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.

We Need Substance Over Slogans From the WLAN Industry, Now More Than Ever

WLAN vendors have the right to promote their products. Actually, they have a duty to- that’s just business. And it stands to reason that they need to evolve their products to stay competitive and to meet the changing demands of the greater network world that they operate in. But these vendors also need to stay on the right side of certain lines, and to remember that we buy their stuff to build reliable networks. R-e-l-i-a-b-l-e. That truth can’t get lost in the quest for ever more features to market. On that point, these are exciting times to be in marketing when it comes to wireless and networking because the sky is the limit for the latest round of buzzwords to sling. But when buzzwords become what is actually being sold, then one of those lines that shouldn’t be crossed most certainly has been.

Why It Matters NOW

For those of us that have been in the wireless game for a long time, unfulfilled promises and poor output from certain industry groups are a way of life. That’s not to say that Wi-Fi isn’t an utterly amazing, transformative technology. It most certainly is. But just like politicians can make promises that no one blinks at when they stay unfulfilled, many WLAN-related organizations and entities have become known as much for what they don’t deliver as for what they do. Examples:

  • The IEEE’s insistence on backwards-compatibility with dark-ages standards has gotten to the point where it’s self-defeating.
  • Seldom does any 802.11 standard live up to its promise or most-touted differentiating functionality.
  • The Wi-Fi Alliance continues to excel in talking up its certifications, while its device-maker members have created a bewilderingly fragmented client space that is only getting worse.
  • Many “analyst reports” are simply paid results, where guess who wins? (Hint- there is some money changing hands.)
  • Over a decade ago, WLAN vendors promised central management would be soooo much better than autonomous access point paradigms. But in the case of one market-leader, the gains are frequently negatively balanced out by embarrassing code quality, perversely expensive licensing paradigms, and a focus on glitzy corporate image over simply providing highly reliable solutions.

This is our reality as enterprise WLAN professionals. But good WLAN engineers understand the weird of it all, manage it, and still deliver networks that serve their customers well. That is, until that last bullet point rears its head- because we have little control over the code quality that flows out of San Jose’s sewers at times.

Hype Shouldn’t Be What You Lead With

Now that we’re in a time where artificial intelligence, SDN, machine learning, and data-driven everything is all around us, there’s a lot to be excited about. But the words themselves don’t make a solution good. Self-driving automobiles responsibly developed by experienced data scientists? That’s exciting. Long-in-the-tooth quirky network hardware with new APIs hooked into it and painted up as New Magic? Nope- not exciting. Worrisome even.

We OUGHT to be excited about AI, machine learning, and all of the other now-hyped buzzwords flying around out there. But we’re seeing too much of the cart being put before the horse from certain vendors. The same crappy building blocks unfortunately ARE in play in fancily-named new strategies that are being heavily marketed by one market leader as if they were already proven to be worth all the noise and paychecks to celebrity marketers (Peter Dinklage, intuitive).

Other vendors are saying “look- AI! Now pay up with giant costs and endless licenses!” But some of us have been down this road when it was paved with different slogans and marketing campaigns, and cautious skepticism is in order. Maybe the vendors can (and should) prove that they have fixed the cultures that have resulted in their sins of the past before asking us to embrace the latest flavor of the month and the fat fees that come with it.

Now comes 802.11ax

Catch any webinar on 802.11ax and you’ll realize that a truly new day is coming to the WLAN world. It’ll be complicated, fraught with ridiculous promises, but like other standards before it- it will be better. We just don’t know how much better yet. Part of that “better” will depend on how vendors stitch together their AI/intuition/psychic-like-Madame Cleo/tastes-great/less filling stuff and the new .11ax technology.  It could be fantastic, or it may turn out to be utterly maddening.

Which way it all goes will depend on the vendors putting as much energy and budget into tightening up their shit as they are into hyping what doesn’t yet really work well (by CUSTOMER standards, not those of perpetually clueless developers). Things are getting way too complicated to continue to crowd-source quality assurance to customers’ production networks and not expect significant blow-back when things flake out. And in the case of one vendor- I’m predicting utter folly if the old problematic code and hardware is carried forward as part of the “new” solution. That’s what my intuition tells me.

Innovation Primer For Changing Times

There was a day when network equipment vendors would sell you a solid product that you could combine with human networking skill to create highly reliable networks. You paid a fair price for those products, your network clients benefited from your skills and the investment in good components, and when the occasional problem popped up things were fairly easily solved.

