Tag Archives: Apple

No Thank You, Apple- I Don’t Buy Your Slanted Views on News Headlines

My relationship with Apple products has always been a warm-cold affair. I (mostly) love their device build quality, but loathe that Bonjour hasn’t yet been scrapped by a company that now wants to be seen as an Enterprise player. I’m thrilled with the the under-the-hood resources that the latest Macs have for WLAN support types to leverage, yet I’ve spent more than a decade dealing with Apple’s well-documented Wi-Fi bugs and the deeply flawed “I have an Apple device, if it’s not working right then it must be your network!” mentality that the company has carefully cultivated. The examples are many, and I only claim them as MY OWN feelings on Apple. If you disagree, I respect that. We all have our own frames of reference, live and let live, and all that…

Now, I find myself fed up with not so much a technical issue regarding Apple, but one of politics and what I would call an abuse of power. This takes the form of Apple’s extremely anti-Trump/pro-Clinton views being force-fed to the masses that own iDevices.

I’m not “for” either candidate, as in my mind we have a callous asshat running against a career criminal (you figure out who is who in that equation), and both lie, empty-promise, and shape-shift their way through this gloomy time in American history. But Apple only generally targets Trump with it’s choice of “Siri Suggested” headlines, largely giving Mrs. Clinton a free pass on her own many transgressions and unfulfilled promises. It seems like negative Trump headlines outnumber any mention of Clinton by at least 20:1, and all Clinton headlines are picked from friendly (to her) news outlets like CNN. If there was any modicum of equal shame, I wouldn’t be writing this blog.

trump

I’ve been watching this anything-but-subtle campaign go on for weeks, and I’ve had enough. I opted to shut Apple up when it comes to their attempted swaying of public opinion on the iDevices I use, and you can, too. Here’s how:

Spotlight

It’s this simple:

  • Go to Settings, then General
  • Select Spotlight Search
  • You’ll find “Siri Suggestions” is enabled- simply disable it

After this, you won’t see any news headlines on that “Swipe All the Way Right” page again. You can’t choose what news outlets Apple cherry-picks it’s headlines from, so I opt not to have them pick anything.

In closing- I’m not the only one not digging Apple’s approach to presenting it’s own news selections. A quick search shows many a discussion like this.

(Thanks for reading- and though I have no interest in dragging politics into my blog, I also don’t tolerate unfair play very well. End of rant!)

 

 

A WLAN Doer Contemplates the Cisco/Apple Partnership

I’ve been in the wireless game with Cisco products since long before thin was in. These days, I support many thousands of access points and tens of thousands of Wi-Fi clients on those APs. At least half of those client devices are Apple products, and in some spaces in my environment, as many as 85% of all clients are Apple. Obviously, I hope for the best of outcomes from the new Cisco and Apple partnership, as my customers would benefit from those positive outcomes. There’s no meanness intended in what follows, just reflection on days past and what I hope comes of these two market leaders becoming more collaborative.

Code Counts as Much as Hardware

Cisco and Apple both put out beautiful hardware with premium price tags. Many purists who worship either or both companies have a hard time believing that anything defective could come in hardware that is so robustly built, pretty, and expensive. If my iDevice isn’t working, your network MUST be to blame. And if my WLAN is acting up, it must have been designed wrong because Cisco code isn’t cheap… and it comes from the market leader, by golly. Both Cisco and Apple are at the top of their games as measured by volume of devices in many large and small WLAN environments. And both frequently, too often, put out mediocre (or horrible) code that leaves people like me holding a bag full of smelly network pain.

In Cisco’s case, their WLAN controller code is just short of being chronically buggy, and a culture of “get it out the door and let our customers QA it!” seems to rule the product line. (Greg Ferro sums it up nicely in the opening paragraph of this article.) It’s not uncommon to spend days on the phone with TAC only to find out that randomly rebooting controllers or some oddball client behavior is actually a known bug.

For Apple, you never know what you’re going to get related to Wi-Fi behavior with OS and iOS upgrades and patches. Release notes are scant, and it seems that the Wi-Fi area of Apple devices is always being tinkered with back on the mothership. From a history of sticky-client behavior to curve-balls in how you are “allowed” to configure profiles to decidedly non-enterprise quality gimmicks like Bonjour, it has been an interesting ride administering business networks that have lots of Apple wireless clients on them. (This is not just me ranting, the Apple support forums are chock full of frustrations with Wi-Fi client behavior through the years.)

