Tag Archives: Wireless Field Day

Beacon Baby Steps

As I put this blog together, I do so knowing that I risk the ridicule of those who have gotten a lot farther in both understanding beacons and using them for some real-world value proposition. Though I understand transmitters of all types very well and I’ve covered other beacon-related initiatives (like Aerohive’s integration of beacons in APs ) and done my share of reading on how beacons are gaining in popularity as building blocks in a number of applications, I’ll admit to really not “getting” them yet to any technical depth. But that is starting to change, as I’ll tell you about here. And as an added bonus to you, I get to drop a few names of really smart people that I have the privilege of interacting with on occasion.

Free Beacons!

Awhile back, Ryan Adzima turned me on to a beacon giveaway that netted me three of these. Not being one to pass up free cool stuff , I got my beacons- and they ended up sitting on a shelf almost a year (I basically didn’t know what the hell to do with them.)

Fast Forward- Renewed Interest

I follow a lot of industry goings on as a freelance analyst. It’s no secret that Location-Based Services/Analytics is a running topic du jour in the tech media, and many a WLAN vendor has announced their own beacon story- like Aruba and Cisco’s Meraki. Knowing that there’s a lot of buzz around beacons, I worked them into my daily Twitter #WIFIQ question on June 4. The conversation that ensued reminded me that I was overdue to play with my Qualcomm beacons.

What sparked me to get back on the path that Ryan Adzima started me down was conversation with AccessAgility’s Zaib Kaleem and Extreme Networks’ Mike Leibovitz. Zaib turned me on to some beacon-related apps, and Mike triggered my interest on proximity to beacons being used as one component in banking authentication. Newly energized (see what I did there?), I busted out my Qualcomm Gimbals and got busy gettin’ busy.

Time to Play

Laying hands on my three neglected Gimbals first brought back the clueless feeling I had when I first looked at them and put them on the shelf. But this time I wasn’t content to stay in the dark. I took the bold step of cracking each one open and getting the watch battery connected, then I found the Gimbal Management App in the Apple app store.

At first, the App couldn’t see my beacons! Gotta be dead batteries, I thought… but then I went to the Gimbal Manager site, recovered my long-forgotten password, and figured out that I needed to activate each beacon.Gimbal

I also needed to configure each and upgrade firmware, which was quite easy. (We’ll come back to the “configure” thing.) Bingo! They showed up in the iPhone app.beacons

At this point, I realized/reminded myself of a few basic important facts:

  • Until the beacons were added to my account online, they were dead to me despite being powered up. (Private is default, you can make them “public” so anyone can see them, btw.)
  • My online account and my iOS account are synced for beacon management.
  • The beacons report their battery strength and the ambient temperature, and the mobile app tells how strong each beacon is being received
  • Though I now have three live beacons that can be managed, I still don’t know what to really do with them… no use case, no business application to hook them to, etc.

Knowing that beacons are all about proximity and location, I embarked on a simple exercise. Down a long hallway with three pictures hanging on the wall, I put one beacon on each picture frame, then watched my app show signal strength for each as I walked the hall.hall

This seemed like a reasonable way to see what might go on behind the scenes at the signal level on a walking tour, or in a retail environment where different app events are triggered by a customer coming close to a beacon. Here, this is the view as I transitioned from Beacon 1 and got close to Beacon 2, with Beacon 3 at farthest point down the hall.
.beacons1

Big deal, right? To me, it is. That’s because yesterday, I had ZERO first-hand working knowledge of beacons. With this these simple steps, I now get the technology and how it’s managed at a very, very basic level. I feel like I get the foundation, and I do understand many of the big use cases for beacons. It’s that middle ground of real-world implementation that I have yet to learn. Baby steps…

Back to the beacon config thing. For such a simple device, there are infinite permutations for what you can do with them. I think this is what is so hard to wrap your head around, especially given that along the line you may have to do some coding (or steal somebody else’s code). Zooming in on the menu gives a sense of just how many directions you might go bringing beacon-based use cases to life:
beacon menu

So… I now know a little, and know that I still don’t understand really USING beacons despite understanding the scenarios where they are employed. But with what little I now have touched and brought to life, I do understand links like this and this a bit better. Still a long way to go though, but ya gotta start somewhere!

