GeekTools: SolarWinds Wireless Heat Maps

Ever changing environments are the biggest problem that wireless engineers face. A new site can be surveyed, and based on that, an ideal wireless design can be created for the space providing perfect signal, overlap, and SNR; the wireless engineer leaves the site, SolarWinds NPM Wireless Heat Mapsmoving on to the next assignment, and that perfect design last through the weekend. Now the engineer is located in a different state, working on a different project, and is getting calls from the customer.

“Hey, we have problems, and I need you to fix them.” the customer says.
“Ok, can you describe the problem for me?” the engineer ask. Secretly, the engineer is shocked the customer is calling for any reason other than to laude the engineers talent, foresight, and general awesomeness.
“None of our customers can connect in the waiting area.” states the customer with disapproval.

Generally, troubleshooting this type of problem is straight forward. A quick look for interferers, a check to ensure all equipment is still functioning, and a general eye for anything that has changed. As a nod to the possibility of a changed environment, a simple question is asked.

“Has anything at the site changed? the engineer queries.
“Of course not” is the answer the customer provides, voice now dripping with disappointment.

Thus, the engineer continues to dig further.

Large enterprise organizations who deploy Cisco hardware generally keep maps for each facility in Cisco Prime. Smaller organizations without the budget or time to assign to Prime can find themselves looking for a different solution.

SolarWinds has a new solution that is part of NPM 11.5 and it is worth investigating. They now offer wireless heat maps. The simplicity of setting up the heat maps makes it easy for under-staffed shops to use the tool effectively. Import the floor plan, set scale, and then drag the AP’s supplied by the Cisco WLAN Controller onto the map into the correct locations. Once the AP’s are placed, the software makes a best-guess of wireless coverage. This is a standard but flawed practice.

The issue lies in physical placement of the AP’s within their environment. The AP’s are all at ceiling height, above cube walls, water features, whiteboards, and many other sources of signal degradation. The clients are on a much lower plane, and therefor see a different footprint.

SolarWinds solves this issue by allowing an engineer to place known clients on the map, and then use those to further improve the heat map. This provides a tool that can be used to understand what is happening at standard client heights, where signal matters.

“Oh look, now I see a huge null in the coverage.” the engineer says. “Are you sure there haven’t been any changes near the AP I placed by the receptionist desk?
“Oh, that’s right. We hung the sign this weekend” says the customer.
“That large metal sign that was in the shop area last week?” ask the engineer.
“Yeah, that’s the one, We suspended it from the ceiling right over the receptionist. It looks awesome. That wouldn’t cause this problem would it?”

The engineer proceeds to bang his head against the desk with a dull thud, thud, thud.
*Names have been changed to protect the identities of those responsible*

Watch SolarWinds discussing their wireless heat maps at Network Field Day 9 here: (Heat map discussion starts at 19:40)

-I participated in Network Field Day 9 as a delegate. As part of that participation, the cost of all travel and accommodations were covered. Additionally, some companies chose to give delegates small gifts for their participation. These accommodations do not in any way constitute a requirement for coverage, good or bad. In short, I am an opinionated jerk,  I was invited despite that, and anything I write is purely my own opinion. Special thanks to Tech Field Day, for the service they provide to engineers and vendors. If you would like to be a delegate at a future event, you can learn more here.  

Cisco Live US 2014 – Return to Camp

In May, I made my way to San Francisco for CLUS 2014. I had very fond memories from last year, and was looking forward to catching up with all of the great people that I met in Orlando.

This year was a little different for me. I purchased a full pass, paid for airfare, and my hotel all out of my own pocket. The ultimate question this year was going to be answered. How much is CLUS worth? Is the experience equally important when thousands of dollars come out of my pocket to experience it.

First, the most obvious difference this year was how crowded the experience was. Moscone was simply not big enough for 26,000 people. I recognized on day one, as I was looking for a place to sit for breakfast, that when San Francisco was chosen 5 years ago, the conference was much smaller. Conferences book their locations years in advance, and in this case the attendee base grew faster then they expected.

The large crowds definitely affected the experience. The World of Solutions reception on Monday was so crowded that I spent only 15 minutes there, and the majority of that time was trying to get back out. The crowds also affected the on-site meals. Lunch each day consisted of a boxed meal, breakfast was carb heavy, and the days that I went into the dining hall, it was extremely crowded.

On Thursday, I had an opportunity to talk with Kathleen Mudge, who manages the Social Media Team, and Kathy Doyle, the Director of Cisco Live, about the scale of the conference. Kathy mentioned that there were over 6,000 people who registered for Cisco Live at the conference. That is an incredible 23% of the attendees that could not be accounted for until the first day.

