Category Archives: Wi-Fi

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 The old favorites were superseded by G2 versions of both the LinkRunner and the AirCheck with updated capabilities, and we all also got used to that paradigm.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.

 

 

Wyebot Adds Feautures, Ups It’s WLAN Performance Monitoring Game

I wrote about Wyebot a few months back for IT Toolbox. It’s an interesting wireless network performance monitoring platform, and is among the more impressive tools of this type that I’ve looked at (think Cape sensors, 7signal, Netbeez, etc). Why does Wyebot appeal to me?

Wyebot16

For starters, the user interface hooks me. I know that this is one of those highly subjective things that hits us all differently, but I find the Wyebot dashboard easy to navigate, with a lot of value at each drill-in point. If you look at the IT Toolbox article referenced above, you’ll get a good introduction to the product, and here’s a nice summary of why the company feels that their multi-radio sensor is advantageous. That’s all well and good, but the point of THIS blog is that Wyebot has added new features in their version 2.2 code, and is listening to their customers and avaluators like me as they evolve the product.

Quick side note: I brought up with Wyebot that it would be nice to see “What’s New” release-notes/features listed somewhere in the dashboard, and as it is you have to click in fairly deep to tell what version is running, like so:
Wyebot17

If you miss the email that tells what features have been added, it’s hard to find that information anywhere else. That does a disservice to a decent product that is getting better with every update, so hopefully we see a change here in the near future.

But back to the 2.2 release. The bulleted list goes like this:

  • Network Test Graphs
  • Historical problems/solutions
  • Support for iPerf version 3
  • Enhanced Network Test result details
  • Enhanced ability to discover AP names
  • Auto-creation of Network Tests

And the details can be seen here in the release notes,Wyebot v2.2 Release Notes (July 2019).

Given that different environments have varying areas of concern, each of us will find different weights to the value of the individual feautures as Wyebot continues to mature. From Day 1, I’ve been impressed with the sensors’ ability to quickly characterize a Wi-Fi environment and monitor it for changes. I appreciate that the sensor can use wireless backhaul, and that it can serve as an iPerf server (versions 2 and 3), as well as performing as a wireless client even on 802.1X networks for testing authentication and such.

Perhaps my fovorite capability to date is being able to upload a pcap file to Wyebot and have it display what the capture means through the lens of the Wyebot interface.

There is a lot to like, and more coming with each release. If you’ve not looked at Wyebot yet, I think you’ll find that this start-up is holding it’s own among established competitors when it come to WLAN performance monitoring.

Ekahau Retools For The Future

As a long-time Ekahau user (pretty sure I was one of the first few American customers way back when), I’ve gotten used to continuous improvement and evolution from Ekahau Site Survey (ESS) suite of tools. There have always been new features right around the corner, and the company has been perhaps the best I’ve ever seen at gathering and acting on user feedback. It’s been a great run. In the recent past, the hot-selling Sidekick provided a unique new dimension to the survey and spectrum analysis processes, and the Ekahau company was purchased by Ookla/Ziff-Davis. Both of those developments are pivotal to what comes next for Ekahau.

And what comes next is called Ekahau Connect.

Ekahau Connect

There’s  A LOT here to talk about, starting with ESS getting rebadged as Ekahau Pro, now compatible with both Windows and Mac operating systems. (If you are new to the world of WLAN support, trust me that Mac is a far-better tool platform than Windows- and I am unabashedly NOT an Apple lover.)

Then there is Sidekick’s expanded capabilities- including wireless packet capture leveraging Sidekick’s dual radios (yay!) and the ability to interface with the iPad as a survey platform. This is a pretty big deal, and the light physical weight of the iPad makes for easier, more comfortable surveys.

Ekahau iPad

And… Ekahau does a little catch-up with it’s introduction of Ekahau Cloud. This is one extremely valuable capability that competitor iBwave has had for some time, as I wrote about here. Having used iBwave’s cloud tools, I can assure you that Ekahau’s customers who work in teams are going to love it and there is no doubt that the cloud expertise behind Ookla has some impact here.

And is if this all wasn’t enough for Ekahau Nation, feast your eyes on another new benefit- Ekahau Connect components working together to identify, classify, and locate interferers:

interferers

I have been fortunate in that I have been a beta tester for Ekahau’s latest. At the same time, a couple of serious “life happens” events have kept me from being a good beta tester. So for real-world first-hand perspective, I’ll hand you to two two of my favorite people on the No Strings Attached podcast.You’ll be in good hands with Sam and Blake.

 

 

Say Hello to Ooklahau

ooklahau 3 If you’ve been in the business of professional wireless networking for any amount of time, you no doubt have at least a familiarization with Ekahau. For many of us, our networks would not be what they are today if it weren’t for the long-running design and survey reliability and excellence baked into Ekahau’s magic. I’ve been a customer for somewhere around 15 years, and the Ekahau experience with both predictive designs and active surveys has only gotten better with each release. The addition of Sidekick to the ESS suite was a game-changer, and the future looks bright for this Finnish company who also happens to be well-connected to their end users, open to ideas for product improvements, and… well, downright fun to work with.

ooklahau 1Then there’s Ookla- the Seattle-based speedtest.net people that pretty much anybody and everybody on the planet with a connected to device has likely used at some point. They have a huge end-user facing presence with their speedtest apps, but also an impressive global presence that services enterprise customers as well. Ookla started in 2006, and has been growing their cloud-based service offerings and brand -recognition ever since.

Let’s not be coy… you know where this is going. Despite my cheesy logo play, a name change IS NOT imminent to either company. But Ekahau has been acquired by Ookla, as you can read about here on Ekahau’s own blog. I did get a chance to talk with my pal Jussi Kiviniemi (Senior VP for Solution Strategy and Customer Experience) at Ekahau about the news just moments before writing this.

Customers can expect Ekahau to stay largely the same operationally for the foreseeable future, but behind the scenes the global human and technical resources of Ookla are going to mean good things over time. Jussi was practically beaming, even over the phone. This is going to make for really interesting days ahead for wireless and network performance testing for sure, and could enable some pretty fascinating things on the design side when the cloud aspect is figured in.

Congrats, Ekahau! Well done, and well-deserved.

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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