Goodbye, Motorola Wi-Fi. Hello, Zebra Technologies!

Motorola Wi-Fi had a good run, but nothing lasts forever. Here’s the official memo, and it’s actually a bigger Moto story than just Wi-Fi that Zebra Technologies is buying. But the operative Wi-Fi related paragraph reads like this:

About Motorola Solutions’ Enterprise Business
With 2013 pro-forma sales of approximately $2.5 billion, Motorola Solutions’ Enterprise business
is an industry leader in mobile computing and advanced data capture communications
technologies that serve customers in retail, transportation & logistics, and manufacturing. The
sale includes Motorola Solutions’ wireless local area network (WLAN), Rhomobile and MESH
businesses. 

I did have a conversation with Moto folks about the acquisition. For those who followed the Wireless Field Day sessions from the Motorola facilities in San Jose, I can report that Zebra will likely take over that building. Hopefully we’ll see the WFD crew in the old building with new colors in the future.

The entire WiNG portfolio goes forward with the transition, from all of the old stuff I’ve covered in the past, including these from Network Computing:

– Motorola WiNGS It’s Way To A New Wireless Architecture
Motorola Launches 802.11ac APs

To the newish WiNG Express and VX9000 clolud controller (pop it in an Amazon data center, and it scales to 25K APs, as per the folks I spoke with). Highlights can be found in this video, and I’m pleased to see the product line evolve.

Things that jump out at me on WiNG Express:

– Aimed at mid-market customers
– Options for Single/Multiple Sites
– 11ac APs that retail UNDER $400
– Guest Wi-Fi with lots of onboarding options
– Same social Wi-Fi options as the other guys
– Interesting location analytics using Wi-Fi and Bluetooth
– Updated UI since I last saw it

In a word, WiNG Express looks pretty competitive, and it’s clear that the product line has continued to develop despite the pending acquisition. It will be interesting to see the Zebra colors on Moto gear and software, and how the new owners might leverage their new baby in a tough market.

Welcome to the Enterprise Wi-Fi space, Zebra!

 

 

The Great Wireless Field Day 7 Pre-Blog

It just hit me… Jim Morrison was a mystic- and he predicted Wireless Field Day 7!  Think about it…

The west is the best 
The west is the best 
Get here, and we’ll do the rest 

The blue bus is callin’ us 
The blue bus is callin’ us 
Driver, where you taken’ us 

-“The End”, by The Doors

My keen powers of analysis and Rock-n-Roll sensibility tell me that “the west is the best” is a reference to Silicon Valley. “Get here, and we’ll do the rest” plays to the universal truth that if you fall asleep during a vendor session, Tom Hollingsworth will fastball a can of 7 Up at your head. Yes… yes, it’s all making sense now…

“The blue bus is callin’ us” alludes to the safety and comfort of the rolling chariot that Ramon pilots with expert wheelmanship through the mean streets of Silly Valley, taking the Field Day delegates from one vendor site to another!

And to put the ribbons on what Mr. Mojo Risin’ was portending… “Driver, where you taken us” references the fact that none of us know where the hell we’re going when we’re at Field Day! Oh, this is incredible.  It’s all there, why didn’t I see it before?

I’ll tell you what else is all there: the makings for some excellent sessions. As I write this, the current lineup features visits to AirTight Networks, Aruba Networks, Avaya, Cisco, Extreme Networks, and Fluke Networks. With these 5 network companies and one kick-ass tool maker in the mix, we’re likely to put our collective finger on the very pulse of the wireless industry for a few days.

