Category Archives: Wi-Fi

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.

 

Why You Should Care About MetaGeek’s MetaCare

metageek logoTo the WLAN support community, there are just a few tools that are truly revered. Among these are the various offerings by MetaGeek. I still have my original Wi-Spy USB-based Wi-Fi spectrum analyzer dongle that I used a million years ago when 2.4 GHz was the only band in town, but have also added almost every other tool that MetaGeek offers. Go to any WLAN conference or watch the typical wireless professional at work, and you’ll see lots of MetaGeek products in play. So… is this blog a MetaGeek commercial? I guess you could say so to a certain degree. I decided to write it after my latest renewal of MetaCare to help other MetaGeek customers (and potential customers) understand what MetaCare is all about.

I queried MetaGeek technical trainer Joel Crane to make sure I had my story straight, as MetaCare is one of those things you refresh periodically so it’s easy to lose sight of the value proposition. Straight from Crane:

MetaCare is our way of funding the continued development and support of our products. It’s also a great pun (in my opinion), but people outside of the United States don’t get it. When you buy a new product, you basically get a “free” year of MetaCare. When MetaCare runs out, you can keep on using the software, you just can’t download versions that were released after your MetaCare expired.

On this point, I have let my own MetaCare lapse in the past, then lamented greatly when an update to Chanalyzer or Eye P.A. came available. You have to stay active with your MetaCare to get those updates! Which brings me to Crane’s next point.

When you renew MetaCare, it begins on the the date that MetaCare expired (not the current date). Basically, this keeps users from gaming the system by letting it lapse for a year, and then picking up another year and getting a year’s worth of updates (although I try to not point fingers like that, generally our customers are cool and don’t try to do that stuff). MetaCare keys are one-time use. They just tack more MetaCare onto your “base” key, which is always used to activate new machines.
Like any other decent WLAN support tool, you gotta pay to play when it comes to upgrades. At the same time, I do know of fellow WLAN support folks who have opted to not keep up their MetaCare, and therefor have opted out of updates. Maybe their budget dollars ran out, or perhaps they don’t feel that MetaGeek updates their tool code frequently enough to warrant the expenditure on MetaCare. As with other tools with similar support paradigms, whether you use to pay for ongoing support is up to you. But I give MetaGeek a lot of credit for not rendering their tools “expired” if you forego MetaCare.
Crane also pointed out one more aspect of the MetaGeek licensing model that is actually quite generous (other WLAN toolmakers could learn something here!):
 Speaking of base keys, they can be activated on up to 5 machines that belong to one user. Each user will need their own key, but if you have a desktop, laptop, survey laptop, a couple of VM’s… go nuts and activate your base key all over the place. 

And now you know. As for me, my MetaCare costs are a business expense that I don’t mind paying- and I’m really looking forward to new developments from MetaGeek.


But wait- there’s more! Thanks to Blake Krone for the reminder. MetaGeek has a nice license portal for viewing and managing your own license keys, so you don’t have to wonder where you stand for available device counts, license expiration, etc.

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Related:

The Idiot’s Guide to Ubiquiti UniFi

BTW- I’m the idiot, in this case. Something about Ubiquiti’s “UniFi” approach to networking can make me feel confused and inexperienced at times. But I’m determined to make peace with it, and to also maybe help save someone else the confusion. Ubiquiti’s product lines are interesting, feature rich, innovative, flexible, and cost-effective. And… also occasionally bewildering if you have yet to Ubiquitize your mind. To this point, let me (hopefully) make the indoctrination to UniFi a little easier.

UniFi is a Management Methodology AND Networked Components

Part of what confused me early on was the name- “UniFi” must surely just be a bunch of bridges and access points… As in, things that do Wi-FIIf you’re thinking that, you’re wrong. UniFi is more like UniFied in that a wide range of switches, access points, security gateways, video components, and more are branded with the UniFi moniker and managed as an ecosystem.  First major point: UniFi isn’t just wireless.

