Category Archives: WLAN

The Horrible Bags We Hold For WLAN Vendors

Conventional wisdom says that “you get what you pay for” and “buy the best that you can afford” when it comes to quality in networking gear. Yeah… if only. Let me share what one of the most expensive solutions on the market gets you if you’re not careful. No vendor names will be named.

The call comes in. “Suddenly in this one area, I can see the Wi-Fi signal but just can’t get on the network. If I walk down the hallway the same device gets right on.” You look and see that the AP serving the area in question has the same uptime as those around it. The radios are on, and there are clients seemingly associated. Channel utilization is low on both radios, and there is no sign of RF trouble. Hmmm.

So you methodically rule everything out, and the end user who trusts that you keep a tight wireless ship waits. You’re both going on the assumption that the WLAN building blocks that you shell out fat coin for should be an operational foundation that you can trust. But when you’ve factored out all of the realistic possibilities, that little voice in your head starts questioning how solid that foundation is.

Too often, the one thing that we have very little control over (code) is the issue, and we find that suddenly there is a very ugly bag in our collective hand.

Welcome to the bug zone, Axl Rose.

Welcome to the bug zone we got fun and games
We got everything you don’t want- honey, you’ll call us names
We are the people that can’t find code you actually need
If you got the money honey we got your disease
In the bug zone, welcome to the bug zone
Watch it bring your Wi-Fi to it’s sha na na na na knees knees
I wanna watch your network bleed

(Sorry, Guns ‘n Roses- love you guys)

Maybe you open a support case, or take your angst to private channels where you share information with other wireless professionals who live the same pain are happy to compare notes. However you get there, you do get there… and then you find this sort of thing:

Yikes. Freaking yikes. The fix? (Always) migrate to new code.

That word “migrate” is kinda funny, too. Sounds adventurous… leave where you are, and go to someplace new.  Kind of exotic, even.

But there are no guarantees that Someplace New is any better than Where You Were, especially when it comes to expensive WLAN systems. Yet we find ourselves migratin’ all over the freakin place, outrunning one bug after another. Sigh…

Which brings us to yet another song, by the great Moe Bandy:

You always leave me holding the bag
Don’t you know it’s gettin’ purty heavy to drag
You think it’s funny but it ain’t no gag
How come you always leave me holding the bag

Indeed.

Things I Have Yet To Try Out, But Would Like To

First of all, get your mind out of the gutter, Sean.

Now I know  what you think when you think about me. Your mind wonders “Is there anything this guy hasn’t done? He’s the bee’s knees… when it comes to Wi-Fi he’s got the moves. He’s got the tools, the style, and the energy.” Yes, thank you for the sentiments- I get that a lot. But my friends, I’m here to tell you that I have NOT seen it all or done it all quite yet.

Even I have a wish list. I have products that I dream of  setting up, and gadgets I’d like to play with that I may never get around to. Let me share just a few, and I’d love to hear what’s on your own “Gee, I’d like to evaluate_________” list.

Siklu

Not to be confused with Sulu from Star Trek, Siklu is a wireless company. And I hear dreamy things about them. They don’t do Wi-Fi style wireless, but they are in the last miles/backhaul/point-to-point game.

Siklu

Evidently the city of Wichita just fell in love with Siklu, as you can read about here. Being a gonzo bloggist, I get a lot of PR from different companies. Very little of it ever raises to the level of “man, that looks like great stuff”, but Siklu gear has always tickled my curiosity. Perhaps someday…

WiFiMetrix (Nuts About Nets)

Just look at this thing. Anyone who gazes at the WiFiMetrix and doesn’t feel a stirring in their loins IS NOT A WLAN PROFESSIONAL (or a patriot) I tellya. I’m a softy for spectrum analyzers as it is, and anything that stands alone in this role without requiring a PC gets me interested. It’s nice to travel light on occasion, and this just looks neat (with a decent spec and feature set, to boot.)

wifimetrix-device-trans-717x730

Anyone have any first-hand testimonials on the WiFiMetrix?

Ubiquiti SunMAX Solar

I have taken some solar classes in the past for a specific international project I was involved with, and have long imagined a wide range of Wi-Fi, IT, and amateur radio projects powered with solar. In my mind, each is absolutely magnificent. But in reality I haven’t done all that much with solar “for real” yet.

Enter Ubiquiti’s SunMAX.

sunmax-software-collage

I currently am putting my exquisitely manly hands all over a bunch of Ubiquiti networking and video equipment. It just works, and the pricing tends to be nothing less than astounding compared to the competition.  I’m guessing that Ubiquiti’s approach to solar is as innovative and (hopefully) cost-effective as the rest of their portfolio. And with this slogan:

Democratizing Solar Technology for the World

Ubiquiti speaks to my globe-trotting, fighting-for-the-oppressed background as a Cold Warrior. ‘Merica, baby. 

There you have it. Each of the above to me is a white whale that I covet, but Christmas IS coming. If those of you reading this make some sacrifices and pool your resources, I’m guessing you could scrape together enough to set me up with all of them!

Thanks for reading- and please share your own wish list.

Future-Proofing Networks with Fabric-Attached Wi-Fi: Q&A with Extreme Networks’ Director of Wireless Product Management & Strategy

It’s easy to become desensitized to the onslaught of marketing that surrounds networking concepts like “fabric” and “unified networks” when every vendor has their own version of them. Naturally, each marketing department promises that their solution is the best, but reality shines through when you start to look past the buzzwords for substance. I was recently  introduced to (and impressed by) Extreme Networks’ own fabric accomplishments, and wrote about my impressions here. Soon after, I had the chance to talk with Extreme’s director of wireless product management and strategy, Mike Leibovitz, about where WLAN specifically fits into the company’s fabric approach.

Leibovitz is one of those people that I’m always glad to catch up with. I’ve spent time with him at different Tech Field Day events and  IT conferences, and have had opportunities to socialize with him. Beyond just being an all-around nice guy, Leibovitz has a passion for his job and believes strongly in Extreme’s products, methods and his company’s future. Our most recent conversation evolved into an informal Q& A about the Extreme Automated Campus solution and Wi-Fi. Here are the highlights from that discussion (I’m in italics).

Mike, Extreme has been busy integrating the likes of ExtremeWireless WiNG from Zebra/Motorola and Avaya’s fabric portfolio (from recent acquisitions) with Extreme’s own wireless product lines. How’s all that going?

It’s been a great run, for us and our customers. We’re fully supporting all product lines, and it’s only getting better for the end users, regardless of which hardware they use. Looking forward, the best of all our product lines will be fused into new feature options that customers of either ExtremeWireless WiNG or ExtremeWireless can take advantage of without forklift upgrades.

We’ll get to fabric and Wi-Fi in a bit, but first- is there anything on the horizon that is particularly driving Extreme’s WLAN-specific evolution, and do you have any examples of where ExtremeWireless WiNG might bring something new to Extreme’s story that customers can appreciate?

Aside from our fabric architecture taking deeper root, we see the coming of 802.11ax as significant, and that does figure into our current product evolution. As the radio side of the equation gets higher in performance, we’ll continue to leverage things like Motorola’s unique excellence in access point design for challenging and high-ceiling environments, for instance. Also, we have the successful integration of the Azara Cloud into ExtremeCloud as an example of how we make what’s good even better.

It seems that Extreme goes to great lengths to make sure that new customers gained through acquisitions are treated just as well as long-time Extreme customers. Is that a fair characterization?

Absolutely, and that’s something we work hard at. You’ve experienced and written first-hand about being a customer on the losing end of an acquisition, when the purchasing company doesn’t get it right when it comes to integrating support for its new customers. Despite being well-established, Extreme has more of a start-up mentality in that all of our customers matter. We take none of them for granted. No one should have to guess at what’s going to happen when they need support just because their vendor was acquired.

