Category Archives: WLAN

Say Hello to Ooklahau

ooklahau 3 If you’ve been in the business of professional wireless networking for any amount of time, you no doubt have at least a familiarization with Ekahau. For many of us, our networks would not be what they are today if it weren’t for the long-running design and survey reliability and excellence baked into Ekahau’s magic. I’ve been a customer for somewhere around 15 years, and the Ekahau experience with both predictive designs and active surveys has only gotten better with each release. The addition of Sidekick to the ESS suite was a game-changer, and the future looks bright for this Finnish company who also happens to be well-connected to their end users, open to ideas for product improvements, and… well, downright fun to work with.

ooklahau 1Then there’s Ookla- the Seattle-based speedtest.net people that pretty much anybody and everybody on the planet with a connected to device has likely used at some point. They have a huge end-user facing presence with their speedtest apps, but also an impressive global presence that services enterprise customers as well. Ookla started in 2006, and has been growing their cloud-based service offerings and brand -recognition ever since.

Let’s not be coy… you know where this is going. Despite my cheesy logo play, a name change IS NOT imminent to either company. But Ekahau has been acquired by Ookla, as you can read about here on Ekahau’s own blog. I did get a chance to talk with my pal Jussi Kiviniemi (Senior VP for Solution Strategy and Customer Experience) at Ekahau about the news just moments before writing this.

Customers can expect Ekahau to stay largely the same operationally for the foreseeable future, but behind the scenes the global human and technical resources of Ookla are going to mean good things over time. Jussi was practically beaming, even over the phone. This is going to make for really interesting days ahead for wireless and network performance testing for sure, and could enable some pretty fascinating things on the design side when the cloud aspect is figured in.

Congrats, Ekahau! Well done, and well-deserved.

Catching Up With NETSCOUT at MFD3, Big News, and “Body Fade” Explained

Touching Base at Mobility Field Day 3

Everybody’s favorite handheld network tool tester provided updates on their G2 and AirMagnet tools at Mobility Field Day 3. NETSCOUT hosted those of us in attendance at their San Jose office, while simultaneously live-streaming to a lot of interested folks out on the interwebs. We heard about product evolutions coming to the AirCheck G2, the LinkRunner G2, the very handy Link-Live web service, and a little bit on the AirMagnet product line. The G2 improvements are incremental, well-designed, and show that NETSCOUT is not letting grass grow under it’s flagship testers. The AirMagnet brief sounded a bit apologist and fairly thin, but also not unexpected given that the line has gone almost stagnant for long periods of time.

You can watch the presentations for yourself here.

Big News

This one took us by surprise… It’s a bit weird to find out only a couple of days after being at Netscout’s offices that the very product line we were discussing has been sold off to Nacho Libre… or is it StoneCalibre? Whatever… it just feels funky to those of us who know and love our AirCheck and LinkRunner products.  What goes in this move?

  • LinkSprinter
  • LinkRunner (AT & G2)
  • AirCheck
  • OneTouch AT
  • AirMagnet Mobile (Spectrum, Survey, Planner, Wi-Fi analyzer)

Hopefully whoever this new backer is does not mess with all that’s good in the toolbox, and either breathes new life into AirMagnet or retires it. Read about the acquisition here.

Netscout HQ

What the Heck is Body Fade?

bodyfade

During the MFD sessions, we heard about several improvements- including refinements to the AirCheck G2’s Locator Tool. I tweeted out my recent success with the tool, and suggested that anyone using become familiar with “body fade” as technique to make the locator tool even more effective.

A couple of folks gave a thumbs-up, retweet, or similar affirmation, but one fellow emailed me to ask “what are you talking about with body fade?”  Let’s talk about that just a little, using a real-world case from my adventures in G2 Land.

The notion of body fade comes into play in any situation where you have a hand-held receiver in your hand (like the AirCheck G2 or a small ham radio with a bandscope display) and are trying to locate the origin of a signal of interest. By putting my body- including my rock-hard abs- between the signal and the tester, you can make the signal strength drop enough to notice. That means that the signal is somewhere behind you… do this enough times, and you get a really good sense of where to go look for the device faster than just running around staring at the dancing signal needle.