As for how the UniFi ecosystem is managed, that’s one of the main areas of getting to know Ubiquiti’s latest stuff that made me feel like a child (and not a very smart child, at that). I have set up and managed my share of other non-UniFi Ubiquiti bridges, where you get to the individual component’s UI and configure to you heart’s delight. But if it’s a UniFi AP, switch or gateway, life gets a little more involved. Forget the individual per-component UI, for UniFi you need to adopt each component into a “controller” and then manage a “site” worth of stuff (or multiple sites) via the controller.  Second major point: you don’t generally manage individual UniFi parts/pieces, you adopt each into a “controller” and then manage them all from the controller interface. I’m not a fan of the term “controller” here, but it is what it is. Think OpenMesh or Meraki dashboards and you’re on the right track.

Maybe Too Flexible?

This is where experienced UniFi users might tell me to go eat rocks, and I’m OK with that. But I have been utterly confounded trying to wrap my head around the various incarnations of the UniFi Controller. One way or another, you need to get to this point:
UniFi Controller

This inventory view of the Controller shows what devices I have, then from there it’s pretty robust in both configuration and monitoring capabilities.
UniFi Controller1

UniFi Controller2

Once you get your devices into the controller instance, life gets pretty pleasant. I give Ubiquiti a lot of credit for the completeness of the management interface and for putting together a framework that makes perfect sense- once you get there. Getting there, however, can be tricky. To me, Ubiquiti isn’t doing so hot on their messaging that the UniFi controller can take multiple forms and that you have to really know which form you want to use before your bring an environment to life.  I’ve spent a lot of time pouring through Ubiquiti’s web pages, and there seems to be more of an emphasis on dazzling potential customers with grand claims of cloud this and that and SDN blah blah blah than a realization that newcomers to Ubiquiti may need some basic buzzword-free guidance on this controller thing. The UniFi controller can exist in different forms, and you can only use one at a time with a given set of end devices:

  • On a laptop. You need to use the controller to manage devices, but the devices don’t NEED the controller to operate, so you might only invoke the controller when you have changes to make. But… here you don’t get the monitoring and statistics that you would with a more persistent controller method.
  • On a CloudKey.  Now this is cool. I wrote about my first use of CloudKey here, and you need to know that it’s just another way of managing the UniFi devices.
  • On your own virtual host. Load up a controller in AWS, manage a bunch of sites in your own private cloud- but know that you have to provision the devices to get them to your cloud-hosted controller with effort not required in pure cloud-managed systems like Meraki and OpenMesh.
  • Let Ubiquiti host it. Recently added to the UniFi offerings is the Elite Controller option. Here, you end up with something that’s kind of like Meraki but not nearly expensive. You pay a modest fee per device, and in exchange Ubiquiti provides cloud hosting of the controller for your devices, and phone and chat support. Unlike Meraki or Open Mesh, this is not plug and play. Your devices do not magically tunnel out to the cloud controller just because you’d like them to! You need to provision the devices, as Justin Paul writes about in his blog. If you don’t do the provision thing right, you’ll beat your head against the wall in frustration.

Third major point: there are several versions of “UniFi Controller”. You have to grasp the differences to decide how you’ll manage a given network, 

I’m currently kicking tires on UniFi hardware and the Elite Cloud option. I will have much to say on both as my evaluation continues, but I do hope that this quick primer can help anyone who is new to Ubiquiti’s UniFi environment.

Newsflash: All 5 GHz Clients Don’t Work on All 5 GHz Channels

OK- this really shouldn’t be a newsflash. But, if you’ve never had to deal with what I’m about to summarize, then it may well be a headline story. But first, a word from today’s musical guest- Genesis, fronted by the great Phil Collins:

Talk to me, you never talk to me.
Ooh, it seems that I can speak.
I can hear my voice shouting out.
But there’s no reply at all.

Look at me, you never look at me,
Ooh, I’ve been sitting, staring, seems so long.
But you’re looking through me
Like I wasn’t here at all.
No reply, there’s no reply at all.

Phil and the boys know well what happens when you assume that any 5 GHz client will work on any 5 GHz access point. Rumor has it that Genesis was troubleshooting a wireless installation at a mall in Duluth when they were inspired to write the super-hit “No Reply at All”, but that’s a story for another time.

I’m here to tell you of- and show you- an example of a 5 GHz client that just can’t (and therefore WON’T) talk to anything but a few 5 GHz channels. If it’s not obvious, there is high potential for the “the network sucks!”  factor here. If you don’t know what you’re doing, you can foolishly add more APs, tweak every setting there is to tweak, RMA one client device after another, and end up with an over-radiating nonfunctional heap of squadoosh, baby.