Predictions:

Given where the industry is, there’s a bit of mystery to what we might see and hear at WFD7. If you’re tuning in expecting to simply hear about fast APs and general client access, I’d say you’ve been asleep for the last year. Anymore, it’s all about features, add-ons, and making the wireless system do a lot more than client access. To call today’s super systems “the Wi-Fi” is like calling the most advanced smartphone “just a cell phone”.

I firmly expect discussion on:

  • Updates on 11ac Wave 2 hardware
  • Hints at what’s beyond W2
  • Unified Access
  • Social Wi-Fi
  • Location Services/Analytics
  • Updates on cloud initiatives
  • Feature sets far beyond simple WLAN access
  • The word “monitize” will be said no less than 634 times

I’d personally be happy if there was some substance presented on:

  • SDN and Wi-Fi
  • Small cells, wireless offload
  • Updates to Air Magnet regarding Apple PCs, apps for Android/iOS
  • How the somewhat lame NMS of today will morph into something truly useful for the future
  • How SDN will eventually kill NMS

The “please don’t” list:

Since this is my fourth Wireless Field Day, I can safely say these topics are generally a turn-off, and I hope the vendors spare us:

  • Dissertations  on why BYOD is important
  • Long tours of onboarding solutions (unless there is something bona fide fantastic to talk about)
  • Bragfests about fast APs
  • Bashing the competition as the only message delivered
  • Bonjour gateways

I count the Field Day series among the most educational of “conferences” that I’ve either been to or monitored online, and am thrilled to be be able to attend WFD7.

If you follow these events, what are YOU hoping to hear the vendors talk about at WFD7?

Appreciating Aruba Networks’ Instant Mode

The last time I got hands-on familiar with Aruba’s wireless gear, the AP-125 was king of their lineup and the company didn’t have a switch offering. Like with my own Cisco network at the time, you were pretty much doing the thin AP thing with Aruba controllers, or you were doing another product set back in the day.

Like others in the biz, I have followed Aruba through the years both as an analyst and as a potential future customer. I went to an Airheads conference years ago, and got invited to others that I couldn’t make. I took note when Aruba released their switching line and became eligible for the Gartner Short-Sighted Quadrant, went to the company’s Sunnyvale HQ a couple of times for Wireless Field Day, and penned a number of articles on this blog and for Network Computing. Among them (but hardly inclusive):

Aruba Networks Swings Big At BYOD And More With ClearPass
Aruba Brings Layer 3 To Wireless Mesh Networks
Aruba’s 802.11ac Rollout Cleans Up Sticky Clients
Aruba Debuts Bare-Bones Cloud WLAN
Aruba Networks Knows The Value of Purchasing Well

I mention all this just to establish that I’m generally familiar with Aruba, but by no means “into” their hardware these days. Maybe this is why I’m so impressed with Aruba’s Instant AP Mode.  

For me, there have been a handful of “wow, this is excellent” moments of discovery through my own wireless career. Like when I used our Cisco MSE to alert on the MAC address of a stolen computer, which led to to the first of a number of solved crimes compliments of our Cisco WLAN logging capabilities. Then there was the 2-click ease of using Meraki MX appliances for site-to-site tunnels to extend my campus network to far away locations. And the AVC capabilities from Aerohive, that came my way before anyone else was doing it. I now count my getting to know Aruba’s Instant APs among those truly wondrous moments where the value of what you’re looking at shines at you, bright and immediately clear.

So what has impressed me about Aruba Instant? It’s all about the ease of setup, the completeness of the feature set, and the fact that you need no licenses, no cloud account, and no controller to derive immediate and impressive value. It’s the joy of old-school, stand-alone Wi-Fi from a simpler time, painted up nice with all of the aspects of modern feature-rich WLAN- and without the BS complexity that comes with most modern wireless systems. Granted, Aruba Instant is more suitable for smaller environments and branches, but it’s sooooooooo slick.