Features? What About Standards (and stability)?

Cisco networks also have to support a lot of non-Apple client devices. Making Apple’s consumer-centric AirPlay/Bonjour feature sets work in large business enterprises can be a nightmare. And though Cisco (and other vendors that do similar) mean well with mechanisms like band-steering and load balancing across APs, these enhancements cause their share of problems in the Wild West of widely varying client types found on big WLAN networks. It would be nice to see more focus on standards-based interoperability and feature sets rather than vendor-proprietary juju.

Looking Forward

I used to marvel a bit at Apple’s mastery of talking out of both sides of their corporate mouth when it came to their place under the network sun. Sometimes they were unequivocally not an Enterprise company, and sometimes they were. It seemed to depend on the audience, and how well their unyielding way of doing things fit into the general networking landscape where they were trying to gain specific market share. Now, with the Cisco alliance in play, Apple is emphatically stating that they are an Enterprise player. Hopefully, the company gives strong consideration to what that means to all of the users who love Apple gear but get frustrated because too much of the “Living Room, Single Class C Subnet Network” mentality is in play.

From the Cisco side, ideally my Wi-Fi vendor won’t skew their already frequently-frustrating code too far in the Apple direction at the expense of the rest of the client devices that have no use for Apple-specific features. Also ideally, Cisco would also find a way to end the code bug madness before it starts tweaking WLCs to do magic things for iDevices, lest bugs beget bugs.

This could be absolutely wonderful for environments like mine, or it could just be more of the same- but disappointingly amplified. I’m crossing fingers that both companies get it right…

Google and Apple Should Be Giving Network Admins A Cut

It’s a bit curious how at least part of the relationships between device providers and customers are catalyzed by unsung heroes in the equation: wireless network administrators. The contemporary model seems to go like this:

  • Big company teases out an upcoming product release with well placed leaks and sneak-peaks
  • Media fan-boys and fan-girls promote the living bajeezus out of the new devices before and after release, rarely mentioning   their technical shortcomings in any meaningful way
  • Customers fall in love with the new toys; usually the romance starts on the home network
  • Customers high on their new-found gadget love rush into the work environment with their slick new products.  And banking on the accuracy of incomplete articles like this, get frustrated when said gadget doesn’t spring to life on the business network
  • A call goes out to the WLAN admin, who has to decide whether a one-off work-around and likely violation of  organizational policy is in order to get the device in service

Let’s talk about the Chromecast specifically. First and foremost, I love mine. It gets a tremendous amount of use at home. On the work WLAN, it’s not so pretty. Many enterprises disallow ad hoc wireless networks, and the Chromecast needs ad hoc connectivity for at least some of it’s functionality. Then there’s the same issue that Google Glass, early AppleTVs, cheap wireless printers (and not so cheap wireless printers), and a raft of other popular devices that users want to bring to work suffer from; they don’t do any sort of real wireless network security. If you have a mechanism in place to provide MAC exceptions on open or PSK-based network (which isn’t always the case), you can accommodate some of the toys. Unless, like with Bonjour-based devices, mDNS requirements and home-centric network requirements cause you to jump through more hoops on your carefully-designed WLAN. We won’t even get into legacy client chipsets that need data rates that most of us vacated five years ago to gain better performance from our expensive wireless networks.

No matter the exact tech details that lead to tension between consumer devices and business WLANs, there are only two paths to resolution:

  1. Device makers stop screwing over network admins, and bake in compatibility for ALL networks, not just the one behind my cheesy little Linksys router. Or…
  2. Wireless network solutions come with enough sophistication to let toy-toting users get their own limited devices on the air, while also preventing the devices that can use real security from following the toys down the same logical path, while bridging multiple operational realms so the full-blown secure client can interoperate with gadget that has to be handled differently.

Hats’ off to WLAN vendors that are moving their own cheese closer to #2, but that sort of sophistication comes with a lot of cost to the customer and complexity that wouldn’t be required if #1 was simply provided by the Googles and Apples of the world.