Trouble in Po Po Land

Once upon a time, there was an awesome dual-band Wi-Fi network that few could match. The APs were pretty, the signals were clean, and the installation crew was a bunch of snappy gents. Thousands upon thousands of client devices used this high-performing WLAN daily- every kind of laptop under the sun, all sorts of common mobile devices, and smartphones aplenty.

Then the police cars came.

The Long Arm of the Law wanted in on that Wi-Fi goodness. The idea was simple: police cars would pull into their very wireless well-covered parking area at the end of shift, and dashcam video would automatically download to network servers via that sweet, sweet Fi. A vendor was hired to equip the cars, the police technical staff got the lowdown from the network folks on how to configure the client devices, and everything seemed good.

Except it didn’t work.

About That Police Car Wireless Client Device

The cruisers in question are equipped with the Ubiquiti Bullet M5 radio. These have a handy form factor, and can be had for less than $100 (then obscenely marked up and resold as something special).  And look- they are 802.11a and 11n-capable!

M5-2

Should be no issues on that robust dual-band network, as long as signal is coming out of the 5 GHz radios in theAPs and the 5 GHz radio in the M5- yes? I can stand next to the police car with my iPhone and connect on 5 GHz, so the car should work too! But… the cars weren’t working at first, despite their 5 GHz output being verified with a number of tools.

Curse you, fickle Fi! What dark magic is afoot?

5 GHz is a Big Range of Channels. You Gotta Understand Those Channels.

So, this big world-class WLAN uses a lot of 5 GHz channels (36, 40, 44, 48, 52, 56, 60, 64, 149, 153, 157,  and 161). But take a look at that graphic again. The M5 operates in the range of 5170 to 5825 MHz, whatever that means. And did you catch the footnote?

DID YOU CATCH THE FOOTNOTE? (* Only 5725 – 5850 MHz is supported in the USA)

If you didn’t know any better, you might expect that the entire range of 802.11a and .11n is 5725-5850 MHz, and that all of the channels on the WLAN would fit in that range. This is American Wi-Fi, and that’s an American client device!

It just isn’t that simple. Looky here (5 GHz channels, Wikipedia):
5 chans

It turns out that the M5 only works in one small slice of the entire 5 GHz range that 802.11a/n/ac Wi-Fi can function in. So… those police cars were hitting lower frequency channels from the WLAN that they don’t support. A quick channel change for the parking lot APs to the few that the M5 does support, and the video was soon flowing from the cars as desired.

This Happens Often on Utility Devices- Be Aware!

I’ve seen this same scenario play out on ticket scanners in stadiums, retail scanners in warehouses, and wireless cameras that all operate in only a slice of 5 GHz. You absolutely MUST understand what radio capabilities are in play when it comes to non-mainstream devices.

These are the cases that often separate WLAN pros from those who don’t understand the important nuances that unfortunately pervade modern Wi-Fi. And that lack of understanding can lead to a lot of wasted time and money trying to fix a problem that is nothing more than poor configuration born of ignorance.

Just how complicated is the question of which individual devices can operate on what specific 5 GHz channels? Let’s ask a good guy named Mike Albano.

 

That Which Pisses Us Wireless Folk Off- Vendor Edition

Now there’s a title. And since you’re reading this, you bit on it… Sucka. Now that you’re here, let’s share some observations from the WLAN community over the last few weeks. This is not (totally) a “Lee’s complaining again” blog; it’s more a collection of sentiments from dozens of friends and colleagues from across the Wi-Fi Fruited Plain that stuck with me for one reason or another.

Most of these observations are aimed squarely at our vendors- those who we do business with “above” as we shape their offerings into the systems and services we offer to clients “below”, with us in the middle.

