Category Archives: Wireless Networking

NetAlly EtherScope nXG Pics

I introduced the EtherScope nXG from NetAlly in this recent blog. As I continue to test it out and learn it’s deeper capabilities, I find myself amassing a lot of screenshots of various features. If you already have an EtherScope nXG (or the G2 version of AirCheck or LinkRunner) these random shots may bore you. If you are new to NetAlly, they might you fired up to learn more. I’m just putting them out there…  watch for coming blogs that get into specific features, capabilities, and my impressions as I go.

Now, get an eyefull:
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There is a lot to take in, and suffice it to say I’m just scratching the surface here… more to follow.

 

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.

 

 

Forti-much to Appreciate at Mobility Field Day 4

Fortinet-logo-250x82About a month has gone by since I sat in a conference room at Fortinet HQ out in Sunnyvale during Mobility Field Day 4. As I review the presentations my fellow delagates and I saw first hand, I realize just how much information Fortinet’s Chris Hinsz put in front of us. Though the this was Mobility Field Day, it’s getting harder to cleanly slice off just the wireless parts from almost anyone’s product lines. With Fortinet, we not only saw the whole enchilada,  but were treated to the entire Big Hombre Combo Platter.

Fortinet is always an interesting visit, for me. The company’s networking product line and architecture always piques my interest, never having been a Fortinet customer. It’s not uncommon to sit at the competition’s offices and sometime just feel utterly smothered by market-speak, licensing paradigms, and gratuitous complexity.  I never get that vibe at Fortinet. At the same time, the Fortinet offerings feel complete, well thought-out, robust, and not lacking in anything- like they figured out a way to do what the other guys are doing without feeling the need to puff it up in all the wrong places. They must be doing something right as even though we didn’t talk much about it, Fortinet is growing and building a new HQ.

Back to the Mobility part of this Field Day event. We did get a look at Fortinet’s starting 802.11ax/Wi-Fi 6 wireless access points:

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And we learned of their radio flexibility:

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There’s a lot more here to consider as well as Fortinet looks towards the 802.11ax world that is coming soon. We got into new multi-gig FortiSwitches to connect those APs to, various management and control options, and a tiny taste of hundreds of features added to the latest FortiOS version. Then there is IoT Security, RF Management, SD WAN and sooooooo much more.

Fortinet is and always has been about security, so it wasn’t surprising to hear about a couple of innovative new tools in the mix to round out an alrady impressive solution set:

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And the story just gets bigger. There is way too much to capture in a single blog, and so I recommend watching the recorded presentations from MFD4.

On a personal note- if you ever get a chance to talk with Chris Hinsz, make sure you take the opportunity. He’s just a genuine, wonderful guy to spend a little time with. It doesn’t matter if you’re talking technology or life in general, you can’t not feel good after hanging with Chris. 

 

The Network is Code: Cisco at MFD4

It’s always a bit of a thrill to visit Cisco HQ, and to step within the walls of this global network powerhouse. I got to do that again at Mobility Field Day 4, and as usual the presentations and the visit just went too fast. Such is the way these events go… On this go round, Cisco offered us:

Each is interesting and informative, especially when combined with the delagates questions. You’ll be glad you watched them, if you haven’t yet.

But something else jumped out at me at this event, and it may seem silly to even mention. Have a look at this sticker:
Code Pic

The wording of it got my mind working. In a number of directions.

I’m just sharing what’s in my head as a long-time Cisco wireless customer as I ponder the message on that innocous sticker.

I’m glad to see that CODE is the network, because it hasn’t always been. CODE, as presented like this, implies “reliable code, as surely you don’t want an unreliable network”. To that I would add “especially at the costs charged for licensing the hell out of everything”.  The sticker mentions CODE + the 9000 Catalyst Series, and perhaps sends the message that it’s a new day for reliability? On that topic, the CODE in this case is IOS-XE, which displaces AireOS as what powers the Cisco line of wireless controllers. I do hear often that “IOS-XE has been out a long time so it has to be solid by now” kinda talk.

I’m not sure I buy into that, but am hopeful. If I’m a little skeptical, it’s because IOS-XE packaged as a wireless controller brain is a new paradigm, despite the maturity of the OS. And… despite many, many mea culpa  sessions in private with Cisco’s wireless business unit through the years over wireless code quality, I have yet to see any sort of public-facing commitment to not repeat the development sins of the past as the new magic seeks to gain traction. This bothers me, in that I don’t know that the background culture that allowed so many problems with the old stuff isn’t being carried over into the new. My problem, I know. But I’m guessing I’m not alone with this feeling.