There was also a day when postage stamps cost five cents and it was OK to smoke out by the dumpster.

Things are changing. It might feel a little weird, but you have to embrace the new spirit of innovation. Rather than building solid networks on good hardware that actually work so well that you don’t need magic to solve problems, why not shake it up a bit? Wouldn’t it be better to deploy occasionally erratic hardware, play Code Roulette frequently, and then pay a shite-ton o’ dough to let AI and machine learning identify the problems that never should have been there to begin with?

Innovation

It all makes sense provided that you don’t think about it: you can actually replace your engineering staff with programmers. Rather than build high-reliability networks and fix the corporate cultures that let defective products out the door and into production networks, Innovation is stitching together a slew of components that each have their own problems to begin with and then letting mystical, intuitive, highly licensed and expensive data scientific forces show you alerts for problems that could have been avoided to begin with back in the day with a little quality control. It’s a glorious era, but it may be a little hard to wrap your head around.

To help you find your footing in a changing world, I’ve asked my best (meaning least intoxicated) graphic artists to gen up a simple infographic that captures the essence of contemporary innovation in the enterprise network setting.  Hopefully this simple analysis flow helps your learning curve as we all go down this road together.

Innovation2

 

Drone Law Soup

Since I famously became a drone guy, I’ve been getting a wide-ranging education on many aspects of The Droniverse. I’ve been gathering little pieces of content and knowledge that I care about here on this page of this blog, and getting a lot of perspective from more experienced flyers through various user groups and forums. It gets more fascinating every day.

One aspect of dronery (I made that word up) that is truly astounding is just how royally dicked up the regulatory climate far and wide has become when it comes to flying our beloved unmanned aircraft systems. It doesn’t matter whether you are a hobbyist or an FAA-certificated Remote Pilot like myself, the legality of flying drones could not be in a worse state of disarray.

Looking at the FAA’s guidance, you wouldn’t think it could be that bad.

drone rules1

But it is THAT BAD. It seems like every state and many cities, universities, towns, villages, hamlets, and church choirs are making their own rules regarding drone flight. Forget that the FAA is federal and that many/most of these additional regs wouldn’t stand up in court- fighting City Hall ain’t cheap and few individuals are going to have the expendable coin to lawyer up on the issue (and there is no central lobbying force that I know of that could stand up against the growing regulatory morass).

But don’t take my word for it… let’s look at some real world examples.

Santa Clara University says “more no than yes” while Nebraska says “sure”, conditionally.

The State of Connecticut has rightfully recognized the FAA as the sole authority in this space, and it’s Public Act No. 17-52 “Prohibits cities and municipalities in the state from enacting their own drone-related regulations or ordinances.”

But then you have Delaware- despite also “preventing” municipalities from doing their own thing, one town did exactly that (from http://statedronelaw.com/state/delaware/):
Delaware

Hmmm. It just goes on and on. Here in my corner of the world, each of these has their own legislation/regulations on drone use (most flat-out prohibit drones, or make getting permission so impracticable as to equal prohibition:

And it gets worse… their are dozens of pending/proposed laws on the books in the Democratic People’s Republic of New York alone, not to mention all the legislative activity in other states aimed at drones. See many of them here– although I think this site is unaware of as many as it knows about.

As with any technology, drones can be used for good and by people who make a living from them doing really innovative things. And they can also be used for pure stupidity by peeping toms, beach pervies, village idiots and others in the “we need laws because of THESE morons” category. The problem is that our fine civil servants (I use to be one myself, so I know first-hand of what I speak) are too quick to group all drone operators into the same bucket, or have no clue on existing laws or where their own regulatory reach legally ends before passing new ordinances.

And… it’s only going to get worse before it gets better.

If you are new to drones or thinking about getting into it, I have no doubt that you’ll find “flying legal” to be challenging in many, many locations. You may also be tempted to ignore the ugly patchwork of federal, state, and local laws and take your chances flying illegally. If you do, more power to you… but please remember that when you do the truly stupid stuff that becomes a nuisance, you set in motion a Butterfly Effect that ultimately makes life tough for those of us who strive to be legal.

Thanks for reading.

Ubiquiti Updates- Cool Camera and a Big WLAN Offering

There is sooooo much to the Ubiquiti story. It’s just a different company, and you never know what’s around the corner for them- but whatever “Ubnt” comes up with is usually profoundly interesting. I’ve gotten quite the education over the last couple of years on many things Ubiquiti, and written about my experiences in this blog (and others). Though I don’t always agree with the company’s messaging on certain products, they are obviously doing something right as they sell a lot of product and their user community tends to speak loudly and favorably. In this blog, I have two updates regarding Ubiquiti.

Suh-weet Little Camera.

I’ve been kicking the tires on Ubiquiti’s G3 Micro camera, and it’s an impressive add to the company’s current line of video products. It’s one of those products that you take out of the box, handle a bit, and fast feel appreciation for whoever developed it’s physical construct (I get the same warm fuzzy when I handle some of Ubiquiti’s outdoor bridges). From really creative use of magnets to more mounting options than you might think possible, the G3 Micro is just a neat little wireless (dual-band) 1080p HD camera.

It fits in very well with Ubiquiti’s NVR hardware appliance or the build-your-own NVR option, and is as easy to use as the cameras in the series. Just remember- Ubiquiti NVR only works with Ubiquiti cameras and visa versa.

Some real-world screen grabs:

Jumbo Wi-Fi Is Spelled “XG”

Maybe XG stands for extremely gigantic (?) …hmmm. Have a look at this introduction to the Ubiquiti’s latest add to it’s networking portfolio.  You can mill around looking at the non-wireless stuff, as the XG switch, router, and app server are pretty interesting as well. But I want to focus on the Wi-Fi side of XG here. Check out these monsters, and their specs:

G3 Micro 5

There is a reason why Ubiquiti’s XG product page features a stadium in the background- XG is aimed at big honkin’ environments. WLAN professionals will cringe at the “1,500 Clients” spec, even if somehow that’s actually possible, and I hope Ubiquiti tones down the value it seems to see in huge counts like this. Their stuff actually tends to work pretty well, but this messaging can cast good gear in a questionable light for those who do wireless.

It is interesting to see my first ever 10 Gbps port on an AP, as shown on my beta copy of the UniFi XG access point:

 

G3 Micro 6

Like I said in the beginning, Ubiquiti is always working on something really interesting. At this point, the UniFi XG UFO-looking AP is only available in the Ubiquiti beta store (and at a pretty compelling price versus the specs, I might add), but that will change quickly as XG gains traction on it’s way to the larger market.

I’ll have more to talk about when I start hands-on eval of the XG.

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More wirednot blogs on Ubiquiti

Cisco’s Latest AP is Mind-Blowing (and a quick history lesson)

Aironet 4800 Access PointFeast your eyes on that little Chiclet-looking thing… No image can do justice to Cisco’s latest powerhouse AP. That innocuous looking image represents a full 5.6 pounds (2.5 kg) of all kinds of Cisco’s latest technology in the company’s new 4800-series access point. You got 4×4 802.11ac Wave 2 radio wizardry,  a built-in hyperlocation antenna array, and BLE beacon capability. And… regardless of whether you buy into Cisco’s DNA Center story, the new 4800 has a lot of DNA-oriented functionality. It’s big in size, functionality, and at least for a while- price.

You don’t need me regurgitating the entire data sheet- that can be viewed here. You’ll also want to hear the full story of the 4800 and DNA Center when you get a chance, because it’s nothing less than fascinating. (My own take: DNA-C might be revolutionary- but I’d rather see new controllers with a new WLC operating system rather than bolting DNA-C’s future-looking promise onto yesterday’s fairly buggy wireless parts and pieces. That’s just me speaking from experience- take it or leave it).

I’ve seen the 4800 with the outside cover removed, and even that is profoundly thought-provoking when your eyes take in how much is really going on with the various antennas- get a look at that if you can (I’m not comfortable sharing the images I’ve seen, not sure where NDA starts and stops on that).

So a huge access point story is afoot, and I applaud Cisco on that bad-lookin’ mammajamma. But I also got sparkley-eyed by something else fairly nerdy while looking through 4800 materials and links to other links.

Here’s a screen grab of the 4800 power specs:

4800 power

Nothing real exciting there, right? New APs generally need the latest PoE+, and we’re a few years into that story. But I somehow stumbled across this document, that shows this picture:

and it took me way back to my own early days of wireless. My WLAN career started with a 4-AP deployment of those 350s, which ran the VxWorks for an operating system and had only 802.11b radios… (cue the flashback music here).

Also included in that doc is this brief history of PoE:

PoE Hist

As I read that over, my mind goes back to all of the Cisco APs that have come and gone in my own environment- 350, 1130, 1200, 2600, 3500, 3600, 3700, and our latest in production, the 3800. In this list, there have been multiple models from the different series of AP leading to the thousands of APs that are now deployed in my world.

On the operating system side, VxWorks became IOS, and in turn AireOS. Now we have AP-COS on the latest Wave 2 APs (don’t Google “AP-COS”, most of what comes back is bug-related, sadly).

It’s interesting to reflect back, on operating systems, PoE, radio technologies, and feature sets. As Wi-Fi has gotten more pervasive, it has also gotten more complicated on every level. Seldom is the latest access point THE story any more, now it’s about all of the features that come with the whole ecosystem that the vendor wants that access point to operate in- if we as customers buy into the bigger story.  I’m not passing judgement on anything with that statement, or intentionally waxing nostalgic (well, maybe a little bit).

It’s pretty neat how one image or a certain document can suddenly flash your your entire wireless history before your eyes.

Good stuff.

Open Mesh Brings Major Disruption to SMB Space, Goes Full-Stack

Another router coming to the SMB market generally isn’t that exciting, but this one is different for a number of reasons.

OM1

For one thing, it comes from Open Mesh. Those ports are part of the G200, which is the first router ever released by Open Mesh. It has a list price of $249 dollars, and it also brings the Open Mesh product line into the proverbial “full stack” domain.

OM2

Now customers can use access points, switches, and the G200 all from Open Mesh, and all cloud-managed in the excellent CloudTrax dashboard with no license costs.

Yes, you heard me right… I said “with no license costs”. If you are not familiar with Open Mesh, the operational paradigm is easy- you buy your components (routers, switches, and access points), you register them in the CloudTrax dashboard, and off you go with configuration and operation. CloudTrax is a pretty decent network management system in and of itself, and it is the only way you manage Open Mesh components. It’s simple, it’s feature rich, and given what Open Mesh hardware costs, the entire paradigm is an absolute steal compared to pricing and complexity of enterprise solutions that masquerade as SMB-friendly.

The G200 is a significant milestone to not only the Open Mesh product line, but also to the SMB market in that it seriously drops upfront costs and TCO while providing what may be the easiest to use interface among any of it’s competitors.

But what do you get for under $250 for features with the G200? A lot, actually. From a resource perspective, Open Mesh promises gigabit throughput compliments of a quad-core processor and dedicated crypto engine. The G200 has two passive PoE ports for Open Mesh APs to connect directly, and also has an SFP port for fiber uplink to an Open Mesh switch or 3rd party vendor switch. All the typical “router stuff” is onboard, from VLAN support, DHCP server and firewall to decent traffic classification, QoS, NAT functionality, user VPN, and even usage statistics. Not bad for an initial edge-router at this price point, that won’t hit you up in 12 months for a fat license fee to keep using it. Mine has been reliable as I could ask for in the couple of weeks that I’ve been testing it. One gripe- no site-to-site VPN, although that is coming.

g200

I can’t stress how important price is for the SMB space, and I know some of my own customers are dealing with sticker shock that comes from other cloud-managed solutions that charge big and small environments the same way when it comes to licensing (or worse, they penalize the small networks for not having volume purchasing leading to better pricing). If Open Mesh continues to evolve their edge functionality and hardware offerings, this vendor could deliver a sales smack-down to the bigger players who have become license-happy to the point of ridiculousness over the last few years.

A New Access Point and Switch, Too!

I’m a huge fan of the Open Mesh A60 dual-band indoor/outdoor 802.11ac access point. It has been the top-dog of the Open Mesh access point line for several months, with a list price of $225 (again, no licensing and free CloudTrax support). Now, as part of the same product announcement that features the G200 router, Open Mesh is also bringing out it’s new A62 access point. It’s still dual-band and indoor/outdoor, but this Wave 2 AP also sports two 5 GHz radios, support for up to an estimated 150 streaming clients, and the same $225 price tag as the A60.

The latest S24 switch also breaks new ground for Open Mesh with 10 Gbps SFP+ uplink ports and a higher PoE power budget than it’s predecessor.

Let’s Do Some Math

Open Mesh has over 100,000 network customers around the world. When I think of one of my own small sites that’s up for renewal with another cloud vendor, I’m looking at trying to explain to my customer why a 3-year renewal license on old AP costs almost as much as purchasing the latest license-free AP from Open Mesh, and why a 3-year renewal license on an older security appliance costs almost twice the price of a new Open Mesh G200 router that would never need another license. These are real dollars for small businesses, and you pay the big price for the other guys whether you ever use actual support or not.

It’s time for a shake-up at this end of the market, and I think Open Mesh is the vendor to do it.

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