Contemplating Lofty WLAN Things To Come

Don’t think me pie-eyed, or off-kilter. The following comes from having a good long break at the holidays, crappy weather, and lots of books to read. Books on wireless. Books on Software Defined Networking. Books on IPv6. Management books. Some cloud networking articles. And a book about American nurses and medics trapped behind enemy lines in Albania during WWII. (OK, that last one has nothing to do with this post.) Put it all together, and dare to let the mind wander forward… and you may start feeling the same dull, painful throb in the head that I’m feeling.

Why the angst on my part? I’m a WLAN architect, system admin, troubleshooter, advocate, defender, and realist. I’m also a network engineer that has to have a solid grasp of things on the wired side of the enterprise. I’m fairly innovative, and regularly have to create solutions where there are no obvious solutions to be had, and also am trusted to know where creativity ends and folly starts. I love my work, and also am cursed/blessed with being a big picture guy.

My boss is rightfully pushing my colleagues and I to get up to snuff on SDN. Like many, we’re starting with a Data Center-centric SDN philosophy as we get used to the idea. We’re also pecking at IPv6, despite artfully using private IP addresses, short DHCP lease times, and the occasional NAT for efficient preservation of our Class B network (yes, I know IPv6 isn’t just about IP address counts). We’ve ventured into the cloud a bit for various things, and are individuals in an organization that know why, how and when to evolve (personally and a s a team) for the most part. It’s an absolutely fascinating time to be a networker, given the new technologies at hand. Each of us that like what we do should thank the IT Gods for letting us be witnesses to this transformative period in networking history.

Yet my head hurts.

I think I can boil it down to this: if you contemplate out a few years, it’s really hard to see where all of the “new stuff” comes together, at least for me right now. To bulletize the comets of thought shooting through the night sky of my cabin-fevered mind:

  • IPv6 is mature, and has been in development/trials for some time. It’s “standards based”, and once you learn the basics, the scariness fades.
  • IPv6 on big wireless systems? Not so clear cut, and largely dependent on the WLAN vendor, their version of code, and which way the wind is blowing today.
  • SDN got it’s start as better way to do Data Center networking, then the adventurous dared to stretch the paradigm out into the LAN as well. But where LAN meets WLAN, even in this age of “unified networking”, the end-to-end SDN crystal ball gets muddy.
  • SDN is quite immature. It may shake out as well-designed framework built on standards (akin to Ethernet or TCP/IP) or it may fragment and get as ugly from the “every man for himself” perspective as how WLAN vendors do things under the hood.
  • The Cloud is becoming more acceptable for WLAN management and Networking-as-a-Service, yet it can still feel like a one-off depending on how you implement and how far you go with it.
  • WLAN and mobile networks are very much cutting into Ethernet’s turf, yet there are pockets where Ethernet will likely stay predominant for many years- even if Wi-Fi surrounds the corded network devices.
  • There are things more easily done on the LAN (multicast, for example) that WLAN vendors and engineers still struggle with doing- without causing other problems.
  • As we approach the heyday of 802.11ac, we’re still trying to sort out hype from reality and the WLAN industry continues to flat-out botch the message on how to cable for 11ac and what comes after Wave 2 (you may disagree), which complicates planning in large environments.
  • The WLAN industry is sooooo silo’d and proprietary right now. System A is not compatible with Systems B or C, and and every vendor has their own way of doing things from the AP’s antenna stub back into the WLAN core pieces.
  • Unification of wired and wireless is at different places for different vendors, not all WLAN vendors have switches, and where a vendor has both it again gets funky for interoperability.
  • With data breaches aplenty happening and bound to happen as mobile device counts skyrocket and everything gets connected to something that has a target on it’s back, more regulatory influences are no doubt coming to a network near you.

Gone are the days when a big box connected to a bunch of Ethernet switches that connected to a handful of APs, and the entire thing was easily diagrammed out and explained as a single system.  This I know.

I also know that coming is a time where wired and wireless aren’t so delineated, where SDN reaches across the LAN-WLAN airgap, where it all runs on IPv6 (with implementation and feature parity across the vendor landscape) and big parts of it may be in or managed by the cloud. There’s an assumption that one day it’ll all be truly seamless, any and all applications will run and configure the same on both sides of the LAN/WLAN continental divide, and it’ll be so well designed that even the office secretary can manage the Enterprise without knowing anything of underlays, overlays, Dual-Stack Pattywacks, distributed or centralized Fruited Planes, address lengths, spatial stream counts, or any of the other network marshmallows in our new bowl of Lucky Charms.  

I know it’s inevitable, but my mind just can’t yet grasp how (or when) it’ll all come together.

Ah well- too much daydreaming can be a bad thing… time to go shovel the driveway.

 

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