Category Archives: Extreme Networks

Future-Proofing Networks with Fabric-Attached Wi-Fi: Q&A with Extreme Networks’ Director of Wireless Product Management & Strategy

It’s easy to become desensitized to the onslaught of marketing that surrounds networking concepts like “fabric” and “unified networks” when every vendor has their own version of them. Naturally, each marketing department promises that their solution is the best, but reality shines through when you start to look past the buzzwords for substance. I was recently  introduced to (and impressed by) Extreme Networks’ own fabric accomplishments, and wrote about my impressions here. Soon after, I had the chance to talk with Extreme’s director of wireless product management and strategy, Mike Leibovitz, about where WLAN specifically fits into the company’s fabric approach.

Leibovitz is one of those people that I’m always glad to catch up with. I’ve spent time with him at different Tech Field Day events and  IT conferences, and have had opportunities to socialize with him. Beyond just being an all-around nice guy, Leibovitz has a passion for his job and believes strongly in Extreme’s products, methods and his company’s future. Our most recent conversation evolved into an informal Q& A about the Extreme Automated Campus solution and Wi-Fi. Here are the highlights from that discussion (I’m in italics).

Mike, Extreme has been busy integrating the likes of ExtremeWireless WiNG from Zebra/Motorola and Avaya’s fabric portfolio (from recent acquisitions) with Extreme’s own wireless product lines. How’s all that going?

It’s been a great run, for us and our customers. We’re fully supporting all product lines, and it’s only getting better for the end users, regardless of which hardware they use. Looking forward, the best of all our product lines will be fused into new feature options that customers of either ExtremeWireless WiNG or ExtremeWireless can take advantage of without forklift upgrades.

We’ll get to fabric and Wi-Fi in a bit, but first- is there anything on the horizon that is particularly driving Extreme’s WLAN-specific evolution, and do you have any examples of where ExtremeWireless WiNG might bring something new to Extreme’s story that customers can appreciate?

Aside from our fabric architecture taking deeper root, we see the coming of 802.11ax as significant, and that does figure into our current product evolution. As the radio side of the equation gets higher in performance, we’ll continue to leverage things like Motorola’s unique excellence in access point design for challenging and high-ceiling environments, for instance. Also, we have the successful integration of the Azara Cloud into ExtremeCloud as an example of how we make what’s good even better.

It seems that Extreme goes to great lengths to make sure that new customers gained through acquisitions are treated just as well as long-time Extreme customers. Is that a fair characterization?

Absolutely, and that’s something we work hard at. You’ve experienced and written first-hand about being a customer on the losing end of an acquisition, when the purchasing company doesn’t get it right when it comes to integrating support for its new customers. Despite being well-established, Extreme has more of a start-up mentality in that all of our customers matter. We take none of them for granted. No one should have to guess at what’s going to happen when they need support just because their vendor was acquired.

Amen to that, Mike. Now onto fabric, Extreme Automated Campus, and wireless specifically. I know that you are pumped up about this area. What’s the first thing that potential customers should know about Extreme when it comes to fabric and WLAN?

I’d say first that people should realize that our fabric offering is mature, proven, and is shipping now. That includes how our Wireless solution connects to the fabric. Other market leaders have their fabric stories ahead of their deliverables to a certain degree, but Extreme doesn’t use customers as guinea pigs while we figure out how to keep promises.

Give me a sense of how that integration of Wi-Fi to the fabric works. Do you have any  examples?

Sure. Let’s start with ExtremeControl, which competes with ISE and Clearpass for functions like onboarding, authorization, and role-based policies. ExtremeControl has always excelled at extremely granular policy constructs used to program per-session behavior of the access point, the data plane, and the likes of QoS and analytics. That’s what we’ve been doing for years. Now add in the Avaya fabric contribution. Instead of just bridging traffic to a controller or to an AP you can now bridge wireless sessions to different fabric segments, uniquely for each connected device. That’s a new level of micro-segmentation that basically means you can traffic engineer wireless user traffic literally anywhere in the enterprise campus with the policies you set for RBAC, Layer7 control, QoS, and analytics carried all the way through.

So… we’re used to thinking of wireless access points or AP/controller pairings as bridges that have 802.11 on the radio side, and 802.3 Ethernet on the wired side. Am I reasonable in suggesting that now we can replace Ethernet with fabric on the wired side when we think about access at the WLAN edge?

That’s a good way of picturing it for functional discussion.

Can you give a specific scenario where fabric-attached Wi-Fi yields obvious, easy-to-highlight benefits that solve real-world problems?

We’re already leveraging fabric-connected WLAN in healthcare environments. As a wireless networker, you know the technical importance of reducing the number of SSIDs in a given wireless environment. Think about having one single SSID for everything, with a slew of different security and policy constructs going on behind it with no dependence on VLANs. From doctors’ unique security requirements to guest access to IoT devices and their various limitations – all are configured via ExtremeControl and micro-segmentation on the fabric. We can bridge traffic anywhere it needs to be for any user or use case. It’s really impressive, and no other vendor is even close to this level of functionality yet.