In my example, we see this rascally rogue running rebellious somewhere in another part of my building:
locate5By golly, that’s not one of mine. We gotta find the interloper and teach him or her some manners, I tellya. I fire up the AirCheck G2, invoke the locate option, and see what I see in my office.
Locate4
Not so impressive yet. We have a fairly weak signal somewhere. But how to get started on this foxhunt? BODY FADE to the rescue. I hold the G2 in front of my Adonis-like physique and slowly turn (the slowly part is important)… until I see a 3-4 dBm DROP in signal strength. This is my body inducing loss to the signal and thus showing you where to turn around and what direction to walk towards…

OK… so I start walking, and I’m making progress. The signal is getting stronger, and I use body fade to help further refine my path. But alas- I hit an obstacle! Once I get to THIS signal strength, I’m bamboozled:

Locate 3Nothing I can do from the spot of this reading with body fade changes the signal strength at all. If I walk away from the spot in any direction, the signal drops, but it is strong in this one spot. Yet the rogue is absolutely not there (in a hallway). What gives?

Remember that we’re dealing with signaling in three dimensions. When body fade at X-marks-the-spot yields no changes in signal strength, it means it’s time to go upstairs or down. In my case, there is no downstairs, so up I went. I picked up the trail, and soon hit the jackpot:
locate2
This was screen-shotted in the doorway of the office where the offending device was found. After roughing up both the rogue router and the gent who dared to plug it in, balance was restored to The Force.

Body fade is pivotal to some really neat radio hobbies- like this one.

 

 

 

 

Figuring Out What Bothers Me About Wi-Fi and “Analytics”

I’ve been to the well, my friends. And I have drank the water. 

I was most fortunate in being a participant in the by-invitation Mobility Field Day 3 event, this past week. Few events get you this close to so many primary WLAN industry companies and their technical big-guns, on such an intimate level and on their own turf. For months leading up to MFD3, something  has been bothering me about the discreet topic of “analytics” as collectively presented by the industry- but I haven’t been able to nail down my unease until this past week.

And with the help of an email I received on the trip back east after Mobility Field Day was over.

Email Subject Line: fixing the wifi sucks problem

That was the subject in the email, sent by an employee of one of the companies that presented on their analytics solution at MFD3 (Nyansa, Cisco, Aruba Networks, Fortinet, and Mist Systems all presented on their own analytics platforms). The sender of this email knew enough about me to do a little ego stroking, but not enough to know that only a matter of hours earlier I was interacting with his company’s top folks, or that I’ve already had an extensive eval with the product he’s pitching at my own site. No matter… a polite “no thanks” and I was on my way. But his email did ring a bell in my brain, and for that I owe this person a thank you.

The subject line in that email set several dominoes of realization falling for me. For example-  at least some in the WLAN industry are working hard to plant seeds in our minds that “your WLAN sucks. You NEED us.” Once that hook is set, their work in pushing the fruits of their labor gets easier. The problem is, all of our networks don’t suck. Why? These are just some of the reasons:

  • Many of our wireless networks are well-designed by trained professionals
  • Those trained professionals often have a lot of experience, and wide-ranging portfolios of successful examples of their work
  • Many of our WLAN environments are well-instrumented with vendor-provided NMS systems, monitoring systems like Solar Winds and AKIPS, and log everything under the sun to syslog power-houses like Splunk
  • We often have strong operational policies that help keep wireless operations humming right
  • We use a wealth of metrics to monitor client satisfaction (and dis-satisfaction)

To put it another way: we’re not all just bumbling along like chuckleheads waiting for some Analytics Wizard in a Can to come along and scrape the dumbness off of our asses.

In all fairness, that’s not a global message that ALL vendors are conveying.  But it does make you do a double-take when you consider that a whole bunch of data science has gone into popping up a window that identifies a client that likely needs a driver update, when those of us who have been around awhile know how to identify a client that needs a driver update by alternate means.  Sure, “analytics” does a lot more, but it all comes as a trade-off (I’ll get into that in a minute) and can still leave you short on your biggest issues.

