NetAlly Adds WLAN Survey Capabilities to Etherscope nXG

Step right up and don’t be shy
Because you will not believe your eyes
It’s right here behind the glass
And you’re gonna like it
‘Cause it’s got class

(Apologies to the The Tubes for butchering up “She’s a Beauty”)

It’s not a stretch to say that the Etherscope nXG has class. It feels good in your hand. And it tells you A LOT. It tells you things that you may not have realized you even needed to know about your LAN and wireless networks. And with every firmware release, it gets more powerful. Like a magic network Jedi in a well-put together hand-held tester.

I watched the Etherscope nXG make it’s debut mid-last last year. And then I saw it get better before 2019 gave way to 2020. Now, we see yet another update to this uber-capable analysis platform, with one particular feature I want to focus on:
Etherscope1

This is such a handy add, as it brings an important and very useful graphical element to the gathering and reporting of Wi-Fi signals with the new AirMapper functionality. Here’s just a tiny taste from my own environment:
etherscope3

Remember- this tool also works the LAN like a boss (including mGig switching environments), does the same thorough WLAN support that we’ve all come to appreciate from predecessor tools like the AirCheck G2, and now is making it’s way into wireless survey duties-  expanding the synergies between the powerful Link-Live cloud repository and the Etherscope nXG.

A quick video on AirMapper is here, and longer overview on the full suit of features in the latest Etherscope nXG is here.

It’s probably obvious that I’m a fan of both NetAlly and Etherscope nXG. One thing I have come to appreciate with the vendor and the tools is that they only gets better, with improved functionality always on the horizon. To that point, the current AirMapper abilities are the first step for the feature, with more coming within a few months. For example, NetAlly expects  to release interference heatmaps at the end of May to show both co-channel and adjacent-channel interference. We’ll also see AirMapper for the AirCheck G2, and both AirCheck and EtherScope will become collectors for AirMagnet SurveyPro.

Given the impact that the current crisis is having on networking budgets, it’s really nice to see a tool like this truly become an investment as more features are added.

Is Network License Becoming Predatory? A Lot of Networkers Seem to Think So

I recently threw this poll out on Twitter for 24 hours. I purposefully avoided defining “predatory” to let those responding apply the concept as they saw fit. Sure, it’s only Twitter, and arguably an informal poll. Those responding are assumed to be networkers in my circle of reach.

poll

Two hundred and sixty-four people chose to reply, and of those, 93% think that at least certain vendors are becoming predatory in their licensing methods. 48% say that the networking industry in general is becoming predatory. Only 7%, or 18 out of 264 respondents, do not see networking licensing becoming predatory.

My Take

I cannot speak for anyone else, but can share my own opinion based on over 20 years in the networking industry- mostly on the customer side but with enough time spent as an analyst and provider to have perhaps a more well-rounded opinion on the topic. Let’s start with a dictionary definition that I have in mind: to be predatory is to seek to exploit or oppress others. And to me, I would vote YES on that Twitter poll.

I’m assuming many factors influence how people answer a question like this. Again, I can only speak for myself. Longevity in the field means more opportunities to have felt exploited- like way back when I attempted to buy my first thin-AP network management system. I ordered it based on a quote provided by the vendor’s sales person (around $20K for a site license), and waited. And waited. And then queried about when we should expect it. The answer? “Sorry, we’re discontinuing that, now you have pay per access point and you are bigtime into six figures (like really bigtime)”. The fact that I ordered well ahead of the switch to the new paradigm meant nothing to the vendor, nor did our long-running history together. Pay up and shut up. That would be the start of almost two decades of FEELING exploited by vendors on occasion. Locked in. They say it, we pay it. A long history of this stuff makes you more sensitive to just how bad it’s getting today.

(I get that younger customers, and the just out-of-college fresh-faced vendor product manager sitting in my conference room may be oblivious to my personal history of feeling screwed over. Yet that history is relevant.)