 Does the new magic come at the cost of CPU or memory utilization anywhere?

 That’s a great question, but actually the opposite is true. You can even add new policies on the fly, non-disruptively, directly on our access points. The flow technology that came way back from our Enterasys purchase works wonders in keeping resource utilization low.

This is great information, Mike. It’s awesome to learn of real-world, low-hype network fabric technology that is proven, shipping, and mature. What else do you want people to know as we close?

It sounds silly to say that “fabric is the future” because for Extreme Networks, fabric is now. At the same time, our fabric today does future-proof customer environments by providing unparalleled flexibility in security, segmentation, simplicity, control, and analytics that will only evolve for the better. Extreme will be ready to add 802.11ax into our fabric-connected Wi-Fi strategy when it comes, and we’re a natural fit for IoT in its many incarnations. Our roadmap is exciting, and I encourage our customers and analysts like you to watch us as we evolve.

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. At the same time, I have known Mike Leibovitz for years.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Extreme Networks Makes the Case for 802.11ac Wave 2

With Wi-Fi technology constantly improving, it’s easy to stop paying attention to what incredible things are really happening for WLAN users. And incredible things are happening. With the arrival of 802.11ac’s Wave 2, we see new wheels put into motion for wireless users, and paths that the wireless industry had started down being turned into legitimate highways. 802.11ac Wave 2 is big news, and businesses are benefiting from its transformative nature, as over-viewed in a new eBook published by Extreme Networks.

As a wireless architect who builds WLAN environments of all sizes, I see first-hand how modern Wi-Fi enables new workflows and allows businesses to re-invent their processes as wired Ethernet gets pushed increasingly to the margins. Wireless connectivity has become the access method of choice for a huge swath of the business world, and Wave 2 is very persuasive to those who haven’t cut the cord yet. As highlighted by Extreme, it’s not just about signal coverage- or even speed- any more with enterprise Wi-Fi. Wave 2 also brings impressive capacity that further makes the case that businesses truly can run their operations over well-designed wireless networks, while enjoying the benefits of portability and mobility. With data rates topping 1.7 Gbps in ideal conditions, wireless traffic is forwarded with great efficiency in Wave 2 environments.

Extreme’s eBook makes the point that Wave 2 delivers a number of new or improved technologies, and these get even legacy client devices on and off the network quicker. Wi-Fi is still a shared medium, but that notion is getting blurred a bit with Wave 2, for everyone’s benefit. Multi-User MIMO (MU-MIMO) is rightfully getting its share of media coverage, as for the first time we have the capability for a single access point to service multiple clients simultaneously. Like with Wave 2’s impressive top-end for data rates, there are many factors that have to line up for MU-MIMO to live up to its capabilities at any given instant. But even though it may not be leveraged for every client and every transmitted frame given the variability of wireless, there’s no disputing the aggregate performance gains to be had by MU-MIMO. It really is exciting stuff, even to those of us who have seen it all when it comes to WI-Fi.

As businesses of all types consider whether Wave 2 is worth upgrading to, Extreme makes some good points. With more delivered network performance per AP, even for older non-802.11ac client devices, properly designed Wave 2 environments can significantly up the return on investment for the same spend as 11ac Wave 1 or 11n, if you negotiate your discounts right. If you’re sitting on an 11a/g or even early 11n network, making the jump to Wave 2 may be easy if your cabling plant and switches are up to date. Even if they’re not, it’s not uncommon to find that when planning for a new high-end wireless network, you can decrease your wired Ethernet expenditures as you make the jump. Everyone has their own OpEx/CapEx/TCO paradigm to define and muddle through, but Extreme gives pretty good food for thought in their eBook as you wrestle with your own situation.

Yes, Wave 2 has a business story to tell. Efficiency, performance, more-for-the-money, and so on- yes, those are all valid and noteworthy. But the Wave 2 story is also exciting at the user level. BYOD is an established fact of life, and in reality it’s more like Bring Your Own Many Devices for most of us. Our users have a slew of devices of various types and purpose, and 11ac Wave 2 helps with the overall Quality of Experience. Better cells are a tremendous asset to the end user, especially when those cells can self-leverage their best qualities for different device types.

Just remember that Wave 2 isn’t a design, or a deployment scenario. It’s a really awesome technology to be used to solve business problems and to facilitate business operations. As Extreme points out, Wave 2 is part of a bigger technology evolution story that features not just better Wi-Fi, but also switching developed just for 11ac, new analytics capabilities, improved security options, the Internet of Things, and (depending on your needs) impressive SDN and cloud tie-ins. Nothing under the network sun evolves in a vacuum, and Wave 2 fits very well with other advanced enterprise developments. Whether it makes sense for you to consider the move to Wave 2 is ultimately your call (and you’ll like get there at some point anyway). Extreme’s eBook on 802.11ac Wave 2 is an easy read, and does a pretty good job of telling the story of Wave 2 from a few different important angles.


 

FTC-required disclosure: I was compensated to review and comment on the 802.11ac Wave 2 eBook 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.