Category Archives: Wireless Networking

How Much Data is Used For Open Mesh Cloud Management?

You got questions, I got answers.

You see, I’m not just a network guy … Nossir,  there’s so much more. My cranium is enormous, I could be a male model, and I’m learning the Ukulele. I’m a CWNE, a newly minted Cisco CHAMPION (that’s right, Bucko- a champion– I might even run in the Kentucky Derby this year), but I’m also a gonzo bloggist. I don’t write the story. I live the story.  Hell, frequently I am the story.

And I ask the tough questions.

Like after I published this article about Open Mesh’s new access points (which I happen to be connected to as I type this, thank you very much) and a cheeky fellow asked me on Twitter something like “how much data do those Open Mesh APs use for cloud management, and would I have to worry about it on small WAN links?” I couldn’t give this gent a straight answer, because I didn’t know. Somehow, my enormous cranium did not have that information stored. But I knew where to go find it, I tellya.

The first thing I did was to go to my Meraki dashboard and look where my Open Mesh switch with four attached APs uplinked into the Meraki environment. (Yes, I’m mixing cloud-managed solutions, and I have never felt so alive!) Anyhow, I saw maybe 27ish kbps of traffic that looked like it was probably Open Mesh admin traffic heading out, and it was happening every few minutes. I shared this with my  inquisitive Twitter pal, but I wanted confirmation from the top. I had to know with certainty, from the source. And I knew just how to get it.

I’d need to breach the Open Mesh corporate perimeter and make someone talk. 

Mind you, I was prepared to go all the way on this mission- if you know what I mean. I’ve run these ops before, and rarely do I come up empty-handed. In this case, I tried the oldest trick in the book; I asked my contact directly.

Evidently she knew the stakes and thought better of trying to wiggle out  of the situation.


Lee, 

Here’s what I got back regarding management traffic: access points check in every 5 minutes and send on average ~5KB of data
Let me know if you were looking for something else. 


BAM! Not only did I brazenly come away with the inside scoop thus showing my style and my energy, I corroborated my own findings-  proving that there’s essentially nothing I can’t do in this wretched, unforgiving world of pain.
Now, what I don’t know, and am big enough to admit: Is Meraki’s cloud management traffic load similar? Is Aerohive? Cucumber Tony? Other vendors? I don’t know, because to date, I have not really cared. My running assumption has been “it’s not enough traffic to care about” on any link. Maybe someone else can step up and put a finer point on it.
But let the record show- we now know, with certainty and style, what the overhead cloud-bound traffic for Open Mesh is.
And ain’t no one taking that away from us.

Awesome Radio Hobby Magazine, and a Bit of Chagrin

A few years back, I looooved a magazine called Monitoring Times. It was awesome, and stood out among radio hobbyist periodicals for how well-written, relevant, and content-rich it was every month. I had the pleasure of interacting a couple of times with Bob Grove, an absolutely wonderful gent and man behind Monitoring Times. I even wrote for him a couple of times- here’s a scan of one of my Monitoring Times articles.

Bob retired himself and the magazine in 2013. He shut down Grove Enterprises, and I hope him and wife Judy are doing well after all they’ve given to the radio community. I went through withdrawal when Monitoring Times  went out of circulation, I was such a radio nerd… Since then, I’ve found some sporadic content that came close on occasion to the type I liked in Monitoring Times- but never really found a replacement.

Until now.

Here’s the rub- a decent follow-on came out RIGHT AFTER my old favorite went away, yet somehow I missed it. I missed the 2013 announcements that Monitoring Times’ Managing Editor Ken Reitz was publishing a PDF-based magazine called The Spectrum Monitor. I feel like a bit of an idiot!

Well, late than never, says I. Now that I have found it, The Spectrum Monitor already feels like an old friend. I subscribed, I bought back issues, and I’m in my glory. Ken has done a fantastic job keeping the essence that worked so well in the old rag, and has built well on it with the new.

If you’re a radio nerd or aspire to be one, I highly recommend filling your preferred reader app full of The Spectrum Monitor.

Surfing the Outernet- a Different Kind of Wireless Network

An excellent fellow named Luke put me on this path. He mentioned this thing called “Outernet”, not realizing I have a mania for all manner of goofy signals receiving activities. From shortwave to non-directional beacons to emergency communications and Over the Air TV, I like to find what’s out there. So when he casually mentioned Outernet, I was hooked right away.