Like in my world, where the SINGLE BIGGEST problem since 2006, hands-down and frequently catastrophic, has been the buggy nature of my WLAN vendor’s code. Yet this vendor’s new analytics do nothing to identify when one of it’s own bugs has come to call. That intelligence would be a lot more useful than some of the other stuff “analytics” wants to show.

Trade-Offs Aplenty

I’m probably too deep into this article to say “I’m really not trying to be negative…” but I’ll hazard that offering anyways. Sitting in the conference rooms of Silicon Valley and hearing from many of the industry’s finest Analytics product’s management teams is impressive and its obvious that each believes passionately in their solutions. I’m not panning concepts like AI, machine learning, data mining, etc as being un-useful as I’d be an idiot to do so. But there is a lot of nuance to the whole paradigm to consider:

  • Money spent on analytics solutions is money diverted from elsewhere in the budget
  • Another information-rich dashboard to pour through takes time away from other taskings
  • Much of the information presented won’t be actionable, and you likely could have found it in tools you already have (depending on what tools you have)
  • Unlike RADIUS/NAC, DHCP/DNS, and other critical services, you don’t NEED Analytics. If you are so bad off that you do, you may want to audit who is doing your network and how

Despite being a bit on the pissy side here, I actually believe that any of the Analytics systems I saw this week could bring value to environments where they are used, in an “accessory” role.  My main concerns:

  • Price and recurrent revenue models for something that is essentially an accessory
  • How well these platforms scale in large, complicated environments
  • False alarms, excessive notifications for non-actionable events and factors
  • Being marketed at helpdesk environments where Tier 1 support staff have zero clue how to digest the alerts and everything becomes yet another frivolous trouble ticket
  •  That a vendor may re-tool their overall WLAN product line and architecture so that Analytics is no longer an accessory but a mandatory part of operations- at a fat price
  • Dollars spent on big analytics solutions might be better allocated to network design skills,  beefy syslog environments, or to writing RFPs to replace your current WLAN pain points once and for all
  • If 3rd party analytics have a place in an industry where each WLAN vendor is developing their own

If all of that could be reconciled to my liking, much of my skepticism would boil off. I will say after this last week at MFD3, both Aruba and Fortinet did a good job of conveying that analytics plays a support role, and that it’s not the spotlight technology in a network environment.

Have a look for yourself at Arista,  Aruba, Cisco, Fortinet, Mist and Nyansa telling their analytics stories, linked to from the MFD3 website.

Thanks for reading.

WLAN Security- Attack Yourself to Stay Sharp

Back in February of this year, I ran a “Deep Dive” session at the WLAN Professional’s Conference. The session description:
WLPC18sessionThis session was well-attended, and we had a lot of fun getting through a number of attacks. Since then, I’ve had a few occasions to break out the Pineapple again. Just the other day I was monkeying with something…

Pine3

Which inspired me to put together a blog at my OTHER site, IT Toolbox. Have a look here and see if you agree that hacking yourself once in a while is a prudent thing to do.

 

Ubiquiti Updates- Cool Camera and a Big WLAN Offering

There is sooooo much to the Ubiquiti story. It’s just a different company, and you never know what’s around the corner for them- but whatever “Ubnt” comes up with is usually profoundly interesting. I’ve gotten quite the education over the last couple of years on many things Ubiquiti, and written about my experiences in this blog (and others). Though I don’t always agree with the company’s messaging on certain products, they are obviously doing something right as they sell a lot of product and their user community tends to speak loudly and favorably. In this blog, I have two updates regarding Ubiquiti.

Suh-weet Little Camera.

I’ve been kicking the tires on Ubiquiti’s G3 Micro camera, and it’s an impressive add to the company’s current line of video products. It’s one of those products that you take out of the box, handle a bit, and fast feel appreciation for whoever developed it’s physical construct (I get the same warm fuzzy when I handle some of Ubiquiti’s outdoor bridges). From really creative use of magnets to more mounting options than you might think possible, the G3 Micro is just a neat little wireless (dual-band) 1080p HD camera.