With that in mind, I can’t fault the conference. In-fact, I am surprised that the conference was able to absorb that many people and function at all. That is an amazing feat.

The next few years are in bigger venues, so I expect the conference won’t experience these growing pains again.

The sessions that I attended were all excellent, and allowed me to expand my knowledge in a few key areas that I had identified as needing more work. I didn’t attend as many sessions as I had planned, but that was simply a matter of not having enough time.

As for the social side of CLUS, it was everything I was hoping for. I was able to reconnect with friends made at CLUS 2013, and made many more. The Social Media Hub (which we quickly renamed the Social Media Routed Bridge) was in a great location. Power was easily available for recharging devices. The arrival Tweetup was well attended, and we were able to gather on Thursday for the final picture by the Cisco Live sign.

The Cisco Live Social Media Team at CLUS is always on top of the game. They work incredibly hard to help anyone who ask. They also keep things interesting with various games and prizes. I can’t say enough about the team, and how their work affects the positive experiences of so many attendees.

The parties and the Customer Appreciation Event were all excellent. I was able to participate in three Tech Field Day events, attended the CCIE party again as a non-CCIE, and participated in multiple Cisco Champion events. They were all opportunities to meet more people, and hang out with this huge group of engineers that I get to call friends.

Now for the question. Was attending CLUS on my own dime worth it? If my Cisco Live 2014 experience only included the standard CLUS sessions, the Customer Appreciation Event, and the World of Solutions, I would have to say “no”.

However, Cisco Live is much more than sessions, expo, and parties to attend. Cisco Live is a gathering of people who are passionate about technology and life. Cisco live is space camp, or as Denise Fishburne has begun calling it, simply “Summer Camp”.

Was Cisco Live worth it? Oh yeah. I’ll be back.

Cisco x86 UCS blades overtake HP revenue in the Americas

For the first time, Cisco has overtaken HP in the blade market according to the IDC Worldwide Quarterly Server Tracker. Considering the large market share that HP once UCS Chasisenjoyed, that statistic is surprising. However, when considering the fact that Cisco has only been in the blade market for five years, it becomes absolutely stunning.

Let me state that again, Cisco has overcame the stigma that comes with being the new kid on the block, and shrinking markets, thanks to the heavy push of virtualization, to become the number one vendor of server blades. They did so by growing revenue 39% quarter over quarter in the Americas, a relatively mature market. 

You can read more about their accomplishment here:

http://newsroom.cisco.com/release/1426059

The Internet of Things begins to mature with Apple HomeKit

One statement that I have repeated many times is that the Internet of Things (IoT) will not mature until a non-technical person can buy a myriad of devices and configure them all through a common interface. Apple HomeKit seems to be that interface. There are a few things that I like about the announcement:

  • Apple isn’t going to make outlets, switches, and thermostats. They are leaving that up to the experts. 
  • Apple makes great interfaces, and I believe they are capable of doing the same for Home Automation.
  • The IOS user base is large enough to make this market explode. With an increased user base, comes more products.

Again, if you didn’t read it correctly the first time. This market is about to explode. 

One last thought. Apple started with the user, just like they did with iPhones. How many iPhones are now in our corporate environments? What happens when HomeKit migrates into the office?

Geek Tools – SSH and Telnet on OS X

Since I made the switch to a Mac in my day job, I’ve had two major frustrations. The first is the lack of Visio for OS X. The second one, was a little more major. I needed a replacement for MRemoteNG. I’ve searched for options and grown weary of reading the general post of “why would you need a specialized SSH tool, when it is built into the terminal of OS X?”

That statement is usually offered by a web developer who might have SSH connections to 3-5 servers on a daily basis. They live in a very specific world, and have a hard time understanding anything outside of that world. Feel bad for them; don’t hate them.

In the world of network engineers however, we may connect to 50 or more devices in a day, and may have logins to thousands of devices over an enterprise network. In that environment, there is a real need for the ability to bookmark devices.

After searching for options, I found one option that worked to some extent. This SSH workflow for Alfred is excellent. However, since I use a hosts file from someonewhocares.org to block a lot of advertisers and trackers, the index was never very useful.

After considering this problem from all angles, I finally had an “AH HA!” moment, and the simplicity of the solution made me equal parts giddy and disappointed that it took me so long to resolve. I created a file with a similar layout to a hosts file, in-fact I even named it hosts.txt. Each row of the file list a hostname, and an IP address. Since this file is purely text, you could add anything to each line that you wanted. 

