NETSCOUT AirCheck G2 unleashed!

This blog post is part 1 of a multipart series on the new generation of Wi-Fi tools. There has been a dramatic evolution of the various tools that the WiFi professional uses over the past year or so . I wanted to take a moment and spell out my thoughts on the current state of tools in our industry.

First shown at the Wireless Field Day 1 in San Jose the Fluke AirCheck rapidly became the staple of the ‘serious’ WLAN troubleshooter. It made a huge splash and was immediately lauded for it’s easy straightforward to getting down to the serious data that you need to see when troubleshooting your wireless network. All of the heavy hitters in the industry have been talking about them since then and it’s almost unbelievable that it was just assumed that people would have them on anything but the most entry level of jobs. The platform had very few deficiencies overall and almost became part of the de-facto tool that you would be expected to know and use – almost like site survey software.

The G2

AirCheck G2 – The green is a nice touch!

It’s hard to think of something replacing the Fluke AirCheck but the inevitable has happened. There is and Application & Network Performance Management company called NETSCOUT recently acquired the Fluke team responsible for the AirCheck – which was in the midst of developing the next generation of the product. Launched late last month, the AirCheck G2 promises to best it’s predecessor in several areas. Head on over to the official announcement and keep a keen eye out for a quote or two from yours truly! 🙂

 

IMG_2593

I was fortunate enough to be included early on in the development conversations of the AirCheck G2 and so like to believe that I helped shape in some small way the look, feel, and usability of the product as it exists today. From early on, there was a focus on the ‘gimme’ features such as inclusion of a color touchscreen. Other features didn’t develop till later on such as the built in ethernet port for wired testing in the field. Those of you that love the LinkSprinter functionality, this is aimed squarely at you! In fact, there is a laundry list of features that read like a who’s who of todays troubleshooting gear – 802.11ac support, long life battery, external antenna support, USB expansion ports, on screen keyboard and navigation menus, auto testing, and rapid boot & shutdown, just to name a few.

Note the External Antenna port on the far right (capped) for the directional antenna attachment.

Note the External Antenna port on the far right (capped) for the directional antenna attachment.

By far and away though, the feature that I’m most enamored with at the moment is the Link-Live.com integration. Starting with an easy way to claim the devices online, a one stop shop for getting your software and updates, and of course, upload notifications of the testing you’ve just done – the ability to bring Organizational structure to such an outstanding troubleshooting tool really brings the product full circle. NETSCOUT has done a superb job of rolling functionality and usability into a cloud based product and included it with the product! This wraps up all of the auto-testing into an easy to use and store place for testing and validation. While this may seem like simple functionality, for an organization with multiple units in the field, this sort of automated cloud-rollup functionality is hands down one of the best features of the AirCheck – and that’s saying a lot!

Useful for making sure the link you're using is functional!

Useful for making sure the link you’re using is functional!

If you haven’t had a chance to get your hands on an AirCheck or have been waiting for a refresh to make the product ‘perfect’, now is the time. You should go ask your VAR, NETSCOUT rep, or beg borrow or steal one to get some time under your belt with one. The simplicity of the product, ease of use, intuitive navigation, and ready access to some very in-depth and advanced data in a straightforward way to consume it.

10 reasons to take another look at 2015 Cisco Mobility

Let’s face it, Cisco is huge. They’re massive, and occasionally they get things wrong. If you’ve strayed away from Cisco in the past year (or longer) because of a specific issue or gap, it’s high time you took another look. The Cisco Mobility offerings today are a far cry from what they were just an easy year back. Here are 10 great reasons to go get reacquainted with the 2015 Cisco Mobility offerings:

1) 5520/8540 WLCs

The introduction of a Converged Access 60G solution highlighted the gaps in the WLC portfolio in the 20/40G of throughput range. Both of these new controllers (one 20G, one 40G capable) are based on the more mature AireOS codebase running 8.1 and later. While this doesn’t mark an EOS/EOL announcement for the 5508 (clocking in at 8G), it does give that 7 year old platform some good alternatives for lifecycle management.

2) Prime Infrastructure 2.2 then 3.0

Ever since WCS was taken over and moulded into the NCS then Prime Infrastructure products, it’s always bore the scars of a legacy mired in Adobe Flash performance issues. Couple that with a dramatic uptick in features and you’ve got a recipe for disaster. The new versions of Prime Infrastructure are actually performing as well as they should be starting at about the 2.2 version and the new UI of Prime Infrastructure 3.0 completely moves away from Flash and demonstrates a significant re-think of the product – including ‘Make a wish!’.

3) 802.11ac wave 2

Let’s not forget the fun stuff – APs and radios. With competitively positioned 802.11ac Wave 2 products, Cisco is staying in the lead of the latest and greatest standards. With impressive throughput numbers, multiple gigabit uplinks, and fancy new features like MU-MIMO, the 1830/1850 APs are clearly paving the way for the next generation of some pretty obviously numbered future platforms. The only question is, what does Cisco have in store for us next?

4) HALO

No, not the game – the new Hyper-Location Module and antenna array. Cisco is delivering on the promise that the industry made to us oh so many years ago about leveraging your WiFi network as a platform for tracking your enterprises assets. Touting down to 1 meter accuracy, this module for your AP3600/AP3700s will take your location fidelity ‘to the next level’.

5) Mobility Express

Those that don’t like having a bare metal controller and don’t see the need for controller based features (such as centralized data plane), we now have a ‘controller on the AP’ option! This allows us to focus on the smaller deployments without the extra cost and complexity (such as it is) for those customers. This isn’t a ‘one size fits all’ approach that we’ve seen in the past, but rather an evolution of a well thought out strategy to bring enterprise features to every market segment.

6) UI improvements

Along with the Mobility Express product, the ‘metal WLCs’ are sporting a new user interface and out of the box setup experience (Day 0 and Day 1 support). If you’ve felt the WLC interface was a bit dated in the past, go take a gander at the plethora of new graphs, charts, and actual usable data about your infrastructure – all without having to goto a larger NMS platform!

7) CMX Evolution

The MSE product is finally getting some legs under the advanced location pieces. This easy to deploy ‘for everyone’ product starts to bring some pretty insightful analytics to any sized deployment – all the way down to a ‘no maps required’ presence analytics and all the way up to a Hyperlocation enabled, social media engagement platform. With both on premises and cloud based offerings available, it really is very easy to start getting very insightful data out of any sized network.

8) CCIE Wireless version 3

The dated CCIE (Cisco Certified Internetwork Expert, Wireless) exam has been updated to include software and hardware platforms from this year. You can now tackle one of the industries most challenging certifications on contemporary labs that are actually relevant to solutions you’re deploying today!

9) UX domain APs

See my previous blog on the topic for a more in-depth look at the UX products, but for those buying and deploying APs spanning multiple countries, this is a pretty good way to reduce a ton of deployment and ordering complexities. By standardizing on a single SKU globally, you can make quick work of some of the logistics nightmares of the past.

10) Cisco ONE licensing

Yes, licensing is boring, complicated, and expensive. Cisco ONE addresses all three of those pain points in one easy go. With a ‘count the AP’ approach to licensing, you can now start to take advantage of all of the above products in an easy to consume, deploy, and license fashion – without breaking the bank. For example, if you wanted to replace your old WLC with a new one, in the past, you would end up repurchasing your AP licenses. In this model, all products start at 0 APs and you pick the size that’s right for you – at any scale. Pick the solutions you want to deploy: ISE, Prime Infrastructure, advanced location analytics, etc – and go! A significant departure from the traditional licensing model in Cisco-land.

I know that a ‘recap overview’ blog sometimes seems too lofty, but there really is a ton to see if you’ve been unplugged from the Cisco world over the past year or so. Take a deep breath and plunge back in at any level and you’ll find something new that wasn’t there before. The Cisco ship sometimes turns slowly and sometimes it’s easy to forget that there is innovation happening all over the mobility space in San Jose.

Disclaimer: I was part of the Wireless Field Day 8 delegation to Cisco where we learned about several of the above topics. For more information on Cisco’s appearance at WFD8, go check out the video!

