Tag Archives: Mist Systems

Figuring Out What Bothers Me About Wi-Fi and “Analytics”

I’ve been to the well, my friends. And I have drank the water. 

I was most fortunate in being a participant in the by-invitation Mobility Field Day 3 event, this past week. Few events get you this close to so many primary WLAN industry companies and their technical big-guns, on such an intimate level and on their own turf. For months leading up to MFD3, something  has been bothering me about the discreet topic of “analytics” as collectively presented by the industry- but I haven’t been able to nail down my unease until this past week.

And with the help of an email I received on the trip back east after Mobility Field Day was over.

Email Subject Line: fixing the wifi sucks problem

That was the subject in the email, sent by an employee of one of the companies that presented on their analytics solution at MFD3 (Nyansa, Cisco, Aruba Networks, Fortinet, and Mist Systems all presented on their own analytics platforms). The sender of this email knew enough about me to do a little ego stroking, but not enough to know that only a matter of hours earlier I was interacting with his company’s top folks, or that I’ve already had an extensive eval with the product he’s pitching at my own site. No matter… a polite “no thanks” and I was on my way. But his email did ring a bell in my brain, and for that I owe this person a thank you.

The subject line in that email set several dominoes of realization falling for me. For example-  at least some in the WLAN industry are working hard to plant seeds in our minds that “your WLAN sucks. You NEED us.” Once that hook is set, their work in pushing the fruits of their labor gets easier. The problem is, all of our networks don’t suck. Why? These are just some of the reasons:

  • Many of our wireless networks are well-designed by trained professionals
  • Those trained professionals often have a lot of experience, and wide-ranging portfolios of successful examples of their work
  • Many of our WLAN environments are well-instrumented with vendor-provided NMS systems, monitoring systems like Solar Winds and AKIPS, and log everything under the sun to syslog power-houses like Splunk
  • We often have strong operational policies that help keep wireless operations humming right
  • We use a wealth of metrics to monitor client satisfaction (and dis-satisfaction)

To put it another way: we’re not all just bumbling along like chuckleheads waiting for some Analytics Wizard in a Can to come along and scrape the dumbness off of our asses.

In all fairness, that’s not a global message that ALL vendors are conveying.  But it does make you do a double-take when you consider that a whole bunch of data science has gone into popping up a window that identifies a client that likely needs a driver update, when those of us who have been around awhile know how to identify a client that needs a driver update by alternate means.  Sure, “analytics” does a lot more, but it all comes as a trade-off (I’ll get into that in a minute) and can still leave you short on your biggest issues.

Like in my world, where the SINGLE BIGGEST problem since 2006, hands-down and frequently catastrophic, has been the buggy nature of my WLAN vendor’s code. Yet this vendor’s new analytics do nothing to identify when one of it’s own bugs has come to call. That intelligence would be a lot more useful than some of the other stuff “analytics” wants to show.

Trade-Offs Aplenty

I’m probably too deep into this article to say “I’m really not trying to be negative…” but I’ll hazard that offering anyways. Sitting in the conference rooms of Silicon Valley and hearing from many of the industry’s finest Analytics product’s management teams is impressive and its obvious that each believes passionately in their solutions. I’m not panning concepts like AI, machine learning, data mining, etc as being un-useful as I’d be an idiot to do so. But there is a lot of nuance to the whole paradigm to consider:

  • Money spent on analytics solutions is money diverted from elsewhere in the budget
  • Another information-rich dashboard to pour through takes time away from other taskings
  • Much of the information presented won’t be actionable, and you likely could have found it in tools you already have (depending on what tools you have)
  • Unlike RADIUS/NAC, DHCP/DNS, and other critical services, you don’t NEED Analytics. If you are so bad off that you do, you may want to audit who is doing your network and how

Despite being a bit on the pissy side here, I actually believe that any of the Analytics systems I saw this week could bring value to environments where they are used, in an “accessory” role.  My main concerns:

  • Price and recurrent revenue models for something that is essentially an accessory
  • How well these platforms scale in large, complicated environments
  • False alarms, excessive notifications for non-actionable events and factors
  • Being marketed at helpdesk environments where Tier 1 support staff have zero clue how to digest the alerts and everything becomes yet another frivolous trouble ticket
  •  That a vendor may re-tool their overall WLAN product line and architecture so that Analytics is no longer an accessory but a mandatory part of operations- at a fat price
  • Dollars spent on big analytics solutions might be better allocated to network design skills,  beefy syslog environments, or to writing RFPs to replace your current WLAN pain points once and for all
  • If 3rd party analytics have a place in an industry where each WLAN vendor is developing their own

If all of that could be reconciled to my liking, much of my skepticism would boil off. I will say after this last week at MFD3, both Aruba and Fortinet did a good job of conveying that analytics plays a support role, and that it’s not the spotlight technology in a network environment.

