Tag Archives: Wireless

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.

That Which Pisses Us Wireless Folk Off- Vendor Edition

Now there’s a title. And since you’re reading this, you bit on it… Sucka. Now that you’re here, let’s share some observations from the WLAN community over the last few weeks. This is not (totally) a “Lee’s complaining again” blog; it’s more a collection of sentiments from dozens of friends and colleagues from across the Wi-Fi Fruited Plain that stuck with me for one reason or another.

Most of these observations are aimed squarely at our vendors- those who we do business with “above” as we shape their offerings into the systems and services we offer to clients “below”, with us in the middle.

You may not agree with all of these. Perhaps some of your own beefs didn’t make my list. Either way, I’d love to hear from you in the comments section. Now, in no specific order:

  • Marketing claims. OK, we’re starting out with the obvious. Wi-Fi marketing has always been about hype, far-fetchedness, and creative blather. Nothing new under the sun here. I truly hope that your 10x better Wi-Fi is serving up 500 APs per client that are all streaming 62 Netflix movies each simultaneously from a range of 37 miles away from the AP.
  • “Enterprise” switches that don’t stack. Stacking is neither new, nor special. Do your bigger switches stack? Is it not even an option? If not, maybe tone down calling them “enterprise”.
  • Big Bucks for power cords. You got major balls as a vendor if you’re pricing garden variety power cables at $20 per.  Shame on you. Same same for PoE injectors, nothing-special antennas, rack mounts and assorted other parts/pieces that can be gotten for pennies on YOUR dollar elsewhere. C’mon…
  • No version numbers. By now, we all get “cloud”. And most cloud infrastructure vendors ARE using OS version numbers as a point of reference for their customers. The absence of version numbers becomes more onerous as ever more features get added. Give us the damn version number. Do it. Doooooo it.
  •  No CPU/Memory/Interface stats. It doesn’t matter what the “thing” is, or whether it’s cloud-managed or not. EVERY interface needs to show statistics and errors, and every thingy needs to show CPU and memory information. Whatever your argument to the contrary may be, I promise that you are wrong.
  • Frequent product name changes. Just stop already.
  • The same stinking model numbers used for everything. Why? Maybe someone has a 3 and 5 fetish out in Silly Valley. It’s confusing, it’s weird, and it’s weirdly confusing in it’s weirdness, which leaves me confused.
  • The notion that EVERYTHING to do with wireless must be monetized. After a while, we start to feel like pimps as opposed to WLAN admins. I get that vendors need to be creative with new revenue streams, but it can be carried to extremes when applied to the WLAN ecosystem.
  • Too many models. It seems like some vendors must be awarding bonuses to HW developers based on how many different versions of stuff they can turn out, but customers are left confused about what to use when and where and why versus the other thing down the page a bit. Variety is good, but massive variety is not.
  • Complexity. This might be news to some vendors: the ultimate goals in deploying your systems for both us and the end user are STABILITY and WELL-PERFORMING ACCESS. Somewhere, vendors have lost track of that, and they are delivering BLOATED and HYPER-COMPLICATED FRAMEWORKS that place a cornucopia of buggy features higher on the priority list than wireless that simply works as users expect it to.
  • Slow quote/support ticket turnaround. Most times when we ask for pricing or open a case with technical support, it’s because there is a need. As in, we need something. And our assumptions are that our needs will be fielded with some degree of urgency, as we’re all in the business of service at the end of the day. No one likes slow service. No one likes asking over, and over, and over, and over, and over if there are any updates to our need possibly getting addressed.
  • Escalation builds/engineering code bugs. At the WLAN professional level, most of us work off the assumption that if we don’t typically do our jobs right the first time, we may not get follow up work and ultimately may be unemployed. That’s kind of how we see the world. I’m guessing that WLAN code developers play by different rules. ‘Nough said.
  • Bad, deceitful specs. Integrity is what keeps many of us in the game as professionals. Our word is our bond, as they say. Can you imagine telling someone that you can deliver X, but then when they need X, you can actually only provide a fraction of X- and then expecting that person to not be pissed off? Why are networking specs any different? Enough truth-stretching and hyper-qualified performance claims that you have to call a product manager and sign an NDA to get the truth about.
  • Mixed messages. OK, we ALL own this one- not just the vendors. The examples are many- grand platitudes and declarations that might sound elegant and world-changing in our own minds, but then they often fizzle in the light of day. Things like…
    • We need mGig switches for 802.11ac! 
    • We’ll never need more than a Gig uplink for 802.11ac!
    • 2.4 GHz is dead!
    • Boy, there’s a lot of 2.4 GHz-only clients out there!
    • We’re Vendor X, and we’re enterprise-grade!
    • Why do I see Vendor X gear everywhere, mounted wrong and in nonsensical quantities for the situation?
    • That one agency is awesome at interoperability!
    • Why does so much of this stuff NOT interoperate?
    • You must be highly-skilled with $50K worth of licensed WLAN tools or your Wi-Fi will suck!
    • Vendor X sells more Wi-Fi than anyone, most people putting it in are obviously untrained, yet there are lots of happy clients on those networks!
    • Pfft- just put in one AP per classroom. Done!
    • Cloud Wi-Fi is a ripoff!
    • Cloud Wi-Fi saves me soooo much money and headaches!
    • Here’s MY version of “cloud!”
    • Here’s MY version of “cloud!”
    • I freakin hate how buggy this expensive gear is!
    • At least those bugs are numbered on a pretty table!

It goes on and on and on. Always has, always will. Behind the electronics that we bring to life and build systems from are We the People. The humanity involved pervades pretty much everything written here, from all sides and all angles. And I have no doubt that every vendor could write their own blog called “That Which Pisses Us Vendor Folk Off- WLAN Pro Edition”.  Touche on that.

Ah well- there’s still nothing I’d rather be doing for a living.