Friday, 28 May 2010

WCS and WiSM

We are in the middle of a wireless project at work. We have money for about 120 more access points to go up and are installing the Cisco Aironet 1140's seen here. These 1140's don't have aerials on the outside, but are hidden in the case. They are designed to be ceiling mounted but we have found they work just as well on the wall. We have finished surveying and the first couple of access points have gone in. Immediately we saw looking at the statistics on the access points a speed increase, mainly thanks to all the students with MacBooks using wireless N.

Another benefit we have installing these 1140's is that they can used as thin client access points and all the management is done on a WCS (Wireless Control System) server. If the server sees two access points overlapping it forces one to back off. It also auto selects channels so they do not conflict.

Many of the new features we are using are provided by the Cisco Wireless Services Module (WiSM). A great feature we find is that when you import a floor plan and place the access points the software creates a map of signal strength from the data the access points provide. The maps also show when the signal is blocked by thick pillars and thick walls.

As the access points pretty much get their settings from the server we are just currently installing some Cisco 3560 switches to power the access points using PoE and setting up VLANs on the switches and aggregators.

Wednesday, 26 May 2010

I have an iPhone

Yesterday afternoon this was sat on my desk:

This has not replaced my android device. In fact my contract runs out on my G1 in the next few months and I have been looking at the Motorola Milestone to replace it (I love having a hardware keyboard, but the app 'thick buttons' does help if you don't).

No I have it because of work. Despite android sales surpassing those if the iPhone, probably about 90% of the phones ordered by staff at work are iPhones and so, as a result, are about 90% of the problems. When work asked what phone I wanted ordering when I started my job a few weeks ago my boss suggested I order an iPhone as that is what they have most problems with and it would be handy if I knew what I was doing and could fix them more quickly.

I would rather have had a HTC Desire or Legend but I see the point, I will be fixing problems with them a lot of the time and setting them up for staff. One of the first things I had to do was Google how to put the SIM card in as there were no instructions for it in the box and it doesn't involve taking the back off but using a paperclip.

They bought me a 32GB 3GS version which was pretty nice of them (don't know how I will fill it) and they pay all the bills so I can't complain. Now I have to install a piece of software I really don't like... Itunes.

Saturday, 15 May 2010

The tories are in, where now for BSF and managed service? Part 2

You can read the first part of this topic here:The tories are in, where now for BSF and managed service?

Nick Gibb has been announced as schools minister as of yesterday. So what he said about the Building Schools for the Future plans now has even more relevance. It appears, as anticipated, many schools who have not yet had their buildings approved may find their proposals scrapped under the Conservatives.

An article in the Guardian newspaper today says hundreds of secondary schools have had their plans frozen while BSF is put under review:

Secondary schools in authorities that have been approved to enter the Building Schools for the Future project but have not yet named their contractors may now lose their funding. The scheme includes more than £480m allocated in the last weeks of the Labour government.

The article goes on to say:

The government is planning £6bn cuts this year and further measures in a budget in June to bring the £164bn deficit down.

In opposition, Michael Gove, now the education secretary, had promised a review of Building Schools for the Future – which had been subject to extensive reforms after a slow and expensive start – but the Liberal Democrats opposed the move.

There has been no decision yet on whether BSF will continue but I know schools that have let IT support staff go convinced that they are getting a new school with a new network. If these plans don't go ahead they will need to start hiring again, probably enticing people back with higher wages, using money they have not budgeted for or got. In the meantime school support staff don't know if they are going to be employed by the council, an independent company providing a managed service or lose their jobs altogether. It is certainly going to be a nail-biting time for some schools and their staff.

The full Guardian article can be read here.

Wifi Analyzer

If you have an android phone and work in IT support this is an amazingly handy tool to have installed, and it is free.

I found it useful at school trying to track down a rogue access point when we had only 6 to manage. Now I use it almost everyday in my new job where we have over 600 AP's. To install just search for Wifi analyzer on the android market and it is from farproc.

I have found it to be as reliable and accurate as more expensive paid for products like the Fluke Etherscope (a very good wireless analyzer) that is rather expensive. It is also a very small program (less than 0.4mb) so won't take up a lot of space.

It has a channel graph that will also show you signal strength which could be handy if you have any problems with access points crossing channels:

From ComputerBites

From ComputerBites

It also has a time graph that you can filter so you can walk around testing the signal strength in various locations. You can also list all the AP's in range and see detailed information about them like mac address, IP, SSID, etc:
From ComputerBites

There is also a signal meter. Quite often we have wireless access points in the roof space of buildings to prevent tampering or because the building owners do not want them spoiling the walls. The signal meter is handy for finding these access points if you haven't been to a site before or if you have forgotten where it is. It can also be setup to play sounds when you are getting closer:
From ComputerBites

In summary Wifi analyzer is a very handy piece of kit to have in your pocket if you are in IT, data or network support and you cannot argue with the price.

The tories are in, where now for BSF and managed service?

Now the Conservatives are in power where does that leave the future of Building Schools for the Future (BSF)? They have planned £12bn worth of cuts in public spending so where does this leave school IT? Are the schools getting their rebuild? Are they getting a managed service, and if not, what do the schools do who have been allowing their IT staff to leave?

As I used to work at a Sheffield school that was going to go through BSF in the next couple of years I was particularly interested in this article from the Sheffield Star:

PLANS to rebuild eight Sheffield secondary schools could be scrapped if the Conservatives come to power in the upcoming General Election.
Spending cuts could pull the plug on the Government's flagship Building Schools for the Future programme, shadow schools minister Nick Gibb has admitted.

Mr Gibb said only schools which have reached 'financial close' with their developers would see their upgrades definitely completed.

Four Sheffield schools will only reach that stage by the end of the summer, well after a likely election date in May - Parkwood Academy, King Edward VII upper school, City and Stocksbridge.

Four more are not set to reach financial close until early next year - Birley, Handsworth Grange, Bradfield and Notre Dame.

Cancellation of all eight schemes would see £17 million of local taxpayers' money already spent on development costs written off, according to city council estimates.

Going ahead with all eight would cost in the region of £150 million.

Mr Gibbs stressed building projects would not be axed across the board, with decisions made on an individual basis.

But he added: "We think BSF is a hugely wasteful approach to procuring new buildings. It's very 'top down', very bureaucratic and costs a huge amount of money."

Four Sheffield schools have already been rebuilt, with work on six more currently underway as part of the programme to renew every secondary in the city by 2014.

Coun Andrew Sangar, Cabinet member for children's services, said 18 months of preparations had gone into plans for schools like City and Stocksbridge.

"I find it totally unacceptable that the Tories have indicated they would consign planned improvements to many Sheffield schools to the rubbish bin," he said.

Thursday, 13 May 2010

Android outsells iPhone

From NDP Group.

The first quarter smartphone sales in the US shows android has overtaken the iPhone as the second most popular operating system. With manufacturers starting to get the hardware right and with consumers finally seeing the potential of android I hope this trend continues. I really like android but I am also pleased that the competition android has given the iPhone and RIM means improvements in all phones including Windows Mobile and Maemo. They cannot just rest on their laurels.