Network Field Day the Third

“This is the third time; I hope good luck lies in odd numbers…. There is divinity in odd numbers, either in nativity, chance, or death.” – William Shakespeare

Good ole Bill Shakespeare says that good things happen in threes (more or less).  And in the case of Network Field Day, he’s right on the money.  March 29th and 30th, 2012, the best and brightest networking minds will gather in the Tech Field Day San Jose Headquarters at the Airport Doubletree to spend time debating Open Flow, OSPF, and how everything in networking has happened before and will likely happen again.  A sampling of the people that will be arguing about these topics (and many more) are:

Ethan Banks Packet Pushers @ECBanks
Tony Bourke The Data Center Overlords @TBourke
Brandon Carroll Brandon Carroll
Greg Ferro EtherealMind
Packet Pushers
Jeremy L. Gaddis Evil Routers @JLGaddis
Tom Hollingsworth The Networking Nerd @NetworkingNerd
Ivan Pepelnjak @IOSHints
Derick Winkworth Cloud Toad @CloudToad
Mrs. Y. Packet Pushers @MrsYisWhy

There’s a great group of Tech Field Day veterans here, as well as newcomers Derick Winkworth and our mysterious Network Security Princess, Mrs. Y.  I’m excited to be invited back for yet another event with the TFD crew and happy to be considered in such austere company.

What is Tech Field Day?

Simply put, Tech Field Day is the Dragon’s Den of technical presentations.  There is no fluff.  No pretense.  No tolerance for drivel.  Instead, there are nerd knobs and technical content that would make anyone’s head spin.  No one is safe.  Analyst reports are booed.  Water bottles are thrown.  Why do this?  What’s in it for the companies?  Exposure.  The chance to reach a group of independent bloggers and put your best foot forward to show the world what you’re made of.  A chance to answer tough questions.  At Network Field Day 2 (NFD2), NEC presented about their new approach to Open Flow and where they were taking the emerging market.  They must have really liked what we had to say, because they are coming back once again.  I’m sure they’re going to bring a great presentation and lots of details and demonstrations for us to take in and discuss.

What Do I Get From Tech Field Day?

I love the concept of Tech Field Day.  Being able to talk to vendors in a small group with really bright minds helps me understand emerging technologies like Open Flow or Data Center Fabrics.  In my line of work, I might not encounter these things for many years (if ever), but with the help of Tech Field Day I can interact with the people driving these things today.  I also enjoy the fact that I can condense what I’ve learned and give it back to the community in the form of blog posts and discussion.  It’s been suggested that perhaps I’ve been to one too many Tech Field Day events in recent months.  To that I say: I don’t campaign actively to go to every event.  I realize that they are topics that I’m not well suited for.  I am always honored and humbled to accept invitations whenever they are presented to me.  I look at a chance to attend Tech Field Day as an obligation to my readers and followers to provide top notch technical analysis.  My wife has told me in the past the it’s a “nerdy vacation”.  She wasn’t as sure when I showed her the harrowing schedule or the amount of writing that I had to do for each company when I got back home.  The point is that I enjoy the real space networking opportunities and chance to discuss things with my peers that I might never get to otherwise.  Being able to sit down at a table and look someone in the eyes when you’re talking to them has a wonderful way of generating great discussion.

Tech Field Day – The Home Game

For those of you that like to follow along with the Tech Field Day delegates from the comfort of your office chair or recliner, you are more than welcome.  We will be streaming each of the presentations live at  We will also be spending a lot of time on Twitter discussing the presentations and questions about them.  Just make sure to use the hashtag #NFD3 and you can be a part of the discussion.  I always make sure to keep my Twitter client at the forefront so I can ask questions from the home audience when they arise.  That way, I’m truly a delegate representing people and giving them a say in what shapes the events.

If you’d like to learn a little more about Tech Field Day, you can head over to and read up on things.  You can also apply to be a delegate at this link.  I look forward to seeing you online and hearing from you at this Tech Field Day event.

Standard Tech Field Day Sponsor Disclaimer

Tech Field Day is a massive undertaking that involves the coordination of many moving parts.  It’s not unlike trying to herd cats with a helicopter.  One of the most important pieces is the sponsors.  Each of the presenting companies is responsible for paying a portion of the travel and lodging costs for the delegates.  This means they have some skin in the game.  What this does NOT mean is that they get to have a say in what we do.  No Tech Field Day delegate is every forced to write about the event due to sponsor demands. If a delegate chooses to write about anything they see at Tech Field Day, there are no restrictions about what can be said.  Sometimes this does lead to negative discussion.  That is entirely up to the delegate.  Independence means no restrictions.  At times, some Tech Field Day sponsors have provided no-cost evaluation equipment to the delegates.  This is provided solely at the discretion of the sponsor and is never a requirement.  This evaluation equipment is also not a contingency of writing a review, be it positive or negative.


