Connecting SMBs The Easy Way With Aerohive Connect

Aerohive

Wireless is hard. When you’re putting together large deployments of access points in challenging environments with tons of security on top of it all you realize the difficulty. That’s why most major wireless deployments require a lot of time, planning, and documentation to pull off correctly. But what if things are on the small side?

A Small World Without Wires

The average small business (SMB) is stuck in a wireless limbo. They have requirements that far exceed the performance profile of standard consumer wireless devices. Most SMBs have more than three or four devices connecting at a time. They have reliability issues that need to be dealt with. And they need it all in a package that doesn’t need constant minding to work appropriately.

When you look at the market for consumer wireless today, the real push is to get rid of any configuration at all. Even the old Apple Airport, which was simplistic in its day, is too “complicate” for modern users. Solutions like Google Wifi aim to be the kind of solution that just requires a cable plugged in. No additional configuration beyond that. Which works wonders if you’re a consumer at home that needs to enable some tablets and a smart TV. But for businesses, there needs to be a level of control above that.

At the same time, wireless solutions for SMBs need to offer a limited choice of options. When you give someone a huge list of choices with no real direction on how to use them, you get something I’ve started calling Freestyle Syndrome, after the infamous Coke Freestyle machines. Too many choices cause indecision. Even Coke has finally figured this out by creating guides on the first page of the machine to guide people to Low Calorie options or Fruit Flavored drinks. They realize that the best way to give people tons of choices is to artificially limit those choices in such a way as to give the average user more direction on how to use them.

Buzzing With Opportunity

Enter the newest offering from Aerohive. Announced yesterday, Aerohive has a new 2×2:2 AP on the market, the AP 122. They are combining this new AP with a unique software offering, Aerohive Connect. Aerohive Connect solves the above issues with by providing enhanced capabilities for SMBs without overwhelming them wth pointless options.

Aerohive Connect is a version of the HiveManager software that is optimized to deliver the features that most SMBs need. Included is basic RF planning to find the best place to put your APs, guided deployment and configuration to ensure that you set those APs up correctly, and health monitoring to make sure they are working correctly into the future. You also get features to help create guest access networks to keep your traffic segmented between employees and customers.

What you don’t get with Aerohive Connect is some of the more advanced features of deploying multiple branch sites, advanced security profiles, and other advanced enterprise features of HiveManager. That’s how Aerohive is able to provide these features at a lower price point to stay attractive for SMBs.

Another thing that you won’t see from Aerohive is something common to other solutions like this. Instead of pushing you into “upgrading” to a full-featured version of the software by limiting the number of APs that can be connected, Aerohive Connect does not have a limit on the number of connected APs. You can use it with 2 APs or 25 APs with no limits. If the basic feature set is all you ever need, that’s all you’ll ever pay for. There’s no hidden uplift to recover costs, which essentially turns the SMB solution into an extended trial.


Tom’s Take

As far as solutions for SMBs go, I think Aerohive is on track with Aerohive Connect. They are giving a reduced feature offering that’s perfect for the target market with none of the traditional “gotchas” that I see from other solutions that are simply trying to upset users into a more expensive and more useless solution. Rather than trying to get the mom-and-pop convenience store chain on a full-blown enterprise wireless control system, why not target them with the best solution for them rather than a one-size-fits-all-but-not-really offering?

I think Aerohive is going to get a lot of traction with Aerohive Connect in the market. I will be curious to get an update from them in the coming months to see just how popular things have become.

Sorting Through SD-WAN

lightspeed

SD-WAN has finally arrived. We’re not longer talking about it in terms of whether or not it is a thing that’s going to happen, but a thing that will happen provided the budgets are right. But while the concept of SD-WAN is certain, one must start to wonder about what’s going to happen to the providers of SD-WAN services.

Any Which Way You Can

I’ve written a lot about SDN and SD-WAN. SD-WAN is the best example of how SDN should be marketed to people. Instead of talking about features like APIs, orchestration, and programmability, you need to focus on the right hook. Do you see a food processor by talking about how many attachments it has? Or do you sell a Swiss Army knife by talking about all the crazy screwdrivers it holds? Or do you simply boil it down to “This thing makes your life easier”?

The most successful companies have made the “easier” pitch the way forward. Throwing a kitchen sink at people doesn’t make them buy a whole kitchen. But showing them how easy and automated you can make installation and management will sell boxes by the truckload. You have to appeal the opposite nature that SD-WAN was created to solve. WANs are hard, SD-WANs make them easy.