It fits in very well with Ubiquiti’s NVR hardware appliance or the build-your-own NVR option, and is as easy to use as the cameras in the series. Just remember- Ubiquiti NVR only works with Ubiquiti cameras and visa versa.

Some real-world screen grabs:

Jumbo Wi-Fi Is Spelled “XG”

Maybe XG stands for extremely gigantic (?) …hmmm. Have a look at this introduction to the Ubiquiti’s latest add to it’s networking portfolio.  You can mill around looking at the non-wireless stuff, as the XG switch, router, and app server are pretty interesting as well. But I want to focus on the Wi-Fi side of XG here. Check out these monsters, and their specs:

G3 Micro 5

There is a reason why Ubiquiti’s XG product page features a stadium in the background- XG is aimed at big honkin’ environments. WLAN professionals will cringe at the “1,500 Clients” spec, even if somehow that’s actually possible, and I hope Ubiquiti tones down the value it seems to see in huge counts like this. Their stuff actually tends to work pretty well, but this messaging can cast good gear in a questionable light for those who do wireless.

It is interesting to see my first ever 10 Gbps port on an AP, as shown on my beta copy of the UniFi XG access point:

 

G3 Micro 6

Like I said in the beginning, Ubiquiti is always working on something really interesting. At this point, the UniFi XG UFO-looking AP is only available in the Ubiquiti beta store (and at a pretty compelling price versus the specs, I might add), but that will change quickly as XG gains traction on it’s way to the larger market.

I’ll have more to talk about when I start hands-on eval of the XG.

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More wirednot blogs on Ubiquiti

Cisco’s Latest AP is Mind-Blowing (and a quick history lesson)

Aironet 4800 Access PointFeast your eyes on that little Chiclet-looking thing… No image can do justice to Cisco’s latest powerhouse AP. That innocuous looking image represents a full 5.6 pounds (2.5 kg) of all kinds of Cisco’s latest technology in the company’s new 4800-series access point. You got 4×4 802.11ac Wave 2 radio wizardry,  a built-in hyperlocation antenna array, and BLE beacon capability. And… regardless of whether you buy into Cisco’s DNA Center story, the new 4800 has a lot of DNA-oriented functionality. It’s big in size, functionality, and at least for a while- price.

You don’t need me regurgitating the entire data sheet- that can be viewed here. You’ll also want to hear the full story of the 4800 and DNA Center when you get a chance, because it’s nothing less than fascinating. (My own take: DNA-C might be revolutionary- but I’d rather see new controllers with a new WLC operating system rather than bolting DNA-C’s future-looking promise onto yesterday’s fairly buggy wireless parts and pieces. That’s just me speaking from experience- take it or leave it).

I’ve seen the 4800 with the outside cover removed, and even that is profoundly thought-provoking when your eyes take in how much is really going on with the various antennas- get a look at that if you can (I’m not comfortable sharing the images I’ve seen, not sure where NDA starts and stops on that).

So a huge access point story is afoot, and I applaud Cisco on that bad-lookin’ mammajamma. But I also got sparkley-eyed by something else fairly nerdy while looking through 4800 materials and links to other links.

Here’s a screen grab of the 4800 power specs:

4800 power

Nothing real exciting there, right? New APs generally need the latest PoE+, and we’re a few years into that story. But I somehow stumbled across this document, that shows this picture:

and it took me way back to my own early days of wireless. My WLAN career started with a 4-AP deployment of those 350s, which ran the VxWorks for an operating system and had only 802.11b radios… (cue the flashback music here).

Also included in that doc is this brief history of PoE:

PoE Hist

As I read that over, my mind goes back to all of the Cisco APs that have come and gone in my own environment- 350, 1130, 1200, 2600, 3500, 3600, 3700, and our latest in production, the 3800. In this list, there have been multiple models from the different series of AP leading to the thousands of APs that are now deployed in my world.

On the operating system side, VxWorks became IOS, and in turn AireOS. Now we have AP-COS on the latest Wave 2 APs (don’t Google “AP-COS”, most of what comes back is bug-related, sadly).