IPv6 Wireless Support – The Broadcast Problem

When I was at Wireless Field Day 2, my standard question to all the vendors concerned IPv6 support.  Since I’m a huge proponent of IPv6 and the Internet will be arriving at IPv6 rather soon, I wanted to know what kind of plans the various wireless companies had for their particular flavor of access devices.  Most of the answers were the same: it’s coming…soon.  The generic response of “soon” usually means that there isn’t much demand for it.  It could also mean that there are some tricky technical challenges.  My first thought was about the operating system kernels being run on these access points.  Since most APs run some flavor of BSD/Linux, kernel space can be a premium.  Based on my own experiments trying to load DD-WRT on Linksys wireless routers, I know that the meager amount of memory on these little things can really restrict the feature sets available to network rock stars.  So it was that I went on thinking about this until I had a chance conversation with Matthew Gast (@MatthewSGast) from Aerohive.  Matthew is the chair for the IEEE 802.11 committee.  Yes, that means he’s in charge of running the ship for all the little subletters that drive wireless standards.  I’d say he’s somewhat familiar with wireless.  I spent some time at a party one night talking to him about the challenges of shoehorning IPv6 support into a wireless AP.  His answers were rather enlightening and may have caused one of my brain cells to explode.

Matthew started things off by telling me about wireless keys.  If you pick up Matthew’s book 802.11 Wireless Networks: The Definitive Guideyou can flip over to page 465 to read about the use of keys in wireless.  Keys are used to ensure that all the traffic flying around in the air between clients stays separated.  That’s a rather important thing when you consider how much data gets pushed around via wireless.  However, the frames that carry those keys are limited in the amount of space they have to carry key information.  So some time ago, the architects of 802.11 took a shortcut.  Rather than duplicating key information over and over again for every possible scenario, they decided to make the broadcast key for each wireless client identical.  This saved space in the packet headers and allowed the AP to send broadcasts to all clients connected to the AP.  They relied on the higher layer mechanisms inherent in ARP and layer 3 broadcast control to prune away unnecessary traffic.  Typically, clients will not respond to a broadcast for a different subnet than the one they are attached to.  The major side effect is that clients may hear broadcasts for VLANs for which they are not a member of.  For the most part, this hasn’t been a very big deal.  That is, until IPv6 came about.

Recall, if you will, that IPv6 uses multicast mechanisms to propagate advertisements about neighbor discovery and router advertisement (RA).  In particular, these RAs tell the IPv6-enabled clients about available routers that can be used to exit the local network.  Mulitcast is a purely layer 3 construct.  At layer 2 (and below), multicasts turn into broadcasts.  This is the mechanism that ensures that non-layer 3 aware devices can receive the traffic.  Now, think about the issue above.  Broadcast keys are all the same for clients no matter which VLAN they may be attached to.  Multicast RAs get converted to broadcasts at layer 2.  Starting to see a problem yet?

Let’s say that we have 3 VLANs in a site, VLAN 21, VLAN 42, and VLAN 63.  We are a member of VLAN 63, but we use the same SSID for all 3 VLANs.  If we turn on IPv6 for each of these three VLANs, we now have 3 different devices sending out RAs and SLAAC packets for addressing hosts.  If these multicast packets are converted into broadcast packets for the SSID, all three VLANs are going to see the same broadcast.  The VLAN information is inconsequential to the broadcast key on the AP.  We’re going to see the RAs for the routers in VLAN 21 and VLAN 42 on top of the one in VLAN 63.  All of these are going to get installed as valid exit points off the local network.  As well, the end system may even assign a SLAAC address to itself with a router from a different VLAN.  According to the end system, it heard about all of these networks, so they must all be valid, right?  The system doesn’t know that it won’t have a layer 2 path to them.  Worse yet, if one of those RAs has the best metric for getting off the local LAN, it’s going to be the preferred exit point.  The end system will be unable to communicate with the exit point.  Bummer.

How do we fix this problem?  Well, the current thinking revolves around suppressing the broadcasts at layer 2.  Cisco does this by default in their wireless controllers.  The WLAN controller acts as a DHCP relay and provides proxy ARP while ignoring all other broadcast traffic.  That’s great to prevent the problem from happening right now.  What happens when the problem grows in the future and we can no longer simply ignore these multicast/broadcast packets.  Thankfully, Matthew had the answer for that as well.  In 802.11ac, the new specification for gigabit speed wireless, they’ve overhauled all the old key mechanisms.  No longer will the broadcast key be shared among all clients on the same AP.  Here’s hoping that we can get some 802.11ac clients and APs out there and supported when the time comes to flip the big switch to IPv6.

