Category Archives: Mobility Field Day

Mojo (Arista) Answers The Layer 2 Situation for WLAN Migration To Cloud

I recently wrote about the challenges, as I see them, with the Layer 2 aspects of moving from an established controller-based WLAN solution to one like Aerohive, Meraki, Mist, or Ubiquiti that is managed in the cloud. That article is here, at IT Toolbox.

Want the short version of The Layer 2 Situation? Being all about value, I can help you out… Let’s start with the simple view of VLANs that underpin a controller-based WLAN environment:

L2-1

Betwixt the switch and the AP you have a single VLAN. It’s simple, it’s clean. It’s not a spanning tree asspain. But cut into that single VLAN with your magic network knife, and you’ll find a CAPWAP tunnel with as many VLANs as you need. In large environments, that may be dozens o’ VLANs for various SSIDs scattered across thousands of APs.

Contrast that with the typical fat AP/cloud AP VLAN underlay:
L2-2

Ugh- see the difference? In those large WLAN environments- where thousands of APs equals hundreds of switches- you might have to configure thousands and thousands of switch interfaces to convert the simple CAPWAP-oriented LAN to the VLAN-heavy LAN needed by fatty-fat APs- AND most cloud APs.

Ugh.

Mojo evidently agrees with that ugh and offers an option that preserves the goodness of the cloud approach (No NMS to keep up, easier code upgrades, no buggy controllers to babysit, etc) while providing an easy way to NOT go down VLAN rabbit holes when converting from controller to cloud. This magical hybrid approach features the Multiservice Platform:

multiservice_platform_3

Tres sexy, no? I had heard about Mojo’s Multiservice Platform last year at Mobility Field Day 2, but will admit I lost some of the messaging in the din of all the “Cognitive blah blah blah”. But when I recently wrote about The Layer 2 Situation, two good citizens from WLAN land came forward and reminded me that this nut has indeed been cracked, and by Mojo.

Recall if you will- Mojo has been acquired by Arista Networks since Mobility Field Day 2. I also happened to be present at the Mojorista MFD3 presentation, which I wrote about here.

So… will Arista continue with the Multiservice Platform? I have to say that I really hope so. I hope they promote the heck out of it, and that other cloud Wi-Fi vendors follow suite. I don’t know whether I’ll ever run a massive cloud AP WLAN (I do currently run a massive controller-based Wi-Fi network and a lot of cloud-based branches), but if I do it’s nice to know that there is at least hope for The Layer 2 Situation.

Catching Up With NETSCOUT at MFD3, Big News, and “Body Fade” Explained

Touching Base at Mobility Field Day 3

Everybody’s favorite handheld network tool tester provided updates on their G2 and AirMagnet tools at Mobility Field Day 3. NETSCOUT hosted those of us in attendance at their San Jose office, while simultaneously live-streaming to a lot of interested folks out on the interwebs. We heard about product evolutions coming to the AirCheck G2, the LinkRunner G2, the very handy Link-Live web service, and a little bit on the AirMagnet product line. The G2 improvements are incremental, well-designed, and show that NETSCOUT is not letting grass grow under it’s flagship testers. The AirMagnet brief sounded a bit apologist and fairly thin, but also not unexpected given that the line has gone almost stagnant for long periods of time.

You can watch the presentations for yourself here.

Big News

This one took us by surprise… It’s a bit weird to find out only a couple of days after being at Netscout’s offices that the very product line we were discussing has been sold off to Nacho Libre… or is it StoneCalibre? Whatever… it just feels funky to those of us who know and love our AirCheck and LinkRunner products.  What goes in this move?

  • LinkSprinter
  • LinkRunner (AT & G2)
  • AirCheck
  • OneTouch AT
  • AirMagnet Mobile (Spectrum, Survey, Planner, Wi-Fi analyzer)

Hopefully whoever this new backer is does not mess with all that’s good in the toolbox, and either breathes new life into AirMagnet or retires it. Read about the acquisition here.

Netscout HQ

What the Heck is Body Fade?

bodyfade

During the MFD sessions, we heard about several improvements- including refinements to the AirCheck G2’s Locator Tool. I tweeted out my recent success with the tool, and suggested that anyone using become familiar with “body fade” as technique to make the locator tool even more effective.

A couple of folks gave a thumbs-up, retweet, or similar affirmation, but one fellow emailed me to ask “what are you talking about with body fade?”  Let’s talk about that just a little, using a real-world case from my adventures in G2 Land.

