Author Archives: wirednot

About wirednot

WLAN Professional, Writer. thinker of big thoughts. Proud of my kids, love my wife, thankful for my primary employment and good fortune in being able to do other things on the side. I'm a well-travelled homebody, and frequently find that adventure has sought me out to tangle a a bit. Buy me a beer, I'll tell you some war stories.

Please Consider Helping to Remind Apple That Their Products Get Used in Our World

Here’s the gist:

“Apple made a change to iOS 11 which has impacted millions of iPhone users’ who use mobile apps to secure and troubleshoot their network.
With iOS 11, Apple has blocked third-party developer access to MAC addresses. Network utility apps such as Fing, NetAnalyzer, iNet and IP scanner used this information to let users see all the devices connected to a WiFi network.”

“On iOS 11 users can no longer use a third-party app to identify and recognize which devices are connected to their network. They can also no longer easily detect a device’s online/offline status.
Millions of professionals and home users have been impacted:
No access to MAC addresses affects a variety of different people and industries…”

That was scraped from the “Save Networking Tools on iOS 11” petition, originated by the Network Tools Alliance. As I draft this blog, well over 15,000 signatures have been added (including my own).

For the greater good- of those who use Wi-Fi and who support it- please consider adding your support. It’s free, and it just might help Apple to pull their head out of the sand on an important usability issue.

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Extreme Networks Has Good Footing to Lead Network Fabric Evolution from Hype to Reality

If you manage a  network today, you are likely getting peppered by the drumbeat of  ideas for new ways of doing networking. Concepts like SDN, automation, AI, machine learning and fabric are becoming the next-generation lexicon of connectivity. Sure, us long-timers have heard it all before in different incarnations- but this is a pot that is really beginning to simmer while the industry tries to collectively move the way enterprise networks are done forward.

Meanwhile, those of us in the trenches have production environments to run. It’s not particularly comfortable to contemplate moving our own cheese in response to abstract promises of better ways and sunnier days, but Extreme Networks,Inc. may just be the company to break down the wall of hype and deliver the industry to the actual realization of the promise of network fabric architectures.

Before I get into why I think Extreme is the most likely company to show that the new network magic can actually be delivered in a way that leads to wide-scale adoption, let me share one of the best whitepapers I’ve read yet on what vendors are actually trying to do with the latest fabric initiatives. All the expected promises of simplification and reduced OpEx are in the Extreme Automated Campus document, but so is an excellent summation on some of the not-so-obvious advantages and evolutions that come with a properly implemented automated network. Among them:

  • The use of 802.1aq Shortest Path Bridging (SPB) as essentially a single-protocol replacement for traditional building blocks like MPLS, BGP, multicast PIM, OSPF, VLANs, and others. That’s huge, and reduces complexity by several orders of magnitude in large environments.
  • The notion that hop-by-hop network provisioning is a thing of the past. The network core is essentially unseen to most network admins, and all changes are done on the edge (live and without outages/maintenance windows).
  • User and device policies are the basis for automated network changes, and constant analytics provide feedback used to tune performance and anticipate issues.
  • By employing hyper-segmentation, a security breach in one part of the network is contained like never before, as the rest of the network is invisible to the bad guys because the old protocols leveraged for nefarious purposes are no longer present.
  • The use of APIs mean that third-party network components can interoperate with Extreme’s Automated Campus.

Extreme 3

There’s a lot more to the whitepaper, and I encourage anyone who’s been underwhelmed by other explanations of what network fabrics/automation are supposed to deliver read it as an excellent primer.

As I digested insights from Extreme’s whitepaper, I also found myself reminded that obsolescence can be insidious with the legacy methods we do networking with now. Dated designs can underperform today and fail tomorrow while we miss subtle signs of trouble because of disparate logs and dashboards. This isn’t news to anyone running large business networks, and is why automated analytics has a fairly strong appeal. This brings me back to Extreme and what puts them at the head of the pack within the networking space.

Extreme pioneered and set the bar high for network analytics with its ExtremeAnalytics platform. The value proposition has been proven in many cases, via a range of customer relationships. Where other networking companies are relying on third -parties or are just getting around to developing analytics solutions, Extreme has been optimizing networks based on machine-learning analytics for years.