The evolution that will start the revolution

You’ve heard it all before, evolutionary technology versus revolutionary technology. Everyone wants their newest technology to be revolutionary – expecting it to be life changing and a wide-sweeping, compelling reason to spend tons of money. This is rarely the case and more often than not marketing fluff to try and get you onto the next big thing. Occasionally we get such an unassuming technology announcement that fits squarely in the ‘no big deal’ from a speeds and feeds perspective that it’s easy to overlook. This is clearly the case with the recent multigigabit announcements from Cisco during Cisco Live, Milan. Multigigabit is a technology that allows your existing cabling to support speeds in excess of 1G, without having to make the jump all the way to significantly more costly 10G. Since we already have technology that address speeds and feeds above what we’re talking about here (how many 10G uplinks have you deployed recently?), it’s easy to overlook the impact this will bring to our daily lives. The ability to move to 2.5G and 5G link speeds without having to make the jump all the way to 10G will allow us to get improved link speeds without having to pay a premium for them. The expected cost increase is estimated to be anywhere from 0% to 15% according to the rumor mill which makes the 250% to 500% speed bump quite attractive!

802.11ac wave 2
The reason I’m taking about it is the fact that this brings with it the promise of addressing the 1G bottleneck that people have been gnashing their teeth over in the wireless space for the past couple of years. While we’ve been able to reasonably deflect the speeds and feeds conversation with 802.11ac wave 1 (speeds approaching 1G wired requirements), there has been no good way to move past that without having a two-cable conversation. The assumption up till now has been that 2x 1G links will be the way forward and many people have been running two copper runs out to their Access Points for the past several years in anticipation of this approach. 802.11ac wave 2 will undoubtedly break the 1G barrier in fairly short order with speeds being promised of (best case) 6,930Mbps PHY rate (about 4,900Mbps on the wire). Multigigabit solutions will allow us to address these concerns without having to invest in 10G links. Better yet, it will allow us to address these concerns without having to consume two 1G ports on our switches. Regardless of the solution you choose (1x 10G or 2x 1G), the cost for deploying a single Multigigabit link supporting up to 5G will be less at scale.

Power
The other unassuming byproduct of this conversation is that Access Points require power to bring up all of those components. It will be nearly impossible to power up a 10G ethernet interface in an AP in the power budgets that we have today. By reducing the link speed requirements to 5G, we can save power at the edge device and still fit in modern negotiation. Multigigabit solutions today will provide PoE, PoE+, and UPoE to ensure that the wave 2 APs that we’re going to be hanging will have ample power for whatever they’re going to bring.

The Revolution
I predict that the incremental cost and intermediary speeds will allow us to start having conversations about the jump to 10G. Multigigabit solutions on Access Points, switch uplinks, and desktop and server nics will be the next big thing. Stackable solutions today promise backwards compatibility so you don’t have to rip and replace – just add a stack member and you’re good to go in that closet/IDF! Regardless of your future proofing plans, enabling faster wireless, or just ensuring that you’re not spending money after (can you believe it?) now legacy 1G infrastructure, make sure you’re having a conversation today about ethernet to bridge the gap to 10G.

For more information about the NBASE-T alliance, go here.
For the Cisco Live, Milan – Tech Field Day Extra event with Peter Jones, go here.

Drag racing the bus

Picture it. You’re a school district transportation engineer. You’re in charge of purchasing a fleet of new school busses for your district. The big ones. The expensive ones. The ones that will last you for the foreseeable future. So, you call up Bus Vendor A, B, and C and inform them that you’re in the process of selecting a fleet of new school busses. The following week each vendor dutifully delivers their ‘bus of choice’ to be evaluated. You then grab your intern, put him at the midway point of the bus from ‘Vendor A’ and take it for a spin! You see how fast it goes from 0 to 60. You see how it corners. People hear tires screeching from all over the city as you and your one other occupant sling this bad boy around town ‘evaluating’ the bus. You then repeat the same process for ‘Vendor B’ and ‘Vendor C’. You aggregate your data. You correlated your data. You make pie charts about your data. You do ROI calculations on your data. You do comfort analysis on your data. You do handling analysis on your data. You made your ‘educated’ recommendation and purchased a fleet.

