What I Hope I Don’t Hear at Mobility Field Day 4

With another Mobility Field Day 4 coming up soon, I can’t help but ponder what this year’s briefings will bring. (If you’re not familiar with Mobility Field Day or the Field Day franchise, have a look here.) As I bang this blog out, the agenda features:

  • Aruba
  • Cisco
  • Fortinet
  • Metageek
  • Mist
  • …and a secret company you’ll all find out about during the event

This list may or may not grow a little, we never know right up until the last minute. As is, it’s a nice mix of old-guard industry leaders, up-and-comers, crowd favorites, and tool-makers. The event is gonna sizzle as each vendor attempts to show their newest offerings and best face, and I’m both proud and priveleged to be in attendance.

That being said- As a loooong-time Wireless Doer and frequent delegate for Field Day events, I’d like to share some of what I sincerely hope I DO NOT see and hear at this awesome event. This is a voice from the trenches speaking…

  • AI and Machine Learning as THE THING. Given the line-up of pesenting vendors, I promise that you’ll get intoxicated if you take a drink everytime you hear “AI” or “machine learning” during MFD4. I’m all for letting the world know that these processes are at work under the hood- but companies also have a way of overselling buzzwords. Just because a vendor has incorporated artifical intelligence, machine learning, SDeverything, analytics, etc, it doesn’t mean the product won’t ultimately be problematic. There needs to be more to the presentation than “AND WE FREAKIN’ USE AI- NOW CUT US A P.O.!”
  • Over-Licensed Proprietary Features Masked as Innovation. Vendors have the right to charge whatever they want, and some have certainly turned complex licensing paradigms into huge cash cows.

    Hear me now vendors: license away- but know that fair play counts. And some of you have lost your sense of fair play in favor of squeezing every rediculous cent out of long-time loyal customers with obscene, over-complicated license paradigms that are poorly disguised as “innovative”.  You can show us the most useful and revolutionary features in the world, but when even your own sales folk get tripped up in the complexity of licensing, the aftertaste is not worth using the feauture set.

  • BMW Pricing for Ford Fiesta Feature Sets.  If it’s buggy, incomplete, “coming in Q1 next year”, bundled with a slew of other functions we really don’t want, or implemented with an out-of-touch developer’s view on wireless, it is not worth a premium. Back to the fair play thing- roadmap feautures are fine. But don’t charge me today for what I can’t use for 6-12 months. Or expect customers to be thrilled to pay for a laundry list of features they don’t need to create the illusion of some kind of wonderful deal is at hand. Be San Jose and let your merits carry you, and not Detroit- I’d rather have another vascetomy than visit a car dealership.
  • A New House Made of Crap is Still a House Made of Crap. There are product sets on the market that are long in the tooth and perpetually problematic and buggy. The delegates in the rooms at MFD4 will be all too familiar with hidden TCO that comes with lack of QA and rushed-out-the-door code and hardware. I sincerely hope that we don’t hear about “new” anything being added to product sets that need to be sunsetted for everyone’s benefit. In this spirit I would also like to hear honest explanations about how whatever new stuff is coming is developed with higher QA standards than in the past applied. It’s fun seeing RF test facilities and such, but the radios usually aren’t the issue- it’s substandard code that runs the radios. It’s hard to get excited about new features added to old problems.
  • Dahboard Fever. Marketing departments love to wow us: “each of your network users will have 87 IoT devices on them by next year- YoUR NETWORK IS NOT READY”. Besides baseless huge numbers and predictions of overwhelm, another trick is the accross-the-board generalizations that we all have deep, deep problems that only one more dashboard can solve. So what if you have more dashboards now than you can monitor- this next one is THE fix, and will scrape all of the dumb off your ass to bring clarity at long last. Pffft.

You’ll notice that my little list here really doesn’t just apply to Mobility Field Day. To me, it’s just common sense narrative that applies to vendor relationships day in and day out. But I also know that too often product managers and C-levels have a distorted view of how wonderful their stuff is, and hopefully Field Day gets us a little closer to honest, direct dialogue with those vendor bigs who may only get filtered feedback.

