Tag Archives: Tech Field Day

Future-Proofing Networks with Fabric-Attached Wi-Fi: Q&A with Extreme Networks’ Director of Wireless Product Management & Strategy

It’s easy to become desensitized to the onslaught of marketing that surrounds networking concepts like “fabric” and “unified networks” when every vendor has their own version of them. Naturally, each marketing department promises that their solution is the best, but reality shines through when you start to look past the buzzwords for substance. I was recently  introduced to (and impressed by) Extreme Networks’ own fabric accomplishments, and wrote about my impressions here. Soon after, I had the chance to talk with Extreme’s director of wireless product management and strategy, Mike Leibovitz, about where WLAN specifically fits into the company’s fabric approach.

Leibovitz is one of those people that I’m always glad to catch up with. I’ve spent time with him at different Tech Field Day events and  IT conferences, and have had opportunities to socialize with him. Beyond just being an all-around nice guy, Leibovitz has a passion for his job and believes strongly in Extreme’s products, methods and his company’s future. Our most recent conversation evolved into an informal Q& A about the Extreme Automated Campus solution and Wi-Fi. Here are the highlights from that discussion (I’m in italics).

Mike, Extreme has been busy integrating the likes of ExtremeWireless WiNG from Zebra/Motorola and Avaya’s fabric portfolio (from recent acquisitions) with Extreme’s own wireless product lines. How’s all that going?

It’s been a great run, for us and our customers. We’re fully supporting all product lines, and it’s only getting better for the end users, regardless of which hardware they use. Looking forward, the best of all our product lines will be fused into new feature options that customers of either ExtremeWireless WiNG or ExtremeWireless can take advantage of without forklift upgrades.

We’ll get to fabric and Wi-Fi in a bit, but first- is there anything on the horizon that is particularly driving Extreme’s WLAN-specific evolution, and do you have any examples of where ExtremeWireless WiNG might bring something new to Extreme’s story that customers can appreciate?

Aside from our fabric architecture taking deeper root, we see the coming of 802.11ax as significant, and that does figure into our current product evolution. As the radio side of the equation gets higher in performance, we’ll continue to leverage things like Motorola’s unique excellence in access point design for challenging and high-ceiling environments, for instance. Also, we have the successful integration of the Azara Cloud into ExtremeCloud as an example of how we make what’s good even better.

It seems that Extreme goes to great lengths to make sure that new customers gained through acquisitions are treated just as well as long-time Extreme customers. Is that a fair characterization?

Absolutely, and that’s something we work hard at. You’ve experienced and written first-hand about being a customer on the losing end of an acquisition, when the purchasing company doesn’t get it right when it comes to integrating support for its new customers. Despite being well-established, Extreme has more of a start-up mentality in that all of our customers matter. We take none of them for granted. No one should have to guess at what’s going to happen when they need support just because their vendor was acquired.

Amen to that, Mike. Now onto fabric, Extreme Automated Campus, and wireless specifically. I know that you are pumped up about this area. What’s the first thing that potential customers should know about Extreme when it comes to fabric and WLAN?

I’d say first that people should realize that our fabric offering is mature, proven, and is shipping now. That includes how our Wireless solution connects to the fabric. Other market leaders have their fabric stories ahead of their deliverables to a certain degree, but Extreme doesn’t use customers as guinea pigs while we figure out how to keep promises.

Give me a sense of how that integration of Wi-Fi to the fabric works. Do you have any  examples?

Sure. Let’s start with ExtremeControl, which competes with ISE and Clearpass for functions like onboarding, authorization, and role-based policies. ExtremeControl has always excelled at extremely granular policy constructs used to program per-session behavior of the access point, the data plane, and the likes of QoS and analytics. That’s what we’ve been doing for years. Now add in the Avaya fabric contribution. Instead of just bridging traffic to a controller or to an AP you can now bridge wireless sessions to different fabric segments, uniquely for each connected device. That’s a new level of micro-segmentation that basically means you can traffic engineer wireless user traffic literally anywhere in the enterprise campus with the policies you set for RBAC, Layer7 control, QoS, and analytics carried all the way through.

So… we’re used to thinking of wireless access points or AP/controller pairings as bridges that have 802.11 on the radio side, and 802.3 Ethernet on the wired side. Am I reasonable in suggesting that now we can replace Ethernet with fabric on the wired side when we think about access at the WLAN edge?

That’s a good way of picturing it for functional discussion.

Can you give a specific scenario where fabric-attached Wi-Fi yields obvious, easy-to-highlight benefits that solve real-world problems?