In my own words, Outernet looks to provide news and weather to areas of the earth where there is no easy access to the Internet, and where maybe all you’ll get on local  news radio is propaganda.  The idea that huge areas have essentially no access may come as a surprise to many, but others are also taking up the challenge, as I covered here– this one set in the massive Australian outback. There are plenty more examples if you search around.

Let’s get right to it. Take some very portable, easily powered components:parts

Then, connect them up and aim that square antenna at the right satellite. For us in the Americas, it’s the Immarsat 4 bird at 98 degrees west, off the coast of Mexico a ways. Feel free to chuckle at this cobbed together temp setup.setup

The CHIP computer used in the rig has it’s own Wi-Fi. Find the SSID “Outernet”, and then connect to http://my.outernet.is, enter the credentials, and you’re in. You’ll see the front door of the UI once you toggle itscreenshot_2017-01-29-16-21-22

If you have satellite lock (you aimed the antenna right), you should have lock indication and the flow of data, as viewed in the tuner window.tuner

Transfer speeds won’t be blistering fast, and you get the content that is fed through the satellite from “the carousel” – you can read about all of that at the Outernet web site. As news and weather data download, your onboard library will start filling up. The file system looks like thisfilesys

After you get files automatically downloaded, you can see current events and weather information (maybe you’re out on the high seas)- without any sort of Internet connection at all- from a variety of news sources

Pretty cool, right? You may not think so, actually. I get that.

It’s easy to say “Big Deal”, given that most of us are spoiled silly by an abundance of connectivity options in our day to day lives. But in far off places, this sort of kit can be had for well under $100, easily powered “off the grid” and can bring a sense of connectedness to the greater where there are simply no other options.

Oh- and it’s fun for the geeky radio hobby types.

A Good IoT Set of Design Guidelines, But Missing an Important Point

Go here. Read it. It won’t take long.

I especially like #4:

Give Humans the Power to Opt-Out – I understand that the features in your device are amazing, life-changing even. However, when a device or its software affects someone’s life, they deserve a say in how they use it. It’s as simple as that. Especially if the software or its updates are in a life-saving healthcare device. The doctor and the patient must not only understand the features but need to come to an agreement on how and when they will be used. So yes, while sending an automatic order to the grocery store when you are out of milk seems innocuous, your customers should still get a say in how and when that order happens.

It’s refreshing to see Core Security take IoT vendors to task on security, but as a WLAN Architect/Admin/Instructor/Supporter/Philosopher/Fanboy, I do find a deficiency with the otherwise good blog.

EVERY kind of device finds it’s way to the business WLAN. And the business WLAN landscape should be moving away from pre-share-based WLAN security and MAC-exceptions on Guest WLANs. If you aren’t building in 802.1X support with the top few EAP types, you are still not getting it.

And too many device makers still are not getting it.

 

Don’t Forget Visual Inspection When Network Troubleshooting

My small engines shop teacher said it in high school. Countless Air Force electronics instructors said the words when I went through Electronic Warfare school. I myself even harped on it when I became an Air Force instructor, and again years after when I taught basic electronics classes at a local vo-tech center.

Always first do a visual inspection when you’re troubleshooting. Always.

It’s easy to say, and just as easy to blow right past. Like I did yesterday when troubleshooting a wireless bridge link, which cost an extra hour of troubleshooting time.

In this scenario, a farm campus is tied together by three Ubiquiti bridges. It’s an environment that I took over and cleaned up a few years ago. I had my hands full eliminating all the oddball consumer routers that were in way too many places and moving the entire environment to a manageable topology that both I and the owner could understand. I inherited two M5 Nano Station bridge links, that were actually pretty well done- or so it seemed. Later, I would add a 900 MHz bridge link to get past a large stand of tall pines for a new connection, but this tale of my own shortcomings focuses on one of the M5 links.

The trouble call was for the single PC in the Robot Barn- a facility used for automatic feeding of dairy cow calves. The PC has two network connections; one goes to the modem that uplinks the robot feeders on proprietary low-voltage protocols, and the other connects to one of the M5s and ultimately back to the Meraki MX that head-ends the network. Basically, nothing was working.