You may not agree with all of these. Perhaps some of your own beefs didn’t make my list. Either way, I’d love to hear from you in the comments section. Now, in no specific order:

  • Marketing claims. OK, we’re starting out with the obvious. Wi-Fi marketing has always been about hype, far-fetchedness, and creative blather. Nothing new under the sun here. I truly hope that your 10x better Wi-Fi is serving up 500 APs per client that are all streaming 62 Netflix movies each simultaneously from a range of 37 miles away from the AP.
  • “Enterprise” switches that don’t stack. Stacking is neither new, nor special. Do your bigger switches stack? Is it not even an option? If not, maybe tone down calling them “enterprise”.
  • Big Bucks for power cords. You got major balls as a vendor if you’re pricing garden variety power cables at $20 per.  Shame on you. Same same for PoE injectors, nothing-special antennas, rack mounts and assorted other parts/pieces that can be gotten for pennies on YOUR dollar elsewhere. C’mon…
  • No version numbers. By now, we all get “cloud”. And most cloud infrastructure vendors ARE using OS version numbers as a point of reference for their customers. The absence of version numbers becomes more onerous as ever more features get added. Give us the damn version number. Do it. Doooooo it.
  •  No CPU/Memory/Interface stats. It doesn’t matter what the “thing” is, or whether it’s cloud-managed or not. EVERY interface needs to show statistics and errors, and every thingy needs to show CPU and memory information. Whatever your argument to the contrary may be, I promise that you are wrong.
  • Frequent product name changes. Just stop already.
  • The same stinking model numbers used for everything. Why? Maybe someone has a 3 and 5 fetish out in Silly Valley. It’s confusing, it’s weird, and it’s weirdly confusing in it’s weirdness, which leaves me confused.
  • The notion that EVERYTHING to do with wireless must be monetized. After a while, we start to feel like pimps as opposed to WLAN admins. I get that vendors need to be creative with new revenue streams, but it can be carried to extremes when applied to the WLAN ecosystem.
  • Too many models. It seems like some vendors must be awarding bonuses to HW developers based on how many different versions of stuff they can turn out, but customers are left confused about what to use when and where and why versus the other thing down the page a bit. Variety is good, but massive variety is not.
  • Complexity. This might be news to some vendors: the ultimate goals in deploying your systems for both us and the end user are STABILITY and WELL-PERFORMING ACCESS. Somewhere, vendors have lost track of that, and they are delivering BLOATED and HYPER-COMPLICATED FRAMEWORKS that place a cornucopia of buggy features higher on the priority list than wireless that simply works as users expect it to.
  • Slow quote/support ticket turnaround. Most times when we ask for pricing or open a case with technical support, it’s because there is a need. As in, we need something. And our assumptions are that our needs will be fielded with some degree of urgency, as we’re all in the business of service at the end of the day. No one likes slow service. No one likes asking over, and over, and over, and over, and over if there are any updates to our need possibly getting addressed.
  • Escalation builds/engineering code bugs. At the WLAN professional level, most of us work off the assumption that if we don’t typically do our jobs right the first time, we may not get follow up work and ultimately may be unemployed. That’s kind of how we see the world. I’m guessing that WLAN code developers play by different rules. ‘Nough said.
  • Bad, deceitful specs. Integrity is what keeps many of us in the game as professionals. Our word is our bond, as they say. Can you imagine telling someone that you can deliver X, but then when they need X, you can actually only provide a fraction of X- and then expecting that person to not be pissed off? Why are networking specs any different? Enough truth-stretching and hyper-qualified performance claims that you have to call a product manager and sign an NDA to get the truth about.
  • Mixed messages. OK, we ALL own this one- not just the vendors. The examples are many- grand platitudes and declarations that might sound elegant and world-changing in our own minds, but then they often fizzle in the light of day. Things like…
    • We need mGig switches for 802.11ac! 
    • We’ll never need more than a Gig uplink for 802.11ac!
    • 2.4 GHz is dead!
    • Boy, there’s a lot of 2.4 GHz-only clients out there!
    • We’re Vendor X, and we’re enterprise-grade!
    • Why do I see Vendor X gear everywhere, mounted wrong and in nonsensical quantities for the situation?
    • That one agency is awesome at interoperability!
    • Why does so much of this stuff NOT interoperate?
    • You must be highly-skilled with $50K worth of licensed WLAN tools or your Wi-Fi will suck!
    • Vendor X sells more Wi-Fi than anyone, most people putting it in are obviously untrained, yet there are lots of happy clients on those networks!
    • Pfft- just put in one AP per classroom. Done!
    • Cloud Wi-Fi is a ripoff!
    • Cloud Wi-Fi saves me soooo much money and headaches!
    • Here’s MY version of “cloud!”
    • Here’s MY version of “cloud!”
    • I freakin hate how buggy this expensive gear is!
    • At least those bugs are numbered on a pretty table!