Extreme 1

Then there is Extreme’s purchase of Avaya earlier this year. By my estimation, Avaya was the absolute creator of SDN-enabled network fabric environments. I visited the company’s Silicon Valley facilities in 2014 during Tech Field Day, and got a first-hand look at the impressive technology that  has become part of Extreme’s fabric offerings. Extreme now has real-world fabric customers and a mature offering among newcomers to the game.

Extreme 2

The fabric/SDN thing is here to stay as evidenced by the market leaders all talking it up as “what comes next” in unified networking. But how to get there – and whether you want to stay with your incumbent networking vendor for the leap – is a more complicated discussion. Some of the new initiatives feel cobbled-together, i.e. placing  frameworks of APIs into legacy hardware that may not have the best track-records for reliability. I’m of the opinion that some vendors are trying to figure out how to proceed with network-wide fabric methods,  while painting beta-grade efforts up with glitz and catchy slogans (though lacking depth and a track-record). This just isn’t the case for Extreme.

Extreme has done a great job in integrating their acquired Avaya fabric assets with their established portfolio and consolidating it all (along with their excellent technical support) into the Extreme Automated Campus. It’s new, on paper, but made up of mature industry-leading building-blocks. This is why I see Extreme as the one to beat in this space.

Learn more about the Automated Campus solution here.

Register for Extreme’s upcoming Automated Campus webinar here.

 

FTC-required disclosure: I was compensated to comment on the Extreme Networks Automated Campus referenced in this blog, by PR company Racepoint Global. I have no direct business relationship with Extreme Networks, and in no way claim to be an Extreme Networks customer or representative of Extreme Networks. The opinions expressed here are my own, and absolutely true at the time of publication.

iBwave Turns Up the Wow Factor on WLAN Design and Survey with R9

ibwaveWireless network professionals involved with design and survey work are in a really good place right now.  The market leaders are innovating their way past the competition often (and impressively). Just a few weeks ago Ekahau unleashed their new Sidekick, and now iBwave has just announced their latest round of features with their new R9 software. 

Quick Review- Where iBwave Stands Out

Before going forward, let me walk you back to these two articles about iBwave that I wrote earlier in the year:

If you don’t want to check those out, it’s a-OK. The quick and dirty of what I really like about iBwave are these differentiators:

  • 3D Modeling of WLAN Environment
  • A mobile app that is really functional and that can interact with the full suite
  • The ability to properly model inclined surfaces
  • Cloud synchronization of survey projects (super handy)
  • A no-cost license-free viewer for customers to see what the design team sees without buying the iBwave software

Every competing tool has their strengths, but iBwave really has done well to combine accuracy of their tools with fresh approaches to process and usability.

And… the New Stuff

So what got added to the already-slick (and very effective) iBwave design suite with the R9 release? It’s a mix of catching up with the competition in spots, tweaking what already works to be better, and adding a couple of really cool features.

The user interface itself has gone through a couple of iterations since the Wi-Fi version was released a couple of years ago (recall that iBwave has deep roots designing cellular systems as well). I tested the January ’17 version, and was impressed then. I was invited to be a beta tester on what would become R9, but the timing was bad for me so I’ll have to give the new version a run-through in the days to come, but I have heard good things about the tweaks made along the way.

Added to overall UI enhancements are the ability to designate coverage exclusion zones (already in some competing tools) and to support software-definable radios (the latest dual-5 GHz “flex” radios). Also not an industry first, but iBwave’s customers will appreciate it as these radios gain in popularity.

Then there is the truly cool stuff. Now, once you have your floor-plans scaled and your walls and attenuation sources modeled properly, you can drag APs around and see what iBwave calls Smart Antenna Contouring. This is basically on-the-fly real-time views (or as real as time gets when working in WLAN design) of how the cells of individual access points and antennas will be affected by their surroundings. It’s really neat to see, and very empowering to the design process.

For those of us charged with also designing the underlying wiring system that our WLANs run on, iBwave’s R9 adds a fantastic utility in the form of Auto Cable Routing. Here, you place the cable tray and riser locations, and the software will make sure that added cables automatically take that path. When your working with lots of cable, this amounts to lots of time saved in the design and documentation processes.

The company web page is here, and you can see all sorts of videos on the new R9 magic here.

 

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.

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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

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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.