Friday, 31 January 2014

How Big Is Google?

How huge is the internet giant in numbers?

(Wouldn't you have loved to have bought those shares ten years ago?)


Friday, 24 January 2014

Winning is not an option

So we have a few million pounds to install wireless in all our buildings and, as a stage of that, I have been surveying all the rooms. Yep, ALL the rooms.

During my survey of one of the offices today I announced what I was doing and wore my department branded coat and ID badge around my neck. I proceeded to cross the office with my survey equipment before being stopped by a postgrad who'd had his headphones in when I arrived and asked what I was doing...

Now, I don't expect everyone to have an understanding of wireless, but you'd think a postgraduate student, particularly a science and engineering student, would have some sense.

...It went something like this:

Me: We have a project to roll out wireless to all of the campus and I am investigating the coverage.

Him: Why don't you do everywhere?

Me: We are, we have quite a substantial bit of money and are doing all the University buildings.

Him: But you should cover all the city.

Me: ?

Him: I'm paying [i assume he meant tuition] and I could be anywhere so why won't you do the whole city? You should put wireless in the city centre.

Me: ???

Where do you want me to start? We don't own the city! You want us to put wireless in every building in the city on the off chance you or another student may go in? Or you want us to flood the city, over 100 square miles with RF? How do you expect us to do this exactly? How would security work? Exposing our network to half a million people. Speaking of which I think interference might be a problem. I bet you want 2.4GHz for a start and we're talking thousands or even millions of access points here. How do we persuade people to install them? How do we manage them or maintain them? Where is the software and hardware that is going to run them? eh?

Me: ...We can't do that, only University areas.

Thursday, 23 January 2014

2015...scratch that...2014 project update

After finding out that the deadline for the project to install wireless across the whole campus has been brought forward by a year my boss has told me to only concentrate on the wireless network, in particular, the rollout project.

So since I've been back from Christmas most of my time has been taken up by project planning, meetings and wireless surveys.

For surveys I have been using AirMagnet Survey (with Planner also installed), which is an excellent tool.


For those who don't know AirMagnet was acquired by Fluke Networks and provides the ability to perform passive surveys (get a picture of all RF), active surveys (connect to AP or SSID), or iPerf surveys (for testing throughput). Our version also incorporates Planner that can be used to do predictive modelling. If you've got money to burn you can also add spectrum analysis into the package.

No matter how good the tool though, the more accurate the survey the longer it takes, and currently I have no idea how I'm going to get all the validation surveys done from the previous installs, let alone survey the whole of campus before the next installs should commence.

Currently, access point wise, I am looking at the Cisco 3602 as this offers beamforming for 802.11n clients and uses four transmitters (Our previous AP's were the 1142 and 3502 that has ClientLink 1.0 - 802.11a/g with 2 transmitters). It also works with our current version of wireless software (7.2). We are hoping to upgrade to 7.6 at some point soon due to the massive benefits including 802.11ac support and AVC. Then we will be able to look at the 3700, Cisco's 802.11ac access point (a module can be purchased for the 3600 series to add 802.11ac but it's not the ideal solution).

Also, when deploying all these access points I need the time to check them, asset mark them, put them in a hardware database, record MAC addresses, serial numbers, order numbers and so on. All the boring stuff.

As our helpdesk software doesn't really do what we want it to do from a project management point of view (and we don't have the time to wait for it to be incorporated and tested) we have started using Trello to plan and organise the project.

So far this has worked great. I won't go into all the features, as there are many, but I have provided the link above if you are interested and what really pleases the bosses is that it is free.

The advantages for us are that it is really easy for everyone to collaborate on the board, there is an endless activity log and archive should things go wrong, it works great with attachments and there are iOS and android apps for using it on the move (it's for a wireless project, we will probably need the info most when on the move).

There are also colour coded labels, the ability to add checklists and due dates/calendar options. You can also assign to users like you would through a helpdesk and you get notified if somebody mentions you on the board.

The picture will be difficult to see but the way we have decided to use it is to have a range of tables or columns (called lists in Trello) that have all the stages of the project. Then each building is entered on what Trello calls a card. Surveys, pictures, checklists, notes and more can be added to these cards. Then we move the card along depending on what stage we are at until the building is complete. The lists are:

  • Buildings yet to start
  • Defining/designing
  • Surveying
  • Installing
  • In Service
  • Post-install survey
  • Done
Then we have separate board for teaching spaces where we require per-seat coverage (enough throughput to allow them to do what they want to use wireless for). As well as the above there are lists labelled:
  • No coverage
  • Simple coverage
  • Per seat coverage

As I say it's working really well and if we get external people to help with the project (contractors, students, etc) we can invite them to the boards as the accounts are free.

I may write more about Trello in a future post.

So that's pretty much where I'm at.

On a side note, we are about to lose our redundancy for wireless controllers.

Currently we have a controller for campus (with a back up in a different data centre) and one for the student villages (also with a backup on a different site). With the installs currently going in we are going to reach the WiSM2 limit of 1000 AP's on the main campus controller and have to start using the backup. They are too expensive to get a further two controllers in case a router or fibre link goes down so we'll have to live with that for now.

Wednesday, 8 January 2014

Back in full swing

Back at work, and only on day 3 do I get around to updating my blog. It's also starting to feel like I've never been away.

After having a good break over Christmas, managing only very rarely to check my work emails, it took a little while to get back in full swing. That soon changed when the same old s**t started happening.

Day 1

My boss had only been in a few minutes when he started warning me that the 'Wireless Everywhere' project (it needs a better name) had the directors muttering why it hadn't been started yet (we were told originally it was to be completed Sept 2015 and before Christmas informed the deadline was now Sept 2014). After dealing with the usual issues when staff come back after a break (passwords, new iPads/iPhones/Macbooks, name changes, etc) I spent the morning setting up a new switch for the Students' Union. This involved putting a config on, addressing, setting up VLANs, trunk ports and so on.

While doing this my boss sent me an email he had received before Christmas asking for a wireless network to be set up. This was for a conference that required all the participants to connect via mobile and use various apps. This was starting at 8.45am the following morning!

[Rant 1:] I know why people do it. They plug wireless in at home or just press a button to turn it on and it all works, they don't have to think about it. However, in an enterprise environment things a bit different. I could rant on for pages here but very very briefly we have to think about channel selection, power levels, PoE switches, neighbours, building fabric and layout, hidden nodes, capacity, antenna type, coverage and leakage, security and so on... which means it is not and cannot be a five minute job. