Category Archives: Network Tester

A Little PCAP Reader for iOS+ Meraki Remote Capture = Handy

I had been pecking away at a problem at a remote site, where phantom ringing was driving staff nuts on their Ring Central VoIP phones. I’ll spare you all the nasty things I want to say about the frailty of Ring Central phones and try to stay on topic… These devices are clients on a Meraki network, which means that you can capture their packets remotely, while doing analysis locally.

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It’s a nice feature, as it really helps you to exercise a common network troubleshooting task that traditionally requires you to be within the network environment to carry out. I had left the office, and my Wireshark-equipped workstation behind for the day, but found myself with free time, my iPad, and the phantom ringing problem on my mind.

Hmmm. I wonder if there are any PCAP-related apps for iOS? I doubt it, but what the hell… Let’s take a look and see if there is anything I can break down those remote capture files with… If I had my PC with Wireshark on it I wouldn’t need this… But all I have is my iPad… Let’s see.. 

Whoa- what’s this?

It’s an app for iOS called Telluric, and it reads (to a certain extent) packet capture files. It doesn’t do 802.11 radio header stuff. It doesn’t actually CAPTURE packets. You can’t really do display filtering or fancy stuff like Wireshark can. But it does do a decent job when no other tools are available, provided you have access to remote packet capture and local download (or can have someone send you a pcap file).

Sure, it’s a niche app of limited value. But it helped me find the source of my problem when I had no other real options:

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It’s time for a firewall rule. Sorry, Mr. Vicious.

(I do know that there are online resources for dumping and analyzing packet capture files. Don’t ruin the mood.)

 

 

NetAlly Drops Major Update for EtherScope nXG

It’s curious how we get accustomed to change, and how that which has changed suddenly feels normal. Remember back to the beloved original yellow AirCheck from Fluke Networks? For awhile it was the handheld tester of choice for WLAN professionals, and it built on Fluke Networks’ strength in putting huge amounts of testing and characterization capabilities in palm-friendly devices. Pair that with the original yellow LinkRunner for wired networks and you were equipped for just about anything you needed to do for daily support of LAN/WLAN environments.

Ch-ch-changes…

But yellow became green, and that part of Fluke Networks became Netscout. The old favorites were superseded by G2 versions of both the LinkRunner and the AirCheck with updated capabilities, and we all also got used to that paradigm. Daily use, occasional system updates, lots of problems solved… life simply went on- for a while.

But more change is inevitable, and a few months ago it hit again for these handy hand-helds. This time the color survived the corporate metamorphosis, but a new logo would end up on our tools as NetAlly was born as a spin-off from NetScout. I trust you all remember the big news at Mobility Field Day 4… That was in August, and as I write this it’s December of 2019- only a few months into NetAlly’s existence. As I bang this blog out, I’m looking at the AirCheck and Link Runner G2s on my desk, along with the NetAlly flagship EtherScope nXG. (I wrote about the new tester here, and my fellow Field Day delegate Haydn Andrews provided some thoughts as well).

NetAlly- Already Feeling Less “New”

It’s only been around 100 days or so since NetAlly has been a company, and I’ve barely had the EtherScope nXG in hand for maybe 65 of those days. Yet that old insidious change effect has already settled in. NetAlly doesn’t feel so new to the tongue anymore, and the EtherScopenXG has already become a trusted friend… a go-to force multiplier for my initial wired and wireless network issues and questions. It’s still impressive, but no longer feels exotic.

Now, NetAlly has announced version 1.1 code for the EtherScope nXG.

And so the cycle we got used to with Fluke Networks and then NETSCOUT continues- where good products get better with frequent updates and nice adds/enhancements.

Grass has never grown under this family of testers, and now NetAlly brings us a bag o’ new capabilities in 1.1 as detailed here: EtherScope nXG v1.1 Release Notes – Final.

I have no doubt that the enhancements are only just beginning on NetAlly’s flagship tester.

 

NetAlly Unleashes the Right Tester, at the Right Time: EtherScope nXG

 Change is both inevitible, and fickle. Vendors come, go, and buy each other. Some product lines that we love die on the vine, others thankfully go on to only get better with time. I sat in a room with the NetAlly folks at Mobility Field Day 4 and got an eyefull/earfull of teaser information on a slick new tester that would be released later in the year that would bear these notions out in spades.

I’m here to tell you- “later” is now, and the product line that we have grown to appreciate from its start at Fluke Networks, through it’s run as part of NETSCOUT, and now as the baby of spin-off NetAlly continues its tradition of excellence with the new Etherscope nXG.

