Tag Archives: Matthew Gast

Starting 2015 With No More Clarity On 802.11ac Wiring Than 2014

Wireless networking has never been an arena for absolutes. There’s always wiggle room, a list of exceptions, and the “under lab conditions, but will be different in your environment” factor. To the uninitiated, it can sound like we’re either trying to make excuses or that we suffer from the inability to commit when we can’t promise discreet quantity (35 users should all get 12 Mbps at 75 feet from this access point, unless any one of these very likely things is in play…). To our our fellow Wi-Fi professionals, this frequent moving tartgetism is just a way of life that we both accept and pride ourselves on being able to bring order from as we ply our craft. The wireless half of WLAN has always been fraught with permutation, but prior to 11ac, the wired uplink was straightforward. Now that we’re well into 11ac’s tenure, we’re finding that even the notion of planning for getting APs connected to switches has gotten potentially confusing- and the WLAN industry isn’t exactly helping itself in this regard.

The Confusion Is Understandable To A Point

Where managers and non-techie money folks are trying to plan for future WLAN expenditures, you can appreciate the assumption that big, big capacity uplinks might be needed for a new wireless standard that promises to around 7 Gbps. Forget about the “data rate versus real throughput” paradigm for a minute- 7 Gbps is data center-grade connectivity in the minds of many, and so it’s no surprise that people map available Ethernet speeds to what it would take to support the promise of 11ac. Remember here that 802.11ac, as with 11n before it, is WAY OVERMARKETED as ambitious glossy goes right to the we-may-never-get-there high end of the standard. Under that lens, and combined with innocent ignorance of the nuances of real-world wireless, you can sympathize with those who think “hmmm, 100 Mbps ain’t gonna cut it. And standard Gig ports are way too slow. We better plan for 10 Gbps per AP.”

Thankfully, this incorrect conclusion is fairly easy to walk ’em back from.

After Ruling Out 10 Gbps Uplinks, It Gets Uglier

So we get past the point where 10 Gbps is being chatted up for AP uplinks, and we get closer to reality. But in this case, reality seems to be in the eye of the beholder, and there are lots of beholders with their own realities. Unfortunately, they also happen to be many of the same folks that customers turn to for technical guidance in these issues. Right now, about all you can safely say is that the WLAN industry agrees that for 11ac, 100 Mbps uplnks are too slow and 10 Gbps uplinks aren’t needed. Beyond this, it’s pretty wild and woolly. Different though leaders have different opinions, and as bizarre as it seems, they all sound viable. Oy vay.

The short version: given all of the variables of the contemporary complex business Wi-Fi setting, many environments won’t be able to achieve aggregate demand of 1 Gbps or higher even on the latest 11ac hardware. Or maybe they will. But they won’t, and you can count on that. Except where you can’t. So all you need is a a 1 Gbps uplink. But you better run two cables. And burn two switchports. But you don’t need to. And because 1 Gbps won’t be enough (or will it?), a new class of switches is being developed to put multiple Gigabits of throughput on a single UTP run.

<OK, breathe deep… In, out… there. Feel better?>

Yes it’s all a bit crazy. And those perpetuating the craziness likely mean well, they just don’t seem to agree on what’s really “needed” when asked by customers how to cable for 11ac going forward. That lack of unified message really does a disservice to customers in a number of ways:

  • 11ac is frequently overmarketed. There is a delta between promise (or implied promise) and what reality will be.
  • We’ve seemingly entered a period where everyone accepts “oh, that’s just marketing- let an SE or VAR explain what this REALLY amounts to”
  • I don’t think that some in the WLAN industry get that cabling isn’t trivial in many buildings, and even a single cable run can exceed the price of a top-end AP in many cases. Pathway concerns are huge where conduit is in use, and some of us have to get our cable designs right to serve many, many years.
  • This status quo makes the industry look a bit disjointed, and kinda silly at times. Wireless is complicated, sure. But a common message on how to cable for it shouldn’t be.

What They Said On The Topic In 2014

…what many people don’t know, is that second-wave 802.11ac APs will require two, not one, Gigabit Ethernet ports. That just doubled your need for switch ports and cable runs. Oh boy!

…11ac is a radical change; if you go by emerging WLAN guidance on prepping for and implementing the latest wireless standard, your to-do lists get significantly complicated.

The short version: 11ac will require two switch ports and two cable runs per access point. Simple AP uplinks now become port channels. Port channels need careful configuration, and can be a nightmare to troubleshoot should one of the four RJ-45 connectors involved with each 11ac port channel get cocked or not sit straight in its port.

In the first wave of 802.11ac, a single 1 Gbps link is sufficient. Wave 1 is 1.3 Gbps, but that includes the substantial 802.11 protocol overhead and is a bidirectional number because 802.11 is half-duplex. For any new wiring for 802.11ac, I’d put in two cat 6 cables for maximum flexibility going forward, though.

