Tag Archives: SDN

Will Reliability Be Prioritized Before Wi-Fi’s Whizzbang Future Gets Here?

This blog looks forward, but before we go there we need to zoom back to 1983 where I will corrupt John Mellencamp’s “Crumblin Down“:

Some features ain’t no damn good
You can’t trust ’em, you can’t love em
No good deed goes unpunished
And I don’t mind being their whipping boy
I’ve had that pleasure for years and years

Indeed. I too have had that pleasure for years and years. Whether it’s what comes out of mechanisms that are supposed to ensure that standards and interoperability testing bring harmony to the wireless world (but don’t), or code suck that flows like an avalanche coming down a mountain, I’ve been there and suffered that a-plenty. Somewhere during one of many wireless system malfunctions, the opening lyrics of “Crumblin’ Down” started blaring in my head, usually followed up Annie Lennox singing this line from 1992’s “Why”:

Why can’t you see this boat is sinking
(this boat is sinking this boat is sinking)

But enough of the musical ghosts trapped in my head, waiting to sing to me when the network breaks. We’re going forward, and as Timbuk3 sang in 1986- The future is so bright I gotta wear shades.

Maybe, maybe not on that.

Super-Systems Become Super-Terrific Systems

Soon, market-leading WLAN vendors will likely unveil grand strategies that finally bring real SDN kinda stuff to the Wi-Fi space. And just like the day is fast coming where you can’t just buy a simple RADIUS server from the same folks (you have to invest in a NAC system then simply NOT use the parts that aren’t RADIUS to get a RADIUS server), one day some Grand Orchestrator of All Networky Things will get it’s tentacles into our wireless access points and controllers and you might not have a say in that. (Some of this is already happening with specific vendors, but it’s all just warm-up for the big show, in my opinion.)

This magic in the middle will promise API-enabled everything network-wide, so provisioning and on-going operations on LAN and WLAN will be child’s play. The frameworks will have spiffy marketing names, and get pushed heavy as “where our customers should be going”.

Some of you are probably thinking “So what? This is evolution. Deal with it.” I’m down with that, to a point.

What If They Don’t Fix What’s Broke First?

I know well that I’m not alone in feeling a bit behind the 8-ball when it comes to our networking vendors. There are far too many code bugs impacting far too many components, end users, and networking teams. There’s also an entrenched culture that keeps chronically problematic operating systems alive when they should arguably be scrapped and the bug factories in full production.

I personally shudder to think what might happen if that grand vision for the future meets the Culture of Suck, and a whole new species of bug is unleashed on end users. Ideally, vendors would take a hard look at their code bases, their developers, and their cultures and ask if what’s in place today is worth rigging up a bunch of APIs to as part of The New Stuff.

As an end user, it terrifies me.

A House Built on Suck Can Not Stand

As a man-of-action-living-in-the-world, I’ve been around.  I’ve seen first-hand what happens during earthquakes to buildings and people when there are no rules governing building quality. I’ve seen carnage and devastation in multiple situations “out there” that all could have been prevented, and when I became Deputy Mayor of my village, I was able to appreciate what our Code Enforcement Officer does to keep people and buildings safe. Often it’s just curbing somebody’s foolish way of doing something.

As silly as it sounds, I’d love to see independent Code Enforcement Officers  for the network industry who enforce… well, code quality.  They would audit developers, their track records, and the pain inflicted on end users. Any vendor that gets too sloppy gets fined, or has to probably clean up their mess before they can keep developing. Like I said, I know how silly that sounds- but the current culture of poor Quality Assurance and protracted debug sessions at customer expense does not serve as a suitable foundation for the Super-Terrific Systems that are coming our way.

What’s really scary is that vendors tend to go all-in on these initiatives. It’s not like they leave a de-bloated, scalable option (key phrase) for those who don’t want all the Terrific Superness as they develop these monster frameworks of complex functionality.

I’d like to put on my sunglasses for the future of wireless, but if things aren’t cleaned up first for certain vendors, the current cloud over their wireless units is just going to get darker.

Nothing Magic About Gartner’s Quadrant When It Comes To Wi-Fi

I just digested the latest “Magic Quadrant for the Wired and Wireless LAN Access Infrastructure”, and I have a feeling I’m not the only WLAN professional or analyst that finds significant fault with what this once-decent “evaluation” has become.

Where to start with this train wreck? Maybe a little background is in order. Through 2011, Gartner dedicated a Magic Quadrant report to WLAN only, and one to Enterprise LAN. That changed in 2012, when they moved to  “Magic Quadrant for the Wired and Wireless LAN Access Infrastructure” format. And here’s where the problem starts. This thing doesn’t know what it wants to be… is it enterprise-oriented? Is it supposed to somehow capture the spirit of unified access? Is there supposed to be a decent analysis of the WLAN industry in here? I really can’t tell as it’s named and delivered. Despite Gartner’s overview of criteria up front in the report, it just feels bizarre when you dig into it.

You’ll notice this is not named the “Magic Quadrant for Unified Access”, which might more justify the “if you don’t have your own LAN switches, you can piss off as a WLAN vendor” reasoning that is in play here. But with a title like Wired and Wireless LAN Access, I’d expect to see companies that do LAN, WLAN, and both.  But since 2012, if a vendor doesn’t have switches AND a WLAN solution, then there’s No Soup For You. Forget that vendors OEM each others stuff, and that a company might be best of breed at either WLAN or LAN and mediocre at the other- you gotta have both to come to this weird party. Which leaves out some important players in the WLAN industry, like:

  • Ruckus Wireless – who happens to be rolling out one new municipal Wi-Fi deployment after another, doing many stadium deployments, and is visible all over my immediate area as viewed through the rogue detection on my own WLAN NMS
  • Meru Networks – who not so long was #3 in a market that was fairly defined as consisting of Cisco, Aruba, and Meru when it came to enterprise WLAN. Lately Meru is making noise in the SDN space, but more on that in a minute
  • AirTight Networks – An interesting newcomer to the WLAN access market (made the jump from WIPS-only), with growing market share and has been connected to some of the brightest technical minds in the industry (Akin, von Nagy)
  • Ubiquiti – like ’em or hate ’em, they are selling in volume, and are as viable of a Wi-Fi option as other players that made it into the Quadrant
  • Meraki – yes, Meraki is listed under Cisco, but even that is wonky in this context, as Meraki and Cisco have fundamentally different paradigms

Flash forward (clever plot device): D-Link made the quadrant, while Ruckus did not. 

Now let’s pick apart what is in the report a bit. Where vendors have “end to end” offerings that Gartner seems to harp on for this exercise, some of them are almost irrelevant because they aren’t “seen” the same way by those shopping for a solution. Adtran has a “complete” solution cobbled together from Adtran switches and Bluesocket Wi-Fi (purchased a few years back). Yet they are a niche player in the Wi-Fi world. Adtran made the quadrant, but Ruckus did not.

Aruba is a top-shelf, WLAN-centric market Force To Be Reckoned With.  They absolutely belong where they landed in the Leaders rankings. But Aruba is rebadged by Dell and Alcatel-Lucent. So Dell is “allowed” to combine their own switches with rebadged Aruba hardware to get into the quadrant… meanwhile, Dell made the quadrant but Ruckus did not.

The treatment of Cisco is pretty weird here, but that may be more Cisco’s problem (to a point) than Gartner’s. Though Meraki WLAN and Cisco WLAN are both technically Cisco WLAN, Meraki WLAN is worlds apart in functionality and approach from Cisco WLAN (I know, because I use them both). Gartner attempts to explain this, but when a product set like Meraki is reduced to being a bullet item under the Cisco heading, there’s something lacking in the analysis and delivery.

Uh… Huawei? Really? Guess what- Huawei made the quadrant but Ruckus did not.

For D-Link, I know pitting them against market leaders is unfair. I have no ill-will against D-Link, and frequently recommend D-Link products for the SMB/residential spaces. But Gartner’s own “cautions” outweigh the listed “strengths”, and the report stresses that D-Link lacks an enterprise reputation, and is a brand that “seldom comes up in conversations with Gartner clients”. But I bet of few of those clients ask about Ruckus on occasion.

Now that the SDN tide is rising (albeit not as fast as the media hype that goes along with it), the notion of “everything from one vendor” starts to be less important. Meru Networks, who I’ll remind you also did not make the quadrant, gets that. Fast forward down the SDN timeline, and the fact that a single vendor has switches and access points both becomes more irrelevant when it comes to what happens on SDN-enabled networks. Sure, you still need to manage the underneath networking, but many “single pane of glass” NMS are so poor at either WLAN or LAN that you’re frequently better off with one for each.

Finally, it’s my conjecture that Gartner is out of touch with who the WLAN industry itself sees as worth comparing. Each of these views shows head-to-head comparisons of various sorts by different vendors or IT experts (click picture for source doc):

rucktest


wlanshoot

merucomp

I can’t remember the last time I saw a bake-off between Cisco, D-Link, and Huawei. Can you?

So how do you fix the Flawed Quadrant?

I’d urge Gartner to consider any and all of these:

  • Bring back a WLAN-specific quadrant
  • The market is so striated, show some effective creativity. Quadrants for MSP-suitable wireless, cloud-enabled wireless, true enterprise WLAN and other tiers
  • Stick to single lines (break out Cisco from Meraki)
  • Do a “Rebadgers Quadrant”

Just shooting from the hip with these, but the point is that the current Quadrant is a defective vehicle, and I think anyone who drives it is getting ripped off.