Have a look for yourself at Arista,  Aruba, Cisco, Fortinet, Mist and Nyansa telling their analytics stories, linked to from the MFD3 website.

Thanks for reading.

Contemplating Mist Systems and Mobility Field Day 3

Spare a little candle
Save some light for me
Figures up ahead
Moving in the trees
WiFi, and buzzwords 
Tend to make me pissed
And the full moon that hangs over
These dreams in the mist

(Sincere apologies to Heart for butchering the very beautiful “These Dreams”)

In a couple few weeks I’ll be taking my cocky New York swagger out west for Mobility Field Day 3. There’s an awesome vendor lineup this year featuring Arista (who will no doubt be talking about their acquisition of Mojo Networks), Aruba, Cisco, Fortinet, Mist Systems, Netscout, and Nyansa. (Shame on you Ubiquiti- you ought to be here by now). With this mix, the overall content is going to be diverse, interesting, and inevitably peppered with A LOT of marketing fufu. Which is fine- each vendor gets to tell their story their own way, and marketing is foundational to the story. Okey dokey there.

But hopefully, we also get a good balance of substance. On that topic…

Mist1I’ve been privileged in being a frequent delegate at these events, and I did see Mist’s presentations at last year’s MFD 2.  In the year since then, I’ve been wooed with a lot of Mist mass-mailings and such, with running themes that CONTROLLERS ARE OBSOLETE and AI AI AI AI AI AI AI AI AI AI AI (we get it already). But on the subject of AI (along with Data Science and Machine Learning and whatever else is in that particular bag), I kinda hope Mist Systems ratchets the buzzy-factor down somewhat for MFD 3.

The industry is awash in promises of AI-fueled awesomeness that will SOLVE ALL OF YOUR PROBLEMS JUST BUY INTO OUR PERPETUAL EXPENSIVE LICENSING! to the point where it all sounds the same, regardless of who is saying it.

Mist may even be the real AI deal in a field of posers, but from where I sit it’s time for less shizzle and more of this sort of dialogue:

  • Does Mist Systems still consider itself a start-up?
  • Is Mist deployed widely enough at large customers (single site and distributed) where it can be trusted not to be a buggy OS over time? (I’m looking at you, AireOS.)
  • Is Mist following others in the industry down the Gouging as a Service licensing path?
  • What do microservices practically mean now to the Mist-interested? A year from now? Three years from now?
  • Mist has very few AP models- is this an advantage or a liability? Will there be more .llac APs or is .ax the next round for additional models? No wallplate APs?
  • Will Mist join the “rush it out the door” movement for early .11ax, and what does .11ax mean to customers when coupled with AI and all the buzzy stuff?
  • If I contemplate moving from a very large WLAN built on the likes of CAPWAP with a single VLAN to each AP from their connected switches, how much L2 work am in for in migrating to Mist?
  • How do we truly measure Mist TCO versus the other guys? What if we don’t want the vBLE thing? Do you pay for that anyways?

In other words- I get the AI pitch. Now let’s talk field-level nitty-gritty. Maybe less sales-pitch, and more of the stuff that real-world new deployments- and more importantly, converts and potential converts- would face.
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Do you have questions you’d like asked at MFD? Remember to hit up any of the delegates (generally Twitter works, or whatever your method of choice is) to have your inquiry relayed to the vendors during the live sessions.

 

 

Mist Systems Polishes Their Message at Mobility Field Day 2

It’s always refreshing when a truly original story comes along in the WLAN world. Mist Systems isn’t quite brand new (I wrote about them for Network Computing back in 2016) but their approach is fresh enough to cause some good energy in the room when you do get the chance to hear a briefing from the company’s top dogs, and I recently got that chance again at Mobility Field Day 2.