Cat6 versus 6a isn’t what’s important, it’s getting two cables into the cable plant. The second wave of products will potentially reach 3.5 Gbps, so you’ll want sufficient backhaul capacity to accommodate that. I wouldn’t stress about the exact specification; just make sure you have two cables that can support Gig Ethernet plus power.

Stressing about the new 802.11ac standard seems to be the industry’s new pastime.

Now that Wave-1 of 802.11ac is here with vendors promising 1.3 Gbps in 5 GHz, 1.75 Gbps aggregate per AP, and world peace, suddenly the industry has focused in the potential bottleneck of AP backhaul links. In other words, is a single Gigabit Ethernet uplink enough for each AP?

The answer is just plain “yes,” and applies not only to Wave-1, but also to Wave-2 11ac…

The IEEE 802.11ac Wave 1 standard has already delivered 1 Gigabit wireless speeds to enterprise access networks. Soon, the industry will introduce 802.11ac Wave 2 products that could deliver wireless speeds up to 6.8Gbps

Earlier in October, Aquantia announced its development of AQrate technology—the silicon that enables the delivery of 2.5- and 5-G over Category 5e and Category 6 cabling. In that announcement and in the current announcement of the NBase-T Alliance, the bandwidth requirements of 802.11ac “wave 2” devices were heavily referenced.

There’s certainly plenty out there to confuse, amuse, and ponder on the topic of planning for cabling for 11ac. This is one of those topics that is arguably more of concern for bigger networks and customers with challenging cabling paradigms than it is for others. And it’s also pretty fascinating to see the different takes and spins put on the subject by those in the vendor/VAR space versus those on the customer end (you know… where the dollars are).

One thing is for sure, at least to me- as 2014 draws to a close, we’re no closer to clarity on this discussion than we were earlier in the year, and it will be interesting to see what develops in 2015 as 11ac continues to explode and we see the front end of Wave 2.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on the notion of cabling for 11ac in different environments. Please drop a comment below, and Happy New Year to all.

What Else Is In the 5 GHz Spectrum? Hint: It’s Not Just Weather Radar

As I continue to get ready for my own venture into 11ac, I came across some pretty fascinating information about 5 GHz. I’ve been brushing up on how the state of 5 GHz spectrum applies to the Wi-Fi realm now, and what People of Lofty Title are wrestling with regarding future use of this slice of frequencies. Standby, because I’m going to dazzle you with some pretty darn macho terminology. (As a bonus, I shall invoke the name of Matthew Gast thricely in the following paragraph.)

But first, let’s set the stage. 

WLAN designers and admins (hopefully) know about subjects like DFS (Dynamic Frequency Selection) and TPC (Transmit Power Control) and how they relate to weather radar in 5 GHz (cue the Matthew Gast music there, Part I). Also, hopefully we are all familiar with the last announcement about the WLAN world possibly being gifted with a fat swath of additional 5 GHz frequencies for the greater wireless good, made by ex-FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski (cue the Mathew Gast music again, Part II and Part III). It’s all great stuff, very relevant, and is techno-fodder that you should care about given the channel-hungriness of 802.11ac. But that’s not why we’re gathered here on this page.

As I was poking around, I came across this rather dry (at first glance) looking document by the Department of Commerce. It gets deeper into the many challenges of sharing more of the unlicensed 5 GHz goodness with WLANers while also protecting the interests of the licensed/federal/important users that also happen to be in this spectrum. And here’s where it gets interesting. Sure, weather radar is important- but the list of other users in 5 GHz is a veritable Who’s Who of cool stuff. 

In all fairness to those of you who don’t know- I spent 10 years in the US Air Force in the Electronic Warfare career field, and maybe that’s why this sort of detail jazzes me (yes, some of what I did back in the day is on this list). Feast your eyes on the other occupants that live on 5 GHz Street, as noted in the unclassified Dept. of Commerce document:

  • Highly mobile ground-based, shipborne, and airborne radar systems
  • Range and tracking radars at DoD test and training ranges (get to know the C-Band)
  • DoD comms systems
  • Naval tactical radars like surface search, navigation, and fire control
  • A bunch of stuff on Coast Guard cutters used in law enforcement, search and rescue, etc
  • NASA- test and launch instrumentation, tracking of rockets, missiles and satellites
  • NOAA’s Hurricane Hunters have systems in 5 GHz
  • A whole range of operational goodies dealing with Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) like data links, video targeting
  • Spaceborn Synthetic Aperture Radars, including Canada’s RADARSAT (fascinating if you don’t know about this one)
  • Electronic Warfare systems
  • Lots more…

Some of these are site-specific and one-of-a-kind. Others are widespread, mobile, and out of the public eye. But they all use 5 GHz (albeit different discreet bandwidths within 5 GHz), so it’s amazing that the WLAN community has been able to come this far in the U-NII bands at all. It’s even more amazing that we’re likely to get more freqs made available, knowing who also uses it.