A quick stop at the barn, and I found that the PC was in the kind of shape that comes when someone doesn’t know what they are doing, but are trying to fix it anyway. Both adapters had all kinds of oddball, nonsensical settings. I quickly got the dairy application side up so the important robot data was at least being buffered, and it could upload to offsite servers when I got the network link figured out.It was pretty clear that the PC was not talking back into the network, nor would my own laptop. But… from the remote end I could get to the far-side bridge admin interface, and see that it showed link down. On the way out of the building, I took a quick look and saw this:
M5.JPG

Then, I drove to the other end of the farm to where the root bridge is. As I walked in to the building to check to make sure the root had link-light and such, I got distracted by one of the owners. He told me he had re-arranged some of the power cords and the monitor for the CCTV system, which are co-located with the network equipment the same time the problem started. Ah-hah! I’m highly skeptical of coincidences, and bit right into the probability that THIS MUST BE THE PROBLEM. I sat down, got into the root bridge UI, and started thinking desperate thoughts. Like… even though I can get into the UI on both bridges, maybe one died on the radio side. Or maybe one of the cheap power supplies wasn’t getting it done (despite both bridges eagerly presenting their UIs to me).

For the next hour, I let myself go down goofy rabbit holes. I replaced both bridge power injectors. I dorked with settings on each bridge. I falsely concluded that one bridge or the other was at least corrupted, if not bad. My next step was to take them both down and see if I could reset them and start over getting them to talk. I walked outside with one of the owners to show her where I needed to get access to take down the root bridge- and then felt profoundly stupid.

The root bridge was not where it was supposed to be. It was laying down on the metal roof, looking sadder than a country song on a Sunday morning. Remember, I inherited this bridge, along with the others. The “mast mount” was an anemic two sheet metal screws into the thin metal peek of the roof, and it’s amazing it held up as long as it did. Up I scurried, and cobbed it back into place with wire as it was getting dark with proper mounting to follow. And- the link came back up.

LESSONS:

  • When I took responsibility of this network over, I should have looked closer at the shoddy way this bridge was mounted and dealt with it then.
  • Whoever hosed up the computer shouldn’t have. The owners will work with the staff to ensure that doesn’t happen again.
  • I SHOULD HAVE gotten out of my vehicle and walked immediately to where I could see the root bridge installed, after having verified all at the non-root site was seemingly fine.
  • I SHOULD NOT HAVE gotten starry eyed jumping to the conclusion that the problem came from things being touched near the network equipment.

Having skipped the important visual inspection step at the root end pushed me into a trap of bad judgement that we all land in occasionally, and when I realized that had happened my mind was immediately flooded with voices from the past (including my own) saying yet again “Always do a visual inspection first!”.

Whether you’re looking for a wireless bridge laying on a roof, a burnt-out resistor on a circuit board, a corroded Ethernet jack, or a damaged fiber cable, a quick once-over with the eyes is sound practice before you start digging in on configurations.

Had I followed my own guidance, I would have had my client back in service a lot quicker.

(And yes… I did make sure all of the other bridges were mounted right before I left!)

The Great Hobby Blog- Try Something New in 2017

If you’re reading this blog- my blog- you probably have at least have a few in interests in common with me. And yes, generally Wirednot is all about Wi-Fi and wireless topics. But as I write this, the snow is pounding down outside and my mind is drifting off to the new year, and what fun things I may fill it with. I know that I’m not alone in having many interests with a technical bent, but there are SO MANY cool things to monkey with these days that it sometimes gets overwhelming knowing where to even start.

In that spirit, I’ve opted to put together the following list of things that you might want to consider getting involved with in 2017 (if you’re not already doing some of these). After you read through, please add your own suggestions in the comments.

My goal here is to also keep my suggestions limited to those that won’t require large cash outlays, and that are often family-friendly. Or maybe you’ll be inspired to use what you already own in new ways. Let’s get started.