As it is, there are a lot of WLAN admins out there right now struggling to accommodate wonderful new devices that we should all be celebrating for what they bring to our users, but we really are getting the short end of the stick. If we can’t accommodate the Chromecast or whatever, we’re viewed as obstructionists that can’t appreciate disruptive new tools. If we can get them going onesy-twoseys, we stand on a slippery slope of support nightmares when the devices misbehave (or lose their settings on power down), or when all of the sudden we’re making MAC exceptions and special ACL/firewall rules all over the place and bypassing our own security perimeter to accommodate the inadequate devices.

So uh, Google and Apple- please pick up a WLAN calendar- the industry is fast entering the 5th generation of WLAN technology. So why are two of the richest companies on the planet still putting out products that can’t go past 2nd generation security?

If you’re not gonna spend the bucks on finishing  development on the products that you absolutely must know are going to find their ways onto our business WLANs, how ’bout putting us WLAN  admins on your payroll? After all, your success frequently comes down to our creativity in addressing your shortcomings. 

Bummers in WLAN Land

None of the following gripes are the industry’s biggest problems. At the same time, they are nuisances and occasionally rise to the level of major headache. Some of these apply to WLANs of all sizes, others are far more applicable to bigger wireless environments. The remainder? They’re just goofy. If any one of these were to be corrected or adjusted a bit, the wireless world we live in would be a little sunnier. In time, each and every one of these will “age out” and cease to irritate, but for now they are fair game to call out into the light  of day. I got me a license to bitch, and here it comes, in no specific order:

  • Why are those cheap bastards at the laptop factory still putting out 2.4 GHz-only capable computers? It can’t cost more than a couple bucks to provide a dual-band adapter in even the cheesiest laptop during manufacturing. Yet you have to look fairly hard, and often get into some serious upgrade dollars, to find a consumer-grade laptop (beyond Macbooks that come with dual-band 11n in all cases) that features both bands. It’s almost unheard of in the “Sunday Specials” that feature prominently in the BYOD demographic. We all suffer for the side effects, and it’s about time Acer, ASUS, Lenovo, and the other economy-class PC makers stepped up and became better citizens of the WLAN community.
  • What’s Up With Gartner’s Quadrant When It Comes to Wireless Vendors? Gartner has always been a bit polarizing in their analysis of various technology sectors, but they flat out blew it with eliminating the WLAN-specific quadrant in favor of including only “unified” vendors.  It boils down to these:
    • Sure, some vendors make Ethernet switches and wireless APs. But in many environments, switches do little more than provide PoE for APs. Big flippin’ deal.
    • When a company as radio and antenna savvy as Ruckus can’t make it into The Quadrant because they don’t have switches, there’s something seriously wrong.
    • A Unified Quadrant isn’t bad, but it’s incomplete and therefor a disservice to the industry. It’s time to bring back a WLAN only Quadrant, and a switching-only view IN ADDITION TO the unified Quadrant.
  • Apple really missed the boat by not including 11ac in their very expensive new iPhones. The Big A should be a better steward of the client device space’s future. If Samsung can do it, so can the Gods of Cupertino’s Mountain of Cash. Instead of breathing life and craze into early 11ac adoption, Apple cheaped out and disappointed the fans (and wireless admins) that were hoping for more out of Apple’s phone, especially for the money.
  • Apple’s Bonjour. Enough already. Fix it, and do your part to provide some pain relief to the wireless shepherds of the BYOD fields where your gadgets roam free.
  • Cisco’s Wireless Management System. It’s WCS! It’s NCS! It’s NCS Prime! It’s Prime Infrastructure! Whatever it’s called this week, it’s still buggy, slow, frustrating, and demanding of it’s own FTE staff just to keep it breathing at times. To think about putting switches into this same management framework as wireless on very large networks as “unified” gets deeper into the management paradigm is the stuff of horror- unless we see a major overhaul soon. Too much of the WLAN market relies on this sometime-train wreck to not improve it.
  • The Fallacy of Interoperability and Standards in the WLAN Space. Sure, we check our wireless devices for the famous Wi-Fi Alliance seal of approval that should mean all is well when devices need to talk with other devices, but there’s a lot more to the equation. Consumer-grade stuff often doesn’t play well in the Enterprise but nothing on the packaging explains the delineation. And… I can’t mix and match enterprise WLAN hardware or features like I can Ethernet switches. This is arguably the way it has to be, but its also a royal pain in the butt at times. Vendor lock is real, for better or worse.

