Tag: Vendor Specific: Nintendo

Yes, you read that right – Nintendo. It’s no secret that I own and use Nintendo equipment (now the source of two blogs!). What did surprise me is that during the course of some routine attacking of my home network (doesn’t everyone?) I happened across some very interesting Probe requests showing up:

Yes – that is a Probe Request that is asking for the SSID “Nintendo_3DS_continuous_scan_000”. This is particularly interesting since a) I hadn’t powered on my Nintendo 3DS in about 3 months (thank you CCNP) until last night and b) when I was done playing with it, I just closed the lid thinking it would just go quietly off into standby. Clearly that wasn’t the case so I hunted around for where I dropped it last and opened the lid. To my surprise, the Probe Requests stopped! Closed the lid and in about 10 seconds, they started again! Clearly something is going on here so I dug a little further… Inspecting the Probe Request reveals some interesting tidbits – down towards the bottom is “Vendor Specific: Nintendo”:

Further inspection of the ‘Tag interpretation: Not interpreted” reveals a good chunk of interesting looking data:

After a bit of digging, I stumbled across the data I was looking for! The SSIDs being probed for are part of Nintendo’s StreetPass service that allows ‘sleeping 3DSs’ to share data such as Mii Plaza data and other games that are ‘StreetPass enabled’. The fine folks over at 3dbrew spell this out quite nicely – The first byte of this (01) is the Vendor Specific OUI Type. The next byte (11) is likely Protocol Identification. The next byte (05) in this example is the length of the StreetPass services being advertised. The next 5 bytes (length from the previous byte) in this case are 00 05 40 00 30 are the actual services being advertised – in this case, Super Mario 3D Land. The next two bytes (f0 08) seem to be a marker of the end of the services. Everything after that appears to be my unique StreetPass ID.

Here is another capture showing two sets of StreetPass services:

The same beginning (01 11 11) followed by a StreetPass services length (0a which is twice as long as 05 – someone check my math on that!). This means that there should be two StreetPass services advertised – each 5 bytes long. The next 5 bytes are 00 03 74 00 00 (which I believe belong to Lego Pirates of the Caribbean) and 00 05 40 00 30 (which match my Super Mario 3D Land example above!) and the closing bytes f0 08 then my StreetPass ID.

Here is another capture showing a single StreetPass service identified by the 3rd highlighted byte (05) and the following ID of 00 02 08 00 00. This particular StreetPass service is the Mii Plaza – basically ad-hoc twitter and IRC with goofy avatars all rolled into one!

Okay – 1 more then, I’ll stop. 🙂

Here we see the same intro (01 11) followed by 0a which means we have 10 byes of services (or two services). The first one (00 02 08 00 00) we’ve seen before – it’s Mii Plaza. The second one (00 03 06 00 30) this time line up to Mario Kart 7 followed by our end of StreetPass services (f0 08) and my StreetPass ID.

If you have a Nintendo 3DS and want to see what StreetPass services you (or your children) have enabled, goto System Settings -> Data Management -> StreetPass Management. You should see a matching number of StreetPass services to the StreetPass Service Length field in your packet capture. Decipher yours out and let me know which ones you have!

-Sam

Post script: I now understand why this thing eats batteries in ‘standby’. 🙂

Aruba wants you to stop buying the AP134-135. 3rd times the charm?

Earlier this month, Scott Calzia, Director, Product Marketing at Aruba posted an article deriding the announcement of an 802.11ac module from Cisco for their flagship Access Point – the 3602. I took umbrage at the article which lead to the following posts and replies between myself and Aruba Product Marketing Manager, Ozer at Aruba: My first postOzers replyMy next replyHis next reply, and now this post.

Before going any further, I certainly acknowledge that this threaded saga of post-reply-post-reply is a difficult one to follow and I believe that further discussion will likely take place on the No Strings Attached Show. There is a good deal of technical discussion and rabbit trailing in the threads between Oz and myself and I some of them are quite tangential but I’m trying to keep topics centered around the original post topics. I welcome further discussion about performance & feature sets that are outside of the original post and if you’d like to have something addressed in further detail, please leave me a comment in the section below! Having said that, it’s hard to thank someone of Ozers caliber for continuing to stay engaged without sounding trite or insincere. I (and many of my readers that prefer offline comments) genuinely appreciate the dialogue and open discussion. Keeping each other honest with an above board, fun and engaging conversation is exactly the point of this.

Onto the meat!

Alright I am back for round 2… I hope this does not last until round 15 :) I gotta tell you I love the “ding-ding” opening! I am glad that we can keep the discussion fun, engaging instead of using anger and personal attacks… Thanks again for accepting my reply, glad to have the discussion going. BTW, you type fast!

Your comment to Aruba blog…
I am assuming it is a side effect of web changes yesterday (new navigation and converging 3 blog pages into 1) but I will check shortly.

Sounds good! It looks like my original post is still ‘awaiting moderation’ but I look forward to having it approved – Mine get auto-approved, pending spam filtration so I’d be interested in hearing from Scott as well!

Regarding 2400…
small typo as you can guess: meant to refer to 2500 series controllers.

Well, that’s what I was thinking Scott meant in his first post. This means that the corrected statement would be (in reference to controllers that support the 3600):

So if you have older 2500, 4000, WiSM or WCS, it is that time to write your Cisco tax check again.

Sadly, this statement is also false since the 2500 WLC does indeed support the 3600. As a side note, the WCS release notes call out support for the 3600 as well. I’ve been asking for some time about clarification of code support for the controllers and how that meshes with the WCS/3600 support, but it does state it and I presume that since WCS supports code release 7.1, Cisco can claim 3600 support. Yes this is slightly ambiguous and not 100% clear but as the Aruba statement sits, it’s incorrect. Cisco isn’t perfect (there, I said it) but, at minimum, checking the release notes is a) easy to do since they don’t change locations and b) should be a requirement before declaring something is incompatible.

Alright back to tech…

Regarding 1250 series AP (since many commented on it)…
Almost a year after 1250 series, 1140 series was announced. I am not claiming that the AP actually physically failed (it obviously worked just fine after you managed to install it) – it was no longer the right AP to install for many, unless you are installing APs in a warehouse or similar challenging environments. Cisco’s promise of “modular AP is the way to go” was no longer. 1140 had better form factor, better price, did not need external antennas, better PoE efficiency. There was almost no reason to install 1250 series in a classroom or a carpeted office space after 1140 series was released. During that timeframe Aruba’s AP-124/125 series won many deals against Cisco 1250 series (support for PoE and better form-factor were big technical reasons) when we get the chance to sit at the table. Market demanded something better than 1250 series.

Well, I don’t think Cisco ever declared that ‘modular was the way to go (forever and ever)’. We all know that manufacturing efficiencies can be achieved with highly integrated component and if you’ll recall, the IEEE ratified the 802.11n spec during that first year – that’s the reason the 1142 came out in short order. The 1252 was a modular goto-market product that addressed a specific need and was very successful at it. Don’t get caught comparing Apples to Oranges here though, the 1252 and the 1142 are not positioned as competitors and the 1252 was still positioned as the de-facto 802.11n Access Point for external antenna support and extended operating ranges well after the 1142 was launched (as you rightly stated). The 1262 is the Access Point that ultimately replaced the 1252, not the 1142. If you needed an Access Point with flexible antenna options that operated in an environment up to 131F, the 1252 was your man. Admittedly, you may not have been at the table for deployments like that since Aruba doesn’t play well in extreme environments (over 122F for the Aruba 120/130), but I was and I continued to sell the 1252 in significant quantities well past the launch of the 1142. I didn’t realize that defending the 1252 was going to be such a popular topic! I suppose it’s easy to mis-construe the past to those that didn’t live it first-hand, but there you have it.

Of course, there is a trend with Cisco’s modular APs – great marketing for Cisco, brings in more dollars. I am just not convinced that it is the right thing for the customer. My humble opinion…

And you’re close to the point here. Yes, it’s good marketing, but it also fills a need (not just Ciscos coffers). It’s easy to beat up on the dog in front declaring missteps or some other ‘lack of vision’ as a defensive strategy, but the 801.11ac module fills a need that we’re seeing more and more in RFP responses and as a growing concern among enterprises. It’s investment protection and people want this today.

Let’s double click on Cisco’s investment protection….

Note that 1st gen 11ac AP does not go above 3 spatial streams (instead of up to 8 defined per 11ac standard) and does not support multi-user MIMO (which is really beneficial for the upcoming 11ac capable smartphones and tablets as you know). My guess is 2nd gen 11ac APs will have up to max of 5 spatial stream support… since putting 8 antennas in an AP may not be that great of an idea since folks want APs that can be carried by hand… alright let’s go through couple of investment scenarios.

Case#1: Case#2: Case#3: Case#4:

(Note: actual cases omitted for brevities sake, but are available in blog post comments here.) There are indeed numerous ways to slice and dice situations to the benefit (or not) of a particular manufacturer. The 802.11ac module is not intended to be the only 802.11ac Access Point Cisco will ever offer (obviously), nor is it intended to address 100% of each and every purchase requirements for every customer. It’s modularity is intended to bridge the gap to a new technology which is why it was developed in the first place. Will it fit every customer? No. Are there customers today that want to make sure they have a low-cost way to move to 3SS 802.11n and upgrade to 802.11ac in the future? Yes. Scott seems to miss this point in his blog post. Aruba does not have a public facing 802.11ac option so it’s only natural that they’re defensive.

Having said that, there is a portion of your Cases that I’d like to address (and maybe move to another blog post-conversation-thread). ‘Spectrum Analysis’: Noise awareness has been available and considered in RRM calculations for a long time now but Cisco made the decision to develop the best available spectrum analysis capabilities into their solution. ‘Spectrum Analyzers’ that are coarse noise-floor analysis are less accurate and in Arubas case, require additional licenses. Are the licenses expensive? Not in small quantities, but ask any Aruba customer and they’ll complain about feature set licenses. That’s two things that Cisco does better than anyone – no featurset licenses and the best available spectrum analysis. Can you compromise on those features in your enterprise? Perhaps – that’s for you to know. Can I compromise on those features in my enterprise? No. I need the best and when I go hunting for an X-box controller, finding out that it was a transient bluetooth device after 3 hours of looking is unacceptable. This is the reason that Cisco differentiates this feature in it’s Access Points. Implementing ‘Spectrum Analysis’ without a discreet analyzer is less accurate. Cisco won’t put their name on that for a reason. In her article, Joanie Wexler, Network World, claims, “Indeed, Aruba product manager Peter Lane acknowledged about a 5% throughput drop in cases “where you’re maxing out the throughput of the APs already.” Aerohive’s Matt Gast, director of product management, estimated the performance hit as closer to 30%; however, he recommends turning it on only when there’s a problem.

Ok I think I just got the cross-eye that Scott was talking about in his blog… without having to use the OptiGrab! So investment protection argument by Cisco applies to the last case listed above. My educated guess is we will see more of #1, #2, #3 than #4. Again that’s my opinion… agree to disagree.

I suspect we’re heading down the ‘agree to disagree’ path, but the fact remains, in the market today I have customers that have a vision. Their vision is to support tomorrows technology leveraging todays investments. The only manufacturer that has a solution is Cisco and Cisco is going to advertise the heck out of that since it’s a clear competitive differentiator. They’re going to take heat for it, they’re going to get beat up, they’re going to have it mis-represented to the needs of other manufacturers, but Cisco took a leap that no-one else did. Will Cisco sell modules? Yes. Will they be the only way to get 802.11ac? No. There will always be bigger and better on the horizon? Yes. Those that do proper lifecycle management of their infrastructure can leverage this product to future-proof their investment.

FCC link and conversation omitted because:

This is an interesting point and since I work for a Cisco partner under NDA, I can’t discuss this until products ship and are publicly announced. I hope you understand. 🙂

Aruba performance tests…
We do not have Android tablets to replace iPads – no reason to – we have 100+ iPads in the TME labs.

As may be the case, but there is a huge discrepancy in your ‘internal tests’:

You claim to be file transfers to iPads, but don’t list them in your ‘Clients used for testing’. (continued below)

No change in video resolution for Aruba WLAN compared to Cisco WLAN

Aruba uses Active Transcoding in their tests. Cisco does not. This has the net effect of reducing the resolution of the stream for every client and is a mis-representation of the Aruba test. Cisco tackled this head on using the full resolution streams and shined. Aruba changed the parameters and represented it as the same tests. (continued below)

– it is the same exact infrastructure, testbed. Again no reason to. Enabling and disabling RF scanning, IDS, spectrum/CleanAir does not make any difference for either vendors.

I’d love to tackle this first hand. In the interest of full-disclosure, I have an AP-135 and attempted to enable spectrum analysis, but was unable to since at the time it wasn’t supported in ‘Instant’ configuration. I look forward to seeing this development come to market unless of course you want to get me an Aruba 200 controller (and licenses) to play with. 🙂 If it doesn’t impact the performance of the tests, turn them on and prove it to us (continued below)!

Aruba TMEs ran those tests for weeks. We should talk about “maximizing airtime” in another opportunity – Aruba’s RF engineering focuses on this topic nowadays than ever. For instance, a test for you to consider running on Cisco WLAN… start with 5 smartphones on 11n 2.4GHz radio. Record TCP download throughput. Repeat with 10, 15, 20 smartphones. Then add TCP upload traffic into the mix and record total throughput. Results are interesting.

Would love to discuss this more, but as you pointed out, we should tackle that in a separate thread – this is getting long winded as it is! 🙂

Miercom = independent… really? Cisco TMEs run these tests in their labs, publish it on the website URL that you shared and it just happens that a separate set of engineers who work for Miercom happened to run the same set of tests – not less or more – and come up with exactly the same set of test results. Independently. Without being paid any consulting fees by Cisco. Really? :) I firmly believe that something like Network World Clear Choice test reports are independent – and I cannot see how Miercom follows the same model.

(this is the continuation you were looking for) The reason I suggest a Miercom report instead of publishing ‘internal Aruha test results’ is that Arubas tests seem fraught with inconsistencies and, in my book, this calls into question the validity of their test process and results. Put another way, how can we be sure your data is accurate if you’re testing iPads without listing them as clients and pulling shady transcoding  shenanigans, calling it the same as full-resolution media streams. Is that an extreme opinion? Perhaps, but independent reporting should clean up those rough edges and level the playing field.

NSA podcast show is a great idea! Let’s do it. I will email Blake.

ps. Happy to chat about ISRs and ISE more down the road!

Deal on both fronts! Looking forward to visiting Aruba during Wireless Tech Field Day 3!

-Sam

Post Script:

Several folks have either outright asked offline or insinuated a handful of statements about this thread which I’d like to address:

You’re just flanning the flames for readership to make money. I do not monitize my blog with ads. I do not make revenue from it in any way shape or form and pay for it out of my own pocket.

You’re being spoon-fed responses by Cisco. I am not. My blog is mine and mine alone. My thoughts are my own and (with the exception below) are not generated by anyone else. If I get data from other sources, I will do my best to list those sources clearly.

You work for a Cisco reseller and have ‘the inside scoop’ which sways your opinions. Well, yes. I do indeed work for one of the largest Cisco resellers in the US. This does give me insight and access to hardware that others may not have and since it does, I do consider myself ‘up on the solution’. My employer does not endorse or influence my blog with the exception of discussing NDA information. I am bound by my employer to not discuss NDA information outside of the scope of the agreement and I continue to abide by that.

