Monday, November 13, 2017

Wearing Superhero Capes Around the Office

As an IT person, I love being a hero.  Solving a customer's issue, especially when others before me have tried and failed is fun.  But as a consultant, I can't be at all my customer's at once.  So when one of them has an issue, either it's remotely troubleshooting, or I'm rolling on-site to diagnose the issue.

And while I and the rest of the team of superhero wireless engineers are out taking care of customers, what happens when there's an issue at the office?  Not as much as I would like most of the time.  We are the stereotypically cobblers kids, and barefoot is the new black.

But shortly after MFD2, we had an office expansion and a lot of the executive and operational staff moved into a new area with new APs.  And they had problems.  I remember getting a "things are broke" email, with no username, Mac address, time of incident, etc and thinking to myself that it was going to be a few weeks before I was going to get to dig into this.

And then I remember that Cape Networks had given me one of their sensors, and it hadn't been doing much in my home lab.  So I grabbed my superhero Cape and headed into the office.  A quick reconfiguration of the SSID and I was in business.

Setup and Configuration:
The first thing I'll say for Cape, is that it's really easy to setup.  I put in the credentials for the SSID, and it was off testing the out of box services. I took a few minutes to add in our internal domain controllers, web servers, financial applications and some of our random cloud services and let it go.
Several days later, I logged in, and tightened up some of the DNS/DHCP response times, the defaults were a little too forgiving for my tastes on the internal LAN.  All of it very straight forward, and quick.

Detecting issues:
Having the Cape sensor helped me deflect some blame due to an internet outage, and network closet interruption from the wireless onto their appropriate blame centers, all of which resulted in me getting emails about "wireless issues."

Meanwhile I'm right now exploring a legitimate wireless issue that I caught with the Cape, and their packet capture feature let's me go back and look at what it saw and why.  I know rolling packet captures are the new hot thing right now, so having that for a deployment that doesn't support it natively is nice.  

Issues with the Cape and resolutions:
My experience with Cape wasn't without issue.  Early on, I found a bug where my reported RSSI was bouncing frequently with a 30db variance.  A quick chat with support, they had identified a bug, and it was resolved the next day, which is awesome considering the timezone differences.  I look at my interactions with their support, and I really can't ask for much more.

The Cape dashboard is really clean and functional on desktop platforms. Unfortunately for mobile users, you can't drill into some of the things due to their use of hover over in the dashboard.  For me this is an issue, because I'm frequently checking on stuff while on the go.  But you can get to the basics of most things while mobile.  

I think that Cape is really early in their lifecycle.  When it came out of the box, I was a little disappointed that some of my "must have" features weren't there (band locking, multi-SSID, etc).  But over the last few months, 90% of those have shown up in the product.  This goes to show that they folks over at Cape are working hard, and listening to customer feedback around what is needed.  Combine that with exceptional customer service, and being very responsive in fixing bugs, I'm a believer.  I think it's important to understand that these guys are still small, still very much in the startup phase.  They aren't perfect, but it's been my experience that they really want to do things right, and are quick to get things resolved.  

I haven't even begun to scratch the surface of what the cape can do.  I haven't leveraged the cellular at all nor have I tested their integration with Adrian's Wifi Explorer Pro.  Overall, Cape Networks has built a solid platform that belongs in most wireless superhero's utility belts.  

Disclaimer: Cape Networks provided me one of their Cape Sensors and their cloud service as part of my participation in Mobility Field Day 2 along with a variety of other swag.  These thoughts are my own, and I am not being compensated for my opinions about their products.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Blogging and Vendor Blowback

I’ve been pretty fortunate that in my years as a blogger and a WFD/MFD delegate, that my employer has allowed me to express my opinions on this blog, attend these events and doesn’t pressure me to write about the vendors that we sell.  Likewise, the vendors that I sell have been quiet on the matter.  Maybe they don’t care, maybe I’m too small to worry about.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Wireless: Vendors, Partners and You

Note: This is a post derived from one of my emails to the Educause wireless lan mailing list related to issues around certain versions of code and receiving different recommendations from the BU, TAC and Partners.


One of the things as a partner I try to do is educate customers on is “who is recommending what, and why.”

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Mojo Networks: Driving Value With Open Hardware Standards #MFD2

Wireless has always had somewhat of a vendor lock-in nature.  You buy APs from a vendor, you are likely stuck buying their controller, cloud management, etc.  And if their system doesn’t grow with you, continue to meet your needs or becomes a giant bug model where you just spend all day QAing someone’s code in production, it generally requires a forklift upgrade to another vendor's system.

The challenge here is having that other vendor’s software tied to their hardware platform, necessitating the need to forklift.  The sad part of this with access points is the hardware for APs are probably 90% the same. They likely come from Broadcom, or QCA, and are all based around the same basic technology. 

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Mist Systems: A first look

So I really didn’t want to like Mist Systems.  I haven't really gelled with any of the pure-cloud networking vendors and kind of expected this to be a "me too" play. So when Mist told the #MFD2 delegates they were going to send us an AP41 for us to play around with, I didn’t feel exceptionally excited.

That feeling lasted right up until I started using it.  Setup was quick, the AP was up and running quickly and a couple cheesy SSIDs later it was working. I've been very impressed with the overall performance and experience using the Mist AP41.

The Cloud Management:
At first I thought their cloud management was a reasonable knockoff of the Meraki cloud. But the more I use it, the more the differences stand out.  Onboarding to the dashboard with a QR code or Serial number was cool.  The HTML5 dashboard is very responsive.  I am in love with the correlated graphs, where you can mouse over one graph and it moves the line to correspond to the others on screen.  Overall, it feels easy and natural but not dumbed down, and is organized in a way that feels natural for most network and wireless engineers.

The Hardware:
The AP feels good, heavy in your hand so you know it’s not a cheap product.  I was disappointed that it’s vented, but not every AP needs to be in healthcare and wiped down regularly.  It doesn’t come with mounting hardware, so make sure you order that (Mist did offer to send us some, but my 3D printer was just sitting there).  

The vBLE:
I didn’t have time to build an app leveraging their SDK for the vBLE solution.  I really wish I would have had the time, because vBLE is how I was introduced to Mist Networks, and I wanted to kick the tires.  The setup seems reasonably easy, the BLE settings seem intuitive, but alas, pre-MFD2 it just wasn’t in the cards.  But it turns out they have a demo app on the Apple App Store.  Expect more on this in a future post.

SLA Based wireless:
There are others who do this, but this is by far the best implementation of SLA based wireless I’ve seen to date.  It’s not about uptime (although that is there), it’s about how users experience the network.  How long does it take to connect?  Get an IP?  Resolve DNS?  Those are things that directly relate to how the users experience the network.  You can set your own, or run with the defaults. 

In my house, with just a single AP41, I didn’t quite have enough coverage to cover both ends of the house.  My iMac in the office was at the other end of the house.  While it connected, it flagged for being out of SLA due to coverage.  I really wish I had another AP41, because the roaming aspect looks really cool.  Failed 11r roams, Slow roams, slow OKC roams.  As a wireless engineer, this is what I’m trying to get to the bottom of, so I can resolve these things.