Start the New Year With a Six-Pack of WLAN-Related Blogs You May Not Know About

Man, there are soooo many smart people out there doing wireless networking. I’m guessing that if you’re reading this, you have no trouble bubbling up at least a few names of people who are seen and heard often in the WLAN community. Maybe they are very active on social media, or frequently present at conferences, or have a podcast that you enjoy. We’re fortunate in this realm to be in the company of awesome folks that are happy to share of their knowledge and of their opinions/philosophies on matters that matter to us.

As 2018 kicks in, I’d like to direct your attention towards a half-dozen blogs that might not currently be on your radars. I’ve come to know of these from different circumstances for each, but have found value in all of them.

I hope you find some interest among these. I try to keep a lookout for interesting content that may not be getting strongly promoted. If you know of any decent blogs that may not typically be listed on the usual blogrolls. please share in the comments.

Enough Already With “Just Reboot” As a Fix

On the surface, it’s fairly innocuous advice when trouble sets in on some technical gadget or system: “just reboot it”. And that simple act does frequently get things back in order. But there’s more to the story, and the stakes get higher depending on what specific component is being cycled in the name of corrective action.

For whatever reason, it’s been a busy few weeks for the reboot thing on my end. At home, I’ve had to reboot my ancient cable modem to get it back operational on the provider’s network. I have an older Jeep with a fussy automatic transmission shift control that sometimes requires the vehicle to be pulled over and restarted. The list goes on, from the front yard Christmas light strobey thing with a microprocessor in it to a family member’s smartphone. When trouble hits, reboot. Nothing new or exciting here, and as a consumer society, we’re all fairly tolerant that rebooting is just part of life as “things” get stupid from time to time.

But when it comes to expensive, supposedly high-end networking components, should we have the same tolerance for the need to reboot as a “fix”? At home, the impact of the reboot is usually measured in terms of a few people and a handful of non-critical devices. At work, depending on the environment, it may be a completely different ballgame where being coerced into rebooting an important network component can make you wonder if you chose the right vendor while the senior network managers wonder if you know what you’re doing. And in the background, hundreds of clients might be stranded. Some examples are in order- again, from my last few weeks.

  • Some features in the market-leading WLAN system require a reboot of an access point to get a config change to “take”. Kind of a pain, but at least you decide when to make the change and reboot the AP.
  • Same market-leading WLAN system… on one of the “stable” code versions you may run into an issue on their flagship APs where traffic in a cell stops for all users. The fix? Reboot the AP. There’s no way to really know the condition is coming- just wait for the cries of pain.
  • More of the same: specific user traffic on the flagship APs may stop if the relationship between radios on the same or different APs goes wonky in just the right way. The cure? Boot the client off and make the association session start over (after the user complains).
  • Then there’s the market leading cloud vendor’s switch embarrassment. On a specific model of switch, when a code upgrade gets done, the switch doesn’t restart. It goes dead and needs to be manually power cycled. Given that this product set is marketed as a great fit for remote locations where you are not likely to have IT staff present, the condition really, really irks me. As in pisses me off greatly. Like, steam coming out of my ears pissed off.

Maybe it’s a generational thing, and I’m just getting older. I struggle to come up with any other conclusions on why so much performance suck from developers  is tolerated by vendor exec teams. Maybe the enterprise vendor bigs are too busy lining up the next Hollywood type keynote speaker and the after-party musical headliner for the annual conference to care about things like quality and customer pain. Maybe to young developers the “just reboot!” mantra is an acceptable answer when hundreds of my clients are impacted by system-level problems, as these same developers grew up with the “reboot” paradigm in their networked homes for far longer than us older types. Maybe to them, expecting customers to reboot to deal with enterprise system deficiencies is perfectly normal and they were never briefed on the differences between the consumer space and enterprise systems when it comes to people expecting to get what they paid for.

Or maybe it’s a brilliant revenue-generating strategy: build in problems, and then charge licensing and support costs to people like me for the privilege of getting access to answers like “reboot it!” Everyone wins- except the actual customers and their end users.

To close this rant: I’m willing to occasionally reboot my consumer-grade gadgetry, but that allowance generally does not extend to work where real dollars get spent on beefy equipment . Sadly, too much enterprise-grade networking gear is starting to feel like it belongs on the shelves of Wal-Mart based on its code quality.

We deserve better, and rebooting isn’t a fix- but changing the culture that leads to the over-used need to reboot critical network building blocks would be.

The Epic Wi-Fi Christmas Story III

img_0977It was dark times in Ackville back then, I tellya. Since the Great Capacity Riots of ’06, everyone was on edge. The tension was such that a a man would just as soon hack your PSK as look at you, and strangers weren’t treated too kindly if they happened to wander into Ackville.

