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.

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On Demand Auto Attendant for CallManager Express

pushbutton

I’ve done my fair share of CallManager Express (CME) installations over the years, many of which were for small businesses.  I usually get to try and replace an old battleship of a phone system that has been running for a long time but has either finally given up the ghost or can’t be repaired due to the company being out of business.  When I do replace these units, the usual desire is to make it behave the same way as the old system.  For the most part, this is a pretty easy proposition.  That is, until it comes to auto attendants.  The automated recording that helps callers find the correct extension or leave a message is becoming an important part of the small business as employers start cutting back on expenses and use fewer people and more technology.  One case recently that had me baffled was a request for an on-demand auto attendant.

This particular customer had an old phone system that had finally failed.  They had decided on a CME system to replace it.  One feature they said they could not live without was the ability to toggle on a recording to handle calls.  This usually happened during lunch or during a meeting when all people at the office would be involved in some manner or another.  The receptionist wanted to push a button and enable the recording until the meeting or lunch had passed, then come back and toggle off the recording to allow calls to be answered by a human being again.  I nodded along slowly as the wheels started turning, because to my knowledge there was no feature inherent to the system that would do this.

After some thinking and planning and more than a few failed lab mockups, I finally found the answer in a combination of unlikely related features.  The first involved handling incoming calls to multiple phones in a manner that would allow redirection of calls.  This isn’t possible with parallel hunt groups in CME, as logging a phone into a hunt group changes all the forwarding behaviors of the phone.  It will only obey the hunt list settings and ignore almost everything else, include call-forward all.  The second issue was finding a way to have the auto attendant answer the call when invoked, as the standard method of using auto attendants either involve enabling it for all calls at all times or using a schedule to enable specific greetings after hours or on holidays.  As an aside, this is the real value in a solutions integrator.  It’s easy enough to check a few boxes and type a few lines to get something to work the way it says it will on the box.  A real integrator will make a system behave how the user wants it to behave, regardless of whether or not there’s a checkbox to do it.

Step 1: Fix Incoming Call Behavior

This ended up being the most technology-dependent part of the equation.  CME used to have a hard time handling a parallel (or broadcast) hunt group that rang a group of phones at one time.  Prior to CME 4.3, this feature was only available for SIP phones.  After 4.3, Cisco finally ported the parallel hunt group to SCCP phones (my preferred method for configuring phones in CME).  The only catch was that the phone hunting behavior followed the rules for hunt groups.  In order to make the incoming calls do something else, I had to find a way to make the calls ring multiple phones without a hunt group.  The answer actually came to me when I found an old page referencing a hacked together broadcast hunt group prior to CME 4.3.  This ingenious solution used a group of overlaid directory numbers (DNs) to mimic a broadcast hunt group.  A group of DNs was necessary because a DN in CME can only be single or dual-line.  With a dual line phone, two calls can hit the phone at once.  The third call is forced off to voice mail or some other behavior as dictated by the call forwarding configuration.  The second part of this solution was delivered in CME 4.0 – the octo line.

For those not familiar, the octo line creates a special DN capable of handling eight simultaneous incoming and outgoing calls across multiple extensions.  This looks to me like an attempt to create a basic form of call queuing in CME.  By creating a construct to handle more than two calls at once, you’ve in effect created something to can do basic call center call routing.  In this case, I created one octo-line DN and put it on the two phones used by reception at this business:

ephone-dn  1 octo-line
  number 100
  description Outside Call
  name Outside Call

Now I can make the calls ring on two phones without creating a hunt group.  That also means I can call-forward the phones as needed.

Step 2: Invoke Auto Attendant On Demand

This one was a bit trickier.  Enabling an auto attendant for a dialed number is easy.  How do we make that number only work when toggled?  Time schedules were out for this customer, as they were never sure when they were going to need to enable the auto attendant.  That means I have to find a way to call the auto attendant DN when needed.  But how to do that on CME?  The answer came to me in a flash of insight – night service.

Night service is a configuration setting that allows a system to be configured for a time schedule when the participating phones will ring in a special manner or pattern.  The idea is that when a business is closed, a designated phone can be monitored by personnel, such as janitorial staff or second shift, and be answered without modifying the open hours configuration.  In this case, we’re going to use the night service code to invoke the night service configuration when needed.  Normally, this command would be used when night service is active in order to disable it.  Here, we’re doing the exact opposite.  Also one more thing to note – the night service code command requires the code to be prefixed with an asterisk.  That works well, as the asterisk isn’t usually dialed as part of a number, so this signals that it’s something special.  I usually use either the extension number (as below) or the last four digits of the main telephone number as a mnemonic trigger.  The first part of the config is easy:

telephony-service
  night-service code *100

Now, we need to go back to the octo-line DN that we previously configured and add an additional setting to control the night service function.  In this instance, I’m using 501 as the pre-configured auto attendant dial-in number:

ephone-dn 1 octo-line
  call-forward night-service 501

The only remaining task to make this a true “push button” service is to enable a speed dial on the ephone itself.  That part is also easy:

ephone 1
  speed-dial 1 *100 label Auto Attendant

Now all the user needs to do is push the button on their phone labeled “Auto Attendant” and it will enable night service for all incoming calls.  Pushing the button again will disable it.  You can also add the command night-service bell to the ephone-dn in order to display a message that night service is active.

There are a number of other tricks that you can do with the basic building blocks presented by CME to make it behave just like a customer’s old phone system.  This should allow you to ease any transition and allay any fears they might have.  After all the users are comfortable with the new phones and phone behavior, you can start introducing new features to them like unified messaging or single number reach.  People are very open to change once they figure out nothing has really changed.