Day 1 of school rolls around and the first thing your brand spanking new fleet of school busses does is immediately do the one thing you neglected to test: they loaded up with kids and trudged along at 20 MPH safely around town. You start getting complaints. They don’t stop well. They don’t handle well. They don’t get good gas mileage. They bounce all over the place and your district has to send 2,000 kids to chiropractic care because you didn’t evaluate the bus under the conditions it’s going to be used in. Instead, you took it for a joy ride. You drag raced it. The one bus that went the fastest with a single guy in it, you bought. When you deployed it, it broke because you didn’t test it using real world scenarios.

Please, don’t drag race your evaluation Access Points. Test them like you’re going to operate them. That way you get a realistic view of how they’re going to behave in the real world. Do your self a favor. Stop joy riding your vendors gear and put it in the real world to test it.

This blog inspiration courtesy of @florwj . Go follow him. He’s awesome.

-Sam

Please stop asking for an 802.11ac site survey

You are likely reading this post at the recommendation of someone. You have likely asked something along the lines of ‘Will you do an 802.11ac site survey for me?”. This is an easy mistake to make, and I hope that this clarifies a few things for you. First and most importantly, any site survey should always start with the customer requirements, then you position the technology to fit those requirements. If you ask me for an 802.11ac survey, this means that you want a deployment that supports 802.11ac modulation. Modulation occurs at most areas of your cell and as you get further away from your Access Point, your speed decreases, but this does not mean that you don’t ‘get an 802.11ac data rates’. The 802.11ac specification allows for as low as 6.5Mb/s and as high as ‘gigabit wifi’ and all sorts of speeds in-between. With 802.11b/g/n it was possible to ask for ‘the best, and make it pervasive’ and you could theoretically design an environment to support the highest supported data rates in all locations. With 802.11ac, this is no longer possible due to the very strong signal strengths required and the very wide channels required to achieve ‘max throughput’. It is unreasonable to expect an enterprise wireless deployment to support 1300Mbps (or whatever your Access Points spec sheet claims as the max) in all locations for all clients.

If you ask for an 802.11ac site survey without any other clarifications, you can safely expect massive cell sizes and generally poor throughput which is likely not what you want. Examining your Access Points data sheet will give you some idea of the wide range of signal strengths required (not to mention channel widths) to support a variety of 802.11ac data rates. The Cisco AP3700 data sheet for example, shows that -61dBm is required to support VHT80, MCS 9, 3 spatial streams (the ‘highest 802.11ac’ supported on the Access Point at 1300Mbps) all the way down to -92dBm for VHT20, MCS 0, 1 spatial stream (the ‘lowest 802.11ac’ supported on the Access Point at 6.5Mbps). All of these qualify as ‘supporting 802.11ac’. This wide swing in capabilities is the reason that you cannot simply ask for ‘an 802.11ac site survey’. Instead, you should always start by gathering your requirements upfront:

  • What are my throughput requirements?*
  • What are my density requirements?*
  • What are my client types?*

Then turn those expectations into leveraging a technology for the deployment. If you do not set those expectations upfront, or have a good understanding of what your clients requirements are, how can you claim success? You need to mutually agree upon design requirements, then prove that design back in whatever fashion you agree on. Set expectations, design for those expectations, meet those expectations, then prove that you’ve met those expectations. And please, stop asking for an 802.11ac site survey.

* There are many things that go into a proper RF design, not to mention supporting other applications such as BYOD technologies that I’m intentionally glossing over. This is just a small sampling of some of the questions you can use to suss out your customer requirements and is by no means the only way of doing it.

Aruba just doesn’t get Investment Protection

This week, Cisco launched their modular 802.11ac Access Point, the AP3700. The FUD that started almost instantly was unbelievable. This petulant mud slinging is coming from from none other than our good buddies over at Aruba who are trying with all their might to convince all of their AP134/135 users to go buy a new Access Point. While this rip-and-replace mindset has boosted their volume sales over the past several years, I think it’s time that we all revisit what modularity means and why it’s good. We’ll get this bit out of the way first however since it seems to be a common misconception about modularity: Modularity is not only about 802.11ac, it is about investment protection. Aruba wants to spin this to convince you that you a) need to buy a new AP and b) while you’re at it, let’s try and sell you a controller! This slight of hand and misdirection is really in poor form and we should all take a moment to bring this conversation back to the real world. The 802.11ac wave 1 module is one of 4 modules, and one of two Cisco 802.11ac platforms to select from. No one is forcing you to purchase a module to get 802.11ac. Cisco has a ‘rip and replace’ option as well. If you’re okay with the rip and replace approach to 802.11ac (as an Aruba customer you should be used to this by now), by all means – let’s compare a head to head AP3700 against the AP-225 (I’d do this, but for some reason they’re reluctant to send me an AP-220) using clients that are available in a the real world today. By the way, wasn’t it Aruba just a few months back complaining about Cisco using Miercom and proving that the 5760 beats the stuffing out of the 7240 controller and that the AP3600 whomped all over the AP134/135?