Aruba wants you to stop buying the AP134-135. Round 2.

Aruba recently posted a rather snarky post about the technological shortsightedness and irrelevance of 802.11ac upgradability of todays wireless infrastructures. This original post (mirrored here) admittedly ruffled my feathers on several fronts so I wrote this response. If you haven’t read these, I encourage you to go do that now.

Aruba product marketing manager, Ozer (@ozwifi) replied to my reply. Before we get to the meat of this post, in the interest of full-disclosure, this post has no direct ties to the Wireless Tech Field day events hosted by Gestalt IT. I have been selected as a delegate for the upcoming Wireless Tech Field Day event that Aruba (among others) has sponsored in the past. As a Tech Field Day delegate I have been given access to hardware and solutions from the event sponsors to utilize as I see fit. At the time of this writing, Aruba is not currently listed as a sponsor of the WFD3 event, but we certainly welcome them and look forward to their involvement!

Ding Ding!

Hey Sam,

It is @ozwifi here. It is not uncommon that we get on each other’s nerves in the Wi-Fi industry and by the tone of your reply I am guessing that’s exactly what we did. But you gotta admit, there are no personal attacks in the blog entry since it is delivering an educated technical opinion.

Oz! Good to hear from you. I apologize for the rather public response to your post, but this seemed the fairest way to address this in its entirety. To the audience at large, I apologize for the broken up, threaded reply and will do my best to make it as cohesive as possible. You are indeed correct that it’s not uncommon to get on each others nerves and you are spot on that this one hit home for me. Perhaps I shouldn’t be so personally vested in industry vision, but I’m sure it’s one of many faults that I have. 🙂  You are correct that there are no personal attacks in the Aruba post and I hope that no one believes that my reply was somehow a personal attack on the Aruba team – infact the only team I mentioned explicitly was the executive team and I certainly don’t hope they *actually* jump off the top of the tallest building in San Jose. That would not be pretty or professional and was merely a ‘leaping’ analogy. Regarding the blog post being an ‘educated technical opinion’, I do take exception to this being an educated technical opinion. It doesn’t sound educated whatsoever and I think that Aruba’s shortsightedness regarding 802.11ac is rampant in the article. Also, I’m still interested in just what the heck a 2400 is…

Poking fun at Aruba’s #1 competitor in the WLAN space with a bit of humour. You have to meet with the author, Scott, during the next WFD – he is not that bad of a person as you might think. So there is really not much to be ashamed of since we are not proposing the kidnapping of new born puppies.

Indeed I look forward to meeting him in person and we look forward to Aruba participating in another lively discussion this year! Also for the record, I wholeheartedly disagree with kidnapping new born puppies.

Before we talk tech – please leave your comments on our website.

I did indeed leave exactly my reply on the Aruba website and as of now, the post has not been approved and is not present in your comments section. To contrast, your post to my replies section was almost immediately approved. I welcome the conversation and look forward to Aruba being more transparent about their comments in the future.

First we do not have many people leaving comments, so we can use some. Second we are not that evil – look at our YouTube channel… anyone can say whatever they want. Unless it is personal attacks of course, cause that’s just not cool.

Alright, let’s talk tech.

Here is where Aruba stands:
1. We believe that dedicated AP hardware is going to provide the best coverage & capacity. Best antenna choices, speeds & feeds optimized for 11ac. If it was such a great thing to install modules on an AP in terms of either of these two, many WLAN vendors including us would have jumped on the bandwagon.

There will always be advances in technology and I believe that most any new solution will ultimately outperform legacy solutions. We see this time and again in the industry and this is a byproduct of Moore’s law. The 802.11ac module is about investment protection. The message from Aruba is clear: either a) don’t buy a 3SS  AP today and wait till the 802.11ac AP comes out in the future or b) buy two Access Points (3SS today and 802.11ac tomorrow). Cisco has an option that addresses this concern head on. Aruba does not.

2. Since we are a WLAN company, you will not be too far off in assuming that we will an 11ac AP available down the road. That’s a given. I cannot tell you when, what, how since the info is still very much confidential and shared under NDA.

Of course! This adherence to an NDA is critical in our industry and competitive speculation beyond NDA is what Aruba is good at. This is FUD until you can empirically prove otherwise (more on this later).

3. We are obviously not going to stop promoting AP-130 series product line. We educate our customers regarding the benefits of first gen 11ac and second gen 11ac all day everyday. We do not hide information or try to corner them into buying 130 series. That will be very wrong. Upgrading to dedicated 11ac AP from Aruba 11n will require same process that folks are used to performing during the last 10 years – climb the ladder, plug out AP, plug in AP. As opposed to Cisco, we are not proposing a change in this process. There are no hidden costs here.

I have every expectation that Cisco will not only have a dedicated 1-st gen 802.11ac Access Point in the future, but will also have a 2nd gen and whatever comes after that. The market is always evolving. Cisco’s message today is that the price of two Access Points from Aruba is more than the 3600 + a 1st gen 802.11ac module. Again, investment protection. The costs that Cisco is addressing with this module are not hidden. They are outright and Cisco is head-on tackling this proactively. Aruba is behind the 8-ball and does not offer investment protection. If I were an Aruba customer, I’d not buy new Access Points today because there is no low-cost upgrade path to 802.11ac in the future. Either that or write your check out to ‘Aruba Catalog of Compromise’. ‘Aruba Catalog of Shortsightedness’? ‘Aruba Catalog of Technical Irrelevance’? ‘Aruba Catalog of FUD’? I don’t know – pick one, they all work for me.

Here are my comments on your responses for what they are worth. I am guessing that we will agree to disagree at the end of it… although I hope I can provide more color commentary and that you will find them useful. Again, I am trying to talk tech here not disagreeing with the fact that 3600 11ac module is good marketing.

Oz, I 100% agree with everything you said here and am speechless that we’re so in sync! 🙂

1250 series: Folks invested in the platform found out later that there was no need for this modular AP since moving from draft 2.0 of the standard to the ratified version did not require an hardware upgrade.

We see this time and again with the Cisco product lineup. The radio modularity in the 1220s was upgrade investment protection for 802.11G. The radio modularity in the 1252s was upgrade investment protection for 802.11n. The radio modularity in the 3600 is upgrade investment protection for 802.11ac. There is a trend here.

Cisco’s predictions were wrong.

No, infact Cisco’s predictions were right! They took a ‘best guess’ at the hardware that it would take to support the finally ratified specification and there was never a module released because it was never needed. No hardware changes required was a win-win for Cisco customers.

It was a 5-pound AP

Auxiliary boat anchor, yes. It was heavy. Don’t beat up on it because it was big-boned. It needed that modularity. It’s mommy told it so.

with no dual-radio support 802.3af (if you rememeber, Cisco was claiming at the time that 11n APs will not be able to support 802.3af).

Unfortunately, you’re wrong here. The 1252 does indeed support 802.11n on both radios utilizing 802.3af. Quit spreading flat out lies.

I believe that 1250 series was mostly about marketing, capturing attention and not so much about delivering best of breed Wi-Fi technology. Given that the product line lived only about a year, on this side of the fence we think that our predictions about those first generation of 11n APs were the right ones.

1 year, huh? I show final date of support for the 1252 as early 2017. My memory isn’t all that clear on the 1252 launch date, but it was first supported in WLC code 4.2.61.0 which has a release date of March 21, 2011. My math is a bit fuzzy on this one, but 2011 to 2017 seems a much larger window than 1 year.

Difficult to deploy: Here is the Cisco process… Install 3600 today. Wait 8 months. Buy 11ac modules. Climb up the ladder. Unscrew the mounting bracket. Take the AP down. Install module. Climb up the ladder. Screw back the mounting bracket.