Amen to that, Mike. Now onto fabric, Extreme Automated Campus, and wireless specifically. I know that you are pumped up about this area. What’s the first thing that potential customers should know about Extreme when it comes to fabric and WLAN?

I’d say first that people should realize that our fabric offering is mature, proven, and is shipping now. That includes how our Wireless solution connects to the fabric. Other market leaders have their fabric stories ahead of their deliverables to a certain degree, but Extreme doesn’t use customers as guinea pigs while we figure out how to keep promises.

Give me a sense of how that integration of Wi-Fi to the fabric works. Do you have any  examples?

Sure. Let’s start with ExtremeControl, which competes with ISE and Clearpass for functions like onboarding, authorization, and role-based policies. ExtremeControl has always excelled at extremely granular policy constructs used to program per-session behavior of the access point, the data plane, and the likes of QoS and analytics. That’s what we’ve been doing for years. Now add in the Avaya fabric contribution. Instead of just bridging traffic to a controller or to an AP you can now bridge wireless sessions to different fabric segments, uniquely for each connected device. That’s a new level of micro-segmentation that basically means you can traffic engineer wireless user traffic literally anywhere in the enterprise campus with the policies you set for RBAC, Layer7 control, QoS, and analytics carried all the way through.

So… we’re used to thinking of wireless access points or AP/controller pairings as bridges that have 802.11 on the radio side, and 802.3 Ethernet on the wired side. Am I reasonable in suggesting that now we can replace Ethernet with fabric on the wired side when we think about access at the WLAN edge?

That’s a good way of picturing it for functional discussion.

Can you give a specific scenario where fabric-attached Wi-Fi yields obvious, easy-to-highlight benefits that solve real-world problems?

We’re already leveraging fabric-connected WLAN in healthcare environments. As a wireless networker, you know the technical importance of reducing the number of SSIDs in a given wireless environment. Think about having one single SSID for everything, with a slew of different security and policy constructs going on behind it with no dependence on VLANs. From doctors’ unique security requirements to guest access to IoT devices and their various limitations – all are configured via ExtremeControl and micro-segmentation on the fabric. We can bridge traffic anywhere it needs to be for any user or use case. It’s really impressive, and no other vendor is even close to this level of functionality yet.

 Does the new magic come at the cost of CPU or memory utilization anywhere?

 That’s a great question, but actually the opposite is true. You can even add new policies on the fly, non-disruptively, directly on our access points. The flow technology that came way back from our Enterasys purchase works wonders in keeping resource utilization low.

This is great information, Mike. It’s awesome to learn of real-world, low-hype network fabric technology that is proven, shipping, and mature. What else do you want people to know as we close?

It sounds silly to say that “fabric is the future” because for Extreme Networks, fabric is now. At the same time, our fabric today does future-proof customer environments by providing unparalleled flexibility in security, segmentation, simplicity, control, and analytics that will only evolve for the better. Extreme will be ready to add 802.11ax into our fabric-connected Wi-Fi strategy when it comes, and we’re a natural fit for IoT in its many incarnations. Our roadmap is exciting, and I encourage our customers and analysts like you to watch us as we evolve.

FTC-required disclosure: I was compensated to comment on the Extreme Networks Automated Campus referenced in this blog, by PR company Racepoint Global. I have no direct business relationship with Extreme Networks, and in no way claim to be an Extreme Networks customer or representative of Extreme Networks. At the same time, I have known Mike Leibovitz for years.

Please Consider Helping to Remind Apple That Their Products Get Used in Our World

Here’s the gist:

“Apple made a change to iOS 11 which has impacted millions of iPhone users’ who use mobile apps to secure and troubleshoot their network.
With iOS 11, Apple has blocked third-party developer access to MAC addresses. Network utility apps such as Fing, NetAnalyzer, iNet and IP scanner used this information to let users see all the devices connected to a WiFi network.”

