Category Archives: Wireless Networking

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.

 

 

Unfortunately, Seeing Isn’t Always Believing With Meraki Network Topology View (updated)

update After opening a support case, Meraki was able to verify what I describe below in their own lab testing- some MX ports were not doing LLDP right. And…. the fix: “The issue of the transmission of LLDP packets from the MX is fixed in versions starting MX14.2” – which so far is proving to be the case. (Now we need to solve client MAC addresses showing up on the wrong switch ports, but that’s another tale for another time.) Read on if you’d like, but keep in mind that they DID fix this problem at long last.


The only thing worse than an important feature that’s missing in a network management solution is an important feature that works wrong. Those of us who pay for these systems expect the features that we trade our dollars for to actually, well, work. And bad information is just terrible in that it sends us down time-wasting bad roads.

Meraki- you have a problem. Your topology view doesn’t refresh for hours, days, or weeks after changes are made. And for whatever reason, you have not given us decent LLDP tools that we can invoke on demand. That’s the polite description, which can be abbreviated down to your topology view sucks at times.

Before I show and tell my latest frustration in this regard, let me share Meraki’s summary on it’s topology view and evidence that what I’m about to describe is not my frustration alone. See this post from the Meraki community. Now on to the defective topology feature.

It Just NEVER Updates

In a faraway branch location, we had two switches that daisy-chained off of another switch due to physical layer constraints. Here’s the old topology:

Pay attention to VillaRosa-3, Villino-1,and Vilillino-2. V1 and V2 were daisy-chained off of V3. THEN THEY WERE MOVED TO EACH DIRECTLY CONNECT TO THE MX. And then I got an email… “The switches got moved to ports 6 and 7 on The MX, but the topology isn’t updating. Maybe I should restart the devices…” As we see in the community forums, we may be waiting quite a while for this map to update…

The Implications

Few things are more basic in network support than simply knowing what connects to what- both physically and logically. Commands like <show cdp neighbors> and <show lldp neighbors> are pretty important, but not available in the Meraki dashboard paradigm. Instead, we need to rely on incomplete or inaccurate graphical information.

As I mentioned above, V1 and V2 moved to direct connects on the MX. So what does the MX say about the switches that are connected to it? Unfortunately, nothing. For whatever reason, Meraki has never seen it as important to give full lldp information for devices connected to an MX:

This is utterly nonsensical for enterprise-grade networking equipment. But it gets worse. Let’s look at one of the switches that has had it’s uplink moved to the MX. Days after the move, the switch still says it’s connected to it’s old uplinked V3 switch:

This is pretty bad. It’s wrong, it’s outdated, it’s misleading, and it’s inexcusable. Let’s have a look at “VillaRosa-3 / 51.

To recap:

  • Topology views don’t refresh as they should (if ever)
  • The MX doesn’t tell who it’s lldp neighbors are- which is a glaring deficiency
  • The lldp neighbors information on the Meraki switches can’t be trusted
  • There are no obvious ways to invoke on-demand refreshes for topology and lldp views, we are at the mercy of some undeclared loooooooong refresh timer

That this “feature set” can be this off-kilter defies logic- especially when you consider the cost of the gear and it’s licensing and the importance of lldp to network support.

Announcing #WIFIQ 2.0

I’ve heard the cries of anguish. I know the many lives that have been ruined and rendered meaningless since I announced the end of #WIFIQ on Twitter at the end of last year. I too have lived in silent agony since the daily discussion exercise went dark, even though that darkness was of my own making.

I’m well aware of the value that others have found in #WIFIQ, and I again thank all of the individuals and organizations like iBwave who have said kind things about #WIFIQ.

And now… I’m happy to announce that #WIFIQ is back, baby!

But going forward, the NEW version of #WIFIQ will not flow from my muscular, impressive fingertips. Ah, the stories those fingertips could tell…  *Ahem* It’s time for fresh minds to take up the cause, and I’m tickled to announce that the Wireless LAN Association (WLA) has expressed the desire to bring back the good thing that is #WIFIQ.

I’m not sure exactly how the WLA will originate their questions, or if they will take input like old guy who did #WIFQ did. But I do know the men and women of the WLA are good folks with great minds, and I haven’t a worry in the world that they will do justice to the #WIFIQ concept.

If you don’t yet follow the Wireless LAN Association on Twitter, get yourself hooked up with @WLANAssociation handle and standby for #WIFIQ and related news as they re-prime the pump of wireless knowledge, fellowship, and goodness.

I salute you, WLA.

wlan-association-logo-gold

Of Triggers and Vehicle Shopping

FYI: This is one of my infrequent non-tech posts.