There is a lot to get excited about right now out there in WLAN Industryland… 802.11ax, WPA3, 5Gish stuff, new operating systems, fresh analysis resources, and a slew of technologies all ready to propel our networks and the industry forward. But it has to be based in reality, attainable, affordable, and implemented with STABILITY for end users in mind.

See you at Field Day.

___

Note: on Twitter, follow @TechFieldDay and #MFD4 for this event, August 14-16

Wyebot Adds Feautures, Ups It’s WLAN Performance Monitoring Game

I wrote about Wyebot a few months back for IT Toolbox. It’s an interesting wireless network performance monitoring platform, and is among the more impressive tools of this type that I’ve looked at (think Cape sensors, 7signal, Netbeez, etc). Why does Wyebot appeal to me?

Wyebot16

For starters, the user interface hooks me. I know that this is one of those highly subjective things that hits us all differently, but I find the Wyebot dashboard easy to navigate, with a lot of value at each drill-in point. If you look at the IT Toolbox article referenced above, you’ll get a good introduction to the product, and here’s a nice summary of why the company feels that their multi-radio sensor is advantageous. That’s all well and good, but the point of THIS blog is that Wyebot has added new features in their version 2.2 code, and is listening to their customers and avaluators like me as they evolve the product.

Quick side note: I brought up with Wyebot that it would be nice to see “What’s New” release-notes/features listed somewhere in the dashboard, and as it is you have to click in fairly deep to tell what version is running, like so:
Wyebot17

If you miss the email that tells what features have been added, it’s hard to find that information anywhere else. That does a disservice to a decent product that is getting better with every update, so hopefully we see a change here in the near future.

But back to the 2.2 release. The bulleted list goes like this:

  • Network Test Graphs
  • Historical problems/solutions
  • Support for iPerf version 3
  • Enhanced Network Test result details
  • Enhanced ability to discover AP names
  • Auto-creation of Network Tests

And the details can be seen here in the release notes,Wyebot v2.2 Release Notes (July 2019).

Given that different environments have varying areas of concern, each of us will find different weights to the value of the individual feautures as Wyebot continues to mature. From Day 1, I’ve been impressed with the sensors’ ability to quickly characterize a Wi-Fi environment and monitor it for changes. I appreciate that the sensor can use wireless backhaul, and that it can serve as an iPerf server (versions 2 and 3), as well as performing as a wireless client even on 802.1X networks for testing authentication and such.

Perhaps my fovorite capability to date is being able to upload a pcap file to Wyebot and have it display what the capture means through the lens of the Wyebot interface.

There is a lot to like, and more coming with each release. If you’ve not looked at Wyebot yet, I think you’ll find that this start-up is holding it’s own among established competitors when it come to WLAN performance monitoring.

Cisco ALMOST Gave Us a Handy WLC Feature

Alas, my strained relation with Cisco wireless controllers rolls on. My 8540s are on super-wonderful-we-REALLY-tested-it-this-time 8.5.140.0 code, yet *gasp* I’m looking at yet another bug-driven upgrade. Or I can just disable MU-MIMO as listed in the work-around and yet again not use what I paid for! But you don’t care about that rot, as that has nothing to do with the point of this blog. That was just pre-content bitching, as an added bonus.

Let’s get on to the meat and taters of it all.

Take a look at this:

mGigSearch

When I’m in the WLC interface, there are various ways to sort for specific APs or groups of APs. The ability to search on Speed is fairly new, and if it’s not obvious it’s talking about the wired connectivity of the AP and is relevant where mGig switch ports are in use. That’s fairly innocuous, yes?

But here’s WHAT COULD HAVE BEEN.

Suppose that Speed search gave another option- for 100 Mbps? Some of you know where this is going…

In a perfect world, all 3000+ access points on this 8540 would connect to their switch ports at Gig or mGig, depending on models of hardware in play. But the world isn’t perfect. Occasionally, some of those thousands of APs connected to hundreds of switches for whatever reason only connect at 100 Mbps. More often than not, that’s indicative of a cabling issue. Once in a great while it’s a switch misconfig or a bad AP in play.