It’s interesting to reflect back, on operating systems, PoE, radio technologies, and feature sets. As Wi-Fi has gotten more pervasive, it has also gotten more complicated on every level. Seldom is the latest access point THE story any more, now it’s about all of the features that come with the whole ecosystem that the vendor wants that access point to operate in- if we as customers buy into the bigger story.  I’m not passing judgement on anything with that statement, or intentionally waxing nostalgic (well, maybe a little bit).

It’s pretty neat how one image or a certain document can suddenly flash your your entire wireless history before your eyes.

Good stuff.

Open Mesh Brings Major Disruption to SMB Space, Goes Full-Stack

Another router coming to the SMB market generally isn’t that exciting, but this one is different for a number of reasons.

OM1

For one thing, it comes from Open Mesh. Those ports are part of the G200, which is the first router ever released by Open Mesh. It has a list price of $249 dollars, and it also brings the Open Mesh product line into the proverbial “full stack” domain.

OM2

Now customers can use access points, switches, and the G200 all from Open Mesh, and all cloud-managed in the excellent CloudTrax dashboard with no license costs.

Yes, you heard me right… I said “with no license costs”. If you are not familiar with Open Mesh, the operational paradigm is easy- you buy your components (routers, switches, and access points), you register them in the CloudTrax dashboard, and off you go with configuration and operation. CloudTrax is a pretty decent network management system in and of itself, and it is the only way you manage Open Mesh components. It’s simple, it’s feature rich, and given what Open Mesh hardware costs, the entire paradigm is an absolute steal compared to pricing and complexity of enterprise solutions that masquerade as SMB-friendly.

The G200 is a significant milestone to not only the Open Mesh product line, but also to the SMB market in that it seriously drops upfront costs and TCO while providing what may be the easiest to use interface among any of it’s competitors.

But what do you get for under $250 for features with the G200? A lot, actually. From a resource perspective, Open Mesh promises gigabit throughput compliments of a quad-core processor and dedicated crypto engine. The G200 has two passive PoE ports for Open Mesh APs to connect directly, and also has an SFP port for fiber uplink to an Open Mesh switch or 3rd party vendor switch. All the typical “router stuff” is onboard, from VLAN support, DHCP server and firewall to decent traffic classification, QoS, NAT functionality, user VPN, and even usage statistics. Not bad for an initial edge-router at this price point, that won’t hit you up in 12 months for a fat license fee to keep using it. Mine has been reliable as I could ask for in the couple of weeks that I’ve been testing it. One gripe- no site-to-site VPN, although that is coming.

g200

I can’t stress how important price is for the SMB space, and I know some of my own customers are dealing with sticker shock that comes from other cloud-managed solutions that charge big and small environments the same way when it comes to licensing (or worse, they penalize the small networks for not having volume purchasing leading to better pricing). If Open Mesh continues to evolve their edge functionality and hardware offerings, this vendor could deliver a sales smack-down to the bigger players who have become license-happy to the point of ridiculousness over the last few years.

A New Access Point and Switch, Too!

I’m a huge fan of the Open Mesh A60 dual-band indoor/outdoor 802.11ac access point. It has been the top-dog of the Open Mesh access point line for several months, with a list price of $225 (again, no licensing and free CloudTrax support). Now, as part of the same product announcement that features the G200 router, Open Mesh is also bringing out it’s new A62 access point. It’s still dual-band and indoor/outdoor, but this Wave 2 AP also sports two 5 GHz radios, support for up to an estimated 150 streaming clients, and the same $225 price tag as the A60.

The latest S24 switch also breaks new ground for Open Mesh with 10 Gbps SFP+ uplink ports and a higher PoE power budget than it’s predecessor.

Let’s Do Some Math

Open Mesh has over 100,000 network customers around the world. When I think of one of my own small sites that’s up for renewal with another cloud vendor, I’m looking at trying to explain to my customer why a 3-year renewal license on old AP costs almost as much as purchasing the latest license-free AP from Open Mesh, and why a 3-year renewal license on an older security appliance costs almost twice the price of a new Open Mesh G200 router that would never need another license. These are real dollars for small businesses, and you pay the big price for the other guys whether you ever use actual support or not.

It’s time for a shake-up at this end of the market, and I think Open Mesh is the vendor to do it.

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