We’ve all got things that steam our clams when it comes to wireless networking. These are on my short list this week. The world certainly doesn’t have to change on my say so, but at the same time time I can squawk about it, by golly.

Wireless Standards Just Aren’t Enough

First the love:

Anyone in the wireless game, like really in it, knows that wireless networking is incredibly complicated under the hood. That the IEEE and the Wi-Fi Alliance could herd enough cats to get us to where we are today- enjoying our 11ac honeymoon- far from the days of early 802.11 is amazing.

Let’s pause for a moment and think about how far we’ve really come, because it is impressive indeed. From a technology that was an expensive accessory at one point, with low data rates, high prices, and anemic security, to being the preferred method of access today for most of us, with rates and security features that are fitting for any environment (when installed right), wireless has grown up.  A huge thank you to everyone involved, as you’ve given me the best job in the world- that of a WLAN professional.

Now the lament:

As impressive as the modern WLAN is, somehow we ended up with some crazy market fragmentation and mindsets. Even though interoperability testing mostly keeps the wireless train on the rails, we still end up with enough in-place chaos to make life pretty miserable for wireless clients and support staff at times.

Maybe we try too hard for backwards compatibility. Perhaps device makers are lazy or out of touch, or could it be that the BYOD comet just hasn’t caused enough pain to really get everyone’s attention? For sure, the fuzzy, often-bludgeoned distinction between consumer and enterprise-grade components doesn’t help matters.  Here’s what I mean:

– In a world where we’re talking about “Gigabit Wireless”, we still have device and instrument manufacturers churning out chipsets that need 1 and 2 Mbps data rates to behave right. These devices are frequently intended for networks that aren’t likely to have those rates enabled.

– Printer manufacturers have far deeper roots in the business environment than does wireless. Yet, we can’t get printer makers to understand what their devices need to do for desired functionality on the “business WLAN”.

– What we call BYOD is actually BYOD/T; that is bring your own device AND TOYS to the WLAN. If it works at home on the living room network, you know damn well people are going to want to use them at work. Like AppleTVs and Google Chromecasts. To the uninitiated, you look at the specs on the packaging and see “compatible with 802.11n/g” or whatever, and jump to the conclusion that it must work because that’s the kind of network we’re using. The  warning label that should say “check with your networking department before buying this for office use” never makes it to the packaging.

But… rather than having to explain to users why this gadget or that can’t work on the WLAN, or killing ourselves to put in hyper-complex, house-of-cards-quality work-arounds, wouldn’t it be nice if somehow the Community of Wireless Client Device Makers could get with the times and build compatibility for both consumer and enterprise networks in to begin with?

Just supporting enterprise security would help immensely, and likely add little to the device cost. (I’m astounded at how out of touch the business printer/projector makers seem to be). There are certainly other nuts to crack as well before everything is perfect between the WLAN and BYOD/T devices, and Apple could be an absolute leader here. Bonjour has long had it’s day, as I’ve bitched to anyone who will listen.  “Apple TV is perfect for the boardroom” provided that you have one small flat network and one boardroom. But when you have hundreds of boardrooms/classrooms and complicated LAN topologies, devices like the Apple TV are a supreme pain in the assbone. If Apple could do right by the customers who continue to fatten the company’s immense bottom line and give us something better than Bonjour for their devices in the workplace, maybe other device makers would follow suit. (Did you know that higher ed is begging Apple to provide relief from Bonjour headaches?)

Maybe we need tighter “categories” from the Wi-Fi Alliance- with devices that are labeled either “Enterprise Ready” or “Consumer Grade”. This would give incentive for the lower-end stuff (including Apple’s Bonjour-based devices) to step it up. It would also give a clean delineation for networkers to point to for device support. If done right, We could say “if it’s got the Enterprise-ready label, we support it” and if not, don’t bother bringing to us. Everyone would know where they stand, as the criteria that goes into an “Enterprise Ready” compatibility testing program would be based on far more than just whether radios can talk to each other. It’s a nice thought anyways.