I’m playing with two IAP-225 802.11ac APs and an 802.11n RAP-3. These were given to me for attending Wireless Field Day and Keith Parson’s excellent WLAN Professionals Summit (all attendees received these).  There are so many ways you can operate these APs individually, or working together, that I can’t think of a set of enterprise or SMB operational parameters I couldn’t achieve with them. I’m loving the virtual controller capabilities, and have not seen a UI and accompanying documentation so polished and complete in quite a while. I feel almost like I’m getting away with something as I remind myself that I’m doing everything in these units with no NMS and and no cloud account. You have to set one up, then add another with zero config required, to really appreciate the magic here.

Here’s a slightly dated article from when Instant was introduced, and one of many YouTube videos introducing the product line and it’s ease of set up (this one from Streakwave Wireless).

Needless to say, I’m thoroughly impressed. Well done, Aruba Networks.

 

 

Getting My Brain Ready For Wireless Field Day 6- Expectations

Yeah, baby- another Wireless Field Day approaches, and I’m really looking forward to it.

For those not all that familiar with with the Tech Field Day series, I opined about it last year when I was a rookie, and after getting up to speed at #WFD4, I set my sights on #WFD5, Now, I’m ready for another excellent outing, having been fortunate to get invited back for #WFD6.

The who, what, and where of the event is here.

And my version of the quick skinny on who will be there- and what I hope to get out of the event:

The Delegates: those of us who will travel to sponsor facilities, or host the sponsors at the hotel.

    • For me, most of those on the delegate roster are friends/colleagues by now. Connections made at the last two Field Days have blossomed into mutually beneficial professional opportunities, ongoing and frequent knowledge shares, and some pretty hilarious Tweets back and forth. Seeing these folks in person again makes the trek worthwhile.
    • At the same time, I’m looking forward to meeting Evert BoppGermán Capdehourat,and Richard McIntosh and hope they each find the event as rewarding as I have.

The Sponsors: those companies that will make their presentations to the delegates (and those watching from the Internet).

AirTight Networks– This will be the second time for AirTight at WFD, and on a personal note, I’m hoping that the Great San Jose Balloon Theft of 2013 has been forgiven. I haven’t heard a tremendous amount about AirTight since #WFD5, other than the hiring of some great talent. I did cover them a bit for Network Computing as well.

  • MY EXPECTATIONS: An 802.11ac announcement, perhaps a managed service provider-related story, and feature refreshes as this cloud WLAN vendor plays catch-up to Meraki and Aerohive for roundedness of offerings.

Aruba Networks– As with AirTight, this will be my second Field Day visit with Aruba. The WLAN market’s #2 player always has a big story, and some amazing technical talent in the mix. Given that they are a full-service “unified” provider with a newish cloud WLAN story of their own (that I really wasn’t all that jazzed about when it broke), this could go anywhere given the company’s track record of excellent innovation. I make no predictions here. (In the name of shameless self-promotion, I have been enjoying some blogging in the AirHeads Community).

Cloudpath- This is Cloudpath’s first Field Day visit, and I’m thrilled they’ll be there. My university is a Cloudpath customer, and we leverage their WLAN vendor-agnostic magic to get thousands and thousands of WLAN client devices properly configured and onboarded to our big honkin’ WLAN. But I also know they have a range of other features I have yet to experience or get a good brief on.

    • MY EXPECTATIONS: I would expect Cloudpath to differentiate themselves from competing solutions, after defining the feature sets they want to promote. Some of what Cloudpath does (WLAN-agnostic WPA2 supplicant configuration, for example) doesn’t have a lot of competition, while other features compete with the likes of Aruba’s Clearpass, etc. This will be a telling of the Cloudpath story, where it fits, and what makes it better. I hope for a glimpse at roadmap stuff, too.

