Tag Archives: CLoud WLAN

Getting to Know the Very Cool Open-Mesh Wi-Fi System

As I root around at the more inexpensive end of the Suitable-For-Business WLAN space, one product set keeps jumping out at me. Open-Mesh is a big story in a little package, with a pretty crazy feature:cost ratio (as in crazy impressive). It’s just a really neat, innovative framework that offers cloud-managed APs for under $100, with a cloud dashboard that couldn’t be easier to use.

To boot, there is a free Android and iOS app for CloudTrax, and it looks real nice.

This Ain’t Market-Leading Wi-Fi, Nor Does It Try It To Be

One trap that many wireless professionals fall into (in my opinion) is not being agile enough of mind to set aside their loyalties to top-end product sets and simply appreciate what’s out there in the interesting edges of the wireless market. Sure, many of us have million-dollar WLAN environments and appreciate what we get in exchange for Large Costs, but there is life beyond Cisco and Aruba just like there are cars beyond Cadillac and Lexus. If you can open your mind and get over yourself, Open-Mesh fills a cool, low-cost niche for clients that GOTTA have Wi-Fi but DON’T have the dollars or know-how to pull off a pricier install.

Open-Mesh doesn’t really advertise, it sells itself word-of-mouth by satisfied users. It’s roots are largely the same as the early days of Meraki, where “roofnet” low-cost nodes were meant to provide connectivity to the underserved. If you are familiar with Meraki, and look in on Open-Mesh’s CloudTrax dashboard, you’ll see a lot of similarities.

OpenMesh3

It’s almost like “Meraki in Miniature”! The cloud management account in it’s current form is 100% free, there are NO licensing or account fees, and an overview of features is here. Though I’m not at liberty to say what other features and options are coming, I can say that Open-Mesh has some very cool evolutions on the short horizon.

What About the APs?

There are a number of interesting aspects about the Open-Mesh AP product set. (Again, these are not meant to compete with product like Cisco 3700s, so fight the natural urge to compare and trash the “lesser” product.) The APs are modular in that just a few radios are swappable into different enclosures, letting you “build” the APs that you need. There is no labeling on the APs- if you are in the WI-Fi networking business, your own logo can go on the APs (and in the cloud dashboard, for that matter). And for sparing, you don’t even need an enclosure.

The Open-Mesh APs are detailed here, and make sure you click “Show More Specs” for the full picture. Though you won’t see any dual-band or 11ac APs in the line-up now, take another look at the prices. You’re still getting pretty decent value, and you can expect more impressive hardware spec’d APs to come along soon from Open-Mesh.

So… Who Uses Open-Mesh?

If you get interested enough to learn more, Open-Mesh does have business reference accounts happy to talk about about their success with this unique system. Aimed mostly (but certainly not limited to) housing/hospitality/SMB customers, Open-Mesh has single sites with just a couple of APs all the way to  sites with APs measured in the hundreds.

I personally am working on a potential public WLAN project for my own very small village, and Open-Mesh is at the top of my “to consider” list given the available features, low cost, and decent reputation of the solution. More to follow if I end up pulling it off…

There are a lot- LIKE A WHOLE LOT- of low-end WLAN solutions out there. I’ll be writing up this market niche for Network Computing soon, and will be talking about pros and cons of not spending the big bucks when it comes to WLANs. Meanwhile, take a look at Open-Mesh and see if you don’t find it as intriguing as I do.

Wireless Is So Not About Wireless Networking Anymore

Lee you fool, you’ve gone mad. How can wireless not be “about” wireless? 

Before you run off to another blog, let me clarify: today, as we stand in THIS SPOT in the wireless networking universe, never has the WLAN paradigm been so complicated. Yeah, we still need to get APs out there and provide access to wireless clients, but sitting through the sessions at Wireless Field Day 5 has me waxing philosophical. 

Like frogs in a pot, we’ve all been slowly boiling in increasingly complex waters over the last few wireless years, and it’s easy to not notice that it’s happening. Having sat through excellent sessions with WLAN vendors (Aerohive, AirTight, and Motorola- with Xirrus and Meru on deck) and toolmakers (Fluke Networks, MetaGeek, and WildPackets- with 7Signal later today), it’s safe to say that to be in the wireless game today means being more diversified in skills and general IT sensibility than ever before. 

As the 11ac tide starts to rise, we’re all faced with decisions:

  • When do we start taking our own networks to 11ac?
  • When do advise our customers to move to 11ac?
  • Is moving to 11ac a given for everyone?
  • Is 11ac the juncture where we consider changing WLAN vendors?
  • Is 11ac the juncture where we look more at cloud-managed options?”

These are easy enough to grasp, and behind each of these questions there are other questions regarding the states of our installed network wiring, what generation switches we’re running, what version of PoE we’re on, etc. But these issues are rather pedestrian compared to what else is afoot right now under the umbrella heading of “wireless networking”.

While marketing departments still like to lead with “we have the best APs! Look how freakin’ fast we are!”, there is a lot more to consider as our WLANs modernize.

Along with the radio technology and bandwidth sides of 11ac, we’re facing an onslaught of factors to grapple with- like:

  • a slew of analytical capabilities and ways to use that data
  • device onboarding that can be as nuanced as your mind can dream up
  • the ability to assign access privileges to device types, user types, application types, locations, times of day, and combinations of any and all of these
  •  application visibility and taking action on what you see
  • the system administration of complicated management systems that frequently fall on WLAN types (somebody has to keep them up)
  • the increased number of bugs that come with the floodwaters of new features
  • a procession of ancillary services and servers that don’t directly have anything to do with client devices talking to APs, yet each is part of the bigger picture

You can make the point that none of these really have anything to do with 11ac per se and are better suited for policy and staffing discussions, but here are my counter points to that:

  • To “go” to 11ac, you likely have to upgrade code on controllers, management systems, or whatever magic is afoot in cloudland
  • When you upgrade, you get lots and lots of features that you didn’t ask for- you’re already buying them (unless they take stand-alone licensing, which is its own story in inconstancy across vendors)
  • The more features you use, the more you have to troubloeshoot, debug, define policy for, educate users and support staff on, and watch over for issues
  • The ancillary services in use for our WLANs frequently take more effort to keep on the rails than the wireless environment itself does
  • Almost any part of the environment has the ability to convince users that the WLAN itself is borked, when the problem may actually be off in the hinterlands of the ecosystem 

Put it all another way- 11ac makes WLAN more complicated, but the accompanying backdrops and backstories of our networks are also getting dizzyingly busier. So busy in fact that they can make talking about 11ac itself seem like the easy part of the equation.

I’m not bitching, mind you- but just taking note. These are complicated times for wireless networkers, and sometimes “wireless” really has nothing to do with wireless.