But that only works if your SD-WAN solution is easy in the first place. The biggest, most obvious target is Cisco IWAN. I will be the first to argue that the reason that Cisco hasn’t captured the SD-WAN market is because IWAN isn’t SD-WAN. It’s a series of existing technologies that were brought together to try and make and SD-WAN competitor. IWAN has all the technical credibility of a laboratory full of parts of amazing machines. What it lacks is any kind of ability to tie all that together easily.

IWAN is a moving target. Which platform should I use? Do I need this software to make it run correctly? How do I do zero-touch deployments? Or traffic control? How do I plug a 4G/LTE modem into the router? The answers to each of these questions involves typing commands or buying additional software features. That’s not the way to attack the complexity of WANs. In fact, it feeds into that complexity even more.

Cisco needs to look at a true SD-WAN technology. That likely means acquisition. Sure, it’s going to be a huge pain to integrate an acquisition with other components like APIC-EM, but given the lead that other competitors have right now, it’s time for Cisco to come up with a solution that knocks the socks off their longtime customers. Or face the very real possibility of not having longtime customers any longer.

Every Which Way But Loose

The first-generation providers of SD-WAN bounced onto the scene to pick up the pieces from IWAN. Names like Viptela, VeloCloud, CloudGenix, Versa Networks, and more. But, aside from all managing to build roughly the same platform with very similar features, they’ve hit a might big wall. They need to start making money in order for these gambles to pay off. Some have customers. Others are managing the migration into other services, like catering their offerings toward service providers. Still others are ripe acquisition targets for companies that lack an SD-WAN strategy, like HPE or Dell. I expect to see some fallout from the first generation providers consolidating this year.

The second generation providers, like Riverbed and Silver Peak, all have something in common. They are building on a business they’ve already proven. It’s no coincidence that both Riverbed and Silver Peak are the most well-known names in WAN optimization. How well known? Even major Cisco partners will argue that they sell these two “best of breed” offerings over Cisco’s own WAAS solution. Riverbed and Silver Peak have a definite advantage because they have a lot of existing customers that rely on WAN optimization. That market alone is going to net them a significant number of customers over the next few years. They can easily sell SD-WAN as the perfect addition to make WAN optimization even easier.

The third category of SD-WAN providers is the late comers. I still can’t believe it, but I’ve been reading about providers that aren’t traditional companies trying to get into the space. Talk about being the ninth horse in an eight horse race. Honestly, at this point you’re better off plowing your investment money into something else, like Internet of Things or Virtual Reality. There’s precious little room among the existing first generation providers and the second generation stalwarts. At best, all you can hope for is a quick exit. At worst, your “novel” technology will be snapped up for pennies after you’re bankrupt and liquidating everything but the standing desks.


Tom’s Take

Why am I excited about the arrival of SD-WAN? Because now I can finally stop talking about it! In all seriousness, when the boardroom starts talking about things that means it’s past the point of being a hobby project and now has become a real debate. SD-WAN is going to change one of the most irritating aspects of networking technology for us. I can remember trying to study for my CCNP and cramming all the DSL and T1 knowledge a person could fit into a brain in my head. Now, it’s all point-and-click and done. IPSec VPNs, traffic analytics, and application identification are so easy it’s scary. That’s the power of SD-WAN to me. Easy to use and easy to extend. I think that the landscape of providers of SD-WAN technologies is going to look vastly different by the end of 2017. But SD-WAN is going to be here for the long haul.

Two Takes On ASIC Design

Making ASICs is a tough task. We learned this last year at Cisco Live Berlin from this conversation with Dave Zacks:

Cisco spent 6 years building the UADP ASIC that powers their next generation switches. They solved a lot of the issues with ASIC design and re-spins by creating some programmability in the development process.

Now, watch this video from Nick McKeown at Barefoot Networks:

Nick says many of the same things that Dave said in his video. But Nick and Barefoot took a totally different approach from Cisco. Instead of creating programmable elements in the ASIC design, then abstracted the entire language of function definition from the ASIC. By using P4 as the high level language and making the system compile the instruction sets down to run in the ASIC, they reduced the complexity, increased the speed, and managed to make the system flexible and capable of implementing new technologies even after the ASIC design is set in stone.

Oh, and they managed to do it in 3 years.

Sometimes, you have to think outside the box in order to come up with some new ideas. Even if that means you have to pull everything out of the box. By abstracting the language from the ASIC, Barefoot not only managed to find a way to increase performance but also to add feature sets to the switch quickly without huge engineering costs.

Some food for thought.

Culling The Community

exclusion

By now, you may have seen some bit of drama in the VMUG community around the apparent policy change that disqualified some VMUG leaders based on their employer. Eric Shanks (@Eric_Shanks) did a great job of covering it on his blog as did Matt Crape (@MattThatITGuy)with his post. While the VMUG situation has its own unique aspects, the question for me boils down to something simple: How do you remove people from an external community?

Babies And Bathwater

Removing unauthorized people from a community is nothing new under the sun. I was a Cisco Champion once upon a time. During the program’s second year I participated in briefings and events with the rest of the group, including my good friend Amy Arnold (@AmyEngineer). When the time came to reapply to the program for Year 3, I declined to apply again for my own reasons. Amy, however, was told that she couldn’t reapply. She and several other folks in the program were being disqualified for “reasons”. It actually took us a while to figure out why, and the answer still wasn’t 100% clear. To this day the best we can figure out is that there is some kind of conflict between anyone working with the public sector or government and the terms and conditions of the Champions program.

The lack of communication about the rules was the biggest issue by far with the whole transition. People don’t like being excluded. They especially don’t like being excluded from a group they were previously a member of. It takes time and careful explanation to help them understand why they are no longer able to be a part of a community. Hiding behind vague statements and pointing to rule sections doesn’t really help.

In the case of the VMUG issue above, the answer as to why the dismissed leaders were disqualified still isn’t clear. At least, it isn’t clear according to the official rules. There is still some debate as to the real reasoning behind everything, as the comments on Matt’s blog indicate. However, the community has unofficially settled on the reasoning being that those leaders were employed by someone that VMware, who is more-than-loosely affiliated with VMUG, has deemed a direct competitor.

I’m no stranger to watching companies go from friends to frenemies to competitors in the blink of an eye. VMware and Cisco. VMware and Scale Computing. Cisco and HP. All of these transitions took two aligned companies and put them on opposite sides of the firing line. And in a lot of cases, the shift in messaging was swift. Last week they were both great partners. The next week shifted to “We have always been at war with Eurasia.” Which didn’t bode well for people that were caught in the middle.

Correcting The Position

How do you correctly go about affecting changes in membership? How can you realistically make things work when a rule change suddenly excludes people? It’s not an easy path, but here are some helpful hints:

  • COMMUNICATION! – Above all else, it is absolutely critical to communicate at every step of the process. Don’t leave people guessing as to your reasoning. If you are contemplating a rule change, let everyone know. If you are looking to enforce a rule that was previously not enforced, warn everyone well in advance. Don’t let people come up with their own theories. Don’t make people write blogs asking for clarification on a situation.
  • If a person is being excluded because of a rule change, give the a bit of grace period to exit on their own terms. If that person is a community leader, they will need time to transition a new person into their role. If that person is a well-liked member of the community, give them a chance to say goodbye instead of being forced out. That grace period doesn’t need to be months long. Usually by the next official meeting or briefing time is enough. Giving someone the chance to say goodbye is much better than telling everyone they left. It provides closure and gives everyone a chance to discuss what the next steps will be.
  • If a rule change is in order that excludes members of the community, weigh it carefully. Ask yourself what you are gaining from it. Is it a legal reason? Does it need to be made to comply with some kind of regulation? Those are valid reasons and should be communicated with enough warning. People will understand. But if the reasoning behind your rule change is spite or retaliation for something, carefully consider your next steps. Realize that every rank-and-file member of the community has their own opinions and vision. Just because Evil CEO made your CEO mad doesn’t mean that his Local SE has the same feelings. And it absolutely doesn’t mean that Local SE is going to subvert your community for their own ends. These are the kinds of decisions that divide people at the expense of keeping your community free of “influences”.

It can’t be said enough that you need to talk to the community before you even begin debating action. There are no community organizations that blindly follow orders from on high. These are places where thinking people interact and share. And if they are suddenly told how things are going to be without any discussion or debate, you can better believe they are going to try and get to the bottom of it. Whether you want them to or not.


Tom’s Take

Kicking people out of something is never easy. Tech Field Day has rules about delegates being employed by presenting vendors. More than once I’ve had conversations with people about being disqualified from being a delegate. Most of them understand why that’s the case beforehand because our policy is straightforward. But if it’s ever changed, you can better believe that we’re going to let everyone know well in advance.

Communities run on communication. Discussion, debate, and ultimately acceptance are all driven by knowing what’s happening at all times. If you make rules under the cloak of secrecy for reasons which aren’t readily apparent, you risk alienating more than just the people you’re looking to exclude.

Blogging By The Refrigerator’s Light

Blogging isn’t starting off to a good 2017 so far. Ev Williams announced that Medium is cutting back and trying to find new ways to engage readers. The platform of blogging is scaling back as clickbait headlines and other new forms of media capture the collective attention for the next six seconds. How does that all relate to the humble tech blogger?