Here’s the thing about Mist, now- today: if you’re not careful, their story can sound like another one of the many from network vendors where terms like AI and Machine Learning are bandied about like the Buzzword Flavors of the Month. But Mist was talking this language well ahead of the current curve. Where established vendors are largely painting their long-running gear up in a coating of hype and APIs, Mist is actually new magic built by data scientists and proven network visionaries. It’s heady, exciting stuff.

But can Mist make a legitimate go of it as new player in the Big Customer Kickball Game where most current potential customers have already chosen a side? Here, only time will tell as Mist’s marketing paradigm is put to the test. I can share my own opinions and gut reactions from the Mobility Field Day for you to consider, and welcome any dissenting opinions or comments:

In Mist’s Favor

  • When Bob Friday and team tell the tech story behind Mist, it’s impressive and believable
  • Mist is the real deal when it comes to Machine Learning, etc- where the message feels forced with other vendors
  • Mist seems to have mastered the UI challenge (put lots of important stuff in front of the WLAN admin without making it feel like overload) with their cloud dashboard
  • Mist uses no controllers (bug hotels) or user-upkept bloated NMS system
  • They tell a great story on bug management and code quality
  • The virtual BLE beacon thing is huge. As in freakin huge. And it can stand alone even if you don’t need Mist’s WiFi solution
  • Nyansa-like analytics are compelling
  • Long-time users of established systems are getting burned out in spots on license overkill, huge costs- creating potential openings for a WLAN vendor change

Of Concern

  • Mist is late to the overall WLAN party, so is up against established players
  • The lack of switches and security appliances can be problematic in some RFPs, and when looked at through bullshit lenses lenses like Gartners Magic Quadrant
  • We’re still not hearing enough about “unnamed Fortune Blah Blah Blah customers” to really do our own independent verification of how Mist is working out in the real world
  • Mist is just getting ready to ship outside APs later in 2017, and how that impacts their analytics (especially when outside/inside WLAN are managed in same pain of glass) remains to be seen

I really enjoyed what I saw and heard from Mist, and it’s obvious that the company’s leaders truly believe in their baby’s potential. And- you don’t just have to hear my opinion… form your own after watching the Mist MFD session here.

 

 

 

 

Mobility Field 2 Shows Evolving Nature of WLAN Industry

MFD2The “Tech Field Day” series of events has been  an important part of my professional development life for the last several years. I’ve had the good fortune to be a frequent delegate, and I have watched Wireless Field Day (WFD) morph into Mobility Field Day (MFD) in parallel with the changing nature of the WLAN industry. As we get ready to descend upon Silicon Valley for MFD2, I can’t help but think about what this round of vendor participants says about the general state of WLAN things.

This go round, you won’t see the usual suspects many folks think of when contemplating enterprise Wi-Fi. MFD2 is more about performance measurement and alternatives to the WLAN same-old with Mist Systems, Nyansa, Cape Networks, Mojo Networks, and another performance measurement vendor to be announced soon.

So why no bigtime flashy AP makers?

Here’s my take on that, and there are a few contributing factors:

  • The biggest guns have relegated their WLAN parts and pieces to non-headline status. Each has declared “We’re a software company!” of late, and is now devoting time to weaving together Intent-Based Network Fabrics With SDN Flavor Crystals. And… they have their own hyper-glitzy events where non-technical Hollywood-types make attendees swoon. Meh.
  • Extreme Networks is buying up almost everyone else, so the number of competing players is decreasing.
  • Ubiquiti is now #3 in market share, and seemingly needs none of these events to get their message of “economy-priced but half-way decent networking” out to the masses.

By now, WLAN is so tightly integrated with the rest of the network (in most environments) it doesn’t command the stand-alone Wow Factor it once did. But… in the rush to build feature-heavy (I’d even say “gratuitously bloated”, but I can be a wanker about these things) super systems, the big guns haven’t done all that well in natively providing many of the capabilities that MFD 2’s vendors will be briefing us (and those tuning in live) on.

From innovative ways of showing what’s really going on with a given WLAN to to fresh approaches to WLAN architecture (as opposed to butting an API into years’ old code and declaring it new SDN), MFD2 will be interesting.

If you tune in live and would like to get a question to the vendors as they present their stuff, make sure to hit up a Delegate or two via Twitter so we can ask on your behalf.