Extreme is Bringing Purple Rain from the Cloud

During Networking Field Day 21 Aerohive, I mean Extreme, presented on their new “Cloud Driven End to End Enterprise” using ExtremeCloud IQ, formerly HiveManager. After the acquisition of AeroHive by Extreme there had been lots of speculation in the wireless community on what was going to happen with the product. The most obvious conjecture was the reason Extreme made the purchase was for the cloud technology that AeroHive already had, but how would they fold it into the mix with their other offerings?

Abby Strong (@wifi_princess on Twitter) started us off with a quick introduction into The New Extreme and the vision of the company. As Abby started us down the path we got some quick stats around the new technology users in the world, including the 5.1 billion mobile users and USD$2 trillion dollars being spent on digital transformation which was explained more. Digital Transformation is one of the hot marketing buzzwords in the industry at the moment, but what is it exactly? According to Abby, “Digital Transformation is the idea of technology and policy coming together to create a new experience.” This is what Extreme has been focusing on, but how? Extreme is doing this via their Autonomous Network, using automation, insights, infrastructure and an ecosystem all wrapped in machine learning, AI and security.

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The concept behind this is using the insights and information Extreme has gathered and looking at issues that arise in the network and being able to recommend if it is a possible driver issue, a recommended code upgrade to fix a network issue and so on. This is a really cool concept around automation and insights which is where most companies are trying to get in the industry and from what was shown at NFD20 in February and then again at NFD21, I think they are almost there with their expanded portfolio of solutions in Applications, Switching, Routing and Wireless and open ecosystem and open source. Check out more on those solutions and more about Extreme at https://www.extremenetworks.com/products/.

Next Extreme brought us into their 3rd generation cloud solution, ExtremeCloud IQ and showing their roadmap towards the 4th generation cloud.

The ExtremeCloud IQ Architecture was presented by Shyam Pullela and Gregor Vučajnk (@GregorVucajnk on Twitter) with a demo of the system.

The architecture is still the previous Aerohive design, however, without ever really digging into the product I was impressed with how they have done the back-end cloud. Currently Extreme is using AWS to host their infrastructure, but we were assured it was not dependent on AWS but could be run on any cloud provider. The setup is interesting as they have multiple regional data centers connecting back to a global data center. This provides resiliency built-in to the system, the ability to run in any country in which a public cloud can run and to collect the analytics and ML/AI data globally and not just from regional areas. With the architecture the ExtremeCloud IQ can also be run in different formats, public cloud, private cloud and on-prem to provide the customers with flexibility. From a basic cloud architecture standpoint, there is nothing crazy or specific Extreme is doing with the setup. The key to how they have done it comes into the scalability that has been designed into the system. Using a simple architecture makes it easy for Extreme to just add compute power to the back-end to scale it for large organizations.

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With these regional data centers in use, the ExtremeCloud IQ is processing data to the tune of 3.389 PETABYTES per day and an astounding number of devices and clients to help with the ML/AI decision-making that the infrastructure is handling. These stats were mind-blowing to me and really shows the power of what Extreme has been building, especially around the Aerohive acquisition.

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All of this data gets fed into the cloud dashboard as we see with the majority of other vendors. The client analytics is very reminiscent of the dashboards we see from Cisco, Aruba, Mist, etc., there is nothing too different in this regard with the exception of only getting 30 days of data, with no longer options available at this point in time. This is not a major hit against the technology, only that there is no way to correlate data longer than a one month period.

One of the differences that I see in the system is the lower number of false-positive issues that may be flagged by the system. Using the ML that is built into the CloudIQ is the ability to see anomalies and not present them as a possible bad user session. This is something that can cause headaches, especially in a wireless system with users entering and leaving areas with applications running. I will get deeper into these capabilities in an upcoming post.

The team that was on-camera also did not back down from some interesting and hard questions surrounding the roadmaps of the products, where things are and announcements that were made within 24 hours of the presentation being delivered.

All-in-all the solutions and products I am seeing from Extreme and very positive, they seem to have begun the integration of AeroHive nicely and I am excited to see where they go with the big purple cloud.

 

WiFi6 Ratification: Not So Fast My Friend

There has been a lot of publicity lately about WiFi6 obviously and even more visibility when the WiFi6 certification was announced September 16. So now we officially have WiFi6 and we can move on. NOT SO FAST.

Over the past few weeks I seem to be having the same conversation in-person with people as well as in Slack rooms, etc. around this announcement. There is a perception that once this announcement was made it is a done deal and we have 802.11ax as a ratified ammendment now. This is most certainly NOT the case. The announcement that was made in September was around the WiFi Alliance certification occurring not ratification. Well, those are the same thing, I can hear some of you saying. They are not, and this is where the marketing and big money companies come into play.