I’d like to thank Matthew Gast for his help in creating this blog post and pointing out the problems inherent in broadcast key caching.  I’d also like to thank Andrew von Nagy (@revolutionwifi) for translating Matthew’s discussion into terms a non-wireless guy like me can understand.

Software Release Names

Keith Parsons (@KeithRParsons) is to blame for this one with the following tweet:

I’m not a developer, but I’ve been on the receiving end of some of these software naming conventions before.  I figured I’d share my thoughts on them and maybe get a chuckle or two out of it.

Alpha – You should be happy the program even launches!  Alpha code is basically every module our programmers have been working on thrown together for the purposes of meeting a milestone.  It probably doesn’t work half the time.  It has horrible memory leaks. In fact, 50% of the features that are here won’t be in the final release.  Either because we don’t know how to code them properly or we only put the names in there to generate buzz and get more funding.  Your job as an alpha tester is to ensure that this program doesn’t format your hard drive or cause your GPU to melt through your motherboard.  If you do a really good job helping us fix all the glaring and obvious mistakes, we might give you and invite to the closed beta.  Maybe.  Tech support is great at this point.  Provided the developer isn’t on the phone with his mom or ordering a pizza for a late night coding session.

Beta – Okay, we got the GUI all figured out, and it won’t melt your machine anymore.  We’ve still got memory leaks, and we pulled some of the features that we listed just so we sounded as good as the other programs just like this but didn’t really plan on putting in here anyway.  However, we’re thinking of adding a few more features or changing a whole bunch of stuff right before release so that we don’t have time to test or change anything.  After all, we’ve got a deadline to meet, right?  Your job as a beta tester is to fill out form after form of feedback and bug reports so we know what we screwed up from the alpha code.  In fact, most of it is still screwed up.  We just spent our time going to beta putting in feedback forms and making sure they were all spelled correctly so we didn’t get bug reports that said, “You misspelled feedback.”  If you want to call support, feel free.  We could use a good laugh after looking at our last paycheck.

Beta (Google) – This is actually the release code.  We’ve been running it internally for about six months and it’s bulletproof.  We want to release it to about ten people and then make the rest of you beg for invites while we polish the extra pieces.  We also don’t want to support it in any way, so we’re just going to leave the beta tag on this until the development team that created it gets tired of working here and leaves to go to Microsoft.  Then we’ll just kill the product.  Have fun testing!

Developer Preview – Thank you for paying perfectly good money to be official guinea pigs.  Whether you flew to our conference or signed up for a yearly fee, we really appreciate you giving us extra money for a sneak peak at how horrible our programmers are.  You’re likely going to find out about the developer preview about a hour before we tell the gadget websites.  We’ll give you an older copy on a DVD and tell you to load it up and play with it.  Of course, it’s not really ready to go just yet and not much better than the last beta we put out there.  This really only exists for those app writers out there that want to figure out we’ve screwed up their whole programming structure.  We’re going to force them to massively rewrite their code in a rush to have an “approved” app out in time for the release in 6-9 months.  Of course, we’ll probably just take all their hard work and create our own feature that mimics theirs and cut them out of the profits.  Tech support for developer previews is conducted solely from our online support forums by those people who live and breathe our products.  We don’t actually pay them to like our stuff so much and we surely won’t pay them to keep fixing everyone else’s problems.

Release Candidate (RC) – This is what we used to call “beta”.  But since Google screwed up the term beta for the whole world, we had to come up with a new beta.  Sorry!  In this case, RC releases are the final code.  You can submit bug feedback, but we’re going to ignore it until the product goes live.  No time for delays!  Wall Street expects this out yesterday!  Your job is to find all the bugs and submit them so we can put them into the first service pack.  We’re also going to have to put a time limitation in this so people don’t download the software thinking it’s the final release and then use it forever and call for support on what is essentially a beta release.  Microsoft tried that with Windows ME and, well, you see what happened there.

Open Beta (mostly online games) – This is what you’re going to pay $60 plus $15/month for next month.  It’s the final game code release for the first twenty levels.  We don’t have time to work on the last thirty, so we’re placating you people to finish them.  You’re supposed to be stress testing the servers and verifying the first act of the game is feature complete.  In reality, we know all you nerds are downloading the game and using it as a “try before you buy” sneak preview.  There’s a good chance that we’re leaving some surprise stuff out, but you’re going to look at the program files and figure it out anyway.  Please feel free to post on message boards and fan sites and tell us how much our game sucks and how much it resembles other games that are more popular (we did copy them after all).  We won’t read anything in the feedback queue until we hit the first major patch.  Unless you figured out a way to hit the max level in eight hours.  Then we’ll fix that little bit and have you banned and burn down your house.  No hard feelings.