The bigger your environment and the longer you’ve been with a specific vendor, the tighter the “vendor lock” can be, BTW.

OK, so those of us who have been around longer have seen more of the evolution of licensing, with each incarnation bringing more advantage to the vendor while said vendor masterfully spins tales of how the new model somehow works in the customer’s favor. Sounds great, until it doesn’t 30 seconds into the conversation. I’ll skip over a lot of the individual milestones on my own timeline of licensing frustration, but will report that NOTHING happens in licensing that isn’t meant to separate the customer from more of their budget dollars while frequently getting mostly buzzwords, promises of a better way, and hype in return.

If I was a marketer, I’d want to be in networking because the whole truth is generally optional, and you have broad freedom to weave ambitious tales hoping that customers bite…

 

You NEED this new dashboard- look at all the problems it helps you solve!
I don’t have those problems.
You MUST have those problems- because we have a new dashboard that solves them!

 
And so it goes. Except now marketing and licensing have fused into this convoluted, strange mess that seems to be the new industry reality.  93% percent of my poll respondents have issues with this reality. A few examples that to me are quite predatory:

  • The wireless survey tool maker who significantly raised their support cost because “we have a bunch of innovation coming”, only to raise their costs even more “because we just did a bunch of innovating!” But I don’t use any of the “innovation”- why am I paying for it? Don’t be a poop- just pay up.
    • The wireless vendor selling wallplate APs with mandatory license requirements for an NMS we don’t use. Stop whining, after three years, we don’t REQUIRE that you renew the license you don’t need anyways. See how customer-friendly we are? You want that access point, you buy that MANDATORY license you neither want nor need!
    • The switch vendor who now licenses individual hardware components. Now we buy hardware, then we have to lease what we bought or it stops working.

Bundles of BS

At any point when you have to buy something you don’t need or want, you are not getting VALUE regardless of how it’s packaged. A very popular commonplace methodology is to take every blasted feature no matter how minor and give it a grand name, to take every interface, every card, every everything and artificially elevate it in importance to where it’s worthy of its own license. Sleazy, yes- so to take the dirty edge off, lots of these now-fantastic offerings are combined together and priced less as a bundle than their individual artificially-valued individual components would be. The end result is a feel-good marketing ploy that makes you buy things you don’t need as part of some fantastic bundle that even the vendor’s own SEs can’t make sense of. Predatory? You make the call.

Innovation Is Defined By the Customer- Not the Vendor

Simply put, innovation is just a new way of doing something. Not all new methods are good for or applicable to a given customer, so to tout innovation as a justification for price increases, money-sucking license subscriptions and other unsavory-to-the-customer methods is very much predatory (and frequently tone-deaf). WE tell the vendors if they have delivered useful innovation. Not vice versa.

innovation2

Simply churning out new buggy products isn’t useful innovation, no matter how flashy the marketing is or who you pick from Hollywood to do your commercials.

Is Silicon Valley Is Becoming Leisure Suit Larry, Inc.?

Who among us loves going to the car dealer? You never really get to know what the cost of the vehicle is, so you haggle and fight for “your best discount” off of some arbitrary, agreed upon fake number. That discount will be different for you than it is for me. You have to pick your way through marketing buzzwords, try to fillet off the “add-ons” and hold your nose when you realize that you are stuck also buying B and C that you don’t want just to get A. You may also have to demand not to pay hundreds or thousands of dollars for “shipping” licenses that are nothing but a string of characters in email. It hasn’t always been this foul, but it does seem to be getting worse.
93% of people who took my poll agree, to some degree.

Draganfly Answers the Pandemic With Innovative Drone Application

draganflyAs I write this, it’s mid-April of 2020 and most of the civilized world is hunkered down in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic. It’s a strange time, but out of crisis often comes great innovation. One excellent example just came to me in the form of correspondence with a commercial drone company named Draganfly. A long-time leader in commercial drone platforms and technology, Draganfly is now bringing another powerful tool to the hands of those charged with identifying, monitoring, and responding to pandemics and disease.