We all have things that set us off…  situations that trigger visceral reactions of discomfort and maybe even anger. And we all handle ourselves differently in those situations. As I get older, I’m working hard to recognize and control reactions to my own triggers. This is for my own well-being and for the benefit of anyone who might also be in the blast zone at melt-down time. Unfortunately there is one scenario I don’t know if I will ever make peace with, and that would the vehicle buying experience.

I’ve never tolerated injustice very well, and I do not like participating in games that have rules that you’re not allowed to really know. I feel revulsion for those who prey on others, and simply don’t tolerate bullshit unless it’s under the heading of fun- and there is nothing fun about being played like a fiddle by unscrupulous humans out to separate you from as much of your hard-earned money as they can through a wide range of despicable tactics. There is  much about the typical car-buying experience that rubs me wrongly as it hits all of the above points. After X trips to the lot over the years and dealing with the process, I no longer even attempt to be civil. I’m not sure my physiology would even let me at this point. I see the lips start to move, and I know I’ve entered The Liars’ Zone, where scruples simply don’t exist.

One example: I recently stopped at a stereotypical sleazy dealership with my wife to get a sense of pricing on a specific truck model. We did a little spin around the block, and before Slicky Boy would even begin to divulge what the mostly arbitrary make-believe price was, he wrote out by hand on a blank piece of paper “Once I hear what the price of this vehicle is, I’ll be willing to make a deal today” or something to that effect, with a line drawn where I was supposed to put my signature.

WTF is THAT? Really- what is that supposed to amount to? Is he stealing my soul by getting my signature on some idiotic hand-scrawled declaration? Somehow gaining control by having me commit to something nonsensical that he hand-scrawled out on paper? Sorry Slick- F U in spades. And your troll manager back in his cave. This was bizarre, there is no other way to describe it.

My wife, being very perceptive, knew approximately what would come next and had the good sense to excuse herself (“uh, I left something in the car…)”. I kept myself together for about 30 seconds and then had to get out fast before I exercised a platinum-grade spewing of some of those special combinations of naughty words I learned during my military career, punctuated with obscene gestures you only come to know by growing up around Italian people. Managing those triggers.

But sooner or later I’d have to face reality again. My 2007 Jeep was showing it’s age, and the need to purchase wasn’t going away. My wife and I both have good jobs, but we also have three kids in college and a range of normal life expenses that haven’t let us amass the kind of dinero that lets you stroll onto a lot and wave a wad of bills around as cash buyers. So unfortunately, I needed something from this tribe of people I generally loath as they practice what to me see seems like government-sanctioned organized crime.

I had to make peace with it all, somehow.

And I did. But first I tried the CarGurus thing, the TrueCar stuff, and similar casting of the net to find “the best” price on what I was looking for across dozens of dealers. I also locked onto in my mind what I was willing to spend with no exceptions whatsoever. I NEEDED to have some control in this horrible process, I realized, but I knew that the enemy doesn’t want you to have any control.

I opted to try to “negotiate” (if you can call what I ended up doing negotiation) 100% online or on the phone. I wanted zero “on the lot” time fighting the fog of price and arriving at terms. Most dealers wanted nothing to do with it, and simply stopped responding after a couple of go rounds because I wouldn’t come to the dealership to get worked despite being very serious about buying a vehicle. Then I found someone who responded in a way that I felt very good about.

Finding a candidate truck with the specs and potentially the price I wanted from Internet scouring, I did the online inquiry by filling out the “I’m interested” form.  A gent named Mike came back via email urging me to come in and test drive it, etc- but I’d already driven these trucks and so opted to tell him “I gotta do as much of this as possible without coming to the dealership, no offense.” To Mike’s credit, he answered all of my questions, did not give off the typical obnoxious/pushy dealer vibe, and got me to the point where I said:

  • I’m interested, but will take care of my own financing (part of the control thing I realized I really needed)
  • Here’s what I will pay between cash down, my own loan, and the trade in of my old Jeep- total, drive it home, not-a-penny more
  • No interest in other vehicles, other finance options, or any further negotiation

It took a few hours and a phone call, but Mike got me. He let me have control, understood I wasn’t doing The Game that his industry fellows would have preferred, but still made it happen.

With this process, I kept my triggers in check. I never felt disadvantaged by a skewed game I’m nowhere near savvy enough to play the normal way. We both did OK in the deal, and I feel like I avoided metric tons of dealer assclownery that would have absolutely set me off me had I tried to get to the same point in person. For me, it really is THAT bad. I’d rather have another vasectomy than play car dealer games. Thankfully Mike was empowered to do it MY way for a change, and I applaud the dealership for helping me to feel like I actually did OK on this one, and on my own terms. And by that, I mean not just price-wise, but also process-wise.