#site1
device1 10.0.1.1 description
device2 10.0.1.2 unique protocol info
device3 10.0.1.3 more information
device4 10.0.1.4
#site2
device1 10.0.2.1
device2 10.0.2.2
device3 10.0.2.3
device4 10.0.2.4
device5 10.0.2.5
#site3
device1 10.0.3.1
#site4
device1 10.0.4.1
device2 10.0.4.2

But how does this help us manage thousands of devices you ask? It doesn’t, but grep does. If we pass a search string to grep along with the file name, all matching hosts show up. Yes it is simple, but it is useful because of that!

In my file, I created a site heading by starting the line with an octothorpe. I use this so that I can search for sites. This looks like:

grep ^# hosts.txt
#site1
#site2
#site3
#site4

I can also search for all devices at a location using a statement like:

grep ^#site2 -A6 hosts.txt
#site2
device1 10.0.2.1
device2 10.0.2.2
device3 10.0.2.3
device4 10.0.2.4
device5 10.0.2.5
#site3

In this case, I am telling it to start at “#site2″ and show the next 6 lines. Since the 6th line is the next site, I know that I am seeing all of the devices from site 2.

Finally, if I know part of the hostname, I can simply search on it, and it will display.

Hopefully this gives you a better way of managing huge networks from terminal.

Cisco Live Guest Keynote Speaker Announced – KHAN!!!

Salman Khan was just announced as the Guest Speaker for the Closing Keynote at Cisco Live US. If the name seems familiar, you have probably heard of the Khan Academy.

Picture of Salman Khan of the Khan Academy

Salman Khan of the Khan Academy

The Khan Academy uses technology to create online training which can be used anywhere in the world that has internet available. They have an incredible vision, and the backing to make it happen. I am really excited about hearing Salman speak. In my mind, the Khan Academy is the power of the internet put into practice, I might even call it a redeeming quality. Every time I see a tweet of Justine Bieber’s blowing the internet up, I simply have to remind myself that people like Salman Khan are countering the idiocracy with knowledge.

If you haven’t registered for Cisco Live US yet, now is the time to do so.

Cisco Live US 2014 – Engage Now!

Last year, I attended Cisco Live for the first time in my career. I went expecting to learn a lot, and I was not disappointed. You can read about my experiences here and here. If you haven’t read them, you should read them now. No, really, go read them. 

Now that you have read them, you know that you need to begin planning your social experience now. The scheduler will soon be available, and while you are considering the need of various classes, be certain that you create time slots to meet people. There is an incredible braintrust available in the social media hub. If you take the time to mingle and discuss you will be surprised at what you will learn.

I have long been a proponent of Twitter for IT professionals. If you and I have met over the last few years, and I haven’t asked about your social media interaction, I would question whether you actually met me and not a doppelgänger. If you have actually met me, I hope that my influence, no matter how small, pushed you to engage.

If you are new to social media and planning on hanging out in the Social Media Hub, let me offer a few suggestions.

  • Engage now. Don’t expect to show up to the social media hub without ever talking to any other engineer on twitter and expect to enjoy your experience. We like our jokes, our running discussions (arguments), and interacting. The social media hub is our opportunity to continue our online discussions in person. If you want a great list of engineers to follow, just check out who I follow.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask questions. We all come from a different background. Some of us are jack-of-all-trades, some of us specialize. We don’t expect anyone to be an expert in everything. We enjoy learning from each other. If you listen, and ask questions, you will learn.
  • Leave the oversized ego at home. Most of us have bigger personalities than egos. There are people in this group who know more than you. Trust me on this! If you show up with the goal of proving how smart you are, you’re going to have a bad time.
  • Don’t worship at the feet of your favorite author/personality. Yes, they will hang out with us and yes, they know an incredible amount about certain topics. Without exception though, they don’t want to be placed on a juvenile pedestal. They want to engage with other engineers. Story time:

Last year, I started a conversation with a well known author. We talked about our careers, about IT in general and the direction of technology. During these conversations, no less than 15 people approached to tell the author how great he was. The author was very happy to talk with them, and many times tried to draw the individual into our conversation. He would introduce me, mention the topic we were discussing at the moment, and made a genuine attempt to engage them in the discussion. Without fail, they thanked the author for his work, and then shyly withdrew. They were worshiping, not engaging.

  • Finally, register NOW! Register now to be certain you can attend the session that you want or need. This will also ensure that you can get an exam registered before all of the slots are filled. You can register here:

Cisco Live Registration