Mindshare, Not Eyeshare

One of the reasons why things have gotten so crazy is the drive for page views. Clickbait headlines serve the singular purpose of getting someone to click on an article to register a page view. Ever clicked on some Top Ten article only to find that it’s actually a series of 10 pages in a slideshow format? Page views. I’ve even gone so far as to see an article of top 7 somethings broken down into 33(!) pages, each with 19 ads and about 14 words.

Writers competing for eyeballs are always going to lose in the end. Because the attention span of the average human doesn’t dally long enough to make a difference. Think of yourself in a crowded room. Your eyes dart back and forth and all around trying to find something in the crowd. You may not even know what you’re looking for. But you’ll know it when you see it. Your attention wanders as you scan through the crowd.

Blogging, on the other hand, is like finding a good conversation in the crowd. It engages the mind. It causes deeper thinking and engagement that leads to lasting results. The best blog posts don’t have thousands of views in the first week followed by little to nothing for the rest of eternity. They have active commenters. They have response pieces. They have page views and search results that get traffic years after publication.

The 3am Ah Ha Moments

Good blogs shouldn’t just be about “going viral”. Good blogs should have something called Fridge Brilliance. Simply put, the best blogs hit you out of the blue a day after you read it standing in front of your fridge door. BANG. Now you get it! You run off to see how it applies to what you’re doing or even to give your perspective on things.

The mark of a truly successful blog is creating something that lasts and is memorable in the minds of readers. Even if all you’re really known for is “that one post” or a series of great articles, you’ve made an impression. And, as I’ve said before, you can never tell which post is going to hit it big. So the key is to keep writing what you write and making sure you’re engaging your audience at a deeper level than their corneas.

That’s not to say that you can’t have fun with blog posts now and then or post silly things here and there. But if you really want to be known as an authoritative source of content, you have to stay consistent. One of the things that Dave Henry (@DaveMHenry) saw in his 2016 wrap-up was that his most viewed posts were all about product announcements. Those tend to get lots of headlines, but for an independent blog it’s just as much about the perspective the writer lends as it is for the news itself. That’s how you can continue to engage people beyond the eyeball and into the brain.


Tom’s Take

I’ve noticed that people still like to write. They want to share thoughts. But they pick the wrong platforms. They want eyeballs instead of minds. They don’t want deep thoughts. They just want an audience. That’s the wrong way to look at it. You want engagement. You want disagreement and argument and 4,000 word response posts about why you’re completely wrong. Because that’s how you know you’ve hooked the reader. You’re a splinter in their mind that won’t go away. That’s the real draw. Keep your page views. I’d rather have memories and fridge brilliance instead.

Bringing 2017 To Everyone

calendar

It’s time once again for my traditional New Year’s Day navel gazing. As per tradition with my blog, I’m not going to make prognostications about networking or IT in general. Either I’m going to wind up totally wrong or be totally right and no one will care. I rather enjoy the ride as we go along, so trying to guess what happens is kind of pointless.

Instead, I’m going to look at what I want to accomplish in the coming year. It gives me a chance to analyze what I’m doing and what I want to be working on. And it’s a whole lot easier than predicting that SDN is going to take everyone’s job or OpenFlow being dead again.

Write Like the Wind

My biggest goal for 2016 was to write more. And that I did. I worked in writing any time I could. I wrote about ONUG, SD-WAN, and other fun topics. I even wrote a small book! Finding time to work all the extra typing in to my Bruce Wayne job at Tech Field Day was a bit challenging here and there. And more than once I was publishing a blog post at the deadline. But all that writing did help me talk about new subjects in the industry and develop great ideas at the same time.

I also encouraged more people to write. I wanted to get people putting their thoughts down in a form that didn’t require listening or watching video. Writing is still very important and I think it’s a skill that more people should develop. My list of blogs to read every day grew in 2016 and I was very happy to see it. I hope that it continues well into 2017 as well.

King Of The Hill

2017 is going to be an exciting year for me and Tech Field Day. I ran Networking Field Day 12 as the host of the event for the first time. In the coming year, Stephen and I are going to focus on our topics areas even deeper. For me, that means immersing myself in networking and wireless technologies more than ever before. I’m going to be learning as much as I can about all the new things going on. It’s a part of the role of being the host and organizer for both Networking Field Day and Mobility Field Day coming up this year.