Let’s get right to the money shot, as we say in the business- take 90 seconds and digest this video: DF_VI_News_Release_2020_03_25_02_Final – BIG Admin

Draganfly has already gone down the paths of drone-based delivery and even drone-based disinfecting of spaces and surfaces, but their new “pandemic drone” technology adds from-a-distance detection of a range of symptoms:

  • Coughing
  • Elevated temperature
  • High blood pressure
  • Sneezing
  • Rabid heartbeat

With purpose-built sensors and AI-based deep learning, Draganfly is basically equipping drones to be force-multipliers for disease diagnosis. There’s a lot to contemplate here.

In talking with Draganfly, they estimate a fairly short learning curve to use the drone platform in this new role. The operator will have to find the best angle, height, and distance to get the most accurate readings for the specialized software in use, but Draganfly has a proven history of success with balancing highly accurate sensing with ease-of-use.

The goal is to not only identify infected individuals, but also patterns in larger populations in hotspot areas (think NYC, Boston, and Seattle for example) to proactively identify new health situations or new pockets of density for known issues like Covid-19.

Currently, there are a number of “pandemic drone” trials going on, with wider adoption expected fairly soon. Though exactly how it may be deployed still remains to be seen, but I can imagine a number of government and private agencies and organizations being extremely interested in Draganfly’s latest.

This is one to continue following, says I.

If you are interested in other Draganfly goings on, have a look here.

——-
As a reminder, beyond being a WLAN and networking professional, I am also a drone enthusiast and FAA-licensed Part 107 drone pilot. Wirednot is a “mostly” wireless blog. Thanks as always for reading, and comments are always welcomed.

Chasing Down Errant Cisco APs

Some product sets definitely require more care and feeding than others… that’s all I’ll say in that regard lest I let go with the rant that is on the tip of my tongue. What I’m about to present is in regard to Cisco 3702 access points specifically on 8.5.151.0 code, although I have no doubt the condition applies to many models and code versions.

Problem statementThe freakin’ APs cut and run. They go over the wall, but they are real sneaky about it. They do it in a way that ain’t so easy to detect… Or in Cisco’s own words: “As per FN70330 – IOS AP stranded due to flash corruption issue, due to a number of software bugs an AP in normal operation,  the flash file system on some IOS APs may become corrupt over time. This is seen especially after an upgrade is performed to the WLC but not necessarily limited to this scenario. AP may be working fine, servicing client, etc, while on this problem state which is not easily detectable”. 

See this Cisco doc as the source of the above statement– and please know that I’m not saying that MY issue is absolutely THIS issue. Although it could be. There are are many fine bugs to choose from.

What it Looks Like, and What it Doesn’t Look Like.

Cisco rightly says that the “problem state is not easily detectable”, and I agree. We’ll focus on a single 3702 AP for this blog, but I know from first-hand conversation that some folks have been bitten by dozens or hundreds of similar free=spirited APs all going for an intent-based spontaneous joyride in the name of innovation.

Prime Infrastructure doesn’t show my AP as being “out”, and I have yet to find any reliable way to show this condition via any other reports in PI.  If you ping it, it responds. Look at it in CDP, it’s there. But… all is not well, sir. Not at all, sir. Despite the obvious indicators. This AP that has been up and fine and doing it’s job suddenly got cabin fever:

4704

So… the normal ways of finding out that APs are essentially out of service (like using your expensive NMS) don’t apply in this scenario, and you basically have to stumble upon it, or be alerted when users can’t connect to the AP- which unfortunately is a common canary in the coalmine when dealing with bugs in this particular framework.

Say there- did I mention that the AP never recovers in this situation? It stays in perpetual “Downloading” until you figure out a way to recover it. Value. Buy more licenses… because the one this AP is using is worthless while it’s in this innovative state of self-determinism.

No Resetting Through the Controller UI

It stands to reason that maybe rebooting the AP will get it back to where it needs to be. That’s a pretty common troubleshooting step. But you can’t do it from the controller interface while the AP is trying to go to a happy place that it will never reach.