But one stranger did wander on in, and things would never be the same.

One crappy Christmas Eve, Firewall Bob was all strung out on some junk and laying in the shade, just trying to get away from the terrible noise floor that had settled into the valley. The Packet Boy kept dipping his imaginary cup into the eggnog creek that was’t there, and Varmint Jed couldn’t get a freakin thing on his tumbleweed streaming device except bloody hands. The rest of the townspeople were either too stupid or too drunk to care that SNR was pretty non-existent and their holiday lights were black since The Riots. The hell of it was these poor fools were all wearing retail, and not one of ’em had a shot at ever making it to the catwalk. It was a real shit show, to be truthful.

The Packet Boy was the first one to see the stranger ride in, with festive Ralph Lauren holiday-themed assless chaps and Pierre Cardin blockchains strung all around his neck he was a spectacle indeed. The commotion stirred Firewall Bob who met the stranger before the townspeople could kill and eat him. “Yo dawg…” Firewall Bob said- “what’s yer dealio?” The stranger just chuckled a little bit and pulled out a sling shot from his saddle bag. He proceeded to launch a Cat 6A jack straight at the back of Varmint Jed’s greasy head, then sauntered over to the saloon while everyone just looked at him like they was poorly-dressed idiots what wouldn’t know decent RSSI if it slithered up and bit ’em in the NIC.

The stranger stopped at the door, turned to the crowd, and said “I’m only gonna say this once- follow me inside iffin’ you want this gloomy time of poor Wi-Fi and ugly fashion to be over.” Bay Area Clarice was tending bar that day, and whipped up a bunch of pitchers of Ubiquiti for the crowd.

Suddenly the townsfolk were excited… no, they were energized… by the taser the stranger blasted at the ugliest dressed dude. “For the love of all things decent, don’t wear a Member’s Only jacket in my presence! And straighten out that wretched channel plan!” the newcomer bellowed.

Could this man in risque bottoms be the answer to all their woes?

Once inside the saloon, the stranger pulled out a laptop made of driftwood from the finest seas. The Packet Boy had never seen anything so glorious, and couldn’t help but wonder if this magnificently strange device might somehow get him some eggnog at long last. The townsfolk was riveted to the chapped one as he laid out a game plan, and suddenly even Firewall Bob saw the light. They all got busy changing channels, turning down power, re-orienting antennas, and updating drivers. They also fired up the stranger’s Barney’s app and got theyself dressed up real snappy-like. It was magnificently high times!

The next day when Fat Santa rolled in, he found Ackville transformed. Between the smokin’ hot Wi-Fi and the high fashion, the portly present purveyor wasn’t sure if he took a wrong turn and somehow ended up in Sunnyvale or Milan. Everyone gathered around the cactus to celebrate, and Bay Area Clarice declared “…and we owe it all to the weird guy with his bum showing… hey, where’d he go?”

Sure enough, they looked around and the mysterious stranger was gone. But when the Packet Boy opened his canteen to drink some sand, it was full of eggnog!

The original Epic Wi-Fi Christmas Story      The second Epic Christmas Story

Catching Up With Ekahau Now That Sidekick Has Been Out Awhile

When Ekahau’s Sidekick Wi-Fi measurement hardware product came out, I was fortunate to be a pre-release beta tester and to be along for the ride when Sidekick went public. I wrote about it here at wirednot and on my IT Toolbox blog as well. There was a lot of buzz and energy around Sidekick’s debut, but that sort of excitement doesn’t always last very long. Being the inquizitive type, I got wondering about how Ekahau themselves thought the launch of Sidekick went. To satisfy my curiosity, I called my my favorite Finnish guy Jussi Kiviniemi- Ekahau’s Senior Vice President (and someone I consider a pal). Our conversation is summarized here.

Lee: So Jussi- It’s been a few months since product release. Did Sidekick meet Ekahau’s expectations as far as customer response goes?

Jussi: I have to tell you, Lee, that response has been wonderful. It’s been beyond our expectations, which is why we’ve had a bit of a backlog of units to ship. Now that our factory line has reached pretty much full speed, the unit wait time has decreased to a couple of weeks. Our customers themselves have helped to spread the word, and we’ve also been busy working different events like Cisco Live and Aruba Atmosphere to raise awareness.

Lee: Awareness has definitely been raised, I’d say. Does the favorable response at this level surprise you at all?

Jussi: Thankfully a lot of bloggers and Ekahau believers have been great advocates for us and Sidekick. We are really lucky like, that, and appreciate it very highly. If anything surprises me, it would be that despite the cost and that there isn’t another product like this out there to compare to, there has been this overwhelming response.

Lee: Have you found that Sidekick’s warm reception has bought any tangential benefits to Ekahau in general?

Jussi: We’re selling A LOT more of our Ekahau Site Survey / Planner software as well, which is wonderful. Some of that is certainly due to Sidekick, but truth be told, our strengthened sales team has also successfully got the new distributor framework going on at the same time, which is further getting both Sidekick and ESS more exposure in the US and globally.

Lee: So what distributors are on board now?

Jussi: Within the last year, we’ve added more than a dozen new distributors all across the world. Ingram Micro is a big new one, Synnex is another big, they’ve been with us for a while already. I also have to mention that we’ve got our long-running Technology Partners as part of our family, too. And it’s not just the CIscos, Arubas, Ruckuses and Huaweis of the world we work very closely with. Think about Keith Parsons of Wireless LAN Professionals as an example- the Ekahau training that he and his all-star team provides is so good… because his services are excellent, our tools look that much better, and that helps spread the word.

Lee: Awesome- and agreed on WLAN Pros. So I have to ask: what comes next for Sidekick? I learned as an early user that this tool is expected to evolve. Anything you can share yet in that direction?

Jussi: Oh you’re right, Lee, that we’re far from “done” with Sidekick’s capabilities. It’s the foundation of our future business – the future software products of coming years will be built around the Sidekick that was released in September. I can’t really say too much specifically, but I will share that in early 2018 we’ll be announcing additional capabilities for the currently shipping Sidekick that will make the survey process significantly easier and more convenient. Let’s just leave that one there for now.

Lee: Aw, you big tease! At least you’re giving us all something to dream about… Now what about ESS- what else is coming there?

Jussi: Again, I can’t spill too many beans right now. But we know we have competition, and we respect where maybe they have a discreet feature that we lack in ESS. We’re working on those…Also our customers ask us if we’ll be doing any cloud-based project management and sharing kind of stuff. Ekahau is well aware that the world is moving to the cloud. We’re living in the world, too, so all I can say is keep watching for announcements.

Lee: Alright, Jussi. Fair enough. Congrats again on Sidekick’s success to date. When am I going to cross paths with you again- maybe WLPC?

Jussi: Thank you, and absolutely, I’ll be there to talk through some of our upcoming stuff with our team. BTW, the registration for WLPC is now open, and it always sells out. Just saying… Always great talking to you Lee!

And there you have it! To learn more about Ekahau:

Company Web Site

Enterprise Site Survey (ESS)

Sidekick

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.

Something Different From Ubiquiti- FrontRow

Ubiquiti is a fairly well-known name in the network world as a provider of interesting, innovative network gear at often ridiculously attractive prices. There’s always something new from Ubiquiti around the corner, be it in networking and Wi-Fi, point-to-point bridging, video surveillance, or even solar- while the older stuff tends to just roll along working well long after it’s paid for itself with reliable service. I’ve had a busy year using and touching a lot of Ubiquiti gear, but the latest product that I’m using is really a fun diversion.

If I tell you that I’m evaluating a Ubuiti camera, you might first think along the lines of this:

shedcam

Sure, I’ve got some of that UniFi Video stuff going on, but we’re talking about a different camera, and a different Ubiquiti.

U Labs Gives Us FrontRow

If you didn’t know, there is a consumer division under the Ubiquiti umbrella called Ubiquiti Labs. And they have brought the world the FrontRow camera.

IMG_20171208_121739755-1.jpg

It’s a really interesting device, with a lot of capabilities. The product home page is here. Rather than do “just another review”, let me point you to a couple and then get on to aspects of owning a FrontRow that aren’t mentioned much in the reviews.

There are plenty more reports out there if you look for them. I’m having great fun learning to use FrontRow not just in all the social/sharing ways it was intended, but also as a work accessory to photograph and video different work sites and network settings I have business in. It frees up my hands, and lets me record without trying very hard. FrontRow also happens to have a decent  dual-band Wi-Fi radio built in!

Customers Have a Say

Ubiquiti has a great track record of listening to their customers, and providing avenues for feedback to get to product managers. The FrontRow user community pages are full of how-to, testimonials, shared discussions between customers and company staff on what functionality should be added to the product, and a lot more.FrontRowForum

I’ve had roadmap discussions with the FrontRow folks as I get to know the device, and have also engaged FrontRow support on a technical question. Though I can’t spill secrets, I can tell you that energy behind development for the FrontRow is strong and that even more functional goodness is on it’s way. And, the support folks are quick to respond, polite, and not quick to dismiss your concerns- that’s a bonus on consumer-grade products.

