Lest ye allow smoke to be blown up yer kilt, don ye reality filter agin’ the vapors o’ San Jose.
– Old Scottish Proverb
These are exciting times to be in the business of networking. Whether the topic is wired, enterprise wireless, cellular or WAN, it’s all getting faster, bigger, and more complex. I won’t say better, because more complexity doesn’t mean better in all cases. Each technology and product story line needs to stand on it’s own merit, and as users and system owner/operators, we need to not assume that new+complex=better in all cases. Maybe it does, maybe it doesn’t. But that complexity isn’t going away, and as we head into 2019 I’m here to offer you what I see as some of the most glaring areas where you’ll want to look past the vendor hype and really find what matters to your environment.
The Kool Aid will be flowing like an avalanche coming down a mountain in 2019. You’re neither obligated to drink it all, nor to keep it down if you do sip some and decide you don’t care for the taste.
In a really warped way, this is pure genius. That is, if you’re on the receiving end of the cash flow. You buy a product, you buy support for the product, you buy licenses, then you re-buy those licenses every X years or… something happens. Something bad. Something that will impact your operations. Maybe the network ceases to function, maybe you no longer get support on buggy products. The new model in Silly Valley is you never quite stop paying, and so never really own “your” gear. To add insult to injury, blazer-clad corporate types push out blogs saying that subscriptions are how you get access to INNOVATION (cue the angelic background sounds) and so you are gosh-darn lucky to be part of the new Ransomed Innovation paradigm.
Takeaway: Cost models are changing, and in some cases are getting downright fucked up. Make sure you truly understand the upfront and long-term costs as you get into new equipment.
5G is the Wireless Connectivity Paradigm of the Future
No- strike that- 802.11ax is the Wireless Connectivity Paradigm of the Future
Uh- hold on… it’s 5G!
Ah shit… um- no, it’s Wi-Fi 6…
There’s little to be done here, short of maybe taking the 802.11ax marketing folks and the 5G marketers to THE OCTAGON for a cage fight. It’s going to be a long year of hearing how each one is THE wireless technology for the future. To me, they are both right and both wrong, and as with all cases that marketers don’t want you to critically think about, it will always depend on the specific situation and circumstance.
In these tit-for-tat one-upmanship games, you can rely on the 5G folks to never really come clean about the fact that their baby is still a metered offering, and the 802.11ax-ers will tout phenomenal speeds that come from channel widths that none of us in the real world can actually use. Ah well…
802.11ax Will Bring It’s Own Brand of Hype
As I type this blog, I’m connected to a major vendor’s beta 802.11ax access point. My laptop is 11n, my out-in-the-country ISP connection is fairly slow, and I have no 802.11ax clients to connect with. This equation won’t change for me for at least a year at Wirednot HQ. But in that year, we’ll see early .11ax products, some adventurous enterprise adoption, and LOTS of hype about why you need to go to .11ax. All of the exciting parts of the standard will be touted along with aspects that couldn’t be used anywhere outside of a lab environment. There will be a frantic false sense of urgency created by marketing that needs to be met with reality. When I finally get to the point where I have my thousands of users on 802.11ax, I’ll be feeling pretty good. But it could also take years to get there…
In an environment where high-performing STABILITY is key, I had to wait over a year to deploy 802.11ac Wave 2 APs after my vendor released them because of ongoing code issues. Just like with the orchestration thing mentioned above, I have no reason to believe- no precedence to refer to- that my vendor will get 802.11ax right on Day 1. But they will certainly price it as if it were stable and wonderful. Beyond limited beta, I’d expect a real rollout to happen for me after the dust settles on the early adopters. Oh, and after a fair number of 802.11ax clients show up. Meanwhile the hype drum will beat on.
People are Soooo Stupid, So Let’s Help Them Stay That Way- and Then Further Confuse Them!
Somewhere on another planet, the Wi-Fi Alliance continues to drift further away from the course we actually need them to be on. Citing the “naming” of 802.11ax as “Wi-Fi 6” to be a move that will help customers somehow understand… something or other- the Alliance continues to ignore a lot of important issues that would bring more clarity to customers than just throwing silly numbers at wireless standards. We still have single-band client devices being produced, no clear delineation on device packaging between consumer and enterprise-ready gear, and a laundry list of things that ought to be tested under the heading of “interoperability” but that aren’t.
On the network side, it’s getting all about “orchestration”. Using new software-defined magic, switches, routers, and APs will pop to life and never be configured wrong by human hands again! This actually sounds good… except that the underlying wizardry is still coded by… human hands. And in certain cases the vendors that are touting the orchestration options have horrific track records when it comes to bugs. Will that same bug-tolerant mentality make it in to the new magic? And if we are relying on that new magic, how hard will troubleshooting our own environments become when the orchestration itself spins out? Does this whole framework push us deeper into Vendor Lock and Rent-to-Never-Own? I really hope that this area really does live up to it’s hype- but there is zero reason to trust that specific vendors will get it right in their rush to market. Tread cautiously, y’all.
Be Hopeful, But Be Skeptical
Soooooo much is changing right now in the network world. You don’t just buy access points and controllers or a cloud dashboard. Now, it’s all about the Super System- NAC and Analytics and SDN and Fabric and blah blah blah. If you’re not in, you’re not hip, right? I guess it all depends on your version of “hip”. Like I said, these are exciting times, but marketing ALWAYS gets ahead of what can be delivered, and the early version of anything should be looked at with suspicion when big dollars are on the line. 2019’s hype is going to be interesting- but I encourage you to use it responsibly.