The Numbers Game

Another academic year is almost in the can at my day job. As things wind down for staff and students, a lot of IT work is just kicking off for the project frenzy that is the summer months in higher ed. There is a lot to ponder and analyze at the end of every school year, but this go around feels a little different.

On the personal side, I’ve crossed the 21-year mark with my current employer, and am thankful every day that I had the good sense to take a 25% cut in pay way back when to get my foot in the door in hopes that a fantastic career would blossom (it did). I’m also counting the miles I need to drive to see my daughter graduate college, and the months until her wedding later in the year. I’m tallying the time until each of my two sons finish their PhD programs in the near future, and wondering what comes next for all of my kids in the days to come. My wife and I are approaching our 30-year anniversary, we just lost a beloved dog who lived to be 14, and I figure I can now play about 8 good chords on the ukulele. Lots of numbers to think about… thankfully most have good connotations.

But back to work, and work-related numbers.

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I’m seeing that our big-honkin’ WLAN served around 30K simultaneous clients at the busiest part of each day.  Add remote sites in the US and abroad, and we’re well towards 33K. That equates to millions of aggregate hours of network usage that includes academic instruction, online business applications, gaming, entertainment, and all kinds of stuff whizzing across that sweet, sweet Wi-Fi. We’ve had phenomenally low numbers of trouble tickets (statistical zero, by several measures) and few social media swipes at the WLAN over the last two semesters, and continue to validate that our mantra of “stability above all”  has yet again paid off for a lot of people who need to do their work (and play) over the WLAN.

Looking forward, I feel a tension brewing. At some point, our 4,300+ access points will need to be moved off of legacy controllers (Halle-freakin-lujah!), and will grow by hundreds as new buildings come on line and old designs are updated. But those 30K+ clients will need the same stability we’ve mastered on the existing hardware (by never upgrading from one of the few stable code versions we’ve ever found), and new hardware is the devil you don’t know. Then there are the new licensing paradigm numbers- as best I can tell we’ll being paying a lot more but not actually getting a lot more (beyond buzzwords) for those dollars, but I hope I prove myself wrong. I do know that my “Intent” is that the next generation of wireless code won’t suck as bad as the last, and that our vendor at some point realizes that you can only license the shit out of so much before you force customers to find relief elsewhere. Whatever- that is my battle to fight.  Meanwhile… a reminder on the most important numbers:  those 30K+ clients with their millions of hours of network use just want things to continue working well.

We’ll continue to be peppered with big marketing numbers as .11ax makes it way into town, and as with any past WLAN technology will have to translate it all into “realistic” numbers that come from boiling off hype. We’ll be learning about how new WPA3 security does away with the 4-way handshake of WPA2, how 192-bit security becomes more relevant, and where 5G will or won’t eventually fit in with Wi-Fi 6. mGig and UPOE bring new numbers to reconcile in our own environments. Numbers, numbers, numbers. There is no escaping them. Numbers are part of who we are and what we do. They change with time, and they always have- both at work and at home.

Numbers are funny… just a few bad ones- like hours of downtime- have a way of reputationally negating millions of good ones (like hours of uptime).

You all have your own numbers swimming around in your heads right now. Many of us are facing the same concerns and changes in the days to come, but what they map to for numbers of budget dollars, training hours, or trouble tickets will vary. Learn, evolve, adapt and try to use the various numbers to your advantage as much as possible.

Just remember that your own users probably also want stability above all as you wrestle with all of the numbers in your life. That fact has it’s own number.

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