Does this look vaguely familiar?
EtherScopenXG

If you own (or have Jonesed for) either the AirCheck G2 or the Link Runner G2, that color scheme will look familiar. But the EtherScope nXG’s overall feature set makes the very-capable G2 units suddenly feel a litlle less-than, despite each being a testing powerhouse in its own right. (And if you’ve been around a while, you might remember the old yellow EtherScope from the Fluke Networks

NetAlly brings the EtherScope to market right when it is needed. What do I mean by that?

  • With the 802.11ax tide starting to rise, troubleshooting tools need to keep up
  • On the wired side, NBASE-T and 10G are becoming facts of life
  • Bluetooth is penetrating the enterprise in interesting new ways
  • “Convergence” is one of those overplayed words in networking, but the reality is that both operations and support of those operations has very much seen a convergence and fewer of us do one or the other (not to mention work in data centers and server rooms)
  • Senior engineers can’t be everywhere, and it’s not uncommon to rely on others to gather data that we then analyze from some other location
  • Performance testing and detailed path analysis of different network segments can be daunting as topologies get more sophisticated.
  • Uploading of results to a cloud repository brings huge advantages in baselining, team-wide scrutiny, and reporting.

Networks are getting more complicated. Tolerance for time-to-problem-resolution is decreasing. The EtherScope nXG is marketed as a “Portable Network Expert”, and despite my frequent disdain for grandiose marketing plattitudes, I find this to be an apt description.

Rather than regurgitate the tester’s specs, let me point you to them here (scroll down).  The full data sheet from the product docs is here and shows the product’s impressive range nicely. And to get a feel for just what the EtherScope nXG can do, have a look at these videos that show several different testing scenarios.

I’m going to cap this one here. There is just sooooo much to talk about with this new tester. Yes, I know I sound borderline giddy and buzzed on the Kool-Aid- and I’m OK with that. I can tell you that the new tester feels good in the hand, and casual kicking of the tires is in itself impressive. I have an eval unit, and will be putting it through it’s paces for real in the near future. Watch for the next blog on the EtherScope nXG.

 

 

Another Example of How Important Wire is to Wireless

A house built on a shaky foundation cannot endure. And a WLAN built on a shaky wiring foundation likewise cannot endure, I tellya. My friends, is your foundation shaky? Is it? CHECK YOUR FOUNDATION NOW. (I happen to sell foundation-strengthening herbal supplements on the side, if you need that sort of thing…)

I’ve long been a proponent of recognizing installed UTP as a vital component in the networking ecosystem. Too many people take Layer 1 for granted, and forgivable sins of of our 10 Mbps and Fast Ethernet pasts won’t fly in a Gig world. Toolmakers like Fluke Networks sell cable certification testers that take the guesswork out of whether a given cable run can be relied on to perform as expected. Don’t use one of these testers at time of cable installation, and you are only assuming you have a good station cable.

I just had an interesting situation come up that I helped a very skilled field tech with. He was working in several different small buildings, each serviced by a Cisco Catalyst Switch and a handful of 3802 802.11ac access points. The switches and cable had been in place for years, and the APs for many months, all with no issues whatsoever.

Then, we changed out the old 3560X switches for shiny new 3650s (curse you Cisco for your bizarre fascination with part numbers so close together), and suddenly some APs weren’t working any more. Between us, we checked all switch settings, POST reports, CDP tables, logs, etc- everything you can dream up on the switch. We put the APs that weren’t working back on the old switches, and they came right up. Hmmm… thoughts turned to PoE/code bugs, but then I went a-Googlin’ before consulting TAC.

I found this document that put me on the path to righteousness. Though we weren’t having “PoE Imax Errors”, a couple of nuggets jumped out at me about our new switches.

PoE Imax

Holy guacamole- We got us a situation! But wait… THERE’S MORE!

PoE Imax2

Shazam! Which, of course, translates in Esperanto to “maybe your cable is actually kind of iffy, and all the CDP stuff that happens at the milliwatt level before PoE gets delivered worked OK with your old switch but not with the new one that has the enhanced PoE controller”.

If you don’t know that the newer switch does PoE differently, you might wrongly assume that your cabling is “good” because the APs worked on it when those APs used the old switches connected to that wiring. By now, you can probably guess where I’m headed…

Our tech tested the cabling on the new-switch-problem APs and in each case found that they needed help to work with the new switch. He re-terminated and tested each, with the APs then coming up with no issues. I have no doubt that this cable was certified 10-12 years ago, but in that time a lot can happen to either end of those cables depending on the environments where they are used.

Live and learn!

 

 

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:

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

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.