PI is the wireless network management system that many a Cisco shop uses for monitoring and management of the WLAN environment. The bigger you are in size and complexity of wireless environment, the more important your NMS is.
I don’t love PI. There are days where I barely like it. But I rely on it, and am fond of one simple feature that I want to call out here.
When you deal with thousands of APs, occasionally a handful go out of service. Sometimes it’s a quickly-corrected failure of the AP or connected PoE, while other times it’s a non-failure condition like space renovations where the AP is located.
It can get easy to lose track of which AP is out and why if you are also busy with other duties, and don’t have the luxury of staring at PI all day. For me, it may be several hours or even days before I can catch up with certain alerts, and it’s not uncommon to come back into the dashboard and have to get re-oriented with what’s out and why.
One simple thing that can help is shown above- adding annotations to the alert for a given AP that is out long-term for a known reason (yes, you can put these APs into Maintenance Mode, but I find that doesn’t always get done when lots of hands are in the pot).
I’ve come to rely on these simple notes to save time, and to remind anyone looking of why the dreaded red dot is next to APs that really aren’t in duress.
The little things help a lot at times, and the annotation option is worth trying if you don’t use it yet.
Say what you will about PI (and I say plenty, sometimes under my breath), there is a lot packed into this Network Management System. One of my favorite features for remotely characterizing how individual APs see each other may not be so obvious, so a quick show and tell is provided here.
The goal? Let me:
- see a floorplan with APs on it
- ask any one of those APs how it sees it’s neighbors from the radio perspective as they are all mounted
- show me one band at a time
- show me signal strengths of APs on the same floorplan, and NOT on the same floorplan
And as a bonus- show me a slew of radio specific data for any AP’s individual radios.
Before the run-through, a quick note on when I use this functionality… In areas where RRM is allowed to do it’s thing, this is a handy way to let the radios themselves tell you how they see their places in the RF world in relation to each other. Where RRM is over-ridden for whatever reason, this becomes one more sanity-check data point on whether you got the intra-AP power settings right. What this does NOT do- does not show you the system from client device perspective, and so is only part of the bigger picture. But is a handy one at that…
Got it? Then here we go.
- Monitor\Site Maps\specific building\specific floor
- Select an AP, drill into one of it’s radios
- Notice the radio details in table form. Good stuff, sure… now click into “View RX Neighbors”
- The example AP is on 5th floor. It sees one other AP on the same floor, and two more from the floor below, at discreet strengths. You get a sense of propagation with this simple view through walls and floors if you know the power levels in play. Again, is one more place to gain a useful data point or two in complicated environments that gets beyond just heatmap juju.
- Then there’s the click into all of the radio data available for a given interface
- And behold- all of the RF stuff you might need for troubleshooting, contemplating RF changes, etc. (Yes, this info can also be accessed from Monitor AP path).
Nothing earth-shaking here, but I’ve met enough fellow PI users that are either new to the platform or who just didn’t know about these features that sharing seemed prudent.
Thanks for reading!
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.