Category Archives: WLAN

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.

 

Mobility Field 2 Shows Evolving Nature of WLAN Industry

MFD2The “Tech Field Day” series of events has been  an important part of my professional development life for the last several years. I’ve had the good fortune to be a frequent delegate, and I have watched Wireless Field Day (WFD) morph into Mobility Field Day (MFD) in parallel with the changing nature of the WLAN industry. As we get ready to descend upon Silicon Valley for MFD2, I can’t help but think about what this round of vendor participants says about the general state of WLAN things.

This go round, you won’t see the usual suspects many folks think of when contemplating enterprise Wi-Fi. MFD2 is more about performance measurement and alternatives to the WLAN same-old with Mist Systems, Nyansa, Cape Networks, Mojo Networks, and another performance measurement vendor to be announced soon.

So why no bigtime flashy AP makers?

Here’s my take on that, and there are a few contributing factors:

  • The biggest guns have relegated their WLAN parts and pieces to non-headline status. Each has declared “We’re a software company!” of late, and is now devoting time to weaving together Intent-Based Network Fabrics With SDN Flavor Crystals. And… they have their own hyper-glitzy events where non-technical Hollywood-types make attendees swoon. Meh.
  • Extreme Networks is buying up almost everyone else, so the number of competing players is decreasing.
  • Ubiquiti is now #3 in market share, and seemingly needs none of these events to get their message of “economy-priced but half-way decent networking” out to the masses.

By now, WLAN is so tightly integrated with the rest of the network (in most environments) it doesn’t command the stand-alone Wow Factor it once did. But… in the rush to build feature-heavy (I’d even say “gratuitously bloated”, but I can be a wanker about these things) super systems, the big guns haven’t done all that well in natively providing many of the capabilities that MFD 2’s vendors will be briefing us (and those tuning in live) on.

From innovative ways of showing what’s really going on with a given WLAN to to fresh approaches to WLAN architecture (as opposed to butting an API into years’ old code and declaring it new SDN), MFD2 will be interesting.

If you tune in live and would like to get a question to the vendors as they present their stuff, make sure to hit up a Delegate or two via Twitter so we can ask on your behalf.

 

 

 

Why You Should Care About MetaGeek’s MetaCare

metageek logoTo the WLAN support community, there are just a few tools that are truly revered. Among these are the various offerings by MetaGeek. I still have my original Wi-Spy USB-based Wi-Fi spectrum analyzer dongle that I used a million years ago when 2.4 GHz was the only band in town, but have also added almost every other tool that MetaGeek offers. Go to any WLAN conference or watch the typical wireless professional at work, and you’ll see lots of MetaGeek products in play. So… is this blog a MetaGeek commercial? I guess you could say so to a certain degree. I decided to write it after my latest renewal of MetaCare to help other MetaGeek customers (and potential customers) understand what MetaCare is all about.

I queried MetaGeek technical trainer Joel Crane to make sure I had my story straight, as MetaCare is one of those things you refresh periodically so it’s easy to lose sight of the value proposition. Straight from Crane:

MetaCare is our way of funding the continued development and support of our products. It’s also a great pun (in my opinion), but people outside of the United States don’t get it. When you buy a new product, you basically get a “free” year of MetaCare. When MetaCare runs out, you can keep on using the software, you just can’t download versions that were released after your MetaCare expired.

On this point, I have let my own MetaCare lapse in the past, then lamented greatly when an update to Chanalyzer or Eye P.A. came available. You have to stay active with your MetaCare to get those updates! Which brings me to Crane’s next point.

When you renew MetaCare, it begins on the the date that MetaCare expired (not the current date). Basically, this keeps users from gaming the system by letting it lapse for a year, and then picking up another year and getting a year’s worth of updates (although I try to not point fingers like that, generally our customers are cool and don’t try to do that stuff). MetaCare keys are one-time use. They just tack more MetaCare onto your “base” key, which is always used to activate new machines.
Like any other decent WLAN support tool, you gotta pay to play when it comes to upgrades. At the same time, I do know of fellow WLAN support folks who have opted to not keep up their MetaCare, and therefor have opted out of updates. Maybe their budget dollars ran out, or perhaps they don’t feel that MetaGeek updates their tool code frequently enough to warrant the expenditure on MetaCare. As with other tools with similar support paradigms, whether you use to pay for ongoing support is up to you. But I give MetaGeek a lot of credit for not rendering their tools “expired” if you forego MetaCare.
Crane also pointed out one more aspect of the MetaGeek licensing model that is actually quite generous (other WLAN toolmakers could learn something here!):
 Speaking of base keys, they can be activated on up to 5 machines that belong to one user. Each user will need their own key, but if you have a desktop, laptop, survey laptop, a couple of VM’s… go nuts and activate your base key all over the place. 

