Cloud Based WLAN’s- A Reality Check

Written by Neil on . Posted in neil

Something like half of my business involves cloud migration. There’s a whole lot more to the equation than simply migrating an app or service to the cloud; you really have to begin with the concept of optimizing the clients, then the LAN, then WAN access. This in part because the more you migrate from your LAN to the cloud, the more you need a reliable LAN and access to the cloud.

Further, few app’s and services outside of smartphone/tablet based app’s are designed for the relatively small gateway pipe found in most LAN’s. It’s very common to have a gig speed LAN and a 10 meg symmetric gateway to the internet. Running a critical or data heavy app outside your LAN means you’ll need superb WAN access speeds, reliability, and in many cases, latency control and QoS. Hence- you’ll want to think carefully about what and when you migrate applications and services to the cloud.

Accordingly, cloud migration nearly always involves a considerable amount of remediation from the perspective of optimizing configs and architectures. Often this involves upgrading the LAN to include HA elements, and specifically in the elimination of single points of failure all the way from redundant ISP’s to hot failovers at the switches, appropriate backup power, and other hot failover elements. Often not included in an HA network is a disaster recovery plan. All in all- there’s a tremendous amount of work necessary prior to migrating some or perhaps most of a LAN into the cloud.

Once that foundational work is in place, you can then appropriately consider which app’s and services one would migrate into the cloud. It’s a myth that you can put an entire LAN into the cloud; real world networks simply don’t operate that way.

On a separate but related note, we’re not running into many cloud based WLAN’s just yet, although some of this may well be attributed to the oceanic size of the WLAN market. That said, with regard to cloud based WLAN’s, you’ll notice quickly that these providers focus nearly all of their engineering on the far backend, ie, the cloud based control. Their radio’s tend to be strictly commercial off the shelf (COTS) chipsets, with very little to no imagination or understanding of antenna theory, much less enterprise class RF design principles. Not even the most well thought out backend can compensate for a poor RF design, or disregard for capacity, speed, or resilience.

Even the most clever backend requires a carefully engineered RF design, which we often refer to as the front end. Restated, you can’t simply hang and hope a cloud based AP and believe it will work well in anything outside of the most rudimentary bullpen environments. You need a serious and properly engineered RF plan regardless of whether the AP is thin, thick, or cloud based. I expect the focus on WLAN’s to initially swing to cloud based control to the detriment of the front end, but in time, the balance of focus between the front end and backend will even out to the advantage of the market, deployment partners, and end users.

I truly and passionately believe in cloud based AP control because it’s the way forward; there’s simply too much to gain from the concept of consumption economics which is a primary driver for cloud migration. Cloud based WLAN control will require the same well designed RF plan on the front end as the designs we deploy today, and even that only after the LAN itself is truly ready for a cloud based app or service.

Of Men and Machines

Written by Neil on . Posted in neil

Whenever a relatively ordinary person experiences exotic hardware up close like a combat jet, F1 car, or MotoGP motorcycle, the conclusion astute ones come to is that the really remarkable part is the people who routinely use those machines. Indeed the machines are jaw dropping, but the people who can take them to their limits are even more noteworthy.

One of the very best things I get to experience in my line of work is seeing incredible people operate things like nuclear power plants, combat jets, and very successful businesses. I marvel at their mental dexterity, creativity, and occasionally incredibly brilliant ways of seeing a problem- and then working so well to resolve a complex issue with seeming ease. When you see this, you want to observe as carefully as you can and look for things to pick up and apply in your own scenarios.

Next week I’m off to New York City to propose a plan for WiFi coverage at one of the world’s largest financial firms. They want a completely wireless national operation. On that same east coast swing, the next stop is at an Ivy League college to explain state of the art design principles for a campus wide WLAN deployment in their dormitories. Later that same day, I have the neat opportunity to explain RF coverage and capacity options for one of the largest convention centers on the east coast.

I marvel at the people who run these operations. Arriving at major deployment sites never fails to take my breath away even after all these years. It’s only when you’ve spent a week at a stadium that you finally begin to feel comfortable with the sheer scale of the facility. When you return a month or two later, the feeling of being completely dwarfed by the facility returns with the same impact as when you first saw it.

To my colleagues in our amazing business- I salute you. You make the impossible a reality every day.

Stadiums And Arenas

Written by Neil on . Posted in neil

One of the more interesting trends I’ve seen over the last five years is the dramatic increase in the number of stadiums and arenas that are installing pervasive wireless systems. While these magnificent edifices (the more correct terminology from my perspective is “party palace”) have had some WLAN almost since their original commissioning, the standard now is not just pervasive WLAN’s, but some of the highest performance WLAN’s in the industry.

The owners, managers, and operators of a modern stadium completely understand they are competing for disposable income more fiercely than perhaps ever before. Sports fans have an incredible array of entertainment options at the ready including motorhome rentals, various sporting events at a number of major venues, cruise ships, sport boating, motorcycling, gambling, and so forth. Well worth understanding also is the point that stadiums and arenas are, in my view, under significant pressure from attractively priced home entertainment systems. The Dallas Cowboys have been very open about the megalithic Cowboy Stadium replicating the home entertainment experience. It’s the primary reason for the worlds largest Jumbotron- it approximates the ratio of the TV screen you see at home while sitting on the couch. Critically, fans expect the same type of connectivity experience at the stadium as they enjoy at home- and that’s not a trivial achievement for stadium owners and WLAN providers.

For these reasons and more, there is more demand than ever for pervasive, high performance WLAN systems. Whereas I used to receive an invite to participate on a team proposing a stadium wide WLAN design once every eighteen months, it seems now as though I receive a call essentially every week.

We have learned an incredible amount about stadium deliveries since the first one I supported in 2003 in preparation for the 2004 Superbowl at Reliant Stadium in Houston. The speed at which we can now prepare and deliver a design is approximately ten times greater in 2013 than it was a decade ago. One of the differences experience gives you is that you can determine quickly the difference between what is important and what is not.

So give us a call. And let me know what you think.

Warm Regards-

Neil.