It goes on and on and on. Always has, always will. Behind the electronics that we bring to life and build systems from are We the People. The humanity involved pervades pretty much everything written here, from all sides and all angles. And I have no doubt that every vendor could write their own blog called “That Which Pisses Us Vendor Folk Off- WLAN Pro Edition”.  Touche on that.

Ah well- there’s still nothing I’d rather be doing for a living.

Quick Hits: Xirrus, Ruckus, Cambium, Mojo Networks, Nyansa, CWNP

I don’t typically do aggregation blogs, as I prefer to explore a topic or product first-hand and write it up with my own learned perspective. At the same time, I’ve been full-out busy of late and don’t want to not give these topics at least some minor attention in case you have an interest in any. So many cool things happening in the world of wireless…

Xirrus- New HD AP, With Flavor Crystals! OK, no flavor crystals. That was just to keep you hooked. But Xirrus has announced the new .11ac Wave 2 XA4 access point that does support external antennas (really unique for Xirrus) and claims to replace four traditional APs from the competition. Check it out, and if you’re a Xirrus fan or pundit, please leave a comment at the end of this blog.


Ruckus- What Comes Next? In case you missed it, Ruckus Wireless may be facing an uncertain future. The Big Dog was bought by Brocode not too long ago, and now Broadcom is buying Brocade. And… Broadcom doesn’t want Ruckus or the rest of the Ethernet portfolio from Brocade. Did you get all that? Here’s hoping that our Ruckus brothers and sisters all land on their feet. Ruckus has a loyal following, so many of us are watching this one closely.


Cambium Partners With Disaster Tech Labs to help Refugees- There is a tech side to the unfortunate human drama playing out daily on the Island of Lesvos, as countless refugees flea the horrors of Syria and other garden spots for Europe. Disaster Tech Lab goes  where it’s needed when trouble hits, and the need is strong right now on Lesvos. The organization has teamed up with Cambium Networks to provide a range of services for the refugees and those who are directly assisting them.


Mojo Networks Leads the White Box Movement. Mojo Networks is a WLAN vendor, yes- but they also have some fascinating folks on staff that are involved with the Open Compute Project (OCP) and efforts to evolve “white-box WiFi” into a viable option. If you’ve felt like you’re on the losing end of “vendor lock” you’ll probably find the entire notion fascinating. Here’s an interesting presentation from Mojo on the idea of open access points.


Nyansa Adds Application Analysis to Voyance. I’ve been following Nyansa since before they were public, with early NDA briefs on the very powerful Voyance analytics platform. It’s taking WiFi analytics to really interesting cloud-enabled places, and recently got yet another feature boost by adding application analysis to Voyance’s powerful network key performance indicators.


CWNP Awards 200th CWNE Certification. The best source for wireless training in the world has just hit an incredible milestone, and the honor and privilege are mine.

Now you know! Thoughts? Comments? Let ’em rip. 

Aruba Networks Needs YOU!

There are a number of awesome events for WLAN professionals to attend these days, which is great for those of us in the business. One of the longer-running events is Aruba Network’s annual Atmosphere conference, which has come to rival the likes of Cisco Live! in a number of ways. These events are fun, informative, and provide unique opportunities to spend time with vendor reps and fellow customers. The next Atmosphere will run Feb 26- Mar 3, 2017 in Nashville (awesome choice of location, says I).

While you’ll certainly find much to take away from Atmosphere, Aruba needs something from YOU right now.

By January 9, Aruba networks needs submissions for presenters. I personally know many awesome Aruba VAR folks and customers, and can think of several that I’d love to see convey their real world experiences and technical knowledge.

Are YOU what Aruba needs? Do you have something to share with the uber-vibrant Airheads community? Check out the Call for Papers, and don’t be bashful. If you’re thinking of a topic you’d like to present, chances are really good that a lot of people are hoping that someone discusses exactly what you’ve got in mind. Don’t deny ’em your wisdom- sign up to present!