Extreme Networks- This will be first time with Extreme Networks (who bought Enterasys if you hadn’t heard). First, I gotta congratulate Extreme on having Mike Leibovitz on staff, as he knows his stuff, is passionate about Extreme’s mobility mission, and has a dynamite sense of humor. Mike is one of my favorite people to banter with. All of that aside- Extreme could go anywhere with their presentation. They have a MSP story, are aiming for the stadium market, and could even have some new hardware trick up their sleeve after the Enterasys thing. I make no predictions on Extreme, and look forward to whatever they have for us.

Xirrus– This will be my second time visiting with Xirrus under the Field Day framework. I know I’m not alone in my own view that Xirrus was talked about long after #WFD5, but maybe not for reasons the company would prefer. To Xirrus’ credit, they came out quick after Field Day and made their case.  Hopefully, we can get enough tech depth to placate the delegates on this go round, while hearing Xirrus’ #WFD6 message.

  • MY EXPECTATIONS: I’m guessing we’ll hear MSP/and or cloud related from Xirrus.

(Bear in mind, these are all my own predictions. I have no inside scoop- I promise.)

***And for the #WFD6 Bonus Round: Something Completely New***

We’ll also be hearing about the excellent work of 

  • Plan Ceibal an interesting education/technology effort in Uruguay
  • Disaster Prep Lab an international disaster communications services company

-Hoping everyone has a great Field Day.

Features, Products, Services… The Differences According to Aerohive

I recently visited Aerohive’s home turf as one of the delegates at Wireless Field Day 5. It was wonderful getting to meet, in person, many Bees I frequently interact with via email and social media.

My own history with Aerohive is built largely on covering their evolution from the early days, writing about them professionally in Network Computing Magazine. As with other vendors, sometimes Aerohive gets the spotlight and sometimes they get compared against when analyzing what competitors are up to. I have my own small Aerohive environment, and have first hand familiarity (not mastery, mind you) with Hive Manager and a couple of AP models.

Aerohive has been a major player in minor-but-growing cloud-managed wireless network space that includes Meraki (Cisco), AirTight Networks, and PowerCloud. 

Ah, cloud-managed networking. I’ve become a fan where I use it (and I do use it in a number of sites). I like that one of the running campaign themes of cloud-based networking in general is reduced hardware counts with no convoluted licensing schemes. 

Though Aerohive has done a good job with pushing the value of “here’s a new feature, and you’ll just get it with your next Hive Manager upgrade at no additional cost!” message to customers, I was taken a wee bit aback during the Field Day briefings on Aerohive’s IDManager and Client Management services because they were called “new products” that require licensing.

Both offerings will no doubt be welcomed by existing Aerohive customers, and are easily marketed at prospective customers looking for a robust, all inclusive solution. My own little private shock at the licensing requirement doesn’t detract from my overall opinion on Aerohive, and after thinking about it , I know where the surprise comes from: we’ve gotten so used to rich feature sets being “free” that we instinctively expect the gratis model to apply to any and all “features” Aerohive develops. Which really isn’t fair to Aerohive, but is how we’ve been conditioned on the customer end.

I wont pretend to understand why Aerohive has “given” so many enterprise-grade services away to date that others license for, but draws the line at IDManager and Client Management. Nor do I care enough to get hung up on it, as other vendors seem to be licensing their Onboarding services as well after hearing their briefings. 

For those keeping score at home, here’s a breakdown of some of what is included with Aerohive’s Cloud Manager and licensed APs under the heading of “it’s just in there”:

  • Spectrum analysis
  • Application visibility and control
  • Statefull firewall
  • QoS
  • VPN
  • Partner MDM hooks
  • Planner software(free to non-Aerohive customers too)
  • Bonjour gateway software (also free to non-Aerohive customers)

And what you have to license seperately:

  • Client Management (license blocks of 100)
  • IDManager (tiered licensing, starting at 250 guests)
  • StudentManager (blocks of 1000)