As is, there is no easy way to find those APs that have joined at 100 Mbps in the controller. An AP that connects at 100 Mbps doesn’t trigger a fault. You can’t sort on the speed column, and basically have to wade through almost 50 pages in my case looking for the elusive 100 in a sea of 1000s in the speed column.

Boy it would have been handy if the developers gave us a 100 Mbps option in that Speed search.

 

Appreciating Interesting People

I’ve learned that all people are interesting, but sometimes you cross paths with a person in a way that stands out and leaves a particular impression. (Please note- this is the rare non-technical blog, but read on for a couple of quick but fascinating events). In the last several days, I’ve had the good fortune to be in the presence of two fellow human beings that made me go “wow” after talking with them during chance encounters.

1971 World Series Ring Baseball Guy

My wife and I were watching an Auburn Doubledays‘ game a few days ago. We had really good seats, and found ourselves among the staff and scouts for both the Doubledays and the visiting Williamsport Crosscutters. I was on the inside end of 106, The Guy was on the inside end of 105- like so: Ring

There was a lot going on. Radar guns checking pitching speeds, lots of notes being taken on each player, and general “back end” stuff that is the business side of baseball. All of that was cool- but I not as cool as noticing The Guy wearing this ring while he jotted stuff down in a book. It kind of jumps out at you…

During a break in the action, I asked the fellow what that gorgeous ring was all about. Without hesitating, he slipped it off of his finger and handed it to me. While I looked at it, he told me it was the 1971 World Series ring- and I kid you not I could feel the history in it. It had a really weird, magical gravity to it. His father was the PR Director for the Pittsburgh Pirates when they won the series that year. This was the Roberto Clemente team, BTW. Wow.

Things got busy again, and I gave him back his ring after thanking him profusely and having some quick dialogue about how thrilling it must have been for him to be a kid back then. This gent was just a sweetheart, and absolutely didn’t have to entrust a stranger with what is obviously a highly-treasured possession. But I’m glad he did, and man it was cool. Ever curious, I found out out the bigger story on his Dad, which you can read about here.

Underooos, Priceline, ATMs, and Pancake Mix

Fast forward to a few days after the baseball game. My wife and I are at a high school graduation party talking with friends, when the grandfather of the graduate introduced himself. I’d learn that this awesome man was 81, but he could have been in his early 60s. In the course of our discussion, I found myself kicking it old-school with a pretty accomplished gent.

To meet Larry Weiss is to hear first-hand how Underoos were invented, from the man himself. Turns out that Larry accomplished a lot more than just Underoos- he has been involved with a number of familiar brands and technologies that stretches a mile long. Great stuff.

Larry is a fairly humble guy, and very well spoken. We spoke of not only each other’s accomplishments and experiences, but also of life philosophies and the importance of never losing your ability to be a child inside. It was an absolute honor to not only meet Larry, but to spend quality time talking with him as a fellow man-of-action.

People Can Be Awesome…

Thankfully I’ve had the privilege of getting to know a lot of good people through the years. The really special (to me) ones stand out in my memory, from childhood to my military days, into my professional career and beyond, including lots of awesome folks out in the bigger technology community.  Sure, I’ve also crossed paths with absolute duds… folks with an evil streak or just dead on the inside- but thankfully those have been the minority.

You never know where the next Ring Guy or Larry Weiss will turn up- so keep your eyes and your minds open as you interact with people.

Appreciating Siklu- An Un-a-bridged Tale

You gotta love a good bridge… like this gorgeous unit in Moravia, NY:

SikluC

If that bridge could talk it would tell you stories from my childhood. It would also speak of my own children flying across it on their bicycles countless times through the years. Lovers holding hands as they stroll, school picnics, photographers marking the change of seasons… Ah, memories.

*Ahem* That’s NOT the kind of bridge we’re here to discuss though (but thanks for indulging me on that). Friends, I’d like you to meet the Siklu EH-600TX. I’m impressed so far, and so feel compelled to share some thoughts with anyone interested.

I have two of them newly in production, forming a point-to-point bridge link, and a third sitting in a spares cabinet waiting to jump into service if ever the need arises. The birds-eye view of my link goes a little something like this:

SikluD

This unit is absolutely “carrier grade” from a build quality perspective. The EH-600TX works in the unlicensed 60 GHz spectrum, and I added the license that gets you to 1000 Mbps aggregate capacity, from the base 500 Mbps. You can slew your up/down to be asymmetrical if you so desire.

