Day two of Wireless Tech Field Day started off with HP giving us a presentation at their Executive Briefing Center in Cupertino, CA. As always, we arrived at the location and then immediately went to the Mighty Dirty Chai Machine to pay our respects. There were even a few new converts to the the Dirty Chai goodness, and after we had all been properly caffeinated, we jumped into the HP briefing.
The first presenter was Rich Horsley, the Wireless Products and Solutions Manager for HP Networking. He spoke a bit about HP and their move into the current generation of controller-based 802.11n wireless networks through the acquisition of Colubris Networks back in 2008. They talked at length about some of the new technology they released that I talked about a couple of weeks ago over here. Rather than have a large slide deck, they instead whiteboarded a good portion of their technology discussion, fielding a number of questions from the assembled delegates about the capabilities of their solutions. Chris Rubyal, a Wireless Solutions Architect, helped fill in some of the more technical details.
HP has moved to a model where some of the functions previously handled exclusively by the controller have been moved back into the APs themselves. While not as “big boned” as a solution from Aerohive, this does give the HP access points the ability to segment traffic, such as the case where you want local user traffic to hop off at the AP level to reach a local server, but you want the guest network traffic to flow back to the controller to be sent to a guest access VLAN. HP has managed to do this by really increasing the processor power in the new APs. They also have increased antenna coverage on both the send and receive side for much better reception. However, HP was able to keep the power budget under 15.4 watts to allow for the use of 802.3af standard power over Ethernet (PoE). I wonder if they might begin to enable features on the APs at a later date that might require the use of 802.3at PoE+ in order to fully utilize everything. Another curious fact was that if you want to enable layer 3 roaming on the HP controller, you need to purchase an additional license. Given the number of times I’ve been asked about the ability to roam across networks, I would think this would be an included feature across all models. I suppose the thinking is that the customer will mention their desire to have the feature up front, so the license can be included in the initial costs, or the customer will bring it up later and the license can be purchased for a small additional cost after the fact. Either way, this is an issue that probably needs some more visiting down the road as HP begins to get deeper into the wireless market.
After some more discussion about vertical markets and positioning, it was time for a demo from Andres Chavez, a Wireless Solutions Tester. Andres spends most of his time in the lab, setting up APs and pushing traffic across them. He did the same for us, using an HP E-MSM460 and iPerf. The setup worked rather well at first, pushing 300Mbits of data across the AP while playing a trailer for the Star Wars movie on Blu-Ray at full screen in the background. However, as he increased the stream to 450Mbits per second, Mr. Murphy reared his ugly head and the demo went less smooth at that point. There were a few chuckles in the audience about this, but you can’t fault HP for showing us in real time what kinds of things their APs are capable of, especially when the demo person wasn’t used to being in front of a live video stream. One thing that did make me pause was the fact that the 300Mbit video stream pushed the AP’s processor to 99% utilization. That worried me from the aspect that we were only pushing traffic across one SSID and had no real policies turned on at the AP level. I wonder what might happen if we enable QoS and some other software things when the AP is already taxed from a processor perspective, not to mention putting 4-clients on at the same time. When I questioned them about this, they said that there were actually two processor cores in the AP, but one was disabled right now and would be enabled in future updates. Why disable one processor core instead of letting it kick in and offload some of the traffic? I guess that’s something that we’ll have to see in the future.
After a break, the guys from HP sat down with the delegates and had a round table discussion about challenges in wireless networking today and future directions. It was nice to sit down for once and have a discussion with the vendors about these kinds of topics. Normally, we would have a round table like this if a session ended early, but having it scheduled into our regular briefing time really gave us a chance to explore some topics in greater depth than we might have been able to with only a 5-10 minute window. Andrew vonNagy brought up an interesting topic about needed better management of user end-node devices. The idea that we could restrict what a user could access based on their client device is intriguing. I’d love to be able to set a policy that restricted my iPhone and iPad users to specific applications such as the web or internal web apps. I could also ensure that my laptop clients had full access even with the same credentials.
HP is getting much better with their Field Day presentations. I felt this one was a lot better than the previous one, both from a content perspective and from the interaction level. Live demos are always welcome, even if they don’t work 100%. Add to that the ability to sit down and brainstorm about the future of wireless and you have a great morning. I think HP’s direction in the wireless space is going to be interesting to watch in the coming months. They seem to be attempting to push more and more of the functions of the APs back into the APs themselves. This will allow for more decisions to be made at the edge of the network and keep traffic from needing to traverse all the way to the core. I think that HP’s transition to the “fatter” AP at the edge will take some time, both from a technology deployment perspective and to ensure that they don’t alienate any of their current customers by reducing the effectiveness of their currently deployed equipment. I’m going to be paying attention in the near future to see how these things proceed.
If you’d like to learn more about HP Wireless Networking, you can check them out at http://h17007.www1.hp.com/us/en/products/wireless/index.aspx. You can also find them on Twitter as @HP_Networking.
HP was a sponsor of Wireless Tech Field Day, and as such they were responsible for a portion of my travel expenses and hotel accommodations. In addition, they provided lunch for the delegates, as well as a pen and notepad set and a travel cooler with integrated speakers. At no time did they ask for nor where they promised any kind of consideration in the writing of this review. The analysis and opinions presented here are given freely and represent my own thoughts.