Let’s recap the FUD: When the AP3600 was announced, Aruba predicted:

  • That modularity doesn’t work: FALSE – Modularity does work, and has worked since the Cisco 1220 (802.11b to 802.11g migration).
  • That Cisco won’t ship modules ever: FALSE – Cisco has shipped two modules and is on track to ship an additional two.
  • You’re better off buying a new AP: FALSE – well, maybe not false. If you’re an Aruba customer, you have no choice.

This last one is really the sticking point. Most of the customers I talk to can’t stomach a new AP upgrade every year. They’re more along the lines of 3 to 5 year refresh cycles. Realistically speaking, if my upgrade cycle hit last year I could have done one of two things:

  1. Purchased Aruba AP134/135s. This means that I cannot get any sort of 802.11ac without ripping and replacing.
  2. Purchased Cisco 3602s. This means that if I need it, I can deploy 802.11ac (wave 1 or wave 2!), monitor mode, or indoor cell DAS modules at a fraction of the price of a new AP.

At the end of the day, modularity is not intended to be a one size fits all approach to technology. It’s right for some people, it’s not right for others. When it comes down to it, you can either buy more Access Points, or less Access Points, and still get current technology. If you’re considering the Aruba platform today, I’d encourage you to ask the following questions:

  • What do I do with last years APs?
  • How do I get to 802.11ac wave 2 when it comes out?
  • How do I deploy indoor cell DAS leveraging my existing APs?
  • How do I do wIPS without buying a whole new overlay solution?
  • Why aren’t you comparing against the AP3700?

In the meantime, let’s keep Aruba pointed in the right direction shall we? The modular platform argument is one that Cisco battles time and again – look at all of the people that used to hate on the Catalyst 6k platform? They had nothing to compare so, certainly modularity was bad! Modular is good, investment protection is fiscally responsible, and flexibility means that I can get some of todays technology where I need it, when I need it without breaking the bank on forklifting my infrastructure. By the way, let’s do a speeds and feeds with an AP220 and an AP3700 and see how those bar charts look…

In short, it doesn’t matter who’s infrastructure gear you’re buying. Moore’s law means that there will always be a pie chart or bar graph trying to convince you to buy something shiny and new. Modularity is about getting some of that shiny new, without having to forklift your gear – investment protection.

First look: Cisco 802.11ac module for the AP3600

Last year Cisco launched their 3rd modular Access Point, the 3602 featuring 3 Spatial Stream 802.11n, dual radios, and CleanAir support. One of the much touted features was the introduction of a ‘future-use’ modular slot across the back of the Access Point (now called Adaptive Radio Modules ). This was to future proof your investment and at the time, Cisco took a lot of heat for this modular future proof approach to investment protection. Sometime after the Access Point was launched, Cisco announced that there would be at least two modules available, one being the WSSI module (for full time monitoring of off channel events) and the 802.11ac module (to support the yet-to-be ratified 802.11ac standard). I’ve gotten my hands on an 802.11ac module and here is what I know:

a) It’s easy to install:

With two thumb screws on the module itself, you simply grab the AP off of the ceiling tile, unplug the ethernet cable, flip it over, remove a piece of tape to expose the connector, place the module on the back, screw down the thumb screws, re-attach the network cable, and rehang the AP.