The notion of body fade comes into play in any situation where you have a hand-held receiver in your hand (like the AirCheck G2 or a small ham radio with a bandscope display) and are trying to locate the origin of a signal of interest. By putting my body- including my rock-hard abs- between the signal and the tester, you can make the signal strength drop enough to notice. That means that the signal is somewhere behind you… do this enough times, and you get a really good sense of where to go look for the device faster than just running around staring at the dancing signal needle.

In my example, we see this rascally rogue running rebellious somewhere in another part of my building:
locate5By golly, that’s not one of mine. We gotta find the interloper and teach him or her some manners, I tellya. I fire up the AirCheck G2, invoke the locate option, and see what I see in my office.
Locate4
Not so impressive yet. We have a fairly weak signal somewhere. But how to get started on this foxhunt? BODY FADE to the rescue. I hold the G2 in front of my Adonis-like physique and slowly turn (the slowly part is important)… until I see a 3-4 dBm DROP in signal strength. This is my body inducing loss to the signal and thus showing you where to turn around and what direction to walk towards…

OK… so I start walking, and I’m making progress. The signal is getting stronger, and I use body fade to help further refine my path. But alas- I hit an obstacle! Once I get to THIS signal strength, I’m bamboozled:

Locate 3Nothing I can do from the spot of this reading with body fade changes the signal strength at all. If I walk away from the spot in any direction, the signal drops, but it is strong in this one spot. Yet the rogue is absolutely not there (in a hallway). What gives?

Remember that we’re dealing with signaling in three dimensions. When body fade at X-marks-the-spot yields no changes in signal strength, it means it’s time to go upstairs or down. In my case, there is no downstairs, so up I went. I picked up the trail, and soon hit the jackpot:
locate2
This was screen-shotted in the doorway of the office where the offending device was found. After roughing up both the rogue router and the gent who dared to plug it in, balance was restored to The Force.

Body fade is pivotal to some really neat radio hobbies- like this one.

 

 

 

 

Figuring Out What Bothers Me About Wi-Fi and “Analytics”

I’ve been to the well, my friends. And I have drank the water. 

I was most fortunate in being a participant in the by-invitation Mobility Field Day 3 event, this past week. Few events get you this close to so many primary WLAN industry companies and their technical big-guns, on such an intimate level and on their own turf. For months leading up to MFD3, something  has been bothering me about the discreet topic of “analytics” as collectively presented by the industry- but I haven’t been able to nail down my unease until this past week.

And with the help of an email I received on the trip back east after Mobility Field Day was over.

Email Subject Line: fixing the wifi sucks problem

That was the subject in the email, sent by an employee of one of the companies that presented on their analytics solution at MFD3 (Nyansa, Cisco, Aruba Networks, Fortinet, and Mist Systems all presented on their own analytics platforms). The sender of this email knew enough about me to do a little ego stroking, but not enough to know that only a matter of hours earlier I was interacting with his company’s top folks, or that I’ve already had an extensive eval with the product he’s pitching at my own site. No matter… a polite “no thanks” and I was on my way. But his email did ring a bell in my brain, and for that I owe this person a thank you.

The subject line in that email set several dominoes of realization falling for me. For example-  at least some in the WLAN industry are working hard to plant seeds in our minds that “your WLAN sucks. You NEED us.” Once that hook is set, their work in pushing the fruits of their labor gets easier. The problem is, all of our networks don’t suck. Why? These are just some of the reasons:

  • Many of our wireless networks are well-designed by trained professionals
  • Those trained professionals often have a lot of experience, and wide-ranging portfolios of successful examples of their work
  • Many of our WLAN environments are well-instrumented with vendor-provided NMS systems, monitoring systems like Solar Winds and AKIPS, and log everything under the sun to syslog power-houses like Splunk
  • We often have strong operational policies that help keep wireless operations humming right
  • We use a wealth of metrics to monitor client satisfaction (and dis-satisfaction)

To put it another way: we’re not all just bumbling along like chuckleheads waiting for some Analytics Wizard in a Can to come along and scrape the dumbness off of our asses.

In all fairness, that’s not a global message that ALL vendors are conveying.  But it does make you do a double-take when you consider that a whole bunch of data science has gone into popping up a window that identifies a client that likely needs a driver update, when those of us who have been around awhile know how to identify a client that needs a driver update by alternate means.  Sure, “analytics” does a lot more, but it all comes as a trade-off (I’ll get into that in a minute) and can still leave you short on your biggest issues.

Like in my world, where the SINGLE BIGGEST problem since 2006, hands-down and frequently catastrophic, has been the buggy nature of my WLAN vendor’s code. Yet this vendor’s new analytics do nothing to identify when one of it’s own bugs has come to call. That intelligence would be a lot more useful than some of the other stuff “analytics” wants to show.