The WiFi Alliance is a group of companies that pay for the privilege, from USD$5,150/year to be a contributor up to USD$20,000/year to be a contributor according to the WiFi Alliance membership page (https://www.wi-fi.org/membership). According to the Who We Are page:

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Basically the WiFi Alliance is a group of companies, including Apple, Cisco, Intel, Qualcomm, etc. that pay to work together on collaboration within the industry, testing equipment in labs to verify devices function ‘properly’ and advocate for spectrum usage, etc. In other words, a WiFi marketing company on how devices connect and function. But, this makes it a standard right?

Just as in wired networking and many other industries, the IEEE is the standards body that develops, writes and ultimately ratifies standards for wireless networking in working groups. The 802.11 working group within the IEEE are the ones responsible for publishing the standard, not the WiFi Alliance. This is where the confusion comes in for most people.

The working group puts together the draft of the new technology, then creates publishes this draft. For 802.11ax this draft was not fully completed and approved by the working group until February 25, 2019 according the IEEE website (http://www.ieee802.org/11/Reports/802.11_Timelines.htm). And from the working group timeline we still will not have ratification until at least September of 2020 with final approvals not coming until November of 2020.

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So as we hear in the media and online that WiFi6 is here and certification is complete, let’s not lose site of what that actually means. Is WiFi6 here, yes it is. Devices are beginning to be released at a quicker pace, especially now that certification is complete. Wireless vendors have been out pushing these new APs for a time now and there is beginning to be an install base for them, but nothing too pervasive at this time. Within the wireless community the sentiment is that there are not going to be any large changes, if any at all, before ratification takes place. However, we just need to be careful about going around spreading the word that the WiFi6 standard is published and ratified. There is still another year of work for that to be reality.

What is the Perfect Wireless Design?

Perfection is always something we hear a lot about but we know is almost impossible to achieve. The perfect game in baseball, an undefeated season, completing Super Mario Bros. with a single life. It is hard to get there, but a few have over the years. But what makes the perfect wireless design and how do you go about doing it?

Wireless designs and deployments are as varied as the engineers that do them. Those of us that have been doing this for 20 years or more are definitely set in our ways and have our little tricks and trade secrets on how we look to do configurations, etc. We all have our ways we stick with, RRM configs for Cisco, antenna combinations for stadiums, making pretty designs in Ekahau. All of this adds to our diversity as individuals. This has never been more apparent than sitting in a room with more than a dozen of the brightest at Ekahau Masters while having 30 minute debates over simple things. But that is what makes our industry and community so special. We can have people from 3 different manufacturers, people from competing service organizations and just strong personalities in general and still all come together, disagree vehemently with one another and then have a drink afterwards and laugh until we cry. If all of this is the case and this group of people cannot even agree how can we actually put a box around what a perfect design is?

I think our friend Sam Clements puts it best with the most well known quote in the industry, “It Depends”. A perfect design depends on so much. Yes the RF and physics are important, but what about the other issues we are trying to solve for? Did we capture the customers requirements and actually listen to what their problem is and what their version of success looks like? Did we make the least-capable device work properly?

If you keep up with the community I am sure you have heard Keith Parsons tell you at some point or another that if you meet the customer requirements then it is a success. You do not have to deploy the latest and greatest of everything all the time to make this true. Just because a customer comes to you and says they need to have an ax network, do they really? Our jobs are to help them understand what is out there, how wireless actually works and then listen to what their problems are and advise them on how to deploy a system to address those problems.

I know this sounds like blasphemy, but think how many times you have seen something on BadFi or in life in general and said you could have done that so much better. But do you know the requirements or constraints the customer put on the engineer? There have definitely been times I have installed something in a way I was not happy about, but I had limitations put on me by the customer around aesthetics, etc. and had to do the best I could. Same goes for designs and configurations, I may look at a config someone else does and say, What the hell were they thinking. But, I was not in the meeting with the customer to get the requirements for the network and to hear what problem they were looking to solve. When I meet with a customer for during a kickoff for a remediation or a new network I always ask the same questions, and I may repeat a couple because during the course of those meetings you may get different answers from the customer, or new things may come up that were not apparent to them or to you at the beginning. This is where we start to design the perfect wireless network.

There is a lot of discussion these days about what number CWNE someone is, or what version of the IE are you studying for. I am all for certifications, but don’t make the mistake of putting your knowledge and understanding ahead of the customer’s needs and what they are actually looking to do. In my opinion when you do that, no matter how ugly that baby may look to others, you have created the perfect wireless network. Because it was for that customer and that customer alone.