Management Frame Detection?

Nope! But MFD does stand for something even more exciting! Mobility Field Day (3!) is just around the corner! As a long time delegate with a few minutes to burn on the family PTO trip, I thought I’d take a moment to reflect on the upcoming event. As you can see from the Tech Field Day page there are tons of great sponsors lined up. Here is my take on the coming week, the sponsors strengths, weaknesses, and what I’d like to see. In order of presentation:

Arista (http://techfieldday.com/companies/arista-networks/, @AristaNetworks)

Arista has made a splash in the Wi-Fi space with their recent acquisition of Mojo Networks (nee: AirTight). I’m happy to see Mojo get scooped up, especially in the ever diminishing landscape of infrastructure providers especially since they have a strong story about ‘hardware agnostic’ solutions. Their story since the AirTight days has been one of open platforms and this strength has carried them to the success they’ve had so far. Arista has not. Admittedly I’m not a strong Data Center switch guy, but I don’t see a similar story of how the open, commodity hardware platforms with custom ‘better than you’ software on top meshes well with their corporate messaging. I’d love to see some reconciliation on that front, and a clear vision for the Mojo team moving forward. Please spare me the ‘HP acquired Aruba’, ‘Cisco acquired Meraki’, and those companies are fine story. Paint me a genuine story of market leadership backed by strong technical chops that promise to survive the acquisition.

Aruba (http://www.arubanetworks.com/, @ArubaNetworks)

Aruba (a Hewlett Packard Enterprise company) has been touting ‘industry leadership’ on several fronts recently. They have clearly claimed leadership on several fronts including WPA3 and some intriguing messaging around 802.11ax. Their strength is messaging. They do it well, but I fail to see how Aruba single handedly ‘landed’ WPA3 and how their messaging around 802.11ax (buy when *we’re* ready, but not anyone else) is anything more than corporate marketing fluff. I’d love to see how they are helping the industry move forward *as a whole* on more than just ‘standards stuff coming down the road’. Help me understand why Aruba’s implementation of QCA radios is better than someone else’s. Help me understand why their switches brings more value to an enterprise other than an ABC play. Help me understand why end to end networking with the Aruba logo on it is better.

Cisco (http://www.cisco.com/, @Cisco)

Cisco, the 800 lb. gorilla that everyone loves to hate. Cisco is a machine unlike any other. They have critical mass despite themselves and are painting some intriguing messaging around Assurance products that seem to resonate well with the on-premises enterprises. All other networking aside (routing, switching, security, Data Center, etc), Cisco Wi-Fi has seemingly lost its way as of late. Their adoption of QCA radios (CleanAir is awesome, unless they sell an AP without it!), their continued duality around the Meraki acquisition (it’s right when it will land a sale), and the feature gaps as new platforms come online has always stuck in my craw. The 802.11ac wave 2 APCOS change (the OS on the APs) debacle has left many with souring appetites for a monolithic beast of an assurance platform. I’d love to see how Cisco is involved in driving standards (WPA3, 802.11ax) while allowing their ecosystem around CCX fall to the wayside despite not having a standards based equivalent to 100% of those components (DTPC anyone?).

Fortinet (http://fortinet.com/, @Fortinet)

Fortinet (nee: Meru) has always been intriguing to me. If there is a dark horse in the Wi-Fi space, this is it. Out of left field, some strange security company acquired ‘those SCA guys’ which raised more than a few eyebrows in the industry. I’m not super passionate about firewalls so when someone touts that their strong suit is plopping some security stuff onto an already delicate Wi-Fi ecosystem, I get nervous. I’d love to see what Fortinet is doing on the SCA front (other than the occasional corner case deployment). How are you fostering the technology that made Meru, Meru? If you’re going to be the one exception in the CWNP curriculum, own that. Embrace it, get the delegates to see what makes it special. Get into the nuts and bolts of how it works, what makes it tick. Get your radio firmware developer into the room and nerd out with us for a bit. Don’t be afraid to put that unpolished guy on stage that only knows protocol. We love that kind of stuff.

Mist (http://mist.com, @MistSystems)

Mist is on the short list of Wi-Fi only players that I suspect will be acquired soon. Between them and AeroHive, there aren’t many players left and to be fair, Mist came out of nowhere when Cisco ‘spun out’ (my speculation) the previous owners of the AireOS legacy. They claimed virtual BLE was the next big thing, now it’s AI driven Wi-Fi – what’s next? Do they realize that the ‘heritage’ that they claim ownership of has turned off more people than it’s attracted? When someone claims to be at the helm of Cisco Wi-Fi during the Meraki acquisition, or to have the father of controllers (and RRM) in the drivers seat, how is that a compelling story when so many of todays woes are centered around those two topics? I’d like to hear how Mist has those people at the helm, but how they’re not destined to repeat the past. Mist claims to have an AI driven interface but fails to answer some pretty plain english queries. Tell me how Mist is better. How the AI is not just a bunch of if statements. Burning Man Wi-Fi, I hope not!

NETSCOUT (http://www.netscout.com, @NETSCOUT)

NETSCOUT (or is it netscout or NetScout?) has long held the mantle of go to wired insight products and only recently entered into the Wi-Fi foray with the Fluke (nee: AirMagnet) acquisition. They inherited an impressive product in the AirCheck G2, but also a legacy of tools that are, quite frankly, stale. What is next for the G2? Many of us in the industry love our hulk green Wi-Fi diagnostics tool and the G2 v2 additions were welcome. Is there enough left in the AirCheck to hope for a v3? I’d love to see a cleaner picture about link-live and how it plays a role in the beloved AirCheck G2. I’d love to hear a definitive story on the likes of AirMagnet Survey Pro, Wi-Fi Analyzer, Spectrum XT – all of which are *very* stale. Let’s put these to bed or make something of them that the industry can use.

nyansa (http://www.nyansa.com, @Nyansa)

nyansa has been that strange analytics company with the funny name that promises to fix all of our ails through machine learning and comparative analytics. They’re doing some neat things with ‘just a bunch of flows’, but is it enough? It seems like everyone is jumping on the analytics bandwagon now a days, but with the hefty price tag for a point-in-time resolution product, it feels somewhat estranged. Do you know what happens when your help desk has 9 dashboards all with different data in it, and you try to aggregate and correlate it into a meaningful dashboard? Your help desk now has 10 dashboards. I’d love to see why your data is better (of course), but tell me how it gets rid of data I don’t use today, and tell me how it does it at a price point that makes it a no brainer.

Dear reader, what do you want to see? Feel free to reach out to me by comment, or privately, or on twitter before or during the event and I’ll make sure you get a response. Till then, see you at MFD3 on September 12 through the 14th – make sure to tune in at: http://techfieldday.com/event/mfd3/

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You can have my Cognio card when you pry it from my cold dead hands

There is a group of WiFi Professionals (me included) that just can’t let go of their Cognio based products. With the Cisco purchase in 2007 (which ultimately manifested itself in the CleanAir product) we have seen a slow but steady decline of high-fidelity PC based spectrum analyzers. We’ve seen people try to compete in a variety of ways; with lower fidelity devices (Metageek) or with the high cost BandSpeed based product (AirMagnet Spectrum XT) but it’s not rare to find a wireless professional still lugging around an old laptop to use their Cognio based (AirMagnet Spectrum Analyzer, Cisco Spectrum Expert, or Cognio Spectrum Analyzer) CardBus Card. It seems unlikely that we’ll see a USB based Cognio product anytime soon (if ever) so I thought it was high time to figure something else out.

Option 1) For years many of the lager laptops from Lenovo (and even Apple!) have sported ExpressCard slots. By using an Addonics ExpressCard34 to CardBus converter, you can load the Cisco Spectrum Expert software on in Windows and your card works just fine!

Pros)

  • It works!

Cons)

  • It requires an ExpressCard34 slot on your PC.
  • There are several converters on the market. Some work, some do not. Make sure you get one that maps the PCIe bus, not the USB bus.
  • It’s bulky the whole card fits outside of the machine and it’s not very pretty.

Cognio adapter in an Addonics converter

Option 2) The Sonnet Echo ThunderBolt to ExpressCard34 adapter will allow you to take the above Cognio/Express card solution and map it to ThunderBolt compatible interface on your laptop. This means that any MacBook past the Early 2011 MacBook Pro (which I’m using) or any PC with a ThunderBolt compatible interface (many modern Lenovo machines) now have a cable-attached (important for flexibility) way to use their Cognio, PC-based Spectrum analyzer on new hardware!

Pros)

  • It works without having a built in ExpressCard slot!
  • It’s cabled so you can move/relocate the whole bulky assembly to the back of your laptop lid easily.

Cons)

  • It requires a ThunderBolt port on your laptop.

Big, but relocatable thanks to the cable!

It should be noted that both of these solutions will not work through a hypervisor (VMWare Fusion or Parallels, for example) and require direct access to the PCIe bus – this means running Windows natively on your hardware. You Mac users, this means BootCamp. It should also be noted that many people call ThunderBolt many things and there are several varieties of the bus. Make sure it’s not a DisplayPort only interface!

In short, if you’re still lugging around an old laptop just for this (or any other wireless CardBus based adapter), you now have a solution that’s cheaper than an new AirMagnet card and far less bulky than carrying around that crusty old XP machine. It’s time to upgrade!

Make sure it's ThunderBolt!

The Unstoppable MetaGeek – now with CleanAir!

Rarely does such an organization come around that expresses it’s agility and prowess with as much regularity as MetaGeek. The most recently of which is their ability to use Chanalyzer Pro (their premium Spectrum Analyzer software) to talk to the Cognio chipset in a Cisco CleanAir Access Point. PC based Spectrum Analyzers have had a sordid history to say the least. Way back when, Cognio made what you would call ‘the best of the best’ PC based Spectrum Analyzer. This took the place of many of the bulkier, more expensive Spectrum Analyzers and proved to the world that a) it was important to get Layer 1 visibility for enterprise WLANs and b) that they could make it affordable for most services based partners. Everyone OEM’d the Cognio analyzer, AirMagnet, Fluke, and WildPackets. Along came Cisco. They purchased Cognio, killed off all of the OEM agreements, rolled the hardware into their Access Points, and started selling the Cognio product with the Cisco name on it (Cisco Spectrum Expert). Unfortunately, they didn’t do much with the CardBus product and let the non-AP components stale. The aging interface form factor left quite a few holes in the market and along came a few people here and there to make it all shake out like this (generally):

  • Cisco Spectrum Expert: Highest resolution, CleanAir AP and CardBus form factor, Cognio based
  • AirMagnet Spectrum XT: Middle resolution, USB form factor, bandspeed based
  • AP based Spectrum Analyzers: Low resolution, integrated into many APs, Atheros based
  • MetaGeek Wi-Spy: Low resolution, USB form factor, keyboard controller based

Ryan and team over at MetaGeek did an excellent job of using very affordable components to give us an alternative to the aging CardBus adapter and the newer, more expensive AirMagnet adapter. They were an awesome product for the money but never really achieved huge market penetration due to the fact that the Cognio and bandspeed products still offered higher resolution. With the Cognio hardware all locked up in the Cisco Access Points, it seemed inevitable that we’d never have a good way to access it. Imagine our surprise when at this years Cisco Live event, MetaGeek was there – showing off their integration between Chanalyzer and the CleanAir Access Points! Ladies and Gentlemen, this is the *exact* same Cognio hardware, high resolution Spectrum Analyzer goodness that we all know and love from the old days. When I first heard about this, there was much trepidation about MetaGeek perhaps not being able to address the ‘full power’ of the Cognio (ahem, CleanAir) chip in its rawest form, but I’m here to tell you, when compared side by side with a legacy CardBus based Cognio adapter, the data is identical! The user interface is the updated, Chanalyzer interface with all of the modern enhancements they’ve made over the years with the WiSpy products, but you’re using the high-fidelity data that Cognio gives us. Here’s how it works:

You can connect to a CleanAir AP that is autonomous or lightweight (registered to a WLC) and it can be either servicing clients or in dedicated ‘SE-Connect’ Mode. You get the highest resolution, widest image when it’s in this last mode so let’s start there. Log into your controller, select your AP from the wireless tab and change it from ‘local’ to ‘SE-Connect’. Click Apply and let the AP reboot and join back to the WLC.

Screen Shot 2013-08-12 at 9.02.03 PM

Once it’s joined back, select the AP again and you’ll find both the IP address of the AP and something called the NSI key:

Screen Shot 2013-08-12 at 9.08.06 PM

Lauch Chanalyzer Pro with CleanAir and goto the File Menu. Select the intuitive ‘Connect to a CleanAir AP:

Screen Shot 2013-08-12 at 9.12.25 PM

Once you do that, enter the values from the AP page that you previously saw including the IP address, NSI key and a friendly name for this AP:

Screen Shot 2013-08-12 at 9.13.07 PM

Once you’ve done that, mash the Connect button and you’ll start to see the familiar Chanalyzer Pro interface with all of the wonderful resolution we all grew so fond of all those years ago! For reference, I ran Chanalyzer Pro with CleanAir on the same machine at the same time as a Cisco Spectrum Expert instance (using the CardBus adapter). Aside from the waterfall flowing up in the Cisco product, and down in the Chanalyzer product, you’ll see striking similarities in the respective waterfall views:

Screen Shot 2013-08-12 at 9.21.24 PM

Screen Shot 2013-08-12 at 9.21.41 PM

and at the same time, getting all of the other awesome details out of the Cognio SaGE like interferer auto-classification and AirQuality Index. Proving once again that MetaGeek are the top kids on the block when it comes to innovation and integration – but don’t take my word for it, head on over to MetaGeek, grab yourself a copy and give it a spin!

Full Disclosure: As an delegate of the Wireless Field Day event, I was given a copy of Chanalyzer Pro with CleanAir to play with without promise or commitment to write anything – much less something positive. 🙂 MetaGeek is a regular supporter of the Tech Field day events and generally makes awesome products and is regularly engaged in Social Media – you should go follow them at @metageek and catch up on the NoStringsAttached Show where Blake Krone and I also talk with MetaGeek about Chanalyzer with CleanAir!

Securing your small WiFi tools

I find myself lugging around a variety of tools recently – more so than I usually do courtesy of #TechFieldDay. While I typically carry a Spectrum Analyzer, it is usually one of those ‘dedicated pockets in the laptop bag’ kind of tools that gets packed in with my trusty CB21AG survey card. Those of you keeping notes would realize that any machine purchased in the last 3 years or so is lacking a CardBus slot so we’ve been relegated to keeping our old machines around for compatibility with our trusty tools or using a clunky ExpressCard to CardBus adapter if we want to keep compatible. This works okay if your new machine sports a shiny new ExpressCard slot but those of us moving (back) to the Mac platform and not wanting to chunk out the change for a 17 inch Mac Book Pro which has the coveted ExpressCard slot but weighs a ton (not good for survey work!).

The answer? USB. Most everything has a work-alike or a preferred card that is USB so I find myself with:

Orinoco 8494 card for the AirMagnet products (Survey, and WiFi Analyzer)

MetaGeek Wi-Spy DBx with device finder antenna

AirMagnet Spectrum XT

and to round it all out, a Ralink (thanks @sevanjaniyan) based adapter for compatibility with WildPackets Omnipeek for next weeks CWAP Beta class!

The challenge: All of these things have been rolling around in my bag (in the WiSpy DBx box actually) which is a less than graceful way to treat your tools. I needed a sturdy case that could hold it all and not be so large I wouldn’t want to pack it wherever I went. Enter the Pelican 1120 case. With inside dimensions of 7.25″ x 4.75″ x 3.06″, it’s the smallest ‘small case’ they make. Being a fan of the larger 1510 case for my survey gear, and being priced (with shipping) for a modest $35, it was pretty well a done deal. Pictures of my handywork (pick and pluck style) to follow:


Hands on with the AirMagnet Spectrum XT

AirMagnet Spectrum XT is the second generation of spectrum analyzers to carry the AirMagnet name. The XT is a USB connected device whereas the previous model was a 32-bit CardBus version (OEM’d from Cognio). AirMagnet was gracious enough to host a session at the recent Wireless TechField Day event and we got to spend some quality time with the AirMagnet team discussing the WiFi Analyzer (protocol analyzer) and the Spectrum XT product.

Begin RF Background (okay to skip if you’re a seasoned Wi-Fi guru): WiFi (802.11a/b/g/n) runs in frequencies that are unlicensed by regulatory bodies. Here in the US, that is the FCC. This generally means that anyone can do anything they want in those ranges and they commonly do! People running non-WiFi devices in the 2.4 and 5GHz spaces can often cause interference for wireless networks causing poor performance, intermittent connectivity, or outright failures of wireless networks – especially in the very crowded 2.4GHz range. End RF Background

This being the second iteration of Spectrum Analyzers from AirMagnet, much of my opinions come from using the previous model which was OEM’s from Cognio. Cognio was acquired by Cisco and the old product was relabeled the Cisco Spectrum Expert. All 3 of the CardBus products (Cognio, AirMagnet, Cisco) share a similar (same) codebase and the new Spectrum XT product appears to be a rewrite from the ground up. This brings with it a new interface into the product including views such as the Spectrum Density view. This also brings some quirks for those of us that are familiar with (expecting) one or features from the old application. The USB form factor was easy to manipulate and a welcome change from the CardBus only solution that has forced many of us to resort to the cumbersome ExpressCard to CardBus adapters.

Spectrum Analyzer CardBus with Spectrum XT USB

Spectrum Analyzer CardBus with Spectrum XT USB

The AirMagnet dance of acquiring a license, User Access Control dialogue box, unsigned drivers and no ‘proper’ SSL cert on their My Airmagnet site aside, the installation was relatively straightforward on my Mac running Fusion and Windows 7. It should be noted that in this configuration, Spectrum XT has no direct access to the built in WiFi adapter on the Mac so you’ll either need to reboot into BootCamp or attach a supported USB wireless adapter to be able to pickup SSIDs.

None of us like dealing with SSL certs, but seriously?

UAC Errors are so Vista... I know you can work around them, but should you *have* to?

The main interface of the application sports numerous easy-to-digest views including the new Spectrum Density view, a Real Time FFT with Avg, Max, and Max-Hold views, and the Spectrogram (historical waterfall) view. The less obvious components of the screen along the left side reveal some pretty important data being hidden such as the Duty Cycle listed per-channel and the Interferers and Devices pane. As you can see from my screenshot, I must be doing something wrong because there is a tab for Bluetooth devices and my Bluetooth device isn’t showing up there – it’s showing up in the Non-WiFi Interferer tab. Clearly there is at minimum some ambiguous terminology here that must be explored further – this didn’t seem to be the case with the Cognio card.

Easy to read even if the Bluetooth is sorted wrong.

The card is a touch on the wide side so if you have USB ports that are close together, you’ll want to use the included USB extension cable or a 3rd party USB hub. If you’ve got a Mac setup, it should be noted that with a USB hub, you can easily attach a supported wireless adapter and have a fully functioning product running within a VM.

The addition of SNMP integration makes this application easy to plug into monitoring systems to to trap out to. A nice addition for those of us looking to leave something in the field at a remote location for a few days to ‘watch the air’. Integration with the AirMagnet Survey pro application rounds out the major feature list. Those of us that survey using AirMagnet products, this is a must have for Spectrum integration during surveys.

There is a short list of conspicuously missing features that reveal the somewhat young state of the application – especially if you know and love the CardBus products. Those are exporting your interference devices list and the ability to modify your views to the n-th degree. Expect a slight learning curve for those new to the product. The XT product appears to only allow a max of four displays whereas the legacy product would allow for as many as could fit your screen (I typically used 6 depending on the environment). These outstanding seemingly cosmetic issues I expect will be fixed eventually, but do make sure your support contracts are up to date – AirMagnet can be especially finicky about version releases and they appear to have moved to the traditional AirMagnet licensing scheme (a la Survey Pro and WiFi Analyzer) and away from ‘the card is the license’ that the last product used. Those of us that travel with every tool installer handy (for those sans-Internet times), make sure you download an extra copy of your .lic file and keep it with the app!

AirMagnet Spectrum XT product page

Gestalt IT (Tech Field Day organizers)

In all, the Spectrum XT is a great spectrum analyzer with a slightly different application from the previous model. This means that it’s not going to be a drop-in replacement for those of you looking to move off of the CardBus model – especially if you export identified devices for inclusion into your site-survey report. I’m hoping that these features come soon (I’ve provided this feedback to AirMagnet) and when these and a few of the other last few software tatters get cleaned up, I expect this to become the defacto enterprise-grade survey product.

Editors note: After contact with AirMagnet, the ‘device export’ function is apparently being addressed and should be available in an upcoming patch.

Full disclosure: I was a delegate for the first ever Wireless Tech Field Day event organized by Stephen Foskett and GestaltIT This event was sponsored by Meta-Geek as well as other presenters including payment of accommodations for all delegates. Evaluation product was distributed to delegates for hands-on exposure for this review without promise or commitment to provide any feedback, positive or negative. Professionally, I work for a VAR which provides services for industry leading technology manufacturers. The views expressed on this blog are my personal opinion and do not necessarily reflect opinions my employer.