Gold Release – Hurry up and download this!  It’s the real live version!  It’s even got the right release number so your automatic updater doesn’t freak out later.  We’re trying to get this code to the manufacturing plant or the content delivery network as fast as possible.  In the meantime, someone probably posted this to a popular nerd or gadget website, so our single code server is getting hammered right now.  We’re just going to sit back and laugh at the 1 kbit/sec download speeds.  You fools should really have more patience.  In the meantime, we’re going to be sitting here playing Halo.  Don’t bother calling the support line if you break something.  They won’t be trained on the new version until next Wednesday.

General Availability – Okay, you can now download our software from anywhere.  It hasn’t changed much since the first release candidate.  We just kept correcting spelling mistakes and incrementing the version numbers.  The lead developer took his milestone bonus and went to Fiji for a month, so we couldn’t do any really complicated code fixes.  He’s back now with a sunburn and can’t go outside for two months, so he’s coding away.  We’re not fixing anything until the first service pack comes out, though.  We only release hotfixes if the CEO finds out that this program conflicts with his PalmPilot software.  We should also point out that support is going to be a little hard to come by.  The two people that didn’t schedule their vacations to coincide with the release date for the software were sick last Wednesday during training.  You might try turning it off and on again.  That helps. Really.

First Service Pack – Now you can install the software without fear that it will wipe out all those family pictures you keep forgetting to back up.  We fixed all the bugs you reported in the RC stage.  We’re still working on the ones that you came up with when we really released it.  We also added five new features that will probably break ten other things you really counted on.  We’re also adding in support for the second version of some new software so that we can claim to support it when it comes out sometime next year.  But in reality we’re just going to have to recode everything anyway.  If you work in a mission-critical environment, feel free to install this program now.  We’re 80% sure it won’t explode.  Okay, maybe 65%.

Extended Release/Extended Support – Guess what?  We finally fixed all the bugs!  Granted, you’ve probably been using this software for the last five years and complaining every day.  We fixed everything though!  Now, there have been quantum leaps in hardware and coding technology.  So we’re going to mark this one as “old” and move on to porting the whole thing to Java.  Or HTML5.  Or whatever wacky programming language Microsoft is trying to peddle this week.  The new version will have 68% of the feature set of the previous version.  It will also run 200% slower, due to code bloat.  That’s because the lead developer for the project took his release bonus and moved to Fiji permanently.  We had to hire six new interns to replicate what he was doing.  Then we had to send the code to him to fix the things the interns broke.  Don’t bother calling support unless you are a very important publication or the government.  Then we might help.  But we’re going to charge $500/hr for support.  We also take checks.

I hope this little guide helps you out the next time you’re trying to decipher what the various different software release acronyms/terms mean.  Don’t get me started on major number/minor number versioning, though.  That’s a whole other mess.

Why Not OS X Cougar?

Apple announced today that the new version of OS X (10.8) will be called Mountain Lion.  This makes sense considering the last version was called Lion and this is more of an evolutionary upgrade than a total redesign.  But I wondered why the didn’t pick something more catchy.  Like Cougar.  I realize the connotations that the word “cougar” carries in the world today.  You can read some of them on Urban Dictionary, but be warned it’s a very Not-Safe-For-Work page.  The more I thought about it, the more it made sense that it should be called Cougar.  After all, OS X 10.8…:

– is very mature at this point

– is trying to stay attractive and good looking despite its advancing age

– is trying hard to attract a younger crowd

– unsure of what it wants to be (OS X or iOS)

– has expensive tastes (10.8 will only work well on newer Intel i-series processors)

For the record, OS X 10.1 Puma and 10.3 Panther are the same animal as 10.8 Mountain Lion.  Maybe they’ll save Cougar until 10.9.

Ruckus – Wireless Field Day 2

Our final presenters for Wireless Field Day 2 came from Ruckus Wireless.  I had heard some interesting things about Ruckus and wanted to dig a little deeper into their technology.  We arrived at the Ruckus offices and met up with GT Hill again, fresh from his appearance at the Wireless Mobility Symposium the previous Wednesday.  We also met David Callisch, the vice president of marketing for Ruckus.  Our conference room for the presentation was a little cramped, but it was packed to the gills with Ruckus technology and snacks of all kinds (including M&Ms and Jelly Belly jellybeans).  They even had Diet Dr. Pepper!  They also live their gimmick to the fullest, as all the snacks were served in Ruckus dog bowls and there were “Beware of Dog!” signs posted copiously throughout the office.