The 60 GHz spectrum is a mysterious place where oxygen absorption  of all things needs to be understood (see this quick primer), and the transmitted beams are often described as no bigger than pencils or dimes. Wireless bridges of any sort can be hard to align, and the tighter the beams the more true that statement becomes. Yet Siklu provides excellent directions and an alignment methodology that let a technician who has not done a lot of this sort of work get it right fairly quickly.

SikluA

Given the weirdness of the 60 GHz spectrum, I really wanted to exercise this link in crappy weather before turning it loose on the network. The skies over Central New York have obliged, as we’ve had a fairly miserable spring and early summer with plenty of Florida-grade Sheets-of-Rain and Walls-of-Water sorts of storms. Through them all, the Siklu link did not blink.

After pressing the new bridges into service for real, I realized I should probably get the latest firmware put on them. As with the alignment process, Siklu provides good directions for this task. And the total time of upgrade-related outage is petty impressive:

SikluB

In testing via iPerf and other trusted verification metrics, I find that the EH-600TX delivers what it promises for speed and capacity. So far, it’s been a great experience.

This link is replacing a licenced 80 GHz Exalt setup of similar capacity, and it’s so nice to work with “palm-sized” hardware (as Siklu describes it). We also have smaller Exalts and LigoWave bridges in service, but this Siklu is now our big dog from a capacity perspective.

We are running the link as simple as possible, with it functioning as a patch-cable in the air in a simple extension of the LAN. But there is a lot that might be done with the bridge’s three Ethernet ports, and I encourage you to dig more into Siklu’s capabilities if interested.

Time will tell if I made the right choice with the Siklu EH-600TX, but the early verdict is that it’s a winner.

____

Please note- if you are new to point-to-point bridging, make sure you get educated on rooftop safety, licensed versus unlicensed frequencies, proper mounting procedures, and grounding techniques. None of this is particularly daunting, yet there are plenty of ways of getting it wrong- leading to failed links, damaged downstream equipment, and potential injury or death.

 

160 MHz Wide Channels: Just the Tip of an Iceberg of WLAN Industry Dysfunction

What lies ahead in this blog isn’t so much a rant, as it is an analysis. That sounds classier, and implies critical thought rather than just someone bitching about things. With that in mind, I give you the following image, stolen from Matthew Seymour (on Twitter at @realmattseymour) and sourced from this year’s Aruba Atmosphere conference in Europe:

The topic of the slide is 802.11ax, but that is tangential to the points I want to make here. Read that first caveat- this requires the use of 160MHz channels, which is generally not possible or just not a good idea wow.

I’m not sure who actually presented this session, but I’m assuming it is a trusted voice from a trusted company- Aruba folks generally know their stuff (as evidenced by their growing customer base and industry longevity). When I saw this come across Twitter, something in my mind clicked and this simple thought bubbled up:

Why does the WLAN industry do this idiotic shit to itself?

When I say the WLAN industry, I’m including the IEEE, the Wi-Fi Alliance, and the vendors that provide the hardware and the marketing of wireless networking products. Let me state the underlying problem as clearly as I can: the IEEE creates the 802.11 standards, and since 802.11n each standard has had a nonsensical top end- you simply cannot reach the high part of the spec. Evuh. The Wi-Fi Alliance does nothing to bring any sanity to the situation, and WLAN vendors build in configuration options with high-end settings that actually do WLAN operational damage and so let us create operational situations that are…

just not a good idea

Has anyone TOLD the IEEE that no one is really impressed with the promise of high end specs that can’t actually be leveraged? That it’s all a big stupid tease? Got some bait-and-switch going on here… The entire professional WLAN community knows that 160 MHz channels are…

just not a good idea

So why do WLAN vendors present 160 as an option in the UI? Why don’t the Wi-Fi Alliance and the vendor community repaint their messaging with reality-based promises of what each new WLAN technology can do? Wi-Fi 6 will STILL be impressive- but market it as if 160 MHz channels don’t exist- and watch the Sun of Truth rise over the wireless landscape (can I get a witness?).