4704-1

Allow me to digress…I like to think that when the AP gets to this point, it probably hears Soul Asylum singing Runaway Train in it’s mind…

It seems no one can help me now
I’m in too deep
There’s no way out
This time I have really lead myself astray

Runaway train never going back
Wrong way on a one-way track
Seems like I should be getting somewhere
Somehow I’m neither here nor there

Ahem. Back to topic. (But what a great song.)

Off to the Switch We Go

Being that we can’t reboot THE VALUE from the controller interface while the AP is riding the runaway train, we need to visit the switch for command line operations. Basically, we pull the PoE plug via command entry, then restore it (informational note: no innovation licenses are required to enter commands- yet).

4704-2

If all goes well, a couple of minutes later you’ll have an AP that has atoned for it’s separatist thoughts of independence and freedom, and you can welcome it back to the fleet.

4704-3

Simple Fix (Maybe)

I’m guessing that you’d agree after reading this that the fix for my situation was fairly easy. I’ve seen maybe 20 of these goofball 3702 instances in the last year, now more reliably found after my office mate found a way to poll them with some degree of success via SNMP using AKIPS.

day downloading

So… finding them may be harder than fixing them, depending on how you are equipped and IF you are dealing exactly with whatever nuanced issue I happen to have in play. But let me again bring you back to this Cisco doc on the topic of corrupt AP flash. Your situation may end up being a lot messier than mine, given the hoops mentioned in the document.

Catching Up With Tanaza- a Different Cloud-Managed Wi-Fi Company

Tanaza-Company-Logo-2There is life beyond “big Wi-Fi”, but many of us don’t have need or have the opportunity to check it out. One of the things I enjoy about wearing the blogger/analyst hat is getting exposure to those companies, beyond the titans of Silicon Valley. Things are interesting (if not downright refreshing) things down-market, This is where companies look to provide alternatives to smothering licensing costs and to restore some customer independence in an era of Vendor Lock. In that spirit, I recently caught up with my favorite Italian Wi-Fi company, Tanaza.

Simple, Cheap, Multi-Vendor.

tanaza2

Tanaza is a framework for managing wireless access points only. No switches, no security appliances- because not everyone needs or wants full-stack and the associated costs. Tanaza flashes a range of different APs (off-the-shelf and new white-box APs) and manages them nicely with a full-featured management approach. Their firmware is TanazaOS, which works with the Tanaza cloud platform and is also OpenSync-compatible.

The goal is to be “Meraki without the Meraki costs” (not my words) with sub $50 per-AP one-time license cost. Tanaza sees the value as being in their software, with access point hardware being commoditzed at this point.

I will be taking the Tanaza APs for a spin soon, will share the experience in future blogs.

Evolving Since 2016, Alliances With Facebook, Open Sync, others

I’ve been following Tanaza off and on since 2016. They are always evolving, and tend to be a great window into tech goings on beyond the mainstream daily flow we see in the US. The company is working with these partners on bigger initiatives:


I’ll have more to say about Tanaza after I have get the opportunity to set up their hardware and put the dashboard through it’s paces. Meanwhile, the company is very interested in getting feedback from MSP types and wireless professionals, so feel free to engage.

You can also try their full-featured demo, to get a taste of what Tanaza is all about.

Enough Already on the Licensing Overkill

Licensing

The product or service that you’d like to use requires mandatory Astute Licensing. If you’re not sure what Astute Licensing is or need more information, please purchase a mandatory Explanation License prior to having it spelled out for you in all of its bewildering detail. This provides ease of use for Gratuitous Complexity and Cost (GCC) license management, consumption, and tracking. It includes vastly simplified perpetual (as defined and redefined by us as we see fit) profiteering network licenses (both Hostage and Extortion) and term-based software subscription licenses (Exploitation Essentials, Hubris, and Ransom). The Exploitation software subscription licenses, in addition to native capabilities, also unlock additional haughtiness in Exploitation Center, enabling revenue extraction synergies that ensure our confidence in draining wealth for services that you may or may not use or want. In the spirit of innovation, we require you to ongoingly pay for a nebulous bean pot full of marketspeak, which shows our commitment to taking a bigger slice of your IT budget.