Ah well- end of rant. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go explain why Chromecast doesn’t work on our 802.1x-based WLAN.

Pondering WLAN Innovation

The modern wireless network, regardless of who creates the components, is certainly getting complicated. But is it innovative?

Asked another way- does sheer complexity equal innovation? And who decides what constitutes an innovative feature or component? Is it the vendor? The customer? A developer thousands of miles away from both?

Here’s where I pause, and assure readers that what follows is not meant to bash any company, I’m simply pondering what innovation means to today’s WLAN, and whether it couldn’t perhaps be stewarded along a bit more collaboratively as the world gets increasingly more dependent on the fruits of our wireless labor and our systems get fatter with features.

There are a lot of definitions of Innovation, and some pretty fascinating reads on the topic. For the purpose of what’s on my mind, I’ll call innovation a good idea that serves customers well with some meaningful market duration while making the originator a profit. Simple enough. If I had to give innovation a formula, it might look like:

(Good Idea + Customer Acceptance) x (Time on Market + Affordability) =  Amount of Innovation
Or something like that.

Back to the question of who decides what constitutes innovation? If a new feature or product is marketed as “an innovative new offering”, my first thought would be “how do you know it’s innovative if it hasn’t proven itself in the market yet?” Time judges innovation, not the person who came up with the idea. Sure, HP’s TouchPad was an engineering accomplishment, but if it was really innovative, it wouldn’t have tanked, would it have? Or maybe it’s too harsh to say that “failed innovations weren’t really innovative after all” (Perhaps some would-be innovations come along at the wrong time- again, I’m just pondering.)  Whatever- it’s heady stuff to contemplate at the analytic level.

Back to wireless networking. I look at some of the systems I use (both for client access and WLAN management) and see a mix of innovation and feature bloat. Sure, there are nice aspects that bring value to the typical customer, but also ill-conceived features that obviously were never presented to a WLAN Admin Focus Group. Because they are all packaged together, you have have to tolerate the non-innovative distracting stuff to get into the innovative features, It’s just the nature of the beast. Maybe this overall affect could be improved. Maybe we should start hyping BYOI as much as we hype BYOD.

What’s BYOI? It’s Bring Your Own Innovation- and we need more portals for it between customers and WLAN makers.

Wireless network administrators know what they need. Arguably, they can be serve as the advisory panel for features likely to be good innovations, and also judges for when an innovation has “expired” and needs to be replaced (why I am thinking of Apple’s Bonjour protocol?) Sure, vendors give us hyper-complicated systems bursting with graphics and endless menus, but that doesn’t mean we’ve been given innovation. And innovations don’t have to be crazy disruptive and life-altering for the entire WLAN space, they can just be simple little changes that we’d buy more of because they are needed.

Without a clearly defined method of getting feedback and feature requests to decision makers within WLAN companies, it is my conjecture that innovation suffers. Meraki came close to getting it right with their Make a Wish mechanism (i remember being thrilled when I asked for alerting on DHCP pool exhaustion and then it showed up shortly after), but even after I made my wish, there was no way of knowing whether it was heard. Or whether others had asked for it as well. For many big companies, the culture seems to be “you the customer can just wait for us to innovate on your behalf, and if you feel like getting frustrated feel free to talk to your SE who also has no clue what’s coming”. Again- no bashing; the WLAN industry is generally amazing. But some of us would like to influence the innovation we pay for and help the mothership to realize when they get it wrong in the name of innovation.

Wouldn’t it be cool if each vendor (or the industry itself) had a portal for  “What Admins Love and What Admins Hate About The Current System”? Ideally, it would be visible to at least other customers of the same system so we could see what our peers are also thinking. And if once a year, the feedback was aggregated, sorted, and put in a Top 5 of Loves and Hates with vendor commitment to answer them in some meaningful way (“Yes, we see that 98% of you hate the new Flash Interface, we’ll try to work on that by 12-months out”, or “75% of you would like to see ______ but here’s why that is technically impossible” kinda stuff). Or if not a feedback dashboard, some mechanism that accomplishes the same thing.

We The Wireless People would love to have more of a hand in innovation, for everyone’s benefit. We’re closest to our clients, we know what we need, and we know what we don’t. And if it doesn’t get used, it isn’t innovative.