We’re already leveraging fabric-connected WLAN in healthcare environments. As a wireless networker, you know the technical importance of reducing the number of SSIDs in a given wireless environment. Think about having one single SSID for everything, with a slew of different security and policy constructs going on behind it with no dependence on VLANs. From doctors’ unique security requirements to guest access to IoT devices and their various limitations – all are configured via ExtremeControl and micro-segmentation on the fabric. We can bridge traffic anywhere it needs to be for any user or use case. It’s really impressive, and no other vendor is even close to this level of functionality yet.

 Does the new magic come at the cost of CPU or memory utilization anywhere?

 That’s a great question, but actually the opposite is true. You can even add new policies on the fly, non-disruptively, directly on our access points. The flow technology that came way back from our Enterasys purchase works wonders in keeping resource utilization low.

This is great information, Mike. It’s awesome to learn of real-world, low-hype network fabric technology that is proven, shipping, and mature. What else do you want people to know as we close?

It sounds silly to say that “fabric is the future” because for Extreme Networks, fabric is now. At the same time, our fabric today does future-proof customer environments by providing unparalleled flexibility in security, segmentation, simplicity, control, and analytics that will only evolve for the better. Extreme will be ready to add 802.11ax into our fabric-connected Wi-Fi strategy when it comes, and we’re a natural fit for IoT in its many incarnations. Our roadmap is exciting, and I encourage our customers and analysts like you to watch us as we evolve.

FTC-required disclosure: I was compensated to comment on the Extreme Networks Automated Campus referenced in this blog, by PR company Racepoint Global. I have no direct business relationship with Extreme Networks, and in no way claim to be an Extreme Networks customer or representative of Extreme Networks. At the same time, I have known Mike Leibovitz for years.

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.

 

 

 

The Little Adapter That Could… WildPackets Gives Us First 11ac Capture/Decode

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As we all sail into the 802.11ac years, we’re getting antsy about tools that will support this rather complicated and nuanced standard.  How do you support and troubleshoot an environment made up of clients each using any one of dozens of permutations of spatial stream counts, data rates, and channel widths in wildly dynamic environments?

There has been a fair amount of buzz around early-shipping 11ac access points and clients with lots of philosophical buzz about uplinks, PoE requirements, and such. But not so much of substance has been said on the “and here’s how you’ll troubleshoot it” front. Here at Wireless Field Day 5, we spent Day 1 with a couple of network tool-makers and got perspective on where Fluke Networks and WildPackets are both going for 11ac support. Each sessions were great, with more to follow on Fluke Networks in another blog. Here’s what went down at WIldPackets.

The short of it: Wild Packets provided delegates with a nifty little USB adapter that can do legitimate 802.11ac packet analysis on their latest (7.5) OmniPeek.

I recently wrote about 11ac troubleshooting and WIldPackets a bit in my Network Computing blog, and it was great to have the opportunity to sit in WIld Packets’ conference room and get a demonstration from a master- Director of Product Marketing Jay Botelho.

Each Field Day Delegate was outfitted with the Linksys AE6000 mini USB adapter, the custom WildPackets driver that makes it all work with the all-important promiscous mode capabilities, and an eval copy of the latest OmniPeek. From there, Botelho showed the process of 11ac support with OmniPeek, discussed the challenges of 11ac when tackled at the packet level, and got the delegates each equipped to do their own captures.

Fellow delegate (and Wireless Jedi) Keith Parsons documented the process for getting this arrangement to work on a Mac laptop running Parallels- a very good read.

What I Hope To Get From Wireless Field Day 5

Being selected as a delegate to a Tech Field Day is a bit like winning a Golden Ticket to Wonkaland for us tech types (instead of chocolate, there is a lot of wireless fodder to enjoy). I’m pleased as can be to be going back for my second Wireless Field Day event, having attended WFD4 and soon, WFD5.

Given the Silicon Valley’s prominence in the IT world, a trip there is something akin to a pilgrimage for those of us too far away (by both distance and circumstance) to get there very often. And that touches on my first goal for Wireless Field Day 5: simply being immersed in the tech-rich backdrop of the San Jose area. I’m not a tremendously spiritual person, but there is a powerful vibe afoot just under the surface “out there”, and it bubbles up time and again throughout the few magic days that are Field Day.