Here’s what I ended up with:

dodge

So- if you are in upstate/central/western NY and find yourself in need of a vehicle, I can actually recommend Doan Dodge in Rochester. The showroom is fairly gorgeous, and they obviously move a lot of vehicles. My guy at Doan was Mike Huynh, and I recommend him as well. Which is a first for me, out of the many car dealers I’ve dealt with throughout my life. 

Move Wi-Fi Explorer From Old Mac to New

The Mac laptop that hosts my excellent Wi-Fi Explorer Pro application has seen better days. It’s time to put this awesome WLAN support tool from Adrian Granados on a newer Mac, but I was a bit stymied when I first tried to figure out how. I envisioned some sort of license key transfer, but just wasn’t seeing it… I queried my best WLAN community homies, and dropped a line to Adrian himself. Before a meaningful response came back, I figured it out, and so thought I’d share.

It’s easy-peasy, once you see it.

1. De-Activate Wi-Fi Explorer Pro on Old Machine, under “Help”

Deactivate WFE

2. Download, install trial version of Wi-Fi Explorer Pro on new machine

3. Fire up the program, find these options:

Activate WFE

4. Dig out your license file- search on “Paddle license” in your email:

WFE License

5. Enter the license key and activate the program. 

Like I said… easy.

DON’T FORGET ABOUT THE DISCOUNTS ADRIAN GRANADOS HAS OFFERED FOR NEW PURCHASES OF WiFi Explorer PRODUCTS!

  • Educational customers get 50% off. Details are here.
  • Everyone who attended WLPC Conference in February ’19 was given a card for a 30% discount on WiFi Explorer Pro. You need the code from the card, and the discount is available until 3/31/19.

Now you now.

Contemplating APIs and the WLAN State of Things

Having just attended the 2019 Wireless LAN Professionals Conference (WLPC), I got a few days full of really interesting perspective from other WLAN doers. I saw and heard predictions, hopes, and fears for what comes next as we roll toward 802.11ax, the coming of 6 GHz spectrum to Wi-Fi, and more widespread use of WPA3. There was a lot of good chatter, because there simply is no conference like WLPC (I recommend it to anyone who is in WLAN practice/management, or over those who who are).

One thing I heard A LOT about was APIs. And using Python to get more out of our WLAN hardware and management systems. And… how “you should all learn to do coding!” I have no issues with any of these, but I also tend to be a 10,000 foot thinker and so couldn’t help but ponder the real-world implications of all that when it comes to how wireless systems are actually run day-to-day. I also found that I wasn’t alone in my contemplation in talking with others at the event.

Let me get right to my points- I have great appreciation for the flexibility and capabilities that using APIs can bring to a WLAN system. But… that is balanced by a number of concerns:

  • If a vendor has historically put out crappy code that is developer-driven versus engineer-driven, how do we trust the developers to get it right when it comes to what data awaits engineers at the end of the APIs?
  • I fear that “and we have an API!” can become a cop-out for NOT putting out a complete enough NMS system for the high costs that you’ll still pay for these NMS systems. As in… “oh THAT feature is leveraged by the API”, and not in the expensive management GUI that maybe now is missing common-sense basic functionality.
  • In some ways APIs-to-the-rescue is a huge step forward, in other ways it’s an admission that vendors sometimes can’t build an NMS that doesn’t suck (because if they could, maybe we wouldn’t need APIs?) Maybe…
  • Not all WLAN staff teams will want to be in the programming business. Time will tell if they will be able to work effectively as they avoid the API and try to stick with the NMS and non-API tools.

None of this is necessarily my own strict opinion as I digest everything I’ve seen and heard at this year’s WLPC, but I heard enough from other people to know that the community is not in lockstep embrace of “API all the things”. Some teams are just stretched thin already, and pay a good buck for vendor tools so they don’t have to become programmers to keep their WLANs on the rails. Then there’s the always-relevant “evolve or watch your career die” school of thought that can’t be ignored either.

Fascinating times. Much change is in the air.

Now onto one of the most interesting things of all that I heard at WLPC: more on Open Config. Mike Albano from the Enterprise side at Google planted some fascinating seeds back in 2017 with a presentation he did at that year’s conference:

Introduction to OpenConfig; What Is It, What Does It Mean To Wi-Fi | Mike Albano | WLPC 2017 Phoenix from Wireless LAN Professionals on Vimeo.

Mike was on the stage again this year doing a little follow up on progress made with Open Config. He also participated in a Whiskey and Wireless Podcast with a couple of nicely-hatted lunatics and shared even more with an eager audience. I suggest you keep an eye out for both his recorded WLPC presentation and the podcast to come live (I’ll add the links here as well), because Open Config is the API concept on steroids. As mentioned in the 2017 video, but expanded on this year, Open Config seeks to make the software side of many vendors’ wireless offerings largely irrelevant. You gotta hear it.