Trade-Offs Aplenty

I’m probably too deep into this article to say “I’m really not trying to be negative…” but I’ll hazard that offering anyways. Sitting in the conference rooms of Silicon Valley and hearing from many of the industry’s finest Analytics product’s management teams is impressive and its obvious that each believes passionately in their solutions. I’m not panning concepts like AI, machine learning, data mining, etc as being un-useful as I’d be an idiot to do so. But there is a lot of nuance to the whole paradigm to consider:

  • Money spent on analytics solutions is money diverted from elsewhere in the budget
  • Another information-rich dashboard to pour through takes time away from other taskings
  • Much of the information presented won’t be actionable, and you likely could have found it in tools you already have (depending on what tools you have)
  • Unlike RADIUS/NAC, DHCP/DNS, and other critical services, you don’t NEED Analytics. If you are so bad off that you do, you may want to audit who is doing your network and how

Despite being a bit on the pissy side here, I actually believe that any of the Analytics systems I saw this week could bring value to environments where they are used, in an “accessory” role.  My main concerns:

  • Price and recurrent revenue models for something that is essentially an accessory
  • How well these platforms scale in large, complicated environments
  • False alarms, excessive notifications for non-actionable events and factors
  • Being marketed at helpdesk environments where Tier 1 support staff have zero clue how to digest the alerts and everything becomes yet another frivolous trouble ticket
  •  That a vendor may re-tool their overall WLAN product line and architecture so that Analytics is no longer an accessory but a mandatory part of operations- at a fat price
  • Dollars spent on big analytics solutions might be better allocated to network design skills,  beefy syslog environments, or to writing RFPs to replace your current WLAN pain points once and for all
  • If 3rd party analytics have a place in an industry where each WLAN vendor is developing their own

If all of that could be reconciled to my liking, much of my skepticism would boil off. I will say after this last week at MFD3, both Aruba and Fortinet did a good job of conveying that analytics plays a support role, and that it’s not the spotlight technology in a network environment.

Have a look for yourself at Arista,  Aruba, Cisco, Fortinet, Mist and Nyansa telling their analytics stories, linked to from the MFD3 website.

Thanks for reading.

Contemplating Mist Systems and Mobility Field Day 3

Spare a little candle
Save some light for me
Figures up ahead
Moving in the trees
WiFi, and buzzwords 
Tend to make me pissed
And the full moon that hangs over
These dreams in the mist

(Sincere apologies to Heart for butchering the very beautiful “These Dreams”)

In a couple few weeks I’ll be taking my cocky New York swagger out west for Mobility Field Day 3. There’s an awesome vendor lineup this year featuring Arista (who will no doubt be talking about their acquisition of Mojo Networks), Aruba, Cisco, Fortinet, Mist Systems, Netscout, and Nyansa. (Shame on you Ubiquiti- you ought to be here by now). With this mix, the overall content is going to be diverse, interesting, and inevitably peppered with A LOT of marketing fufu. Which is fine- each vendor gets to tell their story their own way, and marketing is foundational to the story. Okey dokey there.

But hopefully, we also get a good balance of substance. On that topic…

Mist1I’ve been privileged in being a frequent delegate at these events, and I did see Mist’s presentations at last year’s MFD 2.  In the year since then, I’ve been wooed with a lot of Mist mass-mailings and such, with running themes that CONTROLLERS ARE OBSOLETE and AI AI AI AI AI AI AI AI AI AI AI (we get it already). But on the subject of AI (along with Data Science and Machine Learning and whatever else is in that particular bag), I kinda hope Mist Systems ratchets the buzzy-factor down somewhat for MFD 3.

The industry is awash in promises of AI-fueled awesomeness that will SOLVE ALL OF YOUR PROBLEMS JUST BUY INTO OUR PERPETUAL EXPENSIVE LICENSING! to the point where it all sounds the same, regardless of who is saying it.

Mist may even be the real AI deal in a field of posers, but from where I sit it’s time for less shizzle and more of this sort of dialogue:

  • Does Mist Systems still consider itself a start-up?
  • Is Mist deployed widely enough at large customers (single site and distributed) where it can be trusted not to be a buggy OS over time? (I’m looking at you, AireOS.)
  • Is Mist following others in the industry down the Gouging as a Service licensing path?
  • What do microservices practically mean now to the Mist-interested? A year from now? Three years from now?
  • Mist has very few AP models- is this an advantage or a liability? Will there be more .llac APs or is .ax the next round for additional models? No wallplate APs?
  • Will Mist join the “rush it out the door” movement for early .11ax, and what does .11ax mean to customers when coupled with AI and all the buzzy stuff?
  • If I contemplate moving from a very large WLAN built on the likes of CAPWAP with a single VLAN to each AP from their connected switches, how much L2 work am in for in migrating to Mist?
  • How do we truly measure Mist TCO versus the other guys? What if we don’t want the vBLE thing? Do you pay for that anyways?