The vast majority of the installations I see are ‘snap in’ mount. I don’t recall how the Aruba 130 mount bracket works, but palming the butt of an AP to snap it out of place and snapping a module in seems pretty straightforward to me.

Cisco *will* come up with their dedicated 11ac AP hardware that’s based on Marvell chipset, as opposed Broadcom running inside the 11ac module for the 3600.

I do not have technical documentation about the chipset in the 802.11ac module from Cisco. This would be the first time Cisco has used Broadcom in an infrastructure device and would certainly be a departure from their M.O. Having said that, if you have NDA insight into the hardware diagram and working structure of the AP, I believe this would be covered by NDA and subject to change. Either way, you’re speculating or sharing data that is NDA and is subject to change. We’ll have to agree to disagree until the module comes out and we can take it apart and do performance testing with it.

With that upgrade, that’s three trips to the ceiling. And when the 2nd gen 11ac AP comes out, you do it again. That’s four. We cannot call this simple as opposed to difficult.

I still have 1252s in place today. They service a need for many of my customers that simply need to support 802.11n. I foresee that the 802.11ac module will support 1st gen 802.11ac needs for a long time. Aruba has no products today that can be purchased and upgraded later. Again, upgrade investment protection.

CPU speeds: Here is the thought process. Aruba AP-135 beats Cisco 3600 in peak performance. Whether it is pure 3×3:3 MIMO laptops, UDP or TCP traffic flows, or a mix of smartphones, tablets, laptops… that’s what we see using Cisco release 7.2 and Aruba release 6.1.3.2. Aruba product managers prefer not to use AP-135 CPU and memory subsystems for an 11ac AP per our interviews in order to be able to deliver the best peak 11ac performance. This tells me that Cisco product managers have to think the same way since AP-135 outperforms Cisco 3600. Using your argument, although looking at it from a different angle, how can we be sure that Cisco 3600 plus an 11ac module will deliver greater performance than a dedicated 11ac AP hardware?

We can’t until it’s out and available. Regarding your other performance claims, I welcome those head-on and would encourage readers to visit ciscobeatsarubayetagain.com. Aruba has addressed these performance tests inconclusively (performing iPad throughput tests with Android devices, transcoding their video down to lower bit rates, and disabling recommended enterprise feature sets such as spectrum analysis and IDS). When will we see Aruba engage a 3rd party like Miercom to do independently validated performance tests instead of continuing to poke and prod at Cisco? Let’s back your claims up independently. As an aside, I welcome the performance claims of existing hardware but it’s off-topic for this thread.

Inconsistent RF and feature set: 3600 will run two separate Wi-Fi chipsets from two different vendors: Broadcom and Marvell. Why on earth would I want to do this if I want uniform features and functionality across my 2.4GHz and 5GHz radios? No AP that was built for enterprise WLANs ever had this design. I am sure there was a good reason behind it.

Adressed above.

Upgrades: Cisco 3600 requires 7.2 release, which requires latest generation of Cisco controllers and NCS management instead of WCS management. We are just making it more apparent for those who care, although Cisco release notes clearly state these facts as well. The tradition of having to upgrade something in your network whenever there is a new WLAN product or solution from Cisco is really what gets on our nerves. For instance ISE… BYOD solution that requires me to upgrade from ISR to ISR G2… why would I want to touch my branch router if there is an employee owned iPad connecting to my network? Some of this stuff just does not make sense to us and we have just watched this episode way too many times … hence it is a reflex motion… we do not miss an opportunity to remind folks of what they need to be careful about.

I’d like to hear more about your ISR concerns. I’m not sure where the mindset of routers being upgraded to support your iPad comes from. The iPad is not a wired device. Are you referring to the AP801/802 module? Both of those are integrated into the ISR and fully supported in 7.2 code. If you have a switch that supports ISE, there is no need to replace the router between the switch and the Access Point. Although, I always liked the idea of cabling my iPad to my ISR router…

Alright my apologies for the long comment post, tried to do my best to keep it short. I hope you can give me a chance to respond by accepting my comments.

Your comments are always welcome (despite being shunned on the Aruba post comments) and I apologize again for the threaded response. If you’ve read this far, I formally invite Oz (and Scott for that matter) to come onto the No Strings Attached Show and discuss Arubas stance on 802.11ac. I look forward with taking more about this in a forum more conducive to back and forth dialogue.

See you at WFD3.

 I as well as the entire WFD3 delegate team most certainly look forward to Arubas participation. I recall last year being lively and look forward to it!

-Sam

Aruba wants you to stop buying the AP-134 and AP-135. Offers no alternative.

Every once and a while, I stumble across articles that make no sense, are poorly worded or constructed, or flat out wrong. Last week, I ran across one such article that was so out of left field that I felt compelled to address it directly here in my own words. The article is over on the Aruba Networks official blog site (presuming it’s still up). Take a moment, head on over and give it a read (article preserved here for posterity). I was so flabbergasted by the article and its combination of FUD and flat out incorrect information that I used the ‘leave a comment’ link on the bottom. Once I did that, it dawned on me that my comments would likely never get posted – I then realized that I have my own forum to respond to this in, so the next portion of this blog post is the comments I left (with a few typographical and edits to make it flow):

Begin reply post

Wow – there is so much FUD in this article, it’s laughable.

Regarding the 1252 comment:

Remember the Cisco 1250 access point? This pre-standard AP offered future-proofing with an upgradable 802.11n radio meeting the ratified standard. It didn’t work out as it was costly and difficult to upgrade, and didn’t meet the promised performance benefits. 

This is flat out untrue. It ‘didn’t work out’ because it didn’t *need* to work out. The 802.11n pre standard was rolled into the final 802.11n spec. This (upgradability) was only there to ensure users that, in the event the specification was not implementable in the 1252 hardware, that they had an option to field upgrade the units. The performance was on par with other first generation 802.11n products and the 1252 was the wifi alliance test bed for compatibility – it was basically *the* reference 802.11n platform for a very long time.

Difficult to deploy: The 3600 11ac module must plug into the base of the access point, exactly where the mounting brackets are located. This means users will need to remove a deployed AP from operation. This is not a simple plug-in but more akin to opening your laptop for a RAM upgrade. 

Have you actually *seen* the 802.11ac module or a 3600? There is a piece of tape on the back of the AP and two thumb screws. This is more like replacing the battery in your laptop instead of opening it up for a RAM upgrade. This upgrade also will not compromise the thermal venting that is required in lesser manufactures Access Points since the main unit remains sealed.

Lack of promised performance: The IEEE 802.11ac standard promises increased performance over 11n technologies, but the 3600 11ac module’s throughput is dependent on its two-year old processor and RAM, which only scales to 11n rates. This means that although you will be able to connect with newer 11ac clients, there will be questionable increase in performance by doing so. Why spend money for increased performance when you won’t notice it? 

Really? You’ve done performance testing to empirically validate your claims? No? I didn’t think so. Cisco knew well in advance that 802.11ac was coming and the CPU and memory in the 3600 is significantly greater than in the 3500 – specifically for this reason. Until you can show us numbers to back up your vapor-stats you have no evidence that the CPU/memory subsystems of the AP will hinder its performance.

Constrained RF: The 3600 11ac module has its own antennas, and since Wi-Fi rates depend a great deal on antenna design, shoe-horning antennas into the small space of the module will yield less than optimal performance to clients. The result will be your 11ac clients will connect to stronger RF signals from 11n radios. 

Have you discussed the RF design characteristics of this module? Do you know how it will integrate with, instead of replace or work against, the (integrated) 802.11n radio? You assume this will be a discreet radio operating independently of the 802.11n radio. Don’t assume – know. Once you can declare the design is somehow faulty and back it up with block diagrams from Cisco on how the module will (or won’t) interoperate with the host AP, you’re basically guessing and spreading FUD.

Inconsistent feature set: The 3600 11ac module will use a new, untried chipset that may be incompatible with existing Cisco WLAN controller code. So if you add the 11ac module, you have the same hardware, but different features. That will lead to a management challenges and increased operational expense. 

The mindset of ‘don’t move because it’s a new chipset’ or ‘it may require new code’ is a completely invalid conversation. When Aruba releases its 802.11ac AP don’t you expect it to be a) a new chipset or b) to require new code? This is going to happen for every infrastructure manufacturer – Aruba included.

More upgrades coming: The 3600 AP itself requires you have the latest 5500 series or WiSM2 controllers as well as NCS management. So if you have older 2400, 4000, WiSM or WCS, it is that time to write your Cisco tax check again. Make it out to, “Cisco Catalog of Compromise”. And consider this- the 3600 11ac module is pre- standard and will not meet promised performance increases, so you will likely be replacing those 3600 APs at some point in the near future. 

You position the requirements for the 3600 as having a very narrow list of supported controllers (which is misleading) – it is also supported on the 7500 controller, the 2504 controller and the SRE controller. Are you telling me that every modern Aruba AP is supported on every past Aruba controller? At some point you have to lifecycle manage your gear – even Aruba. I don’t even know what a 2400 is.

All told, the expectation of having a Cisco 3600 AP + module will a) give you better performance today with 3 spatial streams and the cost of the module plus the 3600 will be far less expensive than purchasing an Aruba 3 SS AP today and replacing it with an Aruba 802.11ac AP tomorrow. There is no upgrade assurance with the Aruba. The message is loud and clear – if you’re an Aruba customer, do *not* purchase the AP-135. You will end up needing to forklift it out when you move to 802.11ac next year. Buy a Cisco 3600 + 802.11ac module and you’ll have spent far less money than buying two Aruba Access Points (1 now, 1 later).

-Sam

End reply post

Now, I realize it’s laughable to infer that Aruba is advocating you not purchasing their flagship Access Points and it’s a leap assume that since Aruba has no upgrade investment protection that this means that you should stick with your old Aruba equipment, but this leap is a small step – more akin to jumping off of the bottom step of your stairs to the ground floor. The leaps that Aruba makes regarding 802.11ac and the module from Cisco are more akin to Arubas entire executive team finding the tallest building in San Jose and jumping off it all the while waving their fists in the general direction of Tasman Drive. Shame on Aruba for not fact checking their article. Shame on Aruba for spreading FUD. Shame on Aruba for picking a fight with baseless facts and accusations – declaring facts about a product that they’ve not even laid hands on.

-Sam

Filtrete WiFi Thermostat

Much to my wifes chagrin, I recently purchased yet another thermostat for the home. Our house came with a pretty standard analog style thermostat originally, and after wanting something a tad more ‘tech friendly’, I previously opted for a Home Depot purchased Honeywell touch screen unit. This worked well, but when I discovered the WiFi enabled thermostat from 3M Filtrete, I had to replace it. This was my second foray into thermostat work for the home so I was feeling pretty confident overall in my ability to replace my home unit for the second time.

Please note that I am not an electrician and if you do electrical work incorrectly or disregard any packaging warnings or instructions, you can seriously damage your home HVAC equipment, generally cause electrical home mayhem including tripping circuit breakers and blowing fuses, or cause bodily harm – including death. Do not attempt this unless you’re a savvy electrical type of person and always follow the included safety advice of the product. I recommend you starting this project early in day. In the event you screw something up, you want a window of time during the day that an electrician can help you out!

Now that’s out of the way, you could understand my interest in tying my thermostat into my home wireless network. 1) it’s cool (no pun intended) and 2) think of the possibilities! As it turns out, 3M Filtrete have a relationship with the folks over at RADIO THERMOSTAT to provide the cloud based services to control your home climate from any Internet enabled device – including your phone! After a quick check of the wireless device capabilities and a confirmation that it does indeed support WPA2/AES encryption (albeit PSK only), it was a quick trip to the local Home Depot to pick one up! Those of you out of range of a local Home Depot can conveniently have one shipped to you if you’re interested. The packaging was a pretty traditional ‘hard to open’ plastic clamshell that required some cutting and cajoling to get open:

After some separation of the various bits and pieces, I got a good look at the back of the thermostat which is where the radio module gets installed. This is a ‘standard’ thermostat that has two UNSAP (Utility Smart Network Access Port) radio module slots on the back of it and the WiFi module is actually a separate modular piece:

After digging into the installation directions, there were a few things of significant note: 1) There are a variety of HVAC types of systems and 2) There is no formal standard for wiring them. This means you have to be very diligent about observing the existing cabling from your current thermostat. You should turn off the breaker to your existing HVAC at this point since you’ll be plugging and unplugging live wires. After confirmation that the power to your HVAC is off, you will have to open up your existing thermostat and observe the markings on it to determine and label the wires correctly:

Use the included labels to match up the colors marked on your old thermostat. This is arguably the most intensive part of the whole project. You don’t want to get these wrong and I suggest you take pictures along the way as a reference point in case you have to call an electrician to help you out. Once you’ve labeled all of your existing cables, you can physically remove your old thermostat and begin attaching the new one. This is a matter of lining up your previously labeled cables with the connectors across the top of the unit:

It’s also worth noting that the power to the thermostat must be provided via the ‘C wire’ to power the WiFi radio. If you do not have a C wire, you will need to run a dedicated power source for the thermostat. At this point in the install, if you’re confident that you’ve got it all hooked up correctly, go ahead and install the radio module into the back of the unit. The power to the unit needs to be off to install the module so do it now, or wait until you flip the breakers and install batteries to test it, then turn it back off later to install the module. Wrap the cables across the top channel of the module and affix it to the wall using the included mounting hardware:

Once you remove the protective cover, install the batteries in the bottom of the unit and switch the power back on! You’ll have to run through a small setup to bring the thermostat online and before you move on with configuring the RF module, make sure your unit turns on your heater and AC by following the directions in the installation manual. Once you’ve confirmed it works, install the snap-in covers to hide the wires and batteries and move ahead to the fun part – the wireless setup!

The easiest way to describe the wireless setup is that the radio comes preconfigured with it’s own SSID to attach to, it’s own DHCP server, and a PIN based authentication that is displayed on your thermostat screen. Goto the Radio Thermostat site and create yourself a user account. If you have an iPhone, download the free app from the App Store. The app prompts you to log using your Radio Thermostat credentials, then prompts you to join the SSID hosted by the thermostat (wow, there’s something I never thought I’d type!). You then switch back to the Application, configure the unit to connect to your home wireless (SSID and encryption keys), then enter the PIN displayed on the thermostat to complete the setup.

Once your thermostat is online it does all of the cool things you’d expect it to – it auto updates it’s firmware, sets the time based on NTP and your timezone and then allows you to log into the Radio Thermostat page to create your heating and cooling schedules as well as perform instant changes such as setting away from home, turning on cool/heat, turning on or off the fan, etc.

In all, the installation was fairly painless and intriguing overall. Those of you interested in the wireless capabilities of the unit, it is a 2.4GHz radio that supports 802.11b/g data rates, open SSIDs, WEP, or WPA2 security. Here is what my unit looks like from a Cisco AP:

Those of you wondering, no, the unit does not support CCX. 🙂 I’d strongly advocate anyone that’s not afraid of minor electrical work, and appreciates a good overall WiFi enabled, cloud application give this a try. The effort was very doable and those of you that are afraid of cloud controlled HVAC deployments rest well knowing that the radio module is removable. The thermostat functions as a ‘regular old thermostat’ without it and you can remove it at any time.

Cisco WLC 7.2 FUS code release

Cisco recently released version 7.2 of their Wireless LAN Controller code. Along with this update came something new for several administrators in the form of an ‘FUS’ update. This update is available for the 5500 , WiSM 2, and the Flex 7500 platforms and contains a variety of firmware specific updates for each platform including:

  • For the 5500 and WiSM2
  • Field Recovery image update
  • Bootloader updates to 1.0.16
  • Offline Field Diagnostics to version 0.9.28
  • USB Console to 2.2
  • MCU image update too 1.8 (5500 only)
  • FPGA update to 1.7 (5500 only)

For the Flex 7500 controllers, there is a RAID firmware update. There is no FUS update for the 2500 controller or any of the legacy platforms (they’re not supported in release 7.2 in general anyway). Buried in the release notes are a variety of nuggets, but it is imperative that this update be installed by itself with a reboot between it and the main 7.2 code release. The order is not important, just the fact that there is a reboot in-between. Additionally, in order for the FUS image to actually update the various components, you need to have a serial attachment to the WLC during the reboot and you must interact with the image upgrades in order for them to execute. This means that if you’re used to doing the ER updates that you just ‘apply and forget’, this is going to be a deviation from that process. To add to this, each update requires you to answer ‘yes’ in order happen but they’re not quick. You will end up burning somewhere south of about a half an hour to pull off a complete upgrade and if you happen to miss one, you’ll have to reupload the image and step through it again. Cisco is nice enough to tell us during the update approximately how long each will take and these numbers are fairly close to what I’ve experienced in the field. The tally on a 5500 is:

Upgrade Bootloader from 1.0.1 to 1.0.16

  • Erasing Flash (estimated 6 seconds)
  • Writing to Flash (estimated 41 seconds)
  • Checking Boot loader integrity (estimated 2 seconds)
  • Total: 49 seconds

Upgrading FPGA from rev 1.3 to rev 1.7

  • Upgrade takes about 75 seconds to complete

Upgrading Env from rev 1.6 to rev 1.8

  • Upgrade takes about 4 seconds to complete

Upgrading USB from rev 1.27 to rev 2.2

  • Upgrade takes about 11 seconds to complete

Upgrade OFD from version WLCNG OFD 0.8.1 to WLCNG OFD 0.9.28

  • Erasing Flash (estimated 24 seconds)
  • Writing to flash (estimated 111 seconds)
  • Total: 135 seconds

Upgrade Field Recovery Image from version 6.0.182.0 to 7.0.112.21

  • Erasing Flash (estimated 49 seconds)
  • Writing to flash (estimated 716 seconds)
  • Total: 765 seconds

Yes, you read that correctly – the Field Recovery Image takes a whopping 13 minutes to execute! Of interest to those of you that use the USB serial console built into the WLC is the fact that the USB update will flat out break your session. Once you kick off that particular update, you should suspend you session and wait for it to complete. The kicker of course is that you won’t know since you don’t have a console session. The lesson here is that while it is possible to perform these updates using the USB console, you’ll not regret preferring the good old fashioned RJ-45 console cable method.

If you happen to miss an update and have to reapply the image, you’ll notice that the FUS image will proactively check to see if the updates have been applied already:

====================

Checking for Bootloader upgrade

Bootloader upgrade …

Bootloader 1.0.16 is up to date.

====================

Checking for FPGA upgrade

FPGA upgrade …

FPGA image is up to date

It will perform this check for all components, but when it gets to the Field Recovery Image, it will actually ask you if you want to re-apply it:

Field Recovery Image upgrade …

        Field recovery image Current version 7.0.112.21 is up-to-date.

        Answer “y” below will force upgrade to run again.

        Are you sure you want to proceed (y/N) ? n

Again, note that if you re-apply this particular update, you’re in for a thrilling 13 minutes of ‘edge of your seat’ thrills while it completes. There is no way to cancel it and as you’re warned numerous times throughout the FUS process in bad english:

      * Lost POWER will completely kill this unit and not recoverable. *

      * There may be multiple reboot. Please let the program run.      *

Once you’ve completed your updates, and you’re observing the production image boot, it will verbosely tell you what the version of all of these components are so you can tell that they’ve been successfully applied or not:

Cisco AireOS Version 7.2.103.0

Firmware Version FPGA 1.7, Env 1.6, USB console 2.2

Initializing OS Services: ok

Applying these updates is important and does resolve a variety of issues so it is recommended to go through whatever outage window you’re going to require to apply them or you may want to consider pulling a spare (+1) controller out of service, upgrading it and moving all of your Access Points over to free up your primary for upgrade. Either way, you should do this – just make sure the updates actually apply!

Wireless Tech Field 2 – Recap and first looks

This past week, I attended the Gestalt IT Wireless Tech Field 2 event hosted by several leaders of the wireless industry in San Jose, CA. The Tech Field day events are an opportunity for vendors and manufacturers to get in front of a highly focused group of delegates to tell their own story, on their own playing field. The Wireless specific event is the brainchild of Steven Foskett and Jennifer Huber and I consider myself privileged to have been able to participate in this very prestigious event – now for the second time! This event was sponsored by industry leaders in the wireless space – Aerohive, Meraki, MetaGeek, Ekahau, Aruba, HP, and Ruckus (in order of visit). The delegates for the event were given the opportunity to meet with these companies, in many instances at their home offices, to share first hand their stories and visions for what they feel is the market drivers in the wireless space as well as their respective visions for what the future of wireless is going to bring. This post will be the first of several as I dive into each of our sessions with many of the vendors and share my take on the vendors, their products, and how I perceive them to fit ‘in the industry’.

This Wireless Tech Field day was preceded by the first wireless symposium where members of the industry and media were invited to participate in an open discussion on the future of wireless with a focus in particular on upcoming technologies 802.11ac/ad (gigabit WiFi), 802.11u (Hotspot 2.0), and Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) technologies. Devin Akin (Aerohive), Carlos Gomez (Aruba), Paul Congdon (HP Labs), and GT Hill (Ruckus) treated us to their vision of how these topics will shape and form the foreseeable future in the wireless industry. I’ll also be exploring these various topics in upcoming blog posts, so consider that a teaser! 🙂

Each of the sponsors of the WFD event each brought something special or different to the table. I think one of the most important things I learned during the event is that, when given the opportunity, each manufacturer tells a compelling story when given the opportunity to. I consider myself a fairly impartial technologist so it was refreshing to be able to receive these messages in their native, or ‘best case’ format highlighting the various strengths that each company has to offer:

Aerohive continues on their self-proclaimed mission to rid the world of controllers. Aerohive is rolling along with their ‘protocols are free’ mantra to bring solutions rapidly to market in a low-cost, easy to deploy fashion. Their cooperative control architecture enables many of the features of a centralized controller based solution and they are extending this into the routing world with the introduction of the BR-100 branch edge router. This device is managed ‘by the cloud’ – by either using the Hive Manager Online solution that is hosted by Aerohive or hosting your own ‘private cloud’ instance of the rapidly evolving NMS.

Meraki, to be perfectly frank, was perceived by many of the delegates as the ‘underdog’ of the event and many of us had some pretty negative preconceptions of who they were and what they do. I think it’s safe to say that Meraki portrayed a strong showing overall and rapidly showed the room at large that they’re clearly more than a niche player in the wireless space. They showed off their NMS platform and gave us some ‘under the hood’ insights into their operations overall. The way Meraki is able to manage and aggregate data from the vast (that word seems woefully insufficient) deployment of edge Access Points was staggering.

MetaGeek once again showed off to the TFD delegates. Last year at the first TFD event, they stole the show by showing off their low cost – feature rich PC based spectrum analyzer product. This year, demonstrating the agility that is impossible in a larger organization, they showed off their extension of ‘wireless visualization’ products – Eye P.A. This play on a TLA stems from their ‘eyeball’ view of Packet Analysis. As an organization that is clearly focused on getting information to a place that its easy to understand, they presented (showed off?) a pre-release version of this product. It’s safe to say that all of the delegates were blown away by the unique and innovative show of application development. MetaGeek has sprung up from seemingly nowhere to make a name for themselves in a technology that is exciting and that knows no growth boundaries.

Ekahau came to the table with their site survey product ESS (Ekahau Site Survey), the mobile version of their vision for tablet-based site surveys, and their tags. As an avid user of competing site survey products, I can clearly see that I’ll be rethinking my overall approach to performing the most important part of a wireless deployment – the site survey. I look forward to some hands on time with their android tablet compatible piece of this software. This is clearly a place that the major competitors are deficient in and Ekahau stands to be the first to market with an exciting product. Almost running out of time at the event, we got a very quick overview of their RTLS tag for wifi based deployments. As a side note to the Ekahau team directly, you have enough exciting things to talk about that maybe next time two sessions would be appropriate. 🙂

Aruba brought out the big guns during their sessions showing off their Aruba Instant product – essentially a wireless controller running on an AP. Those of you familiar with the now all-but-defunct WDS can consider this WDS in a fully automated, steroid enhanced feature set enabling rapid deployments of premise-based and managed lightweight deployments. After a good discussion regarding Spectrum Analysis, we dove off into the BYOD deep end with a realtime display of managing guest devices including a strong iOS MDM application utilizing products from their recent Amigopod acquisition.

HP gave the delegates a good overview of their 3×3:3 wireless Access Points including their newly launched outdoor product the MSM-466R. They also showed off their newest member of their controller line the MSM720 including some fervently discussed licensing features such as a discreet ‘advanced feature set’ as well as the ability to pool AP licenses across controllers.

Ruckus closed out the event with us by bringing a deep dive discussion regarding their approach to RF management. Ruckus gets top marks for their no holds barred approach to interacting with the delegates. Future sponsors of the event can take a page from their book – using a combination of geek + relevance to the table. Hands down, Ruckus had the room enthralled by the discussions and philosophies surround their approach to the market – no small feat for the last sponsor of the event.

Needless to say, the WFD event was exciting, exhausting, fun, and educational for everyone involved. As a delegate, I received a variety of products and marketing swag from the vendors with the understanding that I’m under no obligation to do anything with it that I don’t want to. The opinions that I intend to express from evaluating and trying out these products are my own and I’m also under no obligation to be positive or sway my opinion based on any gifts, equipment, or swag I have received. I look forward to digging deeper into these manufacturers and sharing what I feel and offering my honest, direct opinions on them. I hope you’ll stay tuned for future posts where I discuss the event, sponsors and products!

Come visit me at No Strings Attached Show

Along with several other WLAN professionals, come visit a new community where you’ll see much more information than I can possibly post here by myself! Fear not – I’ll still share here and occasionally cross-post, but you should take a few moments and go here. Now. 🙂

-Sam

Thinking of upgrading to Cisco NCS?

Cisco recently released Cisco Prime Network Control System (NCS), an update to their Wireless Control System (WCS) NMS. This update brings with it Ciscos first attempt at integrating wireless with wired management as well as network client visibility with ISE. You’re going to want to carefully consider upgrading – since many of the new features may not be applicable to all users. Among the most highlighted features are pseudo-switch management, unified client tracking with ISE/MSE, streamlined UI, and dynamic RF heatmaps (using AP to AP RSSI values). Aside from these, NCS is basically a glorified UI laid onto of WCS. Those of you familiar with the current pain of WCS profiles, templates, and the lovely flash/java map editor will be relieved to know that all of this still exists as it is in WCS 7. Aside from the glossy front end, if you’re not using Cisco switches, ISE/MSE, or some of the refreshed reports, you’re basically getting the benefit of dynamic RF heatmaps. If you’re considering migrating from an existing WCS installation to a shiny new NCS installation, there are a few potential pitfalls that you should be aware of.

Virtualization: If you’re like many WCS users, you’re probably running WCS in a virtual 2003 or RedHat Linux server. NCS comes as an all-in-one package .OVF to load into your VMWare infrastructure. Those of you familiar with Virtual Appliances will know that this particular distribution method is intended to make distribution of Virtual Appliances easier – including all of the settings you’re going to need to setup the VM. This includes CPU allocation, RAM allocation and Hard Drive space. This is a deviation from the way you may be used to. Instead of asking your Data Center team (if you have one) to carve out a 2k3 or RedHat server, and give you remote access into it for you to complete the WCS install, you now have to give them the OVF file and ask them to run through the initial setup. To make things interesting, there are three different OVFs to choose from: small, medium and large.

Small: 2 CPUs at 2.93GHz or better, 8G of RAM, 200G Hard Disk

  • 3000 Lightweight Access Points
  • 1000 Standalone Access Points
  • 1000 Switches
  • 240 Wireless LAN Controllers

Medium: 4 CPUs at 2.93GHz or better, 12G of RAM, 300G Hard Disk

  • 7500 Lightweight Access Points
  • 2500 Standalone Access Points
  • 2500 Switches
  • 600 Wireless LAN Controllers

Large: 8 CPUs at 2.93GHz or better, 16G of RAM, 400G Hard Disk

  • 15000 Lightweight Access Points
  • 5000 Standalone Access Points
  • 5000 Switches
  • 1200 Wireless LAN Controllers

The most significant challenge you’re going to have here is that you have to select the correct sizing prior to doing your installation since there is no way to migrate from one size to another post-installation aside from backing up and reinstalling your databases.

Licensing: If you’re an upgrade customer, there is a fee you’re going to have to pay for the ability to upgrade to NCS. Once you’ve gotten upgrade fee taken care of, you migrate your existing WCS licenses to NCS. The rub here is that NCS licensing is based on the UDI of the VM as opposed to the hostname of the VM as it was in WCS. This is an install-time generated value and will be different for every VM instance. This means that if you size your VM incorrectly (as described above) and you re-install it, you’ll have to do the licensing dance to get your install up and running again. There will be a limit to the number of times you can re-issue a license so this only stresses the importance of getting your sizing done correctly upfront.

Clients: NCS does not support Internet Explorer without the addition of another plug in. We’ve been utilizing IE for managing WCS along with the Flash plug-in for years now so the addition of the Google Chrome plugin to get IE to work correctly may seem like minimally troublesome, there are numerous corporate, educational, and government users with some pretty restrictive software requirements on their PCs. If you do not have access to a PC with either the supported Firefox or IE/Chrome plugin combo, you will not be able to utilize NCS.

Switch management config: In order to ‘manage’ your switches, you’ll need to have SNMP credentials defined on all of your existing gear before you add them. Shouldn’t be a huge problem if you’ve been diligent about your deployments or if you’ve been using another NMS to do your configurations. As of now, the switch management is visibility only to the hardware and clients if you’re using an MSE. If you’re using an MSE to track wired clients, you’ll also need to enable NMSP on your switches then sync them to your MSE. While this may seem like minimal effort, this does require a fairly current version of IOS and the command:
nmsp enable
if you’re adding this along with all of your relevant Civic information data bits, this could be significant effort especially if you have a significant number of switches.

Evaluation licenses: Be very cautious about using evaluation licenses to get your NCS install up and running. When you first log into NCS, if you don’t have a valid NCS license, you cannot do anything prior to adding a valid licenses. If, during your evaluation of NCS, you have another infrastructure component running an evaluation or time expiring license, you must be cautious of your NCS license expiring at the same time as your other evaluation licenses. This will throw you into an endless loop of NCS redirecting you to the NCS license page then redirecting you back to your feature license expiring.

In all, NCS is a welcome refresh to the WCS product line, and a reasonable first stab at unifying the UI across several product lines (hence the Prime name) so go grab yourself an evaluation license from here and see it for yourself!