Free or Close to It 

  • Geocaching. If you have a GPS-equipped phone or tablet, or a handheld-GPS receiver, you’re ready. Check out the Mac-Daddy of Geocaching websites (but know that there are others, as well). I have logged hundreds of caches through the years with my kids and co-workers, in many states- and stashed about a dozen of my own for others to find. There are geocaches freakin’ everywhere, in cities, suburbs, and way out in the middle of nowhere.
  • AM Dxing. What’s DXing? At its simplest, DXing is catching radio signals from far away. Once you realize that AM is a whole different animal at night and in the winter, catching signals from far away (based on station ID) can get addicting to some of us. Chances are you have a portable radio with the AM band onboard. If not, and you own a vehicle, you’re ready to find a hilltop and see what you can pull in.
  • Turn That Old Tablet Into a Multi-Band Radio. Smartphones and tablets have been around long enough that many of us have cycled through a couple of generations. Got an old tablet? Turn it into an Internet Radio, a Police Scanner, a Ham Radio Transceiver, a Walky-Talky and more- all at the same time. There are a ton of free or dirt-cheap apps (heavier on the Android side) that can be loaded up on that old device to make a radio purpose-specific tool.
  • Turn That Old Tablet Into a Digital Picture Frame. Get it right, and this is a profoundly handy use for an abandoned tablet. Lots of apps and how-to online.
  • Actually LEARN How to Use that DSLR. I looooooove my camera, and lug it almost everywhere. Out and about, I see a lot of other camera-toters and occasionally there’s the inevitable “what ya got there?” dialogue as strangers eye up each other’s gear. I’m always surprised to see top-tier cameras left in “full auto” modes, because the owner probably didn’t ever learn how to use the advanced combination of settings. Let yourself do the thinking for the camera as you manipulate ISO, shutter speed, aperture, and white balance and you’ll become a better photographer.
  • Read a Book on Tech Pioneers. It’s easy to get caught up in the here-and-now of technology. And you’ve no doubt at least heard of the likes of Marconi, Edison, Tesla, and Hertz. If you want to broaden your perception of the tech we use today, grab a good biography on one of these early technologists. You’ll no doubt find that what you thought you knew about radio history is way over-simplified, not everybody got the credit they deserved, and that some of our heroes were actually unsavory at times. And the technology itself “back then” is fairly amazing to ponder.

Spend a Little, Learn a Lot

  • Do ANYTHING With a Raspberry Pi. For around $50, you can find some nice Raspberry Pi complete kits online. There are infinite number of projects you can do based on the RPI, or you can simply build it as a computer to use. No matter what direction you go with this, you’ll gain an appreciation for how powerful these pocket-sized computing platforms are and you’ll get your eyes opened to an incredible range of potential projects. These little guys are addicting.
  • Cut the Cable- Even If Only as an Exercise. I’m a cable-cutter. My mantra on this topic is “Time-Warner can suck it” with increasingly costly monthly bills and just terrible programming. Yet I understand that some people find value in paying for Cable TV and I begrudge no one’s personal choices. Even if you’re a die-hard cable fan, it’s really easy and pretty cool to play the “what if” game. What if you decided to pull in only Over the Air signals? What could you get with just a low-cost antenna? I won’t get into the how-to as there are countless articles online, but those who try it for the first time are often surprised at the variety of truly free channels they can get. When you’re done playing, just plug the cable back in.
  • Get a Ham Radio License. Aside from a Physics course, you won’t find a more interesting range of topics in one field of study than in the materials that prepare you for sitting for the entry-level Technician Class Amateur Radio License. It’s cheap to study for with a wealth of free online resources, and with the latest generation of inexpensive transceivers out of China, you can pick up your first rig at ridiculously low prices.
  • Go Back to School, Without Going Back to School. Check out Udemy and Coursera for free-to-cheap learning opportunities in a crazy range of topics from real schools and subject matter experts. You may even see some familiar names in the mix as instructors. It’s a really nice way to keep learning without busting the budget or work schedule.
  • Discover Software-Defined Radio. This can feel like Harry Potter-grade stuff in a cheap package, or you can go haywire and drop some serious coin playing with SDR. Get started here.

 Hopefully these at least prime the pump if you’re looking for something a little different to occupy your free time in the coming year. I’d love to hear your suggestions, too!

It’s the Little Things… Add Notes to Access Point Alerts in Prime Infrastructure

PI is the wireless network management system that many a Cisco shop uses for monitoring and management of the WLAN environment. The bigger you are in size and complexity of wireless environment, the more important your NMS is.

I don’t love PI. There are days where I barely like it. But I rely on it, and am fond of one simple feature that I want to call out here.

pi-annotate

When you deal with thousands of APs, occasionally a handful go out of service. Sometimes it’s a quickly-corrected failure of the AP or connected PoE, while other times it’s a non-failure condition like space renovations where the AP is located.

It can get easy to lose track of which AP is out and why if you are also busy with other duties, and don’t have the luxury of staring at PI all day. For me, it may be several hours or even days before I can catch up with certain alerts, and it’s not uncommon to come back into the dashboard and have to get re-oriented with what’s out and why.

One simple thing that can help is shown above- adding annotations to the alert for a given AP that is out long-term for a known reason (yes, you can put these APs into Maintenance Mode, but I find that doesn’t always get done when lots of hands are in the pot).

I’ve come to rely on these simple notes to save time, and to remind anyone looking of why the dreaded red dot is next to APs that really aren’t in duress.

The little things help a lot at times, and the annotation option is worth trying if you don’t use it yet.