AirCheck G2 gets a v3

You may recall my blog post year lauding the version 2 firmware for the Netscout G2. I’m very pleased that Netscout has continued product development, taking feedback from users (including myself) on ways to further improve the already-awesome AirCheck G2. I’ve been working with the v3 firmware for the AirCheck for a bit over a month now and I’m happy to report in with my new favorite improvements – all delivered via a software update under a current support contract!

1) Improved packet captures

One of the things I didn’t write about last time was the ability to do packet captures that was introduced in v2. Admittedly, it felt somewhat half-baked and there are two very important enhancements that make this the tool I always hoped it would be. Firstly, we get the ability to slice packets. Those of you familiar with packet captures will know that in the vast majority of cases, we’re interested with the beginning of the 802.11 frames (since the payload is commonly encrypted). The ability to slice packets means that we can get very valuable packet-level analysis without capturing the entire frame!

Note the 'Slice Size' link set to 64 B

Packet slicing

Secondly (and leading directly into my next favorite thing) is a *much* easier way to get the actual packet captures off of the AirCheck. In the past (and in addition to dealing with file sizes that were needlessly cumbersome), you’d have to grab the AirCheck G2 Desktop software and hook your AirCheck up to a computer to copy the capture off. Now you can just plug in an ethernet cable and the upload the tests right into the Link-Live service that comes included with your AirCheck! From there, you can download the raw .pcap file for use in your favorite packet capture analysis tool (Omnipeek, CloudShark, WireShark, Wi-Fi Analyzer, etc).

Download your packets here!

.pcap files in Link-Live

2. Cloud (Link-Live all the things)

You may have guessed from my above comments that the Cloud enablement is right up there on my list of awesome things that this update brings. With a notable decrease in reliance on the Windows-only desktop application, the improved Link-Live integration now supports a whole slew of AirCheck uploads including:

  • Full AutoTest results
  • Session files
  • Screenshots
  • Packet captures (mentioned above)
  • Job, location, comments

Further reliance on the Link-Live portal is clearly a huge focus for the AirCheck team and they’ve delivered on many key integrations to help our field teams get data off of the AirCheck G2s in a timely fashion. In addition to being able to pull files off of the AirChecks enabled by Link-Live, the ability to push profiles lands squarely in the ‘awesome to have’ column. Being able to upload pre-configured profiles to your fleet units removes much of the inconsistencies that large teams can sometimes run across. 

3. Over the network firmware updates

Last, but certainly not least of the new features, the ability to do over-the-network firmware updates means that you no longer have to have access to a USB cable and Windows machine just to get all of the future improvements that Netscout is clearly on track to deliver. For an awesome product that continues to get software based improvements that genuinely move the needle, this feature changes the game for getting current software onto our AirChecks. Simply plug the unit into a working network connect and click the ‘Check for Software Updates’ and you’re good to go!

Right from the UI!

Software Update

Way to go Netscout team for bring a truck load of features to an already indispensable tool. Making new features that people will actually use (as opposed to the bloat we commonly see) is not only a refreshing take from the Netscout team, but continues to make the AirCheck G2 the best in Wi-Fi handheld triage tools. If you’ve not gotten your hands on an AirCheck G2 by now, you’re missing out.

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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/

AirCheck G2 gets a v2

It’s no secret that I’m a fan of the Netscout AirCheck G2 and have been since before it’s release. I’m happy to see that today they announced the version 2 of the firmware for the AirCheck G2 which brings some pretty neat features to the product. The official page goes into greater detail on the updates, but the two I’m most impressed with are the new interferers page and the integration of iPerf testing for the unit.

The interference detection is a nice to have feature for those field teams that need an initial look at the non-Wi-Fi devices in the air around them. It’s leveraging the integrated WLAN radio for spectrum analysis so it’s not perfect, but it readily enough identified several of the more common interference devices around me (bluetooth and microwave ovens). In addition to identifying the interference, the ‘locate’ functionality that you’ve come to expect with the AirCheck also works with the source of interference. In my testing, I was able to demonstrate that moving away from an active microwave oven did indeed show a corresponding drop in detected signal strength. Let’s be fair, it’s not a fully blown FFT based Spectrum Analyzer, but in a pinch, and for common items, it’s far more insight than we’ve ever had in a a handheld tester.

Screenshot0001 Screenshot0004 Screenshot0007

The iPerf server is another interesting new feature – not only for the AirCheck side of the equation, but for the far side tester as well. The newly announced Test Accessory from Netscout is reminiscent of the LinkSprinter products – handheld, portable, battery or PoE powered, and cloud enabled tester.

IMG_9364

The Test Accessory

This integrates quite nicely with the v2 firmware with the new iPerf test option once you connect to your SSID. The nice bit is that this removes most all of the headache of doing iPerf testing – configuring the server and figuring out what it’s IP address is. You can plug the Test Accessory into your network anywhere and it will phone home to the Link-Live service. The AirCheck will query the service and automatically populate the testers IP address for your test. This makes a very simple to use throughput tester that’s easy to carry and accessible to everyone. If you don’t have a Test Accessory or if you’re comfortable with iPerf testing, you can also just use the AirCheck as a standard iPerf endpoint, so you’re covered either way you want to go here – with a stock, static internal iPerf tester or with a field accessible, cloud enabled tester that goes anywhere.

Screenshot0008Screenshot0009 Screenshot0010

These features take an already dead-useful testing tool and expand it’s role for the Wireless LAN deployer to go beyond just ‘is it up’ testing. With the ability to now detect a number of interferers and do actual throughput testing of a Wi-Fi network, the field implications are that your existing installation teams (or other G2 users) can more deeply validate the functionality of a network – and when things go wrong, have another level of insight that they previously did not have. I’m quite happy that Netscout is clearly investing in, not only the G2, but additional products that augment and expand it’s functionality. The G2 is an overbuilt hardware platform and it’s refreshing to see that Netscout is taking advantage of that extra horsepower. If you’re an AirCheck G2 user, you really need to go get the firmware update now. If you’re not an AirCheck G2 user, what are you waiting for?

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.