Tag Archives: WIreless Field Day 6

How A Dude Named Avi Scored Big For Xirrus

Sure, Wireless Field Day 6 is long since over, yet this quick blog is very much about Xirrus at WF6. My mind zipped back there as I was working away at my desk, and glancing over at the Twitter feed I saw that one Avi Hartenstein is now following me in the Twitterverse. As I returned the favor and added him to my own list, I got hit with the recollection of what Avi was able to do for Xirrus at WFD6.

Simply put, he softened hearts and opened up minds.

I’ve done my own share of wishing Xirrus would open up more about how they execute their unique antenna magic to allow lots of radios to all co-exist under the hood of one of their funky arrays, and it’s no secret that a number of the Wireless Field Day delegates were pretty skeptical about Xirrus’ methods.

But then came Avi. A humble, confident, fairly mellow fellow that basically made his case, shared a bit of his methodology, and told us esentially to take it or leave it because he designed it, it works, and he can prove it. And in the background, I can’t be the only one that was hearing “Ice Ice Baby” playing in my head.

This cool dude reminded us that antenna designs can vary dramatically between the “what you think you see” and the “what it actually does electrically” paradigms. And that was nice.

Sam Clements wrote a good blog after trying a Xirrus unit after WFD6, on the ability of Xirrus to put out a directional signal. It’s a good read.

I’m sure there are still Xirrus skeptics out there, but if you ever get a chance to interact with Mr. Hartenstein you’ll be glad you did. He’s an Antenna Guy for sure, and I hope we hear a lot from him on Twitter because he may tell the Xirrus story better than anyone.

 

 

Extreme Ways- At Wireless Field Day 6

Extreme ways are back again,  Extreme places I didn’t know…

  – (Moby, Extreme Ways)

When it comes to wireless networking, Extreme ways are here, And Enterasys ways are gone- along with the legacy company name behind the product line that is now IdentiFi. New product line, new logo, new forward looking strategy. Now the company just needs to hire Moby to do some commercials…

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I had the pleasure of visiting Extreme’s offices in San Jose as part of Wireless Field Day 6. The facility is very nice, and so were our hosts. Director of Mobility and Applications Mike Leibovitz opened the presentation with an overview of IdentiFi, which for me was the first formal intro I’ve had to Extreme’s WLAN solution. (I have covered Extreme WLAN from afar in the past, for NWC.com- like the release of the Altitude 4511 AP). Mike handed off to colleague Will Aguilar, Director of Product Management for IdentiFi.

Will filled the delegates in on IdentiFi’s APs, the system’s virtual and hardware appliances, and alluded to Extreme’s management tools (was a bummer we ran out of time and did not get a demo). I can’t say that I heard anything particularly unique in Extreme’s presentation, but it’s obvious that IdentiFi is positioned to compete with any WLAN vendor in the industry,

Given the buzz over the last couple of months regarding Extreme’s partnership with the National Football League for providing Wi-Fi analytics (and not necessarily only where Extreme WLAN is in use), it was nice to get a little glimpse of how Extreme has carried out stadium wireless in venues like Gillette Stadium and Lincoln Financial Field (Philadelphia Eagles), but the delegates made short work of Senior Wi-Fi Architect Dionis Hristov’s time. I also spent some time after the presentation hearing from Aguilar on the value of analytics, and the sizable dollars that they lead too in marketing and monitization. This is a huge topic and we’ll no doubt be hearing a lot about it in the months to come.

The videos from Extreme’s session at WFD 6 are here. Since Field Day, Extreme has announced Purview, the magic behind it’s new analytics gig.

My final analysis: Extreme is a big solutions story with a lot of chapters. A couple of hours wasn’t nearly enough to properly get our feet wet, and I hope we hear more from the company in future Field Days.

Aruba Networks Knows The Value Of Purchasing Well- Wireless Field Day 6

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As the real-estate types like to say, it’s all about location, location, location.  I’ve long been interested in highly-accurate location capabilities, regardless of what form they take. I have also been following the fledgling field of indoor, WLAN-based location services for a couple of years now. Under the heading of “truth is stranger than fiction”, I got to see Aruba Networks present the same location magic (Meridian) that Cisco did at an earlier Field Day.

Last year, Cisco was partnering with Meridian.this year, Aruba owns Meridian. Things can change quick around here.