I’m also going to be visiting lots of other conferences. Cisco Live, Interop, and even Open Networking Summit are on my list this year. We’re going to be working closely with those shows to put on even more great Tech Field Day content. I love hearing the excitement from my friends in the industry when they learn that Tech Field Day is going to be present at a show like Cisco Live. It means that we’re reaching a great audience and giving them something that they are looking for.

We’re also going to be looking at new ideas and new things to do with our growing media presence with Gestalt IT. There should be some interesting things there on the horizon as we embrace the new way that media is used to communicate with readers and fans alike. Stay tuned there for all the excitement we’ll be bringing your way in 2017!


Tom’s Take

Analyzing a year’s worth of work helps one see progress and build toward even more goals in the coming year. I’m going to keep moving forward with the projects that excite me and challenge me to be a better representative for the networking community. Along the way I hope to learn more about what makes our technology exciting and useful. And share than knowledge with everyone I know in the best way I can. Thanks for being here with me. I hope 2017 is a great year for you as well!

Automating Your Job Away Isn’t Easy

programming

One of the most common complaints about SDN that comes from entry-level networking folks is that SDN is going to take their job away. People fear what SDN represents because it has the ability to replace their everyday tasks and put them out of a job. While this is nowhere close to reality, it’s a common enough argument that I hear it very often during Q&A sessions. How is it that SDN has the ability to ruin so many jobs? And how is it that we just now have found a way to do this?

Measure Twice

One of the biggest reasons that the automation portion of SDN has become so effective in today’s IT environment is that we can finally measure what it is that networks are supposed to be doing and how best to configure them. Think about the work that was done in the past to configure and troubleshoot networks. It’s often a very difficult task that involves a lot of intuition and guesswork. If you tried to explain to someone the best way to do things, you’d likely find yourself at a loss for words.

However, we’ve had boring, predictable standards for many years. Instead of cobbling together half-built networks and integrating them in the most obscene ways possible, we’ve instead worked toward planning and architecting things properly so they are built correctly from the ground up. No more guess work. No more last minute decisions that come back to haunt us years down the road. Those kinds of things are the basic building blocks for automation.

When something is built along the lines of predictable rules with proper adherence to standards, it’s something that can be understood by a non-human. Going all the way back to Basic Computing 101, the inputs of a system determine the outputs. More simply, Garbage In, Garbage Out. If your network configuration looks like a messy pile of barely operational commands it will only really work when a human can understand what’s going on. Machines don’t guess. They do exactly what they are told to do. Which means that they tend to break when the decisions aren’t clear.

Cut Once

When a system, script, or program can read inputs and make procedural decisions on those inputs, you can make some very powerful things happen. Provided, that is, that your chosen language is powerful enough to do those things. I’m reminded of a problem I worked on fifteen years ago during my internship at IBM. I needed to change the MTU size for a network adapter in the Windows 2000 registry. My programming language of choice wasn’t powerful enough for me to say something like, “Read these values into an array and change the last 2 or 3 to the following MTU”. So instead, I built a nested if statement that was about 15 levels deep to ensure I caught every possible permutation of the adapter binding order. It was messy. It was ugly. And it worked. But there was no way it would scale.

The most important thing to realize about SDN and automation is that we’ve moved past simply understanding basic values. We’ve finally graduated to a place where programs can make complex decisions based on a number of inputs. We’ve graduated from simple if-then-else constructs and up to a point where programs can take a number of inputs and make decisions based on them. Sure, in many cases the inputs are simple little things like tags or labels. But what we’re gaining is the ability to process more and more of those labels. We can create provisioning scripts that ensure that prod never talks to dev. We can automate turn-up of a new switch with multiple VLANs on different ports through the use of labels and object classes. We can even extrapolate this to a policy-based network language that we can use to build a task once and execute it over and over again on different hardware because we’re doing higher level processing instead of being hamstrung by specific device syntax.

Automation is going to cost some people their jobs. That’s a given. Just like every other manufacturing position, the menial tasks of assembling simple pieces or performing repetitive tasks can easily be accomplished by a machine or software construct. But writing those programs and working on those machines is a new kind of job in and of itself. A humorous anecdote from the auto industry says that the introduction of robots onto assembly lines caused many workers to complain and threaten to walk off the job. However, one worker picked up the manual for the robot and realized that he could easily start working on the it instead of the assembly line.


Tom’s Take

Automation isn’t a magic bullet to fix all your problems. It only works if things are ordered and structured in such a way that you can predictably repeat tasks over and over. And it’s not going to stop with one script or process. You need to continue to build, change, and extend your environment. Which means that your job of programming switches should now be looked at in light of building the programs that program switches. Does it mean that you need to forget the basics of networking? No, but it does mean that they way in which you think about them will change.