“On iOS 11 users can no longer use a third-party app to identify and recognize which devices are connected to their network. They can also no longer easily detect a device’s online/offline status.
Millions of professionals and home users have been impacted:
No access to MAC addresses affects a variety of different people and industries…”

That was scraped from the “Save Networking Tools on iOS 11” petition, originated by the Network Tools Alliance. As I draft this blog, well over 15,000 signatures have been added (including my own).

For the greater good- of those who use Wi-Fi and who support it- please consider adding your support. It’s free, and it just might help Apple to pull their head out of the sand on an important usability issue.

1A2AB9DC-2254-444B-8739-0DC5679445B2

 

 

Extreme Networks Has Good Footing to Lead Network Fabric Evolution from Hype to Reality

If you manage a  network today, you are likely getting peppered by the drumbeat of  ideas for new ways of doing networking. Concepts like SDN, automation, AI, machine learning and fabric are becoming the next-generation lexicon of connectivity. Sure, us long-timers have heard it all before in different incarnations- but this is a pot that is really beginning to simmer while the industry tries to collectively move the way enterprise networks are done forward.

Meanwhile, those of us in the trenches have production environments to run. It’s not particularly comfortable to contemplate moving our own cheese in response to abstract promises of better ways and sunnier days, but Extreme Networks,Inc. may just be the company to break down the wall of hype and deliver the industry to the actual realization of the promise of network fabric architectures.

Before I get into why I think Extreme is the most likely company to show that the new network magic can actually be delivered in a way that leads to wide-scale adoption, let me share one of the best whitepapers I’ve read yet on what vendors are actually trying to do with the latest fabric initiatives. All the expected promises of simplification and reduced OpEx are in the Extreme Automated Campus document, but so is an excellent summation on some of the not-so-obvious advantages and evolutions that come with a properly implemented automated network. Among them:

  • The use of 802.1aq Shortest Path Bridging (SPB) as essentially a single-protocol replacement for traditional building blocks like MPLS, BGP, multicast PIM, OSPF, VLANs, and others. That’s huge, and reduces complexity by several orders of magnitude in large environments.
  • The notion that hop-by-hop network provisioning is a thing of the past. The network core is essentially unseen to most network admins, and all changes are done on the edge (live and without outages/maintenance windows).
  • User and device policies are the basis for automated network changes, and constant analytics provide feedback used to tune performance and anticipate issues.
  • By employing hyper-segmentation, a security breach in one part of the network is contained like never before, as the rest of the network is invisible to the bad guys because the old protocols leveraged for nefarious purposes are no longer present.
  • The use of APIs mean that third-party network components can interoperate with Extreme’s Automated Campus.

Extreme 3

There’s a lot more to the whitepaper, and I encourage anyone who’s been underwhelmed by other explanations of what network fabrics/automation are supposed to deliver read it as an excellent primer.

As I digested insights from Extreme’s whitepaper, I also found myself reminded that obsolescence can be insidious with the legacy methods we do networking with now. Dated designs can underperform today and fail tomorrow while we miss subtle signs of trouble because of disparate logs and dashboards. This isn’t news to anyone running large business networks, and is why automated analytics has a fairly strong appeal. This brings me back to Extreme and what puts them at the head of the pack within the networking space.

Extreme pioneered and set the bar high for network analytics with its ExtremeAnalytics platform. The value proposition has been proven in many cases, via a range of customer relationships. Where other networking companies are relying on third -parties or are just getting around to developing analytics solutions, Extreme has been optimizing networks based on machine-learning analytics for years.

Extreme 1

Then there is Extreme’s purchase of Avaya earlier this year. By my estimation, Avaya was the absolute creator of SDN-enabled network fabric environments. I visited the company’s Silicon Valley facilities in 2014 during Tech Field Day, and got a first-hand look at the impressive technology that  has become part of Extreme’s fabric offerings. Extreme now has real-world fabric customers and a mature offering among newcomers to the game.