In order to connect anything to any other thing, Exploitation software subscription licenses are required for each 90-degree angle found both on and inside of individual product packaging. Anyone (defined as any noun) working on, using, reading about, or physically located within a stone’s throw (as defined by our Chief Exploitation Officer) of the product or service that you’d like to use must have an Exploitation license. Subscription licenses are purchased when a customer so much as accidentally finds our click-bait when looking at the online news. In most cases, this is not only a mandatory attach, but you are privileged to be part of our licensing empire and are expected to tip your License Concierge.

The product or service that you’d like to use supports several operational permutations. The specifics of each are irrelevant as you’ll be paying for all of them under our Exploitation framework. Under the terms of Gratuitous Complexity and Cost, eventually each customer will advance to the Stockholm Syndrome tier where all of this not only makes sense, but you will sadly embrace it. Upon expiration of the Exploitation software subscription license, we will redefine “perpetual” and come up with new strategies to market solutions in search of problems that customers will pay for because we leave little practical choice, but not need or want.

Note that it is not required to deploy Exploitation Center (EC), but licenses for EC are still mandatory under our “Only Buy What You Don’t Need or Use And What You Actually Do” strategy.

Managing licenses with Gratuitous Cost and Complexity Accounts

Creating Astute Accounts by using the Astute Manager enables us to be all up in your business in exciting new ways. It’s like having a virtual license Nazi in-house who radios his superiors about your license usage 24/7 on his own little clandestine shortwave radio while pretending to maybe be your mechanic or drinking buddy. Astute Manager requires it’s own licensing framework, which can’t be shared without purchase of Explanation License.

Welcome to the new reality.

Respect Your Physical Layer

At the risk of sounding cheesy, I have a confession to make. I freakin’ love the physical layer of networking. I learned it well over 20 years ago, and I learned it from the best (thankfully I still work with those gents, though a couple of us have changed roles). The tools are elegant, the test equipment is fascinating, and you have to be daft to not appreciate the importance of a high-performing network foundation. I see each UTP and fiber run as it’s own network component, and I have the utmost respect for the men and women who make a living getting this stuff right for the rest of us. Here in my neck of the woods, we have some challenging old buildings, and the physical layer gets a lot more difficult than lifting tiles in a drop ceiling and heaving a coil across the grid.

cable2

Get your cabling right, lest it bite you in the afterior.

I don’t run a lot of cable anymore, as my networking career has taken me into the engineering and architect realms in my day job. But “on the side”, I have a small company and the occasional need to revisit my physical layer skills.

 

Murphy’s Law

Last week at a customer site, I ran some new UTP. We got an ISP upgrade from coax service to fiber and despite explicit instructions, good old Spectrum dropped the new fiber service in the wrong room. Thankfully there was pathway between the wrong room and our network area upstairs, but the seemingly simple task  of connecting the two would prove to be challenging for a number of reasons.

I formulated a plan to run the cable and cut over the network to the new ISP connection on a weeknight evening. The business closed at 8 PM, and I figured I’d run the cable at 7 PM and be cutover and out of there by 8:30… easy-peasy lemon squeezy. Ah, silly me. The first of a handful of issues hit when I was gathering my tools. It would seem that my vintage 200′ fish tape had decided it was tired of my abuse on rural plumbing projects and being put away wet as it was broken in ways I’ve never seen from a fish tape, just sitting there on the shelf. Hmmm- I also have a 50-footer, a cheap plastic thing. It’s a short run! This should work. You know where this is going, but stay with me.