The other thing thing that this sticker has me thinking about is this: if  the network is code, why do I need controller hardware? Yes, I know that the 9800 WLC can run in VM- but VM instances ultimately run on hardware. As a big Cisco customer with thousands of 802.11ac access points that run the latest AP operating system, I would love to be totally out of the controller business (and all the various management servers needed) WHILE KEEPING MY INSTALLED ACCESS POINTS. If the network is code, maybe let me point these things at my Meraki cloud and simplify life?

I’m just one man, with opinions. But that sticker did get me thinking…

 

Code, Heal Thyself: Mist Systems Brings Something Badly Needed to WLAN Market

If you do any profession long enough, you’ll experience all sorts off good and bad along the way. For me, “good” has been the honor of providing reliable Wi-Fi to hundreds of thousands of client devices through the years, and “bad” has been fending off downtime and damage to organizational reputation when code bugs hit. Why focus on code bugs? To me, they are the one huge factor in WLAN system operation that we as wireless professionals can’t control. We can get everything else right from RF environmental design to RADIUS server capacity to onboarding clients, but we can’t defend against what evil lurks in the lines of code that runs the system hardware. Nor should we have to- that’s where we expect vendors to hold up their end of the deal on hardware and software that ain’t getting any cheaper.

Oh, how I have bitched and whined and complained about code bugs through the years. There was “The Horrible Bags We Hold For WLAN Vendors“. And “Code Suck Regulation: Should We Sue Vendors For Major Code Bugs?” I got a bunch of them… and it’s not just me. One of my favorite people, Jake Snyder, laid down a really good video lament on the topic. No one can forget my own video from the Wireless LAN Professional Conference in 2017 where I detailed real-world impact of code bugs. It’s a real thing, ya’ll.

I titled one post on the topic “Will Reliability Be Prioritized Before Wi-Fi’s Whiz-bang Future Gets Here?” (a house built on suck cannot stand).  This one jumped to mind yesterday as I sat in a Juniper Networks conference room in San Jose and heard Mist Systems talk about reliability. What I heard was refreshing.

Mist CTO Bob Friday and his crew presenting at Mobility Field Day 4 detailed how the company’s AI does all kinds of things- but among the most important is finding it’s own system anomalies. The gravity of the point is fairly significant, as one vendor after another wants to put a dashboard in front of you that calls out anything and everything as a wireless problem for you to chase after, but none that I know of will raise their hand and admit “OK- I’m actually the problem here… me, the system. I screwed up… I’ll fix me so we can all move on. Beg your pardon…” But now Mist is promising that, and it’s huge.

CTO Friday not only called out this capability, but was kind enough to give me a shout out for my years of crying like a school girl about code bugs, which was thoughtful.

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Well done, Mist Systems! There was a hell of a lot more to the presentation- and in the couple of hours I listened, I was impressed that Mist has managed to boil the hype off the concept of AI and actually did a decent job of explaining real-world, practical applications and benefits. There are several videos from the session, and they are worth watching.

More about Mobility Field Day 4 here.

 

Say Hello to NetAlly- a New Old Friend

When it comes to wireless tools, there are some products that are just beloved by most of us in the trenches. When conversation turns to WLAN verification and characterization,  the AirCheck G2 comes up pretty quickly. I’ve written about it on occasion myself, like here.  My friend Sam Clements has also covered it, and the Air Check G2 and other related products were featured prominently at last year’s Mobility Field Day 3, under the NetScout banner. The G2 and it’s related products are easy to appreciate, and get their fair share of coverage, as it should be.

But things change in San Jose.

The AirCheck G2 and select other NetScout tools and software have spun off into their own new company, called NetAlly. The press release can be found here, and the new NetAlly product family includes all of these from NetScout:

So… some tools we know and love have a new logo… big deal, right? It actually is, as NetAlly’s focus on a smaller product set (handhelds/laptop software) should bode well for product development and updates.

Speaking of which-  the new company will be presenting at Mobility Field Day 4, which can only mean new magic will be revealed. I’ll be watching it first hand, on site as company reps do their announcements. More information on that session, with eventual video  of the live streamed event, can be found at this Mobility Field Day page.

Given that the G2 products have a huge following (and many of us are waiting for AirMagnet to get new development before we pay for ongoing support), this will absolutely be worth following.