If you’re not familiar with Meridian, take a minute to get oriented here. I’ll wait.

Our Wireless Field Day 6 visit started with the downloading of Aruba’s Campus App and Chief Airhead Sean Rynearson getting us started on a self-guided map-routing session to rooms full of goodies for us. It was a nice way to start the visit, and a good real-world way of showing off the capabilities of Meridian. There are a few other providers out there trying to do the same thing (Wifarer, Google Maps, etc), but in my research to date, Meridian was the best fit for my own Cisco Mobility Services Engines. As the magic that took MSE feeds and turned it into almost real-time interactive mapping, I was fairly deep into discussions with Meridian and Cisco about licensing costs (which were confusing as hell from the Cisco side at the time) when news broke that Aruba had bought Meridian.

Deju vu moment: I also remember years ago, when Aruba purchased AirWave even as I was hoping that Cisco would, that I thought “good for you, Aruba”. And it looks like the Meridian purchase is very good indeed for Aruba.

During the WFD6 visit, Aruba also over-viewed their ALE (Analytics and Location Engine) in a great discussion facilitated by Ozer Dondurmacioglu, Kiyo Kubo, Manju Mahishi , and Dhawal Tyagi. We talked about all sorts of details that go into location services- what it feels like to different client devices, how network design impacts it, what sort of platform horsepower makes it tick, concerns over licensing, etc. It was also agreed that the industry is just starting to scratch the surface of indoor location services.

For me, the elephant in the room at Aruba was one that followed us from session to session; that is the fact that “wireless” has gone well beyond doing a site survey and hanging APs for people to connect to. Wireless Networking is now about services, and monitization and monitization via services. It’s about using the WLAN as base for doing all kinds of new and productivity or profit-enhancing things that require more boxes (real or virtual), skillsets that far exceed those of yesterday’s wireless pro, and a greater “world view” of the environment you’re trying to make all this great, crazy stuff work in. Even if you reduce your burden by keeping more of the environment in the cloud, that doesn’t lessen the need to truly understand operational landscapes that are getting ever more complex. None of this is bad, it’s just a natural evolution that’s worth calling out into the light of day.

We also got a peek at some slick new wireless gear coming out in the near future, and that’s always nice.

I can tell you this- if you get a chance to spend some time at Aruba HQ, don’t hesitate to visit. It’s a beautiful facility, sure- but it also doesn’t take long in the company of Aruba’s techies to understand why they are doing so well in the WLAN market. 

AirTight Networks Rising

A lot can happen in a just a few months. Back in August of 2013, I sat in AirTight Networks‘ conference room for Wireless Field Day 5, and can’t say I was exactly impressed. I wasn’t particularly down on AirTight, but the WIPS-only-turned-WLAN-vendor didn’t seem all that exciting compared to more mature offerings. But as S.E. Hinton once wrote- that was then, this is now. Having gotten first-hand updates from AirTight at Wireless Field Day 6, I can say that this time I was impressed. In fact, AirTight nailed it.

The WFD6 presentation was excellent, but there are side-plots to the story worth mentioning. For one, the last time I saw Devin Akin in person, he was with Aerohive Networks. And the last time I saw Ryan Adzima, he was making the rounds with me at WFD5 as a delegate himself. Now both excellent gents, along with Ex-Hiver Andrew vonNagy, are with AirTight. (I pontificated about Akin and vonNagy jumping ship in a past blog.) It was a treat catching up with Adzima, and hearing Akin work his part of the presentation. Great people, I tell ya.

Also, AirTight were great sports about a rather brash Mylar theft that had taken place during WFD5, and rather than having the perpetrator thrown in Balloon Jail, they opted to have a little fun with the story. It really was a nice touch, and I thank them for putting up our silliness in this regard.

But back to the important stuff- here’s why AirTight is a company to watch, and a solution to consider:

AirTight now has an 802.11ac story, but as Devin Akin rightly pointed out- so what? Everybody does. Anymore, it’s the rest of the solution that counts as much as fast access points that rarely get used to their wireless capacities. The rest of AirTight’s solution has matured nicely (and rapidly), for stand-alone customers and for those interested in a managed services paradigm. AirTight reminds us that they are massively scalable, and are targeting multi-site, distributed environments with large numbers of aggregate access points as their feature set gets harder to distinguish from other cloud-managed WLAN players that have more years on them. Remember, with AirTight there are no controllers and no expensive, labor-heavy NMS servers to keep up.

WFD6 delegates also heard the message loud and clear- there isn’t much to AirTight’s licensing system. You buy AirTight, you get everything they have. There are no options, no add-ons, no BS. This is great for customers, but as other vendors who started out with the same message have found, if AirTight ever does start breaking out features and charging a la carte for them, they are likely to take a shellacking for it after the one-price-gets-you-everything paradigm becomes the expectation.

You have to remember that AirTight is two stories in one. Beyond WLAN access, the company arguably rules the industry from the WIPS perspective. AirTight security guru Rick Farina gave a convincing demo (and that he busted out a Pineapple for his live attacks made several of us giddy). Between Rick and VP Hemant Chaskar, real-time demonstrations of the vulnerability of Wi-Fi and accompanying narrative made the case for why it’s not enough to have just a dashboard full of alerts that you can’t do a lot with. You gotta have real wireless security that you can use, understand, and leverage to protect the WLAN. Again, the sessions were excellent and it’s obvious AirTight has invested in great technical talent.

The videos from AirTight’s WFD6 sessions are here, and are must-sees for anyone shopping for business Wi-Fi or wanting to learn more about AirTight. Have a watch, and expect AirTight to keep up the wow factor in the months to come.

In Defense of Little Wireless

Not everyone wants a smartphone, despite the hard push and somewhat natural evolution of those wonderful devices to market dominance. Some people are fine with off-brand tablets, low end PCs, and generic MP3 players. And- not all environments need expensive, feature-packed Wi-Fi. Before you curse me, let me finish…

There is no doubt that pretty much any and every environment could benefit from higher-end wireless or something off of the growing menu of MSP WLAN offerings. But at the same time we all don’t have to spend the increased up-front or the “As-a-Service” dollars just to get into new Wi-Fi. I love the premise of the residential Skydog paradigm and just sat through a couple of days at Wireless Field Day 6 hearing about some of the best feature sets in the contemporary enterprise WLAN market. Yet, I still see the value in going simple (in the right situation) and keeping more money in your pocket.

The old adage “you get what you pay for” actually doesn’t map perfectly to the wireless space. There are high-dollar options and installations in the WLAN market that provide as many headaches and under-used options as they do worthwhile features. There are also a number of lower-end components that can do quite well for smaller environments or even some larger ones where simple access for a limited number of client devices is all that’s needed. Combine hardware from the likes of TP-Link or Linksys (or step up a bit to Ubiquiti) with open-source firmware like DD-WRT and services like Open DNS, and you will likely do quite well WHERE YOUR NEEDS ARE SIMPLE. Even a low-end solution built on researched components and software can get you to a decent place for Wi-Fi on the cheap that includes respectable security, application controls, rate limiting, time of day restrictions, a simple guest portal and other niceties. Of course it helps to know what you are doing, and to realize what you are giving up by going cheap.  But it can certainly be done quite effectively.

So why is a WLAN professional who deals with Enterprise-grade WI-Fi that serves dozens of thousands of clients a week pointing out that it’s still OK to look at lower-end gear if it seems your situation may warrant it? Because it is. Because even in this era of $200 digital cable TV packages, some of us still choose to get our signals for free over the air. Because even when every new car comes with a handful of available technical subscription services (OnStar, satellite radio, Wi-Fi, etc), its OK to say no. It really is OK. 

Everything is a trade-off, usually involving dollars saved versus forfeited features. And sometimes the real TCO of going cheap can be surprisingly high over time, but this is usually attributable to botched implementation or ignorance at purchase time. But get it right, and Little Wireless can pay big dividends. In many ways, today’s Little Wireless can be the equivalent of not-so-long-ago’s Big Wireless, which actually worked pretty good when done correctly. 

I’m not advocating turning your back on pricey wireless, but reminding that sometimes you can. 

 

Cloudpath Makes the Case For XpressConnect ES at Wireless Field Day 6

Among all of the Wireless Field Day 6 sessions I was privileged to attend, Cloudpath’s was the most personal to me. 


As a years’ running Cloudpath customer, I’ve seen countless thousands of client devices properly configured and on-boarded properly to my Larger Than Usual 802.1X-based WLAN with the company’s XpressConnect solution. I’ve exchanged my share of emails with Cloudpath’s Founder and CEO Kevin Koster through the years, and have been impressed with the company’s support responsiveness and ability to react swiftly to every goofy change the OS makers of the world throw at their customers’ WLAN client utilities in the form of XpressConnect updates.

All that being said, to meet Koster in person was an absolute gift.

Kind of like the gents from Idaho-based MetaGeek, when you meet Kevin you can tell he’s not a Silicon Valley Regular. He may in fact be the most laid-back Founder and CEO that I’ve ever met, despite the many awards garnered by his Colorado-based Cloudpath Networks, Inc. But when Koster starts talking about the why and how of his XpressConnect ES (for Enrollment System), watch out- he is the Grandmaster Mac-Daddy of Secure WLAN Provisioning and you can tell that it’s his passion.

At Wireless Field Day 6, Koster schooled the delegates on why PEAP is getting long in the tooth as an EAP type, and why the once-daunting certificate-based TLS should is where to go next. With tight integration to Microsoft environments (but the ability to work with all OS types) and built in Certificate Authority, XpressConnect SE configures as easily as the original XpressConnect wizardy sorta paradigm, but goes a lot further in sophistication and device control. Even non-802.1x devices and guests have a place in Koster’s ES, and it’s a pretty slick WLAN-agnostic alternative to the likes of Clearpass and ISE (and likely less expensive in many cases).

But don’t take my word for it- watch Kevin do his thing at Wireless Field Day 6.

You can’t use the secure network if you can’t get on the secure network.

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Xirrus Comes On Strong At Wireless Field Day 6

So, me and Dirk Gates were hanging out the other day in San Jose…. I run in those circles, you know. (Sean Connery may or may not have been in the room, but that’s another story.) Dirk and his posse were busting some funky narrative on Xirrus wireless, and Tom Hollingsworth was serving me coffee while I took it all in. Ah, life was magical for a couple of hours. But how did Xirrus, you know… do?

Pretty damn good, actually (for the most part). Here’s how it went down, what I took away, and what might have made it just a bit sweeter.

The night before Xirrus did their excellent presentation, I had the pleasure of spending some time with Xirrus VP of Product Marketing, Bruce Miller. We chatted easy about mutual acquaintances, goings in in both of our lives, and Xirrus’ looming presentation. Miller is a class act.

Back to the presentation. Dirk opened the show with a nice overview of his founding of Xircom, and passed around some interesting kit from the pre-802.11 days of “cordless Ethernet”. This is one sharp Exec. Gates’ professional history is fascinating, and you gotta appreciate that he has made an empire out of doing WLAN different from the rest of the pack, despite keeping up with feature sets. Xirrus has an 802.11ac offering, application visibility, a cloud story, and all the trappings that go with the typical enterprise WLAN system. But as anybody in the business knows, Xirrus is not the typical WLAN system when it comes to the Access Point side of the equation. And this is what makes the company controversial at times

To address the controversy square on, Gates brought THE BIG GUN, and he stole the show. Mr. Avi Hartenstien is Xirrus’ Director of RF Engineering, and as you can see from the video, Avi IS the magic beyond Xirrus’ multi-radio arrays. Regardless of whether everyone in the room was converted, Avi did a great job of presenting and defending the Xirrus antenna technology. I can tell you as one who has built antennas (for amateur radio) that visual and electrical characteristics of antenna designs can be worlds apart in ease of comprehension, and this may be Xirrus’ biggest liability. People just can’t “see” it as presented.

Overall, Xirrus did great, and I give them a lot of credit for coming back after WDF5.

At the same time, there was a bit of discussion among delegates after Xirrus did their presentation, and I took a couple of things away from that as well:

  • Xirrus ends up being the WLAN servicing a number of big conferences (Microsoft, Interop, others), but many of us have been to those events and have been less than impressed by the Wi-Fi. As high-visibility as these tech conferences are, Xirrus would do well to make sure that whatever integrators are doing the shows with their gear absolutely get it right, because these events may not be working in Xirrus’ favor from the word-of-mouth perspective.
  • Xirrus would do well to offer an array or two to Field Day Delegates and other analysts to play with, not because we want free stuff, but because getting product that you believe in into the hands of skeptics can be the best way to alleviate the skepticism.

I thoroughly enjoyed this session, and I know I learned more about how Xirrus “does it”. I wish them the best in market that is growing both in opportunity and competitiveness.