802.11ac module

802.11ac module

802.11ac module installed

802.11ac module installed

b) It can require up to 20 Watts*:

#show power inline gigabitEthernet 0/2
Interface Admin  Oper       Power   Device              Class Max
                            (Watts)                            
--------- ------ ---------- ------- ------------------- ----- ----
Gi0/2     auto   on         20.0    AIR-CAP3602I-A-K9   4     30.0 

Interface  AdminPowerMax   AdminConsumption    
             (Watts)           (Watts)           
---------- --------------- --------------------  

Gi0/2                 30.0                 30.0
#show power inline gigabitEthernet 0/2 detail 
 Interface: Gi0/2
 Inline Power Mode: auto
 Operational status: on
 Device Detected: no
 Device Type: cisco AIR-CAP3602I-
 IEEE Class: 4
 Discovery mechanism used/configured: Unknown
 Police: off

 Power Allocated 
 Admin Value: 30.0
 Power drawn from the source: 20.0
 Power available to the device: 20.0

 Actual consumption
 Measured at the port: 8.6
 Maximum Power drawn by the device since powered on: 10.2

 Absent Counter: 0
 Over Current Counter: 0
 Short Current Counter: 0
 Invalid Signature Counter: 0
 Power Denied Counter: 0

 Power Negotiation Used: CDP
 LLDP Power Negotiation --Sent to PD--      --Rcvd from PD--
   Power Type:          -                    -
   Power Source:        -                    -
   Power Priority:      -                    -
   Requested Power(W):  -                    -
   Allocated Power(W):  -                    -

c) It ‘just works’:

The 802.11ac module shows up as you’d expect – as a ‘slot 2 radio’ and you can Admin Enable and Disable it. Aside from that, it takes all of it’s RF specific configuration from it’s parent radio – operating in tandem with the integrated 5GHz radio that services your 5GHz 802.11n clients. As with all hardware updates, you’ll need to update your WLC code to a version that supports the module but this is only mentioned as a ‘well duh’ requirement. 🙂

Since the module is adding a radio specifically to support 802.11ac clients, it increases the total client capacity of the AP3600 to a whopping 450 (200 for 802.11n 2.4GHz, 200 for 802.11n 5GHz, and 50 for 802.11ac)! While the jury is out about it being a good idea to try and support 450 clients on a single AP, the capacity numbers are listed for the inevitable vendor-bashing that is sure to ensue!

d) Clients will be the next big challenge:

As with the transition from 802.11b to 802.11g, then to 802.11n, the transition to 802.11ac will derive most of it’s pain from client adapters. Driver updates, marginal modulation benefits at distance, etc. The biggest benefit from 802.11ac will be the cleaner frequency requirement (5GHz) but poor roaming choices from clients will most certainly be the biggest pain point we all grapple with.

400Mbps

400Mbps

FAQ:

*Does the module require more than 15.4W PoE?

No! The module can be operated at *full* 802.11ac performance in class 3 power by disabling the 2.4GHz radio on the AP. This is the only solution on the market that offers *full* 802.11ac performance in Class 3 power. This means that you can deploy 802.11ac today even without switch upgrades! Here is a show power from a AP and module servicing 802.11ac clients:

#show power inline gi0/2
Interface Admin  Oper       Power   Device              Class Max
                            (Watts)                            
--------- ------ ---------- ------- ------------------- ----- ----
Gi0/2     static on         15.4    AIR-CAP3602I-A-K9   4     15.4 

Interface  AdminPowerMax   AdminConsumption    
             (Watts)           (Watts)           
---------- --------------- --------------------  

Gi0/2                 15.4                 15.4

Is this Cisco’s 802.11ac Access Point?

No! This is a 3 spatial stream 802.11n Access Point with an 802.11ac module. While I cannot comment on future or unannounced products, it stands to reason that Cisco will continue to evolve products and announce those products when they’re ready. It’s my opinion that a fully fledged 802.11ac Access Point will be announced at some point.

Can you tell me more about a dedicated 802.11ac Access Point from Cisco?

No. I have no disclosable information on an 802.11ac Access Point from Cisco.

How much does the module cost?

The list price for the module is around $500. Engage your Cisco Account Manager and Partner team for your discounted pricing (and don’t pay list). 🙂

What other modules are there for the AP3600?

There is a small cell 3G module available.

Will there be future modular Access Points from Cisco that support these modules?

I have no disclosable information on an unannounced products from Cisco.

Is this the end? What about speeds and feeds? What about a take apart so we can see what’s inside?

There will be a followup post. What would you like to see?