Resurrecting a bricked NM-AIR-WLC6

Cisco recently posted this addendum to their Software Downloads section for the Cisco Wireless LAN Controller Module:

Warning: the Wireless LAN Controller Network Module (NM-AIR-WLC6-K9) is not supported in any software release after 4.2.209.0. Attempting to install 5.0 or later software can permanently damage the module.

This is a pretty recent addition and appears to have been an oversight the past year or so while they’ve been happily releasing version after version of NMWLC code without this disclaimer. If you’re like me, you’ve been keeping up on your latest and greatest software releases and you may find yourself in some murky waters if you happen to have this module. Where I landed was a module that would boot fine, but would not establish any network connectivity (management, AP join, etc). You should note that this article in it’s entirety does not apply to the NME module, just the NM. The NME module has more memory and a 1G internal interface to the ISR, the regular old NM has less memory and only a 10/100 interface. You can tell which module you have by looking at the silkscreen on the back of the module or by doing a ‘show sysinfo’ at the CLI of the controller.

This article is not supported by Cisco, TAC, or myself. You may further damage your NM if you proceed. This article is not for the faint of heart and will most certainly void any warranty you may have. If you have a bricked NM under SmartNET, you should contact TAC for a replacement unit, not follow the directions in this post. I do not guarantee any work here and you can severely damage your module, it’s flash, or your PC. Read and follow this article at your own risk!

Now thats out of the way, the specifics of my problem landed me in a situation where I could not roll back the version of code on my flash (not having network connectivity really limits you, I gotta admit). You may find yourself with a corrupt flash, unable to boot, or other general mayhem. Once Cisco released this notification, it dawned on me that the version of code on my flash was likely the culprit. Since the NMs are basically an Pentium III with some memory and a flash to boot off (similar to the CUE or Content Engine modules) running Linux, I figured I should be able to copy the flash from a good NM and I’d be back in business. Having located a donor NM (thanks to Robert B. for his support here), I assembled  the following items to move on:

  • Donor working NM to rob/copy the flash off of
  • A small screwdriver
  • Old laptop with Cardbus/PCMCIA slot
  • CF to PCMCIA adapter (like one of these)
  • USB Flash drive larger than 256M formatted something that Linux can write to
  • A Linux distribution that I could boot off of CD like DSL
  • A static bag to work off of
Getting a donor module
The first thing I did was to remove the CF module from the donor NM.
Step 1) Place the donor NM on a static safe work place. The bag it came in would be good.
Step 2) Confirm that the module you’re working on is an NM, not an NME.
Step 3) Locate the cover that hides the flash module.
Extracting the flash
You must then remove the protective cap around the flash module.
Step 1) Unscrew the CF housing.
Step 2) Lift up gently on the right edge of the cap and it should fall off the module.
Remove the flash from the NM
Gently grasp the Cisco flash module by both edges and pull it directly out of the NM.
Insert the flash module into your CF reader.
This should be pretty straightforward.
Once you have the flash module in a CF reader, we’re going to be focused on getting a good block image off of it. The rest of this article will discuss how to take an image of the flash module and store it on a USB flash drive. Once you have your favorite LiveCD of Linux (or BSD if you prefer) downloaded, boot your old laptop off of it. We chose a LiveCD release so that we can do this on a laptop without having to do a fully blown installation of Linux just for this one project. Feel free to use any sort of Linux box you happen to have laying around. 🙂
Once you’ve successfully booted Linux, you’ll need to open a terminal window. In DSL, there is a link to the Terminal app in the bottom left corner. Attach your USB drive and insert your PCMCIA flash reader once your system is booted and your terminal is up.
Type:
sudo su


  -This puts us into super-user mode so we don’t run into any permissions issues
Then:
dmesg


  -This gives you a dump of system messages. In particular we’re looking for two things. The USB drive and the CF adapter. In my system, this looked like:
<6>hub.c: new USB device 00:1d.1-1, assigned address 3
<6>scsi2 : SCSI emulation for USB Mass Storage devices
<4>  Vendor: USB 2.0   Model: FLASH DISK        Rev: 1.0
<4>  Type:   Direct-Access                      ANSI SCSI revision: 02
<4>Attached scsi removable disk sdb at scsi2, channel 0, id 0, lun 0
<4>SCSI device sdb: 2033664 512-byte hdwr sectors (1041 MB)
<4>sdb: Write Protect is off
<6> sdb: sdb1
This tells us that our flash drive is at /dev/sdb1 (the last line above) so let’s mount it using:
mount /dev/sdb1 /mnt
Next we look for our flash reader. In my system, this looked like:
<6>cs: memory probe 0xa0000000-0xa0ffffff: excluding 0xa0000000-0xa0ffffff
<6>cs: memory probe 0x60000000-0x60ffffff: clean.
<4>hde: STI Flash 8.0.0, ATA DISK drive
<4>ide2 at 0x100-0x107,0x10e on irq 11
<4>hde: attached ide-disk driver.
<6>hde: 501760 sectors (257 MB), CHS=980/16/32
<6> hde: hde1 hde2 hde3
<6>ide_cs: hde: Vcc = 3.3, Vpp = 0.0
For this one, we’re not interested in any partition information like we were on the USB device, we’re just interested in the device name. Here, we see that this device is hde (the beginning of the third line) . Once we have both the USB drive mounted and the flash drive identified, we’re going to use dd to take a block image of the device by typing:


dd if=/dev/hde of=/mnt/sdb1/nm.image
This deconstructs like this:
  -dd is the name of the application we’re going to use to take the image.
  -if=/dev/hde tells dd that the input file is the device of /dev/hde (our CF).
  -of=/dev/sdb1/nm.image tells dd that the output file is a file on our USB drive called nm.image.


This will take some time since we’re reading the CF block by block and writing it out to the USB flash drive. The resultant image will be the same size as the CF (257M in this case) since it’s copying everything – data, unused bits, partition info, etc.
Once the read of the flash is complete, you should be back at a command prompt. You can confirm that it’s there and the right size by typing:
ls -lh /mnt/sdb1


Shutdown your laptop by using:
halt


Eject the CF adapter and re-install it into your donor NM following the instructions in reverse. Once you’ve put away your good hardware, shutdown your ISR with the bad NM, remove it out of the ISR, and extract the flash out of it as described above. Insert it into your CF reader as described above, boot your laptop as described above, insert your devices (USB and CF) into the laptop as described above, and open the terminal application as described above.


Once you’re at your terminal prompt, we’re going to do the following:
Type:
sudo su


  -This puts us into super-user mode so we don’t run into any permissions issues
Then:
dmesg


  -This gives you a dump of system messages. Look for your USB device and CF device like you did before and confirm they’re there.
Now we’re going to take our image that we created above and write it out to our bad flash:
dd if=/mnt/sdb1/nm.image of=/dev/hde



This deconstructs like this:
  -dd is the name of the application we’re going to use to take the image.
  -if=/dev/sdb1/nm.image tells dd that the input file is a file on our USB drive called nm.image.
-of=/dev/hde tells dd that the output file is the device of /dev/hde (our CF).


This will take some time as well since we’re now reconstructing all of the data bits back onto our module. Once that completes, shutdown your laptop by using:
halt


Once it’s powered off, you should have a complete copy of the flash from your donor module in your hands. Reassemble your module and re-insert it back into your ISR. Power it all back on and you should be able to use:


service-module wlan-controller 1/0 session


to confirm that your module boots successfully. One of the more obvious side effects of this is that you’ll loose your NM configuration and you’ll have your donor NMs configuration now on yours. You’ll want to watch the card boot and do a clear config first off to ensure you have a good starting point. If you don’t have a donor NM to get this process done, you may want to look around to see if anyone else in your situation has the data bits from the dd process above. Once you have an extracted image, this should work on any of the like platforms regardless of where it came from.