We kicked off with a quick chat with Selina Lo, president and CEO.  She welcomed us and  gave us a little info about Ruckus.  Afterwards, David Callisch gave us the whole background of Ruckus and where their previous designs and implementations had focused.  Ruckus seems to cater mostly to the carrier spaces, especially in challenging RF environments like large cities or very dense deployments.  One of the nice side effects of this focus is that all the improvements in their technology from the carrier side filter down into the enterprise line of access points as well.  That’s a great thing for those of us that don’t necessarily play in the large deployment space but want to enjoy the fruits of those labors.

Next, GT said that he had a special treat for us.  He brought in one of the founders of Ruckus, Victor Shtrom.  I could try to do this video justice, but I would fail:

If that didn’t make your brain explode, go back and watch it again.  Victor has probably forgotten more about antenna design and waveform modulation that I’ll ever know.  His dissection of issues encountered with beamforming and signal modulation had the same effect as my conversations with Matthew Gast the night before.  Hence, I’m now running a few brain cells short due to explosion from awesome knowledge.  This is what Tech Field Day is about.  Access to the nerd knobs and the people that tweak them.  I highly recommend watching that video more until you understand what makes the Ruckus AP antenna and software design so different.

After Victor’s 45 minutes of melting my brain, GT got back up to show us one of Ruckus’s cool little secrets, ChannelFly.  According to GT, ChannelFly leverages the BeamFlex technology and software algorithms and using it to perform a channel analysis of the surrounding RF environment.  We’ve always been told as wireless professionals that in the 2.4 GHz spectrum, channels 1, 6, and 11 are the targets for non-overlapping signals.  The problem comes in the real world when every AP out there is on those three channels. What happens when we need to increase the AP density or retrofit APs into an existing design?  Co-channel interference becomes a real issue.  This is where the ChannelFly technology comes in.  The Ruckus AP sits in the middle of all this interference.  And it listens.  ChannelFly usually takes about 24-48 hours to really dial in to the RF environment.  Afterwards, it takes all the RF data that it has compiled and sets itself to the most appropriate channel to provide the highest throughput.  It does this for all channels in 2.4 GHz, not just the magic three.  The added side benefit from this is that the Ruckus APs can coexist with the current AP deployment without interference.  That’s because the best channel with the highest throughput usually just happens to be the one with the least amount of interference for the RF environment.  As I put it during the presentation, “ChannelFly makes everyone happy by being selfish.”

Towards the end, we got a bit of a quick presentation over 802.11u from David Stiff and Wilson So.  David was a presenter at WFD1, albeit with a different organization.  This time, he strayed from spectrum analysis and gave us some highlights of 802.11u.  This technology is often referred to as “mobile hotspot”.  It gives users the ability to join their phones to a WLAN using authentication from public areas.  Think about your iDevice when you go into Starbucks.  Thanks to the agreements that Apple has in place with Starbucks, your iDevice has free access to the Wi-Fi at any one of their locations.  When you walk in the front door, you are instantly connected.  It’s a cool way to ensure that you’re using the Wi-Fi whenever possible.  Now, with 802.11u, extend that idea to be virtually any carrier device.  Think about walking into a sports arena or a bank and getting instant Wi-Fi access from your carrier.  Your phone’s SIM card authenticates you against the APs in the area and tells the carrier to offload your data package onto the wireless network instead of the cellular network.  Do you think carriers are excited about conserving spectrum while simultaneously giving their customers high-speed data access?  I’m sure they’re falling all over themselves to get this technology.  Unlike last year, we got a live demonstration from Wilson So of 802.11u in action.  The mobile phone authenticated via encrypted SIM and joined an AP cleverly hidden in a cardboard box.  Not the flashiest demo out there, but when you think about what it takes to get the technology to the point where it not only works, but works reliably enough to demo in front of the Dragon’s Den of wireless audiences, that’s a pretty impressive demo indeed.

After our 802.11u discussion, we got a tour of the facilites from Steven Martin, vice president of engineering.  He showed us some very interesting test chambers that Ruckus uses to isolate and sources of interference to provide a good reference for the antenna and software to work from.  They can also introduce interference sources in the test chambers to measure how the BeamFlex technology adapts to different environments.  Very cool stuff.

Ruckus’s Oprah Moment consisted of a Ruckus 7962 AP, a ZoneDirector management controller, and a couple of stuffed puppies. My kids especially like the big black lab stuffed pet.  My little dog, on the other hand, isn’t as fond of it.