The Commerce Doc is really a great read if this stuff interests you, and I recommend it. If the specifics are too heavy for you, just go back through my abbreviated list here and apply “oohs” and “aahs” as you see fit.

(Note- the Doc projects completion of the co-existance studies later in 2014… let’s see what happens.)

Aerohive Throws Hat Into The 802.11ac Ring

Ah, this crazy wireless world we live in. It’s easy to forget that 802.11ac is still not “really” a standard, although we’re getting very close.  It’s also easy to get sparkly-eyed by the 11ac products available now, despite the fact that with the new standard’s promised weird and protracted “wave” planned evolution, 11ac in a couple of years will likely feature many a new AP. But.. let’s talk about the here and now, because we’re here- and it’s now.

Since Ubiquiti announced their 11ac offering in April of this year, many of us have watched as different WLAN vendors have pitched their new 11ac products (and accompanying back stories). There was Motorola, Meraki, Meru,  Cisco, and Aruba. And then there are the not-yet-to announce, like Ruckus,  Juniper, and until today, Aerohive.

Aerohive brings two new APs to the 11ac market, and No Jitter does a nice introduction of the AP-370 (internal antennas) and AP-390 (external antennas) along with Aerohive’s take on how the new units fit into a smooth, take-your-time-and-don’t-fret-it migration plan to full 11ac deployment. Aerohive’s entry into the 11ac market does two things: it both pushes the message of early 11ac adoption but in a less aggressive way than some competitors are going about it, and further delivers the truth that cloud-based networking is both viable and capable of evolving with new WLAN standards. This second point gets some added umph when you consider that Aerohive announced their 11ac APs on the same day that Aruba Networks announced it’s own maiden voyage into cloudy WLAN. (It certainly smells like the WLAN industry is marching towards both faster WLAN and a welcome de-emphasis of controllers, says I.)

It’s a bit curious that Aerohive took so long to let their 11ac cat out of the bag (though I confess to getting a sneak look at the AP-370 under NDA at Wireless Field Day 5) given that Matthew Gast is is both Aerohive’s Director of Product Management and the author of the current Bible du Jur on 11ac. Many of us have come to personally  associate 11ac with Matthew because of his book, his excellent presentations on 11ac, and his willingness to talk with anybody who reaches out to him via social media. (If you think about it, this really isn’t fair to Matthew, the IEEE, Aerohive, or even ourselves!)

For what it’s worth, Matthew’s fellow cloud/11ac evangelists Devin Akin and Andrew Von Nagy recently left Aerohive, and both went to AirTight Networks (yet another cloud WLAN company)- who have yet to announce their own 11ac product.

With 11ac, The WLAN Industry Owes Customers A New Kind Of Network Switch

I realize I’m beating the 11ac thing up pretty good lately, but I think I finally hit on what bugs me about the way the new hot technology is being brought to market. What I’m about to describe is more of a BAN issue (BAN=BigAss Network, where APs are counted in the hundreds or thousands) and not so much of concern for smaller environments.

802.11ac is being delivered in rather bizarre (for the customer) “waves”.

  • Wave 1: Data rates to 1.3 Gbps. You’ll do fine (for most new first wave APs) with a single Gig uplink, and many new APs will work on 802.3af POE, not yet requiring .3at. Fine, good. No real squawks.
  • Wave 2: You get the joy and cost of recabling your environment to add a second Gig uplink, doubling the number of switchports in use for the WLAN and configuring Etherchannels, and depending on what vintage switches you have- upgrading them for latest POE standard, all to help get to data rates likely to realistically be between 2 and 2.5 Gbps best case.

And this is where I say “time out”. I’d like the WLAN makers to bear some of that Wave 2 logistical pain. And I want them to get creative to take the onus off of the customer. Here’s what I want:

  • In simplest terms- I don’t want to use two cable runs. And I don’t want the complexity and risk of 4000 more Etherchannels for my APs. But I still want the benefits of 11ac Wave 2.
  • I would like the WLAN vendors to put their brilliant minds (and that I do mean sincerely- these guys and gals accomplish amazing, amazing stuff) to work to come up with a new switch or mid-span injector. Here’s the requirements:
    • No feature bloat. May not even need to be VLAN aware.
    • Provides lots of PoE
    • Somehow puts 2 Gbps of uplink to an AP on a single UTP run without requiring me to configure a port channel
    • Cost effective (by customer standards), no licensing BS, and ultra-reliable

Spare me the lecture that there is no such thing as 2 Gig Ethernet, and that what I’m asking for would be based in no existing standard. The WLAN industry has long since turned it’s back on standards and interoperability, which is why vendor lock prevails. Other than PoE and what comes out of the antenna (and even that can be a dubious discussion), the mention of standards is a joke in the WLAN industry as each vendor authors their own technical magic. So be it- I just want new magic and don’t care that it’s not exactly Ethernet in the middle.

