Through the Mist; Predictable, Reliable, and Measurable Wifi from Mist Systems

I recently had the opportunity to listen to a presentation from Mist Systems at Mobility Field Day 2 in San Jose.  At first glance/listen Mist might sound like just another controller-less “cloud” wifi solution that touts a shiny dashboard and user analytics.  They even toss around trendy new buzzwords such as “AI” and “machine learning.”  I was pleasantly surprised to find out that they are much more than that!

Mist is relatively new to the wifi game but their short lived heritage is backed by staff who have worked for the likes of Cisco, Motorola, Symbol, Airespace, Zebra, and Ubiquiti to name a few.  As you can tell their staff are seasoned professionals that have worked with companies with a very solid track record.  With a list of leaders like this I was confident they would be able to do wireless well, but I was still curious what would differentiate them from other offerings.  It didn’t take long to realize their pedigree and vision, when put together, sound as if they can break through the often “cloudy” (pun intended) traditional stalwarts.  Their current customer base is impressive, including several very large organizations that span several different verticals.

After a few moments into the introduction given by Jeff Aaron, you realize that Mist isn’t just another controller-less wifi company.  Jeff pointed out that Mist has two main objectives:

  • Bring wifi into the modern smart device era by:
    • giving data that allows an engineer to be proactive
    • providing predictive recommendations
    • allowing better visibility into the user experience
      • not traditional network visibility, but focus on user experience
    • making wifi more predictable, reliable, and measurable
  • Expand wireless.  Make wifi work for you.  Wireless as a Service
    • in addition to wifi, providing an indoor personalized location based experience
    • combining wifi and BLE into one platform

You might think that others are doing very similar things but Mist was the first to implement AI and machine learning.  Lee Badman, one of my co-horts at MFD, said it best when he said “Mist is the real deal when it comes to Machine Learning, etc- where the message feels forced with other vendors.”

Next to speak was Bob Friday.  Bob has a rich history of providing location based services in the wireless environment.  Bob was co-founder of Airespace, a wireless networking company who was the first to offer integrated location based services in their products.  Bob went on to explain that wireless has transitioned from just providing wifi into an “end to end” service. Bob made it very clear that the Mist location services were built from the ground up and that it wasn’t just a “BLE laid on wifi” afterthought.

One of the coolest things I got from Bob is that Mist actually employs data scientists to analyze the data that is collected.  He said that Mist has Particle Physicists and professors (you know, people who are actually good at sifting through data) going through and helping with design of the Mist product.  We have all seen a nice dashboard that is spewing data all over the place.  The data may have a nice presentation but is often to much or to little, and then all wrapped up in a pretty box.  It is clear that Mist wants the data to be clear and easy to read, as well as useful.

Mist really seems to be ahead of the game with their vBLE location services.  It didn’t take me long to realize that there are many use cases spanning several verticals for virtual beacons.  App developers can use these virtual beacons to interact with applications designed for all sorts of devices.  Applications can use location data to relay relevant information to the device owner based on the location of the device.  Some examples include way-finding at your favorite ball park or sending offers or discounts to a customer when they are near a particular product in a retail store.

Mist’s dynamic packet capture is something I think is an absolute game changer.  Mist is able to leverage it’s services to detect problems on the wireless network and then collect a packet capture in real-time.  We have all been called out to troubleshoot problems at one time or another and by the time we get to the site, the problem has disappeared or changed.  When Mist detects an issue, it automatically starts a packet capture.  Being able to gather packets immediately when a problem is detected can potentially solve a problem in a matter of minutes where in the past it may have taken several hours.

One other notable feature is Mist’s ability to give meaningful and measurable data that makes it easy to show whether or not Service Level Expectations (SLEs) are being met.  Based on the information given in the dashboard it is easy to tell which clients are having trouble connecting or are failing to connect.  Being able to evaluate access point health, coverage, capacity, and throughput are also a major advantage for any wifi engineer and are all easily found in the dashboard.

Overall, I thought Mist was very impressive.  They are doing things with their product that can make life as a wifi engineer easier.  There is no better judge of a wireless network than the actual user experience and it is obvious that is where Mist is focusing their efforts.  I am familiar with BLE but overall I am generally “green” and have lots to learn.  What I do understand about Mist’s vBLE is that it has potential to be very powerful.  I plan on digging a little deeper into vBLE when I get an opportunity.  Having listened to Jeff Aaron, Bob Friday, and Sudheer Matta, I can tell they are confident and passionate about Mist.  I am hoping to hear  more from them in the near future.  For now, please watch their presentation from Mobility Field Day 2.   There is a lot more impressive information in their presentation. I hope you find Mist as intriguing as I did.

Check out what other #MFD2 delegates are saying about Mist:

Jake Snyder – Mist Systems: A first look

Lee Badman – Mist Systems Polishes Their Message at Mobility Field Day2 

Lee Badman – Mist Systems is the Cloud WLAN Vendor With a (not so) Secret Weapon



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