Given that we’re in an era where WLAN vendors have declared themselves “software companies” who happen to put out some pretty crappy software and then charge through the nose for it, Open Config is interesting for reasons far beyond it’s API-ness.

Like I said, these are fascinating times.

Of Time Travel and Heartstrings

WARNING: This piece is not about wireless or technology per se. It’s a bit of reflection on life stuff shared with anyone who feels like reading. Apologies for the detour from tech, and I promise to get back to it with the next one.

Before I dig in with the heavy stuff, let me give some background. I was born in the late 60’s, graduated high school in the mid-80s, and did a decade in the Air Force. My wife and I have been married since our young 20s, and had three kids. Two are on the final leg of their PhD studies, and one is finishing undergraduate this May. Got all that?

Now think for a second about cameras, and how they’ve evolved.

The Badman Family Film Era

After almost a year of Air Force “tech school” for Electronic Warfare, I found my 19-year-old self at Clark Air Base in the Philippines. I had a paycheck, an interest in photography, and access to really nice camera equipment at a fraction of what it would cost in the US. I picked up a Canon AE1 Program and some nice lenses, years and years before digital cameras were a thing. Oh yeah- I forget to mention that it was dirt cheap buy film and get it developed in the Philippines, which was good because I took soooooo many pictures in my many outings (I  had a bicycle and a motorcycle and rode the hell out of both of them if I wasn’t catching the Death Bus up some windy mountain road). I also traveled for Uncle Sam to Korea and Okinawa while stationed at Clark. Eventually I moved on to Alaska for three years- and luckily had an Air Force co-worker who had a second gig developing film. I got a killer discount, and so shot thousands of images in the Great White North, too.

It turns out that you end up with a boatload of negatives when you shoot with film. But hold that thought…

My wife and I actually went to high school together, but got married five years after, in Alaska. We left the state the day after our wedding, in January, at -60 below driving home to see family in New York and then on to Mississippi where my next duty station was. We rolled my Bronco in the Yukon, and then the next 29 years were pretty much a blur. And I photographed it all, in great detail. Our pre-kid years on the Gulf Coast, our sons and dogs and adventures, including our last Air Force stop in New Mexico.  Fast-forward a bit to civilian life in Upstate NY, add our third child (daughter), and the fact that either my wife or I worked the shutter on that AEI Program at countless events and outings until somewhere around when the kids were in elementary and middle school. That’s about when digital photography got affordable, and we put the beloved Canon away…

Life Stuff

I’m guessing we had a fairly typical 20 some odd years with three kids. Highs and lows and wonderful times and many parties and holidays and coaching kids sports and camping and watching them grow and one thing after another and another. Just when you think life can’t ever change, it does. The oldest goes off to college. Then number two leaves. Then the youngest. You can’t believe their gone, but are thankful they are all doing OK.

Then one day, you find that bin full of old negatives.

Digitizing  Our History

Ladies and gents, this is an emotional roller-coaster. I have spent a number of hours over the last several weeks digging deep into my personal history. Many of these negatives were degrading to the point where they probably wouldn’t have lasted very much longer, so I’m glad I snatched their images for storage on my NAS before they were lost to time.  I’ve seen myself at every age since 19, my beautiful wife and I together as a young, happy and fairly naive couple getting started in a new place far from home. Every one of our children’s solo journey and each as part of our clan has shown itself to me in this endeavor. (Thankfully smiles and laughter outweigh any other emotion for all of them by an order of magnitude in everything I’ve seen).

kids

It’s almost euphoric to watch this play out, balanced by the the involuntary sadness that comes knowing that they are also years that are behind us. For whatever reason, at least half of everything I’m scanning isn’t in any of our photo albums.

I’ve made a lot of strangers very happy by posting images to various Facebook groups (I Survived Clark AB, etc) so they can remember their own histories in these far-away, sometimes no-longer-there places. This is life, and in many cases, death- as a fair amount of people in the images are no longer with us.

Well Worth Doing

This is a time-consuming exercise, for sure. But, oh my suffering God, it’s also incredible. There is no “going back”, yet I feel like I’ve been able to cheat that universal truth a bit through these negatives. I’ll end up with terabytes of images, and I’ll figure out some way to copy them and get them to each of the kids. I’m sure many of the images will mean little to them, and that’s OK. They’ll have their childhood recorded for playback, minimally. Even if they only feel a tiny bit of what I’m feeling in going through all of these, the effort will have been worth it to me.

I’m really not that old, despite how all of this might sound. My generation saw a lot of technological transitions, which is pretty cool. If any of you youngsters made it to the end of this piece, I’ll spare you the lecture on how empowering and non-laborious digital photography is compared to film. But while I chip away at these negatives, I’m absolutely loving the old tech.