The corny stuff aside, here’s some of what what I hope to get out of my time at WFD5:

  • Reconnecting with organizer Stephen Foskett and my fellow delegates. Most of the group was at WFD4, but there will be three new-to-me faces among the delegates, as well as Stephen’s expanded staff. These folks are sharp, down to earth, a pleasure to do the event with, and extremely deep in wireless networking knowledge. This alone makes the trip worth it.
  • In general, I’m looking forward to all of the companies that are presenting to give us a glimpse behind the curtain at what they are about to release, what they are thinking on a number of fronts, and what they want to know from us, the delegates. Expected hot topics: 802.11ac, analytics of various sorts, new tools and optimization methods.
  • Speaking of tools and optimization, 7Signal is sure to be a delegate favorite. I’m guessing we’ve all seen at least snippets of their case studies and what they recommend to make good WLANs even better. I hope to hear clarity on this topic, and to get a sense of whether 7Signal gear is more affordable than it seems and to hear about optimization tweaks that are real-world applicable.
  • With Meru Networks in the lineup, I’m guessing I’m not the only delegate hoping to walk away with a better understanding of their “secret sauce” for single-channel virtual cells, and whether there is more than just bluster to their occasional hubris (as I’ve covered in my Network Computing column). To a certain degree, the same goal applies to XirrusI’ve covered them a number of times but never quite got totally comfortable with the array thing. But I keep an open mind…
  • For Aerohive Networks, I’m both looking forward to updates and just as much to meeting the likes of Andrew von Nagy (perhaps the most approachable and willing-to-share senior tech guy from any vendor) and his homies. Aerohive just seems to have a different culture, and it’ll be nice to spend time in it for a couple of hours. (my latest Network Computing piece on Aerohive is here).
  • AirTight Networks will be interesting because they are “new”, at least as a wireless access player, in a very competitive market. I have a Network Computing piece on AirTight now running, and also recommend this piece by Man-of-Action and  fellow Field Day Vet Matthew Norwood.  Hearing their story in person will be pretty neat.
  • MetaGeek, WildPackets, and FlukeNetworks are all fairly significant players in my wireless world for tools. I’ve been a MetGeek fan from the days of the original WiSpy, and also frequently use EyePA and InSSIDer for Office (best blog on this one from another fellow delegate, Sam Clements). I’m looking forward to hearing any new announcements from the tools folks (gotta be something in this mix about 11ac) and maybe picking up a tip or two about how to better use the products I already have.
  • Finally, Motorola always stokes my interest because they usually have a somewhat unique story and understated approach versus the “aggressive” marketing of other industry players. I’m a fan of many Moto business units (as a radio and Android guy, that’s a given), and caught up with the WLAN folks at Interop in Vegas just a couple of months ago to hear their opening 11ac story. I gotta feeling they’ll have something new for us.

It’ll be a busy week at Wireless Field Day, and my eyes and ears will be open. Standby for updates.

This “Field Day” Thing…

Our Field Day events bring together innovative IT product vendors and independent thought leaders to share information and opinions in a presentation and discussion format. Independent bloggers, freelance writers, and podcasters have a public presence that has immense influence on the ways that products and companies are perceived and by the general public.
                                     -Stephen Foskett (Tech Field Day)
I just wrapped up the better part of a week in the Silicon Valley, and have to say that at times I felt like a little kid. Having never met the Grandmaster of Field Day, Stephen Foskett, I was pretty awed when we finally did shake hands. Stephen is a master of his craft. Bringing together an impressive group of “delegates” from far and wide and getting them into the boardrooms of the biggest names in IT can’t be easy, but Stephen makes it seem effortless, and is as genuine a person as I have ever met.

The other first-timers in the mix and I were quickly made to feel welcomed and appreciated by Stephen and the veteran delegates, and driving around with this crew was a blast. If you are a techie-type and have never been to the San Jose area, you can’t help but marvel at the names on the very modern-looking buildings as you roll by- Avaya, Broadcom, Citrix, McAfee,Netscout, Ruckus, etc- the list goes on and on. This is a special place, and you can feel the vibe.

Being in the inner sanctums of Aruba Networks, Cisco, Juniper, and Motorola was a thrill. Even if the presentations weren’t all that exhilarating at times, simply sitting amongst the best brains in Wireless Networking certainly was. Being both in IT and a faculty member at Syracuse University, it was also nice to see SU grads in the mix as we moved from company to company.

Impressions I took away from the companies’ presentations are at my Network Computing, but also wanted to get it out here how very cool Foskett’s Field Day is. With separate events for Networking, Wireless, Storage, and Virtualization, Field Day connects a lot of industry analyst talent with top companies in their respective fields in a unique and effective format.

It was an absolute honor to have been invited, and I guarantee that you’ll walk away smiling if you ever have the opportunity to meet Stephen.