I’m OK feeding this new component a 10 GB uplink that it then divvies up into auto-configured 2 Gbps AP uplinks of some proprietary protocol. Or feeding it 2 single-gig ports on my wireless management VLAN that it then magically muxes into a 2 Gbps, big powered uplink that connects via a single wiring run (of excellent quality, of course) to each AP. At that point, all of MY work was done in the closet, and I didn’t run a slew of new wires for my wireless network.

If we don’t get something disruptively creative on the wired side to go along with 11ac, pretty much any TCO discussion on new 11ac ownership presented by WLAN vendors will be incomplete at best, and poppycock at worst. I’ve seen both announced and unannounced 11ac products- and the prices are pretty steep (well, except for Ubiquit-). But we’re supposed to believe that 11ac lets us draw down the wired network considerably, and so be willing to buy into a higher premium for wireless. But… adding lots of new switchports and cabling runs (not trivial in many environments,  can add hundreds of dollars in cost to real TCO for each AP) has to be considered.

As a customer, I feel OK asking- because the customer is always right (well, except when they’re wrong). So… when will my new non-standards-based 2 Gbps mega-PoE switches arrive?

We Might Be In The Business of Technology, But It’s The People That Make It Great

For many of us, the journey to working in IT has been guided by a love of technology. Some people dig routers and interconnecting big LANs, others get jazzed by application development or wireless technology. Then there are those like myself, with wide-ranging interests and multiple specialties that we are happiest working in. I personally lay claim to the best jobs in the world, (prime wireless functionary for a large university, adjunct faculty member, and professional writer), but technology is only half the story.

It’s the people that make working in technology great. The people I work for and with (a wonderful team), the students I meet in the classroom or on projects I advise on, the customers I serve as a networker, or the wide range of technology-focused people I have the pleasure of interfacing with as a free-lance media type.

Take Jeff Pulver, whose technology journey could be the subject of a kick-ass graduate class. Jeff is a VoIP pioneer and multi-dimensioned technologist, and you have to catch one of his #140 “State of Now” conferences if you have the chance. Jeff lives at the intersection of Technology Road and Human Street, and how he sees the world and social media- enabled by technology- is awesome. I saw his event in Syracuse, and recommend it.

Then there are the young men and women that I run across at a vendor’s site or on LinkedIn that were once students of mine or involved with projects that I also touched. The smiles and the words spoken not only say “it’s good to see you again” but they also convey an unspoken pride that sends the clear message: “I MADE IT! I’m sitting at the same big table that you are! How do you like me now?” It’s great running into people in this group, and is wild just to watch the IT talent pool refresh itself with each graduating class.

Then there are the customers. Like clients that curse you because “the network sucks” that become your friends and allies when you solve whatever it was that they had going on with their device that made it feel like the network sucked. Or the sales engineer that you beat up  for licensing costs or some such, but also can’t wait to hear how his kids are doing with some cool thing they are involved with. And the vendors– especially the ones that employ experts that not only shape technology, but that don’t mind sharing what they know about their realms, for the greater good. 

And folks like Stephen Foskett, an accomplished tech professional in his own right, who also runs the Tech Field Day events with his army of “delegates”. I’m proud to be counted as part of this family, as Foskett has a way of assembling people that are both incredibly technically-minded, but also an absolute blast just to be around. To become one of Foskett’s delegates is to meet the kind of people that become “old friends” in a matter of hours, and to gain inside access to industry giants that many geeks would give their right arms for.

In my tech world, there is my editor at Network Computing Magazine, Andrew Conry-Murray. Drew is one of those rare editors that is good at what he does (like taking my stuff and polishing it up nicely before publication or making me work at being a better writer), but he also has his own IT experiences and perspectives and frequently makes compelling cases out of them in his articles. And he’s a darn nice guy, to boot.

I’m sure you have your list of people that come to mind, those that really make whatever it is that you do in IT enjoyable even beyond just getting your hands dirty with the latest gear. The folks I mention are by far not the end the story for me, but just examples of those that take work that I already enjoy and really make it a pleasure. I can’t end this piece without mentioning the power of social media in this regard. I have found that higher ed tech discussion lists, Twitter (mostly) and other social media frameworks have provided access to the absolute most incredible mix of experts, fellow users, smart-asses, knowledge-seekers, and sharers on all topics (sometimes all rolled into one). You know  who you are, and I thank you for the running value you bring to my own body of knowledge as well as the frequent smiles you provide. Not everybody can swiftly adapt the conversation from lofty topics like antenna technology and modulation to bacon and silly slogans, but these groups can. And I’m glad for it.

It’s the people that make technology work fun.