In other words- I get the AI pitch. Now let’s talk field-level nitty-gritty. Maybe less sales-pitch, and more of the stuff that real-world new deployments- and more importantly, converts and potential converts- would face.
_______

Do you have questions you’d like asked at MFD? Remember to hit up any of the delegates (generally Twitter works, or whatever your method of choice is) to have your inquiry relayed to the vendors during the live sessions.

 

 

NETSCOUT’s Next-Gen LinkRunner Tester Is Ready For The Changing Network Landscape

Just when you thought that maybe all of the cool testing innovation was reserved for Wi-Fi and the likes of the AirCheck G2, NETSCOUT brings out an equally impressive wired networking tester. The new LinkRunner G2  (shown on left below) sports the same color scheme and physical profile as the AirCheck G2:

IMG_20171127_140442975

But a closer look topside reveals some tell-tale features:

IMG_20171127_142046889_BURST000_COVER_TOP

What isn’t obvious from these images is that NETSCOUT made the LinkRunner G2 with a whole new user-customizable philosophy in mind that applies to both hardware and software. See the fiber SFP on the left and the USB WLAN adapter on the right side in the second image? You don’t HAVE TO get those from NETSCOUT if you find a better price on similar interfaces elsewhere. Unlike some vendors, NETSCOUT opted to be very accommodating of 3rd party adapters. And the LinkRunner G2 is actually a hardened Android computing platform that you can tweak in a number of ways- but let’s come back to that in a bit.

Recognizing the LAN-Scape For What It’s Becoming

In talking with LinkRunner’s product management, I was able to hear the inside scoop on where the company sees the product fitting into the connected world. It’s no secret that the number and type of network-connected devices “out there” is skyrocketing, but investment in support staff and their capabilities isn’t for many organizations. That being said, the LinkRunner G2 is viewed by NETSCOUT as the “smart network tester for the connected world”. Now, I’m as buzzphrase-adverse as anyone, but the deeper you dig into the LRG2, the more you realize that NETSCOUT is not over-hyping the new tester’s capabilities. With strong physical layer support capabilities, LRG2 is handy before the network even goes live. On active networks, Ethenet and core services are tested and characterized nicely. Then there are the true differentiators- and Power over Ethernet (PoE) functionality is a prime example.

Robust PoE Measurement and Charging

NETSCOUT points out that today’s LAN environment is no longer just a client-access domain, it’s also a power-distribution system for a growing number of devices. Beyond VoIP phones, CCTV cameras and wireless access points, we now have lighting systems, locks, and Bluetooth sensors among the many devices using PoE for operating power.

Netscout describes the LRG2 as the only current tester fully able to support all versions of PoE including Universal PoE (UPOE) that sources 60 watts at the switchport and up to 51 watts at the field jack. And this LinkSprinter also charges off of PoE!

Screenshot_20171127-184138

Link-Live

Depending what other NETSCOUT (or Fluke Networks) tools you use, you may already be a Link-Live user.

 

Link-Live makes the storing, sharing, and reporting of test results and absolute cakewalk. When you have a number of staff with varying skillsets, NETSCOUT’s Link-Live-capable tools can bring a uniformity of testing that reduces errors and faulty troubleshooting, and makes the results available for reference and escalation. It’s a free service, and LinkSprinter G2’s tests are as well formatted as the likes of the AirCheck G2’s. I’m a fan.

The Multi-Function Tester That You Can Customize

This tester is still a LinkSprinter, so you’d expect to see views like this on the crystal-clear touchscreen as you test copper and fiber links:

 

But there is sooooo much more. Remember, I said that this is a full-blown Android device. It also happens to have many “phone-like” features including a built-in flashlight, camera (attach pictures to Link-Live reports or email them from the LRG2), web browser, screen shot capabilities, Micro SD slot for file storage and portability, and even access to other apps that can be installed on the tester.