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What I Hope I Don’t Hear at Mobility Field Day 4

With another Mobility Field Day 4 coming up soon, I can’t help but ponder what this year’s briefings will bring. (If you’re not familiar with Mobility Field Day or the Field Day franchise, have a look here.) As I bang this blog out, the agenda features:

  • Aruba
  • Cisco
  • Fortinet
  • Metageek
  • Mist
  • …and a secret company you’ll all find out about during the event

This list may or may not grow a little, we never know right up until the last minute. As is, it’s a nice mix of old-guard industry leaders, up-and-comers, crowd favorites, and tool-makers. The event is gonna sizzle as each vendor attempts to show their newest offerings and best face, and I’m both proud and priveleged to be in attendance.

That being said- As a loooong-time Wireless Doer and frequent delegate for Field Day events, I’d like to share some of what I sincerely hope I DO NOT see and hear at this awesome event. This is a voice from the trenches speaking…

  • AI and Machine Learning as THE THING. Given the line-up of pesenting vendors, I promise that you’ll get intoxicated if you take a drink everytime you hear “AI” or “machine learning” during MFD4. I’m all for letting the world know that these processes are at work under the hood- but companies also have a way of overselling buzzwords. Just because a vendor has incorporated artifical intelligence, machine learning, SDeverything, analytics, etc, it doesn’t mean the product won’t ultimately be problematic. There needs to be more to the presentation than “AND WE FREAKIN’ USE AI- NOW CUT US A P.O.!”
  • Over-Licensed Proprietary Features Masked as Innovation. Vendors have the right to charge whatever they want, and some have certainly turned complex licensing paradigms into huge cash cows.

    Hear me now vendors: license away- but know that fair play counts. And some of you have lost your sense of fair play in favor of squeezing every rediculous cent out of long-time loyal customers with obscene, over-complicated license paradigms that are poorly disguised as “innovative”.  You can show us the most useful and revolutionary features in the world, but when even your own sales folk get tripped up in the complexity of licensing, the aftertaste is not worth using the feauture set.

  • BMW Pricing for Ford Fiesta Feature Sets.  If it’s buggy, incomplete, “coming in Q1 next year”, bundled with a slew of other functions we really don’t want, or implemented with an out-of-touch developer’s view on wireless, it is not worth a premium. Back to the fair play thing- roadmap feautures are fine. But don’t charge me today for what I can’t use for 6-12 months. Or expect customers to be thrilled to pay for a laundry list of features they don’t need to create the illusion of some kind of wonderful deal is at hand. Be San Jose and let your merits carry you, and not Detroit- I’d rather have another vascetomy than visit a car dealership.
  • A New House Made of Crap is Still a House Made of Crap. There are product sets on the market that are long in the tooth and perpetually problematic and buggy. The delegates in the rooms at MFD4 will be all too familiar with hidden TCO that comes with lack of QA and rushed-out-the-door code and hardware. I sincerely hope that we don’t hear about “new” anything being added to product sets that need to be sunsetted for everyone’s benefit. In this spirit I would also like to hear honest explanations about how whatever new stuff is coming is developed with higher QA standards than in the past applied. It’s fun seeing RF test facilities and such, but the radios usually aren’t the issue- it’s substandard code that runs the radios. It’s hard to get excited about new features added to old problems.
  • Dahboard Fever. Marketing departments love to wow us: “each of your network users will have 87 IoT devices on them by next year- YoUR NETWORK IS NOT READY”. Besides baseless huge numbers and predictions of overwhelm, another trick is the accross-the-board generalizations that we all have deep, deep problems that only one more dashboard can solve. So what if you have more dashboards now than you can monitor- this next one is THE fix, and will scrape all of the dumb off your ass to bring clarity at long last. Pffft.

You’ll notice that my little list here really doesn’t just apply to Mobility Field Day. To me, it’s just common sense narrative that applies to vendor relationships day in and day out. But I also know that too often product managers and C-levels have a distorted view of how wonderful their stuff is, and hopefully Field Day gets us a little closer to honest, direct dialogue with those vendor bigs who may only get filtered feedback.

There is a lot to get excited about right now out there in WLAN Industryland… 802.11ax, WPA3, 5Gish stuff, new operating systems, fresh analysis resources, and a slew of technologies all ready to propel our networks and the industry forward. But it has to be based in reality, attainable, affordable, and implemented with STABILITY for end users in mind.

See you at Field Day.

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Note: on Twitter, follow @TechFieldDay and #MFD4 for this event, August 14-16