And now you know. As for me, my MetaCare costs are a business expense that I don’t mind paying- and I’m really looking forward to new developments from MetaGeek.


But wait- there’s more! Thanks to Blake Krone for the reminder. MetaGeek has a nice license portal for viewing and managing your own license keys, so you don’t have to wonder where you stand for available device counts, license expiration, etc.

_______

Related:

The Idiot’s Guide to Ubiquiti UniFi

BTW- I’m the idiot, in this case. Something about Ubiquiti’s “UniFi” approach to networking can make me feel confused and inexperienced at times. But I’m determined to make peace with it, and to also maybe help save someone else the confusion. Ubiquiti’s product lines are interesting, feature rich, innovative, flexible, and cost-effective. And… also occasionally bewildering if you have yet to Ubiquitize your mind. To this point, let me (hopefully) make the indoctrination to UniFi a little easier.

UniFi is a Management Methodology AND Networked Components

Part of what confused me early on was the name- “UniFi” must surely just be a bunch of bridges and access points… As in, things that do Wi-FIIf you’re thinking that, you’re wrong. UniFi is more like UniFied in that a wide range of switches, access points, security gateways, video components, and more are branded with the UniFi moniker and managed as an ecosystem.  First major point: UniFi isn’t just wireless.

As for how the UniFi ecosystem is managed, that’s one of the main areas of getting to know Ubiquiti’s latest stuff that made me feel like a child (and not a very smart child, at that). I have set up and managed my share of other non-UniFi Ubiquiti bridges, where you get to the individual component’s UI and configure to you heart’s delight. But if it’s a UniFi AP, switch or gateway, life gets a little more involved. Forget the individual per-component UI, for UniFi you need to adopt each component into a “controller” and then manage a “site” worth of stuff (or multiple sites) via the controller.  Second major point: you don’t generally manage individual UniFi parts/pieces, you adopt each into a “controller” and then manage them all from the controller interface. I’m not a fan of the term “controller” here, but it is what it is. Think OpenMesh or Meraki dashboards and you’re on the right track.

Maybe Too Flexible?

This is where experienced UniFi users might tell me to go eat rocks, and I’m OK with that. But I have been utterly confounded trying to wrap my head around the various incarnations of the UniFi Controller. One way or another, you need to get to this point:
UniFi Controller

This inventory view of the Controller shows what devices I have, then from there it’s pretty robust in both configuration and monitoring capabilities.
UniFi Controller1

UniFi Controller2

Once you get your devices into the controller instance, life gets pretty pleasant. I give Ubiquiti a lot of credit for the completeness of the management interface and for putting together a framework that makes perfect sense- once you get there. Getting there, however, can be tricky. To me, Ubiquiti isn’t doing so hot on their messaging that the UniFi controller can take multiple forms and that you have to really know which form you want to use before your bring an environment to life.  I’ve spent a lot of time pouring through Ubiquiti’s web pages, and there seems to be more of an emphasis on dazzling potential customers with grand claims of cloud this and that and SDN blah blah blah than a realization that newcomers to Ubiquiti may need some basic buzzword-free guidance on this controller thing. The UniFi controller can exist in different forms, and you can only use one at a time with a given set of end devices:

  • On a laptop. You need to use the controller to manage devices, but the devices don’t NEED the controller to operate, so you might only invoke the controller when you have changes to make. But… here you don’t get the monitoring and statistics that you would with a more persistent controller method.
  • On a CloudKey.  Now this is cool. I wrote about my first use of CloudKey here, and you need to know that it’s just another way of managing the UniFi devices.
  • On your own virtual host. Load up a controller in AWS, manage a bunch of sites in your own private cloud- but know that you have to provision the devices to get them to your cloud-hosted controller with effort not required in pure cloud-managed systems like Meraki and OpenMesh.
  • Let Ubiquiti host it. Recently added to the UniFi offerings is the Elite Controller option. Here, you end up with something that’s kind of like Meraki but not nearly expensive. You pay a modest fee per device, and in exchange Ubiquiti provides cloud hosting of the controller for your devices, and phone and chat support. Unlike Meraki or Open Mesh, this is not plug and play. Your devices do not magically tunnel out to the cloud controller just because you’d like them to! You need to provision the devices, as Justin Paul writes about in his blog. If you don’t do the provision thing right, you’ll beat your head against the wall in frustration.

Third major point: there are several versions of “UniFi Controller”. You have to grasp the differences to decide how you’ll manage a given network, 

I’m currently kicking tires on UniFi hardware and the Elite Cloud option. I will have much to say on both as my evaluation continues, but I do hope that this quick primer can help anyone who is new to Ubiquiti’s UniFi environment.