, right? And what does this have to do with networking?

Consider this message that many Meraki customers recently received:
Meraki Lost

In this case, I lost a handful of floor plans that had APs placed on them from just a couple of my many sites, other people lost more. Meraki came out with guns a’ blazin’, and basically said “we screwed up”. I like the approach, and I also value that the cloud dashboard provides a natural conduit for the vendor to push information in front of the customer. 

Then there’s this sort of thing, from Aruba, Cisco, and other vendors:
Aruba Sec

That one came in my email, and the proactive notice is appreciated as it saves me from having to go out and dig around. But… vendors can do more. Even in the absence of the ability to push notifications as with a cloud dashboard, they can leverage email culled from support contracts to warn of catastrophic bugs ahead of customers hitting them.

I’m not inviting vendors to spam us with every bug that any customer hits, as that does nobody any good and wouldn’t be practical. But I can remember a day when my environment was ground zero for discovering a fairly catastrophic bug that had profound implications for the stated capabilities of a given hardware platform. As best as I can tell, pretty much no other customers were made privy to the information, and I saw at least half a dozen cases over the next couple of years where the same limitation was hit (the product data sheet should have been updated to reflect the discovery- it was that bad and blatant). Customers talk and share information. This situation felt real, real sleazy from where I sat, and seemed a natural candidate for sharing with anyone who had that component on paid support. Instead, vendor credibility was bludgeoned.

I like these from Cisco, released quarterly (some Cisco-sensitive content removed from attached):
cisco code

This is something all vendors should be doing. At the same time- there is so much bad code out there, customers deserve better communications on what really shouldn’t be used. It’s just confusing as hell when the “recommended” code is several versions behind others that are out in the wild available for download. I propose crystal clear warning labels on the download page, and calling the non-recommended code versions “beta”, as they often feel as such.

In closing, whether “honesty is the best policy” is applicable, or “sunlight is the best disinfectant” seems more appropriate, you get the point. Enterprise systems just cost too much and budget-minded IT teams are being tasked with doing ever more with less resources. We need that transparency thing from vendors, now more than ever. It keeps us from making mistakes that can be prevented if we only knew what the vendor already knows, and keeps the vendor’s credibility in good standing- and that is one thing you can’t put a price on.

 

Catching Up With Netscout on Their Flagship WLAN Support Tool

linklive_solutions_smIt’s not often that most of us get to spend time with product managers at big-name Silicon Valley network companies. I’ve been extremely fortunate in this regard through my participation in the Tech Field Day franchise, and recently had the opportunity to once again hang out for a bit with Netscout, in their own offices. The topic of this visit was the company’s super popular AirCheck G2, and our host was the awesome Chris Hinsz. (Chris makes the rounds at a lot of conferences and industry events, and is passionate about helping to make the WLAN world a better place. If you ever get the opportunity to talk with him, I guarantee it’ll be time well spent.)

If you are not familiar with the AirCheck G2 yet, let’s get you squared away.

The G2 is Generation 2, given that THIS AirCheck is the follow on to the original Fluke Networks AirCheck. The division of Fluke Networks that developed the AirCheck was bought by Netscout, hence the vendor name change along the way. If you’re interested in a unique way the original AirCheck was put into service for law enforcement, have a look at another Network Computing article I did back in the day. But alas, I digress…

Back to Mobility Field Day and the G2.

Hinsz did two sessions for MFD. In the first, he provided an intro to the tester and the handy Link-Live cloud service for those who may not be familiar with it. The video is here. He also provided insight into advanced tips and shortcuts on the G2, which you can review in this video. Even if you own and use a an AirCheck G2, you just might find something new to try via these videos.

Aside from the two sessions referenced here, it was a pleasure talking with Hinsz and his team about what else is going on with the AirCheck G2. This awesome unit is truly one of the favorite tools used by many a WLAN pro given it’s versatility and portability. It’s a safe bet that we’ll be hearing more about the AirCheck story as Netscout continues to listen to what it’s customers need, given that we’re only a couple of years into the life-cycle of this tester.

 

Mojo Networks Touts Lower Networking Costs, No More Vendor Lock-In at Mobility Field Day 2

Mojo Networks never fails to provide an interesting presentation. Recently, I sat in Mojo’s conference room in San Jose for the fourth time in roughly as many years to hear what the company is up to, and what their vision for the future is. At Mobility Field Day 2 (MFD2) I found myself fairly riveted to CEO Rick Wilmer’s introductory session. Why? Because if Wilmer’s vision of WHAT COULD BE takes root, it could disrupt the WLAN industry (and beyond) in some profound ways.

Wilmer pulled no punches describing what the typical margin is for wireless access points sold to customers- 70%. That’s 70% per AP, times hundreds of thousands of APs generating much revenue for WLAN vendors. Wilmer sees a world where the advantage shifts to the customer when it comes to wireless access points, but we’ll get to that.

Then there’s vendor lock-in… I remember back in the early days of LWAPP (the thin AP protocol), I had very naive and childish visions of a protocol so sparkly-wonderful-special that I might be able to mix components from Vendor A and Vendor B on the same damn network. I was all a-tingle, for about 30 seconds. Then I was slapped with the reality that what comes out of the antennas might be mostly-standards-based, but there is and would continue to be zero compatibility between vendors under the hood. Ah well, I was a silly wireless child then. But Wilmer’s vision touches that as well.

If you watch the MFD2 Wilmer session, you’ll not hear a CEO harping on buzzy claims of Machine Learning and crazy wonderful feature sets. (That all comes later in Mojo’s other presentations, and even then what could be a Bucket o’ Buzzwords is really just incorporated into what Mojo does, versus the vendor hanging a bunch of impressive terminology in the air and hoping that you salivate over it.) Wilmer paints a vision of commodity-priced access points- and eventually switches and security appliances- being cloud managed in an open source framework where innovation is driven by the greater technical community instead of any single vendor’s skewed view of the feature world.

Cloud management, software-defined everything, and open hardware standards CAN replace bloated, proprietary systems as shown in different examples made by Wilmer’s team in presentations that came after his. The technical stuff is interesting, and you should watch Mojo’s story from MFD2 all the way through. But just as significant is Mojo’s idea of a new business model that flies in the face of convention, and could capitalize on the success of the Open Compute Project (OCP) in building white box data center components as that model stretches into wireless access.

It’s a fairly bold premise, and I applaud Mojo for taking a truly unique and interesting path. Hopefully they find some big allies soon to help push this vision along.

See Mojo Networks at Mobility Field Day 2 here, and catch up on all things Mojo at the company’s blog.


Some of my past coverage of Mojo Networks (and Airtight)