It has been a couple weeks since I returned from WLPC in Phoenix. It was a great trip down to the southwest which included catching up with some good friends, listening to great presentations, learning a lot, and also presenting on a topic near and dear to my heart. I was able to put a lot more names to faces and have some great conversation.
As many of you know I presented on how well single channel architecture works for us. You can find the video below:
I have received mostly all positive feedback on the presentation. It was a great opportunity for me to speak in front of a large crowd and give examples of how we have Meru deployed across our school district. As well as it went, I feel like I need to explain a few things. I have come to the realization that a Ten Talk may have been the wrong platform to discuss the topic at hand. I understand that most people wanted more information about SCA rather than “it just works for us.” Ten minutes was simply not enough time to discuss all of this.
First, I understand that being a large network doesn’t equal wired\wireless networking done right. Even though this wasn’t conveyed in the presentation, I have received feedback indicating as such. Although we are very proud of how large and successful our network is, it doesn’t mean that large = successful. A lot of time and effort goes into making a wireless network work well for 60,000 users on average every day. We all know that architecture doesn’t matter if you don’t define, design, implement, and validate.
Second, I gave some confusing information. I realized shortly after the presentation that the stat showing that we “average ~12 connections per AP county wide” was very vague. Some of our access points have upwards of 100 clients on them at once for an extended period of time. Some of our access points have 10 clients total (maybe less) in an entire day. It doesn’t matter whether there is 30+ clients on an AP during every class or another AP that sits unused for the majority of the day. If an AP was placed in a location, it was done there with the intent that wifi could be needed at any point of an instructional day; planned or un-planned. The opinion that there are too many APs or not is irrelevant. Unless you have actually visited our schools and used the network, you won’t know. The proof is in the pudding so to say.
I know that most of us consider our wireless networks as mission critical. The vast majority of our schools don’t have desktop computers other than in administrative areas. Many of our schools don’t have computer labs, but employ several carts of mobile devices. I know that most of us want NUMBERS to back up the user experience, but most of the time I don’t have time to get this type of information. If reports of “wireless problems” are low or non-existent and teachers are able to complete their instruction using mobile devices and be successful, our mission is accomplished. I know a lot of you won’t be happy until you see NUMBERS and that is fine. I am going to try real hard to get some of those and put them out there. To be perfectly honest, I don’t know if some of you will believe it then, and that is fine too.
I understand many of the things that have been said as far as physics, airtime consumption, high density, etc. I don’t necessarily disagree with some of the opinions. You may be absolutely right! The thing that is somewhat discouraging is that there are a lot of opinions based on no experience or an experience that was several years ago. Don’t get me wrong, the first time I saw virtual port, even with my limited wireless knowledge at the time, I couldn’t believe it would work. A lot has been improved upon since then with virtual cell and especially the equipment. I’m not saying Meru will beat another vendor head to head every time, but I bet it will sometimes! Does it really matter how many jigabits we can ram through the air or is it more important for a user to have an experience where they don’t even notice the wifi? A user sits down, opens their laptop, completes a task, closes the laptop and moves on without even acknowledging the presence of wifi. The wifi just works. Please understand, I am not trying to discount numbers such as channel utilization, retries, available bandwidth, etc. Those are all very important things to consider in a wireless environment. We all look to those numbers first when trouble is initially reported. Those are the numbers that give us a baseline to begin troubleshooting. They are absolutely critical to a successful wireless deployment.
Obviously interest has been piqued since the presentation. It has been fun, most of the time, discussing various aspects concerning single channel vs multi channel environments. I have heard a handful of different people give a handful of different explanations on what Meru’s special sauce is, and they are all different. There isn’t a ton of information out there concerning the “magic” of Meru but if you are truly interested please watch any video by Dr. Bharghavan, founder of Meru networks. Many of these videos are a few years old, but still offer great information. To be honest, I need to re-watch most of them as I get tangled in the “it just works,” sometimes. Below are a handful of videos.
If you want to catch the videos later but still want to read the conclusion, please scroll down.
Meru Networks Wireless Virtualization Architecture – Part 1
Meru Networks Wireless Virtualization Architecture – Part 2
Meru Networks Wireless Virtualization Architecture – Part 3
Contention Management Schemes: Part 1 – Single / Multiple AP
Contention Management Schemes: Part 2 – Multiple APs
Maximizing Air Traffic – Part 1: Maximize Channel Reuse
Maximizing Air Traffic – Part 2: Simultaneous Transmissions
Leveraging Single Channel Architecture for Multiple Channels
A Little Dated But Still Good
Very High Density Wireless LAN Demonstration for BYOD: #1
Very High Density Wireless LAN Demonstration for BYOD: #2
For those of us who went to WLPC 2017, we heard more than one person mention that wireless networking can be done in more than one way. We also heard that less than ideal practices may be employed against our better wireless judgement due to other factors such as politics, aesthetics, etc. Sometimes I think we need to remember that just because someone does something different doesn’t mean that it is wrong. We also need to remember that just because we don’t like a technology it doesn’t mean it doesn’t fit someone’s need. I need to remind myself of this from time to time. We deploy wireless networks, in schools, mines, warehouses, large refrigerators, outdoors; you name it, we put wifi in all kinds of places. Our ultimate goal should be to use the knowledge we have to deploy a wireless network that gives a reliable experience to the greatest number of users.