Screenshot_20171127-184637

This is so handy, and almost too good to be true. The caveat to the starting app paradigm? You don’t have access to the full Play Store. This is a hardened Android device after all, and you do not log in to the Play Store with your own account. But you do have access to a wide range of vetted network/documentation/productivity apps via NETSCOUT’s partnership with Google. If you find an app that you’d like, NETSCOUT provides an easy path to request it.

Within five minutes after discovering this capability, I had my test unit nicely loaded with some of the same Wi-Fi and network apps I use on my own Android phone and tablets, and the ability to run them all off of a robust network tester feels incredibly empowering.

Screenshot_20171127-184155

There is just a lot here to appreciate in the LinkRunner G2. It’s clear that NETSCOUT was shooting for versatility and expandibility with this network tester, and they hit both targets nicely.

Learn more at product web site.

 

Catching Up With Netscout on Their Flagship WLAN Support Tool

linklive_solutions_smIt’s not often that most of us get to spend time with product managers at big-name Silicon Valley network companies. I’ve been extremely fortunate in this regard through my participation in the Tech Field Day franchise, and recently had the opportunity to once again hang out for a bit with Netscout, in their own offices. The topic of this visit was the company’s super popular AirCheck G2, and our host was the awesome Chris Hinsz. (Chris makes the rounds at a lot of conferences and industry events, and is passionate about helping to make the WLAN world a better place. If you ever get the opportunity to talk with him, I guarantee it’ll be time well spent.)

If you are not familiar with the AirCheck G2 yet, let’s get you squared away.

The G2 is Generation 2, given that THIS AirCheck is the follow on to the original Fluke Networks AirCheck. The division of Fluke Networks that developed the AirCheck was bought by Netscout, hence the vendor name change along the way. If you’re interested in a unique way the original AirCheck was put into service for law enforcement, have a look at another Network Computing article I did back in the day. But alas, I digress…

Back to Mobility Field Day and the G2.

Hinsz did two sessions for MFD. In the first, he provided an intro to the tester and the handy Link-Live cloud service for those who may not be familiar with it. The video is here. He also provided insight into advanced tips and shortcuts on the G2, which you can review in this video. Even if you own and use a an AirCheck G2, you just might find something new to try via these videos.

Aside from the two sessions referenced here, it was a pleasure talking with Hinsz and his team about what else is going on with the AirCheck G2. This awesome unit is truly one of the favorite tools used by many a WLAN pro given it’s versatility and portability. It’s a safe bet that we’ll be hearing more about the AirCheck story as Netscout continues to listen to what it’s customers need, given that we’re only a couple of years into the life-cycle of this tester.

 

Mobility Field 2 Shows Evolving Nature of WLAN Industry

MFD2The “Tech Field Day” series of events has been  an important part of my professional development life for the last several years. I’ve had the good fortune to be a frequent delegate, and I have watched Wireless Field Day (WFD) morph into Mobility Field Day (MFD) in parallel with the changing nature of the WLAN industry. As we get ready to descend upon Silicon Valley for MFD2, I can’t help but think about what this round of vendor participants says about the general state of WLAN things.

This go round, you won’t see the usual suspects many folks think of when contemplating enterprise Wi-Fi. MFD2 is more about performance measurement and alternatives to the WLAN same-old with Mist Systems, Nyansa, Cape Networks, Mojo Networks, and another performance measurement vendor to be announced soon.

So why no bigtime flashy AP makers?

Here’s my take on that, and there are a few contributing factors:

  • The biggest guns have relegated their WLAN parts and pieces to non-headline status. Each has declared “We’re a software company!” of late, and is now devoting time to weaving together Intent-Based Network Fabrics With SDN Flavor Crystals. And… they have their own hyper-glitzy events where non-technical Hollywood-types make attendees swoon. Meh.
  • Extreme Networks is buying up almost everyone else, so the number of competing players is decreasing.
  • Ubiquiti is now #3 in market share, and seemingly needs none of these events to get their message of “economy-priced but half-way decent networking” out to the masses.

By now, WLAN is so tightly integrated with the rest of the network (in most environments) it doesn’t command the stand-alone Wow Factor it once did. But… in the rush to build feature-heavy (I’d even say “gratuitously bloated”, but I can be a wanker about these things) super systems, the big guns haven’t done all that well in natively providing many of the capabilities that MFD 2’s vendors will be briefing us (and those tuning in live) on.

From innovative ways of showing what’s really going on with a given WLAN to to fresh approaches to WLAN architecture (as opposed to butting an API into years’ old code and declaring it new SDN), MFD2 will be interesting.

If you tune in live and would like to get a question to the vendors as they present their stuff, make sure to hit up a Delegate or two via Twitter so we can ask on your behalf.