Time will tell how much a semi-social fellow like me will make use of FrontRow’s sharing capabilities, but so far I’m enjoying the occasional Facebook Live and Story Mode capabilities the most (beyond simple photo/video recording).

I’d be interested in hearing from other FrontRow users- please feel free to comment.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

NETSCOUT’s Next-Gen LinkRunner Tester Is Ready For The Changing Network Landscape

Just when you thought that maybe all of the cool testing innovation was reserved for Wi-Fi and the likes of the AirCheck G2, NETSCOUT brings out an equally impressive wired networking tester. The new LinkRunner G2  (shown on left below) sports the same color scheme and physical profile as the AirCheck G2:

IMG_20171127_140442975

But a closer look topside reveals some tell-tale features:

IMG_20171127_142046889_BURST000_COVER_TOP

What isn’t obvious from these images is that NETSCOUT made the LinkRunner G2 with a whole new user-customizable philosophy in mind that applies to both hardware and software. See the fiber SFP on the left and the USB WLAN adapter on the right side in the second image? You don’t HAVE TO get those from NETSCOUT if you find a better price on similar interfaces elsewhere. Unlike some vendors, NETSCOUT opted to be very accommodating of 3rd party adapters. And the LinkRunner G2 is actually a hardened Android computing platform that you can tweak in a number of ways- but let’s come back to that in a bit.

Recognizing the LAN-Scape For What It’s Becoming

In talking with LinkRunner’s product management, I was able to hear the inside scoop on where the company sees the product fitting into the connected world. It’s no secret that the number and type of network-connected devices “out there” is skyrocketing, but investment in support staff and their capabilities isn’t for many organizations. That being said, the LinkRunner G2 is viewed by NETSCOUT as the “smart network tester for the connected world”. Now, I’m as buzzphrase-adverse as anyone, but the deeper you dig into the LRG2, the more you realize that NETSCOUT is not over-hyping the new tester’s capabilities. With strong physical layer support capabilities, LRG2 is handy before the network even goes live. On active networks, Ethenet and core services are tested and characterized nicely. Then there are the true differentiators- and Power over Ethernet (PoE) functionality is a prime example.

Robust PoE Measurement and Charging

NETSCOUT points out that today’s LAN environment is no longer just a client-access domain, it’s also a power-distribution system for a growing number of devices. Beyond VoIP phones, CCTV cameras and wireless access points, we now have lighting systems, locks, and Bluetooth sensors among the many devices using PoE for operating power.

Netscout describes the LRG2 as the only current tester fully able to support all versions of PoE including Universal PoE (UPOE) that sources 60 watts at the switchport and up to 51 watts at the field jack. And this LinkSprinter also charges off of PoE!

Screenshot_20171127-184138

Link-Live

Depending what other NETSCOUT (or Fluke Networks) tools you use, you may already be a Link-Live user.

 

Link-Live makes the storing, sharing, and reporting of test results and absolute cakewalk. When you have a number of staff with varying skillsets, NETSCOUT’s Link-Live-capable tools can bring a uniformity of testing that reduces errors and faulty troubleshooting, and makes the results available for reference and escalation. It’s a free service, and LinkSprinter G2’s tests are as well formatted as the likes of the AirCheck G2’s. I’m a fan.

The Multi-Function Tester That You Can Customize

This tester is still a LinkSprinter, so you’d expect to see views like this on the crystal-clear touchscreen as you test copper and fiber links:

 

But there is sooooo much more. Remember, I said that this is a full-blown Android device. It also happens to have many “phone-like” features including a built-in flashlight, camera (attach pictures to Link-Live reports or email them from the LRG2), web browser, screen shot capabilities, Micro SD slot for file storage and portability, and even access to other apps that can be installed on the tester.

Screenshot_20171127-184637

This is so handy, and almost too good to be true. The caveat to the starting app paradigm? You don’t have access to the full Play Store. This is a hardened Android device after all, and you do not log in to the Play Store with your own account. But you do have access to a wide range of vetted network/documentation/productivity apps via NETSCOUT’s partnership with Google. If you find an app that you’d like, NETSCOUT provides an easy path to request it.

Within five minutes after discovering this capability, I had my test unit nicely loaded with some of the same Wi-Fi and network apps I use on my own Android phone and tablets, and the ability to run them all off of a robust network tester feels incredibly empowering.

Screenshot_20171127-184155

There is just a lot here to appreciate in the LinkRunner G2. It’s clear that NETSCOUT was shooting for versatility and expandibility with this network tester, and they hit both targets nicely.

Learn more at product web site.