Extreme 2

The fabric/SDN thing is here to stay as evidenced by the market leaders all talking it up as “what comes next” in unified networking. But how to get there – and whether you want to stay with your incumbent networking vendor for the leap – is a more complicated discussion. Some of the new initiatives feel cobbled-together, i.e. placing  frameworks of APIs into legacy hardware that may not have the best track-records for reliability. I’m of the opinion that some vendors are trying to figure out how to proceed with network-wide fabric methods,  while painting beta-grade efforts up with glitz and catchy slogans (though lacking depth and a track-record). This just isn’t the case for Extreme.

Extreme has done a great job in integrating their acquired Avaya fabric assets with their established portfolio and consolidating it all (along with their excellent technical support) into the Extreme Automated Campus. It’s new, on paper, but made up of mature industry-leading building-blocks. This is why I see Extreme as the one to beat in this space.

Learn more about the Automated Campus solution here.

Register for Extreme’s upcoming Automated Campus webinar here.

 

FTC-required disclosure: I was compensated to comment on the Extreme Networks Automated Campus referenced in this blog, by PR company Racepoint Global. I have no direct business relationship with Extreme Networks, and in no way claim to be an Extreme Networks customer or representative of Extreme Networks. The opinions expressed here are my own, and absolutely true at the time of publication.

iBwave Turns Up the Wow Factor on WLAN Design and Survey with R9

ibwaveWireless network professionals involved with design and survey work are in a really good place right now.  The market leaders are innovating their way past the competition often (and impressively). Just a few weeks ago Ekahau unleashed their new Sidekick, and now iBwave has just announced their latest round of features with their new R9 software. 

Quick Review- Where iBwave Stands Out

Before going forward, let me walk you back to these two articles about iBwave that I wrote earlier in the year:

If you don’t want to check those out, it’s a-OK. The quick and dirty of what I really like about iBwave are these differentiators:

  • 3D Modeling of WLAN Environment
  • A mobile app that is really functional and that can interact with the full suite
  • The ability to properly model inclined surfaces
  • Cloud synchronization of survey projects (super handy)
  • A no-cost license-free viewer for customers to see what the design team sees without buying the iBwave software

Every competing tool has their strengths, but iBwave really has done well to combine accuracy of their tools with fresh approaches to process and usability.

And… the New Stuff

So what got added to the already-slick (and very effective) iBwave design suite with the R9 release? It’s a mix of catching up with the competition in spots, tweaking what already works to be better, and adding a couple of really cool features.

The user interface itself has gone through a couple of iterations since the Wi-Fi version was released a couple of years ago (recall that iBwave has deep roots designing cellular systems as well). I tested the January ’17 version, and was impressed then. I was invited to be a beta tester on what would become R9, but the timing was bad for me so I’ll have to give the new version a run-through in the days to come, but I have heard good things about the tweaks made along the way.

Added to overall UI enhancements are the ability to designate coverage exclusion zones (already in some competing tools) and to support software-definable radios (the latest dual-5 GHz “flex” radios). Also not an industry first, but iBwave’s customers will appreciate it as these radios gain in popularity.

Then there is the truly cool stuff. Now, once you have your floor-plans scaled and your walls and attenuation sources modeled properly, you can drag APs around and see what iBwave calls Smart Antenna Contouring. This is basically on-the-fly real-time views (or as real as time gets when working in WLAN design) of how the cells of individual access points and antennas will be affected by their surroundings. It’s really neat to see, and very empowering to the design process.

For those of us charged with also designing the underlying wiring system that our WLANs run on, iBwave’s R9 adds a fantastic utility in the form of Auto Cable Routing. Here, you place the cable tray and riser locations, and the software will make sure that added cables automatically take that path. When your working with lots of cable, this amounts to lots of time saved in the design and documentation processes.

The company web page is here, and you can see all sorts of videos on the new R9 magic here.

 

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.