It turns out the 3/4″ plastic pathway I had to work with was, well, let’s just say shit. It must have had 42 bends in it, and after getting maybe 20′ of my Plan B fish tape in the Pipe From Hell, I’m pretty sure they both would have broke if I pushed any further. Fine, whatever. I’m resourceful. I found another unused cable that was in a parallel pathway that was extremely hard to see given the odd layout of the room. Sweet! It turned out I had already terminated the other end years ago, when the building was new and the electrician roughed in the UTP. This was one that I could not find back then…

Throw a jack on the end, tone it out, put it in a single-gang box connect it all up and off we go, right? Yeah, if only… I mentioned getting into this at 7 PM- I had gotten up at 5:30 AM that day and was tired. Things were already not going according to plan, so now I’m scrambling to hurry. My good tester got left at home, so I went the lazy route and checked the new cable with my venerable Siemens STM-8. It’s a wonderful tool for wire-mapping, toning copper runs out, etc- but it’s hardly qualified to properly test a cable’s capabilities. But it’s what I had on hand. The cable “tested” good (wink wink) and it was time to take on the ISP thing. The fiber service was changed to copper in a funky little transceiver box, and I connected my laptop to it in test, via the new cable I just assembled (it was 61′, BTW- my cheap fish wouldn’t have got me there anyways).

The new ISP worked great on my laptop. Then failed miserably on the actual network equipment- a Meraki MX84.

What Gives? The Physical Layer Can Screw With Your Mind

It’s now after 9 PM. I rechecked the cable, end to end- it pinned out fine. I verified my laptop could use the new service. I verified the networking gear could not. DAMMIT IT MUST BE A SPECTRUM ISSUE. Those idiots must have some sort of Advanced Security screwing up my Meraki MX connection to the cloud. Call the vendor!

Nope.

DAMMIT IT MUST BE A MERAKI ISSUE, THE STUPID SECOND WAN PORT ON THIS MX IS BAD. Call the vendor!

Nope. Ruled that out.

It’s 10:30 PM. Customer is tired. I’m tired. I leave them on the old service, we both cuss our way to our vehicles and go home. As I drift off to sleepy goodnights, my mind is on that cable. (I also assumed my laptop was negotiating some oddball speed/duplex combo that the MX84 could not do).

Next day I get to the customer site very early, before opening. I know what I have to do. For sanity’s sake, I use yet a different simple pair mapper to show that yes, I have 8 pins going end to end. Then I throw on The Big Tester. It laughs at me. It tells me that not only will this 61′ cable NOT do Gigabit, it also won’t do 100 Mbps. Oh yeah- it mentions something is wrong with the pin 3 wire. Wowsers. Bad jack? I’m desperate. Let’s re-terminate the patch-panel end and put a new jack on. But start with the field end, hoping to not have to disturb the patch-panel.

I took apart the just-installed jack, and everything LOOKED good. Crappy circuit board in the jack? Gotta be, no pins are bent. And then… I found Mr. White/Green was hanging on by the threadiest of copper threads under it’s plastic coating about half an inch from the end of the wire. Visually it was fine, and the plastic coating was undisturbed, but the copper inside had somehow broke but not so bad that it couldn’t fool the cheap testers. Cut it back a couple of inches, start over… viola!

Ten minutes later, the physical layer was good, PROPERLY TESTED, and the new ISP connection was put into service.

Common Impacts of Poor or Damaged Cabling

My outing was a little trippy, and only reaffirmed my faith in good tools and techniques. (I also questioned the wisdom of getting into this 14 hours into the day.)

Know that cabling also gets weird long after it’s installed, even when it’s installed right. Wiremold covers gets manipulated, new cables can disturb old ones, other trades can ruin life for the data folks and countless other things happen. I didn’t have to look very hard across the environments I support to find the three graphics I used for this blog- two wireless access points and a CCTV camera that ought to be running at Gig, but that are currently operating on a lesser connection because of unknown cabling issues (I know that each of these was Gig once upon a time).

cable1cable3

Respect that physical layer, ya’ll. It’s easy to take for granted, but it can also turn on you.