I’m guessing some of you are thinking “you idiot, the FCC is going to give us more spectrum and then we’ll be rockin’ 160 for sure”. To that I say- pffft. I’ll believe it when I see it- and even then the ability to toggle 160- to even see it in configs- should not be a default.

The argument might also be made that “Maybe people AT HOME can use 160 MHz channels so you should shut up about it already”. Don’t go there, girlfriend. That only amplifies my beef with the Wi-Fi Alliance members who refuse to draw a clean line between Enterprise Grade gear and Wonky Shit That Plays Well at Home But Shouldn’t Be Dragged Into The Enterprise environment.

And that loops us back to the “tip of the iceberg” thing- and a couple more examples of general industry dysfunction. We have cheap printers that come up in default 40 MHz wide channels in 2.4 GHz, which also is…

just not a good idea

And an industry-wide trend where pretty much most 5 GHz gear comes up with 80 MHz channels enabled. Which also happens to be…

just not a good idea

We’re at an odd place where all the players involved are obviously aware of all the things that are

just not a good idea

yet they MARKET bad ideas and then we have to explain to those we support why we can’t really USE those bad ideas which have been marketed to us.

We kinda need our collective wireless head examined. Thus ends my analysis. 

Good Tools in Good Hands = Good Outcomes

A while back I wrote about the importance of the Good Guy On Other End (GGOOE) for those of us charged with keeping up far-flung network empires. Even when you have decent instrumentation and infinite powers of configuration, sometimes you need someone to move, touch, or add something. It sounds so simple, but even simple tasks asked of the wrong person can result in the failure of those tasks- and possibly the creation of more and bigger problems. Having someone you can trust (even if they aren’t a networking type) on site when you are two, two hundred, or two thousand miles away is huge.

Then of course came The Soon To Be Famous Cocktail Napkin that rocked the IT world to it’s foundation. With one graphic that looked like it could have been inked by a drunken child, I dared to tell the world that “sometimes problems that feel Wi-Fi-ish may not be”, and the cosmos rippled with hyper-galactic truth and acknowledgement, I tellya. OK, maybe it wasn’t quite that epic, but a lot of people seemed to derive value from that simple drawing and the idea behind it.

Now fast forward to the point of this blog. I recently fielded a challenge from an esteemed colleague: “one of our VIPs who telecommutes is having a horrible time with his Wi-Fi at home, I need to get to the bottom of it”. My friend is really smart, but his core strengths are in other facets of IT. He had a tight window for a site visit, and I had a conflict during that window. He floated the idea of buying some sort of wireless tool for a couple of hundred bucks, but I was able to head that off.

We talked a bit deeper about what was going on- and it didn’t sound so “wireless” to me. Evidently there was some ISP issues in the past, and the VIP was using a managed laptop, so this could go in a few directions. Yet because Wi-Fi was involved- and when things got wonky, the VIP was using Wi-Fi- the specter of Wi-Fi problems still loomed. I took a few minutes to introduce him to a real tool- the NETSCOUT AirCheck G2, with emphasis on how to restart a monitoring session, let the channels all scan a couple of times, and then save the session. The idea was he’d visit the site, do his best to analyze anything possibly in play, and then return the AirCheck to me where I would analyze his captures.

So how did that go?

Again, he’s a smart guy. He was able to prove ISP service interruptions, probably related to crappy cable outside of the house. He also found a pretty significant problem with the YIP’s laptop. And… we were able to exonerate the wireless in this case through almost a dozen captures taken at different points in the home with the AirCheck. He gathered them, I analyzed them, and though THE EXPERT couldn’t be on site to prove that the wireless-feeling problems weren’t really wireless, the right tool in the right hands boiled all of the mystery off of the Wi-Fi side of the discussion. Plenty of signal at sufficient strength and quality inside the home, no real RF encroachment from outside. It also provided a baseline that we can refer to if the situation ever needs to be revisited.

It’s not easy handing off the expensive, beloved tools to someone else. But if you can get past that and you are handing the tools to the right GGOOE, it’s the next best thing to being there.