Contemplating Lofty WLAN Things To Come

Don’t think me pie-eyed, or off-kilter. The following comes from having a good long break at the holidays, crappy weather, and lots of books to read. Books on wireless. Books on Software Defined Networking. Books on IPv6. Management books. Some cloud networking articles. And a book about American nurses and medics trapped behind enemy lines in Albania during WWII. (OK, that last one has nothing to do with this post.) Put it all together, and dare to let the mind wander forward… and you may start feeling the same dull, painful throb in the head that I’m feeling.

Why the angst on my part? I’m a WLAN architect, system admin, troubleshooter, advocate, defender, and realist. I’m also a network engineer that has to have a solid grasp of things on the wired side of the enterprise. I’m fairly innovative, and regularly have to create solutions where there are no obvious solutions to be had, and also am trusted to know where creativity ends and folly starts. I love my work, and also am cursed/blessed with being a big picture guy.

My boss is rightfully pushing my colleagues and I to get up to snuff on SDN. Like many, we’re starting with a Data Center-centric SDN philosophy as we get used to the idea. We’re also pecking at IPv6, despite artfully using private IP addresses, short DHCP lease times, and the occasional NAT for efficient preservation of our Class B network (yes, I know IPv6 isn’t just about IP address counts). We’ve ventured into the cloud a bit for various things, and are individuals in an organization that know why, how and when to evolve (personally and a s a team) for the most part. It’s an absolutely fascinating time to be a networker, given the new technologies at hand. Each of us that like what we do should thank the IT Gods for letting us be witnesses to this transformative period in networking history.

Yet my head hurts.

I think I can boil it down to this: if you contemplate out a few years, it’s really hard to see where all of the “new stuff” comes together, at least for me right now. To bulletize the comets of thought shooting through the night sky of my cabin-fevered mind:

  • IPv6 is mature, and has been in development/trials for some time. It’s “standards based”, and once you learn the basics, the scariness fades.
  • IPv6 on big wireless systems? Not so clear cut, and largely dependent on the WLAN vendor, their version of code, and which way the wind is blowing today.
  • SDN got it’s start as better way to do Data Center networking, then the adventurous dared to stretch the paradigm out into the LAN as well. But where LAN meets WLAN, even in this age of “unified networking”, the end-to-end SDN crystal ball gets muddy.
  • SDN is quite immature. It may shake out as well-designed framework built on standards (akin to Ethernet or TCP/IP) or it may fragment and get as ugly from the “every man for himself” perspective as how WLAN vendors do things under the hood.
  • The Cloud is becoming more acceptable for WLAN management and Networking-as-a-Service, yet it can still feel like a one-off depending on how you implement and how far you go with it.
  • WLAN and mobile networks are very much cutting into Ethernet’s turf, yet there are pockets where Ethernet will likely stay predominant for many years- even if Wi-Fi surrounds the corded network devices.
  • There are things more easily done on the LAN (multicast, for example) that WLAN vendors and engineers still struggle with doing- without causing other problems.
  • As we approach the heyday of 802.11ac, we’re still trying to sort out hype from reality and the WLAN industry continues to flat-out botch the message on how to cable for 11ac and what comes after Wave 2 (you may disagree), which complicates planning in large environments.
  • The WLAN industry is sooooo silo’d and proprietary right now. System A is not compatible with Systems B or C, and and every vendor has their own way of doing things from the AP’s antenna stub back into the WLAN core pieces.
  • Unification of wired and wireless is at different places for different vendors, not all WLAN vendors have switches, and where a vendor has both it again gets funky for interoperability.
  • With data breaches aplenty happening and bound to happen as mobile device counts skyrocket and everything gets connected to something that has a target on it’s back, more regulatory influences are no doubt coming to a network near you.

Gone are the days when a big box connected to a bunch of Ethernet switches that connected to a handful of APs, and the entire thing was easily diagrammed out and explained as a single system.  This I know.

I also know that coming is a time where wired and wireless aren’t so delineated, where SDN reaches across the LAN-WLAN airgap, where it all runs on IPv6 (with implementation and feature parity across the vendor landscape) and big parts of it may be in or managed by the cloud. There’s an assumption that one day it’ll all be truly seamless, any and all applications will run and configure the same on both sides of the LAN/WLAN continental divide, and it’ll be so well designed that even the office secretary can manage the Enterprise without knowing anything of underlays, overlays, Dual-Stack Pattywacks, distributed or centralized Fruited Planes, address lengths, spatial stream counts, or any of the other network marshmallows in our new bowl of Lucky Charms.  

I know it’s inevitable, but my mind just can’t yet grasp how (or when) it’ll all come together.

Ah well- too much daydreaming can be a bad thing… time to go shovel the driveway.