If you’d like to see more from Ruckus, you can head over to their website at  You can also follow them on Twitter as @RuckusWireless.

Tom’s Take

Ruckus is definitely the most interesting dog in the fight when it comes to RF technology.  They have a unique perspective on creating value by addressing things that other vendors don’t bother with.  They’ve got the technical talent and the rock stars to make a big splash, and their name comes up often when discussing new and innovative wireless technology. I think that by addressing the layer 1 RF issues, they’ve carved an interesting niche away from the wireless industry as a whole.  Niches aren’t a bad thing in the least.  They can either provide you a safe shelter to weather a storm.  Or they can give you a nice base to launch from to take the industry by storm.  Only time will tell what’s in store for the big dogs at Ruckus.

Wireless Field Day 2 Disclaimer

Ruckus was a sponsor of Wireless Field Day 2.  As such, they were responsible for covering a portion of my travel and lodging expenses while attending Wireless Field Day 2. In addition, they provided me a Ruckus 7962 AP, a ZoneDirector management controller, and a couple of stuffed puppies.  They did not ask for, nor where they promised any kind of consideration in the writing of this review/analysis.  The opinions and analysis provided within are my own and any errors or omissions are mine and mine alone.

HP – Wireless Field Day 2

The penultimate presentation at Wireless Field Day 2 was from HP.  Their wireless unit had presented at Wireless Field Day 1 and had a 2-hour slot at WFD2.  We arrived at the soon-to-be demolished HP Executive Briefing center in Cupertino and paid our final respects to the Dirty Chai Machine:

First off, I want you to read their presentation from WFD1.  Go ahead, I’ll wait.  Back?  Good.  For starters, the wireless in the EBC wasn’t working for everyone.  Normally, I’d have just plugged in the provided 15-foot Ethernet cord, but as I was running on my new Macbook Air, I was sans-Ethernet for the first time.  We finally got the Internet going by foregoing the redirect to the captive portal and just going there ourselves, so I wasn’t overly concerned.  Rob Haviland then got us started with an overview of HP’s wireless product line:

With all due respect to Rob, I think he kind of missed the mark here.  I’ve been told by many people that Rob is a very bright guy from the 3Com/H3C acquisition and did a great job getting technical at Interop.  However, I think the presentation here for HP Wireless was aimed at the CxO level and not for the wireless nerds.  As you watch the video, you’ll hear Rocky Gregory chime in just a bit into the presentation that talking to us about the importance of a wireless site survey is a bit like preaching to the choir.  We do this stuff all day every day in our own jobs.  We not only know the importance of things like this, we evangelize it to people as well.  It reminded me a bit of the WFD1 Cisco presentation over CleanAir that Jennifer Huber had given several time to her customers.  In fact, I even asked during the presentation if these “new” access points Rob was talking about were different from the ones we saw previously.  With one exception, they weren’t.  The new AP is the 466-R, an outdoor version of the MSM466.  It’s a ruggedized AP designed to be hung almost anywhere, and it even includes a heater!  Of course, if you want the heater to work, you need to be sure to provide 802.3at power or an external power supply.  Unlike the Cisco Aironet bridges that I’m familiar with implementing, the MSM466-R uses an RJ-45 connection to hook it into the network as opposed to the coax-to-power-injector method.  I’m not entirely sure I’m comfortable running at Cat-5 cable out of my building and plugging it directly into the AP.  I’d much rather see some kind of midspan device sitting inline to provide a handoff.  That’s just me, though.  The MSM466-R also weighs about a third of what comparable outdoor APs weigh, according to Jennifer, who has put some of these in for her customers.  We also spent some time talking about advanced features like band steering your clients away from 2.4 GHz to 5 GHz and the impact that can have on latency in voice calls.  It appears to take 200 msec for a client to be steered toward the 5 GHz radio on an AP according to HP, which can cause hiccups and delay in the voice call.  Sam Clements wondered if the values for those timers were configurable at all, but according to HP they are not.  This could be a huge impact for clients on VoIP calls on a laptop that is roaming across a wireless campus.  I think I’m going to have to spend a little more time digging into this.

After a 10 minute break, we jumped into the new controller that HP is offering, the MSM720 mobility controller.  This unit is marketed toward the lower end of the product line and is targeted to the market of less that 40 APs.  In fact, 40 is the most it will hold.  There is a premium version of the MSM720 that doesn’t hold any more APs but does turn on some additional capabilities like high availability and real-time location services.  This generated a big discussion about licensing models and the desire for customers to absorb additional costs to find out they gained significant features.  I work in a vertical where people are very price-sensitive.  But I also understand that many of the features that we use to market products to people evaporate when you start reducing the “licensed features”.  I’d rather see the most commonly requested features bundled into a single “base” license and they negotiate price points after we’ve agreed on features.  That is a much easier sell that demonstrating all the cool things a product can do, only to have to explain to the customer after the fact, “Well, there is this other license you need…”.  All companies are guilty of this kind of transgression, so I’m not just singling out HP here.  They just happened to be at the watershed moment for our outpouring of distaste over licensing.  The MSM720 is a fine product for the small to medium business that wants the centralized control capability of a controller without breaking the bank.  I’m just not sure how many of them I would end up selling in the long run.

HP’s Oprah Moment was a 2.4 GHz wireless mouse with micro receiver and a pen and paper set.

If you’d like to learn more about HP Wireless, you can check out their website at  You can also follow along with all of their network updates on Twitter as @HP_Networking.

Tom’s Take

This may have been the hardest Tech Field Day review I’ve written.  I feel that HP missed an opportunity here to help show us what makes them so different in wireless.  We got a short overview of technologies we’re already familiar with and two new products targeted at very specific market segments.  The most technical part of our discussion was a block diagram of the AP layout.  There wasn’t any new technology from HP apart from a ruggedized AP.  No talk of Hotspot 2.0 or 802.11ac Gigabit wireless.  In retrospect, after getting to hear from people like Matthew Gast and Victor Shtrom, it was a bit of let down.  I feel like this was a canned presentation designed to be pitched to decision makers and not technical people.  We want nerd knobs and excruciating detail.  From what I’ve heard of Rob Haviland, he can give that kind of presentation.  So, was this a case of of being ill prepared?  Or missing the target audience?  I’m also wondering if the recent upper level concerns inside of HP have caused distraction for the various business units.  The networking people shouldn’t have really been affected by the PSG and Autonomy dealings but who knows at this point.  Is the Mark Hurd R&D decision finally starting to trickle in?  Maybe HP believes that their current AP lineup is rock solid and will keep on trucking for the foreseeable future?  Right now, I don’t have answers to these questions and I don’t know where to find them.  Until I do find those answers though, I’m going to keep a wary eye on HP Wireless.  They’ve shown in the past that they have the capability to impress and innovate.  Now they have to prove it to me again.

Wireless Field Day 2 Disclaimer

HP was a sponsor of Wireless Field Day 2.  As such, they were responsible for covering a portion of my travel and lodging expenses while attending Wireless Field Day 2. In addition, they provided me with a 2.4 GHz wireless mouse with micro receiver and a pen and paper set.  They did not ask for, nor where they promised any kind of consideration in the writing of this review/analysis.  The opinions and analysis provided within are my own and any errors or omissions are mine and mine alone.

Aruba – Wireless Field Day 2

Day 2 of Wireless Field Day 2 kicked off with a double (4-hour) session at Aruba Networks.  I’ve worked with Aruba a little bit in the past, but my experience with them was not as great as HP or Cisco.  I’m pretty sure that I’m going to see a lot of them in the future, so I was excited to get to pick the brains of some of their brightest stars.

After raiding the continental breakfast table at the Aruba Executive Briefing Center, we were welcomed by Ozer Dondurmacioglu (@ozwifi), the Product Marketing Manager for Aruba.  He gave us a quick overview of the layout of the room, with the all important Wi-Fi instructions and directions to the bathroom.  We were then greeted by Keerti Melkote, one of the founders of Aruba and the current Chief Strategy Officer.  Here’s a link to his 1 hour talk about the shift of the market to a primarily Wi-Fi driven environment:

Of course, he’s spot on with a lot of these dissections of the current wireless landscape.  I’ve seen many of my customers moving away from using cables as the primary network connection method to being more free to move around.  Wireless has gone from a cool thing to have in the conference room to a necessity of doing business, as I’m constantly reminded when the wireless around here doesn’t work.  One of the other things that I’m pleased to see that Aruba is “getting” is that security in the wireless realm is integral to the medium.  With all of these bits flying around over our heads, trying to bolt on security after-the-fact is only going to lead to disaster.  By ensuring that security is part and parcel from the very beginning, Aruba is making a long step toward ensuring end-to-end security is integrated.

After the first presenter, Ozer treated us to an interactive game of “How Big Of An Airhead Are You?” Named after the Aruba Airhead’s community site, this little trivia game was a great way to poke some fun at people while at the same time keeping us interacting during the long session.  It doesn’t hurt that the prize for getting the questions right was an Aruba Instant AP-135.  We all had a good laugh or two and moved on to the second presenter.

We were treated to a discussion about BYOD from Aruba from a couple of the AirWave product managers, Carlos Gomez and Cameron Esdaile.  These two Aussie gents gave us a great talk about the need for things like self-service captive portal registration for wireless connectivity as well as the ability to push settings to devices to restrict access to resources.  A lot of the development around BYOD restrictions and control seems to be aimed at iOS devices from the Cupertino Fruit, Computer, and Tablet Company.  I don’t know if this speaks to the popularity of those devices or the ease with which the Mobile Device Management (MDM) APIs are available.  In fact, the majority of the time I ask about having a similar feature set on Android, the response is usually “Soon…”.  I’m waiting for the day when Android reaches parity with that other mobile device OS.  Another round of HBOAAAY followed and more AP-135s were handed out.

The final session was centered around the Aruba Instant AP itself.  I was a little curious about the reasoning.  Why concentrate on something designed for such a small deployment base.  Thankfully, Pradeep Iyer was ready to bring the good stuff and showed me why Aruba Instant is such an interesting technology.  It turns out that a lot of thought went into the development of Aruba Instant, from the ability to connect to a setup SSID after unboxing so no cables are needed, to the design of the GUI for management and configuration of Aruba Instant.  I’m going to take a moment to talk about this because I think people are finally starting to realize that running your GUI in Java or Flash is a “bad thing”.  The Aruba Instant GUI is coded entirely in HTML5.  That means it can be rendered on any modern browser, including Mobile Safari.  The boxes containing information in the GUI also dynamically adjust to fit screen width without scroll bars, because according to Pradeep “scrollbars are evil” (he’s right).  They also do some ingenious things like making the default language of the GUI dependent on the system language of the laptop that launched it.  Strikingly brilliant in hindsight, I think.  The graphs on the pages are also drawn with a logarithmic scale, so you don’t have random high spikes making the rest of your graph about .01 mm tall.  Great thinking there as well.

Blake Krone from the NSA Show podcast must have gotten bored with our GUI love because he swung the conversation toward radio frequency (RF).  At the forefront of conversation was the ability of Aruba APs to do in-band spectrum analysis with their Atheros chipsets.  Historically, APs couldn’t serve clients and do spectrum analysis at the same time.  Cisco’s solution to this problem was to buy Cognio and integrate their spectrum analysis chips into the 3500/3600 APs as CleanAir.  Aruba says that they can now do the same thing without a dedicated chip in their APs.  This does run counter to what I (and many others) have always been told, so it will be interesting to see how this feature works out.  RF discussions are always interesting because they technology they are based on changes so rapidly that having a similar talk even just six months ago would have resulted in vastly different answers.  After the final presentation, we heard from Ozer one last time and were give an Aruba RAP-2WG, a small AP the size of a deck of cards.  This one functions more like a business card for Aruba.  Since it requires an Aruba controller to operate, this one is attached to a development controller at Aruba’s headquarters.  When you hook it up, it generates an SSID that you join.  When you try to go to the web, the request is redirected to an Aruba splash page that tells you all about the Aruba wireless offerings.  You can still do some web surfing and Internet access from it, but you can’t reconfigure it unless you have an Aruba wireless controller.  A pretty neat idea, and it definitely beats all the USB drives I seem to collect at trade shows.

If you’d like to learn more about Aruba, you can check out their website at  You can also follow them on Twitter as @ArubaNetworks.  You can also head over to their Airheads Community site and interact with lots of Aruba users, customers, and employees.  You can find the Airheads at

Tom’s Take

Aruba has some interesting products that seem to be transitioning to some new user-friendly GUI designs, both from the Instant AP and controller UIs to the ease with which the AmigoPod can help ease BYOD setup.  I think that their attention to the little details that we all see when we manage networks and seem to complain about (but never bother to give feedback to fix) will help them ease those that are looking to move up from a consumer-grade wireless vendor or make a jump from another enterprise solution.  It became clear to me during this presentation that Aruba is firmly in the number two slot when it comes to challenging for the crown of wireless.  The question is whether or not they can make gains on Cisco while the rest of the pack catches up to them.

Wireless Field Day 2 Disclaimer

Aruba was a sponsor of Wireless Field Day 2.  As such, they were responsible for covering a portion of my travel and lodging expenses while attending Wireless Field Day 2. In addition, they provided me with an Aruba Instant AP-135 access point, an Aruba RAP-2WG access point, an Aruba polo shirt, and an Aruba pen.  They did not ask for, nor where they promised any kind of consideration in the writing of this review/analysis.  The opinions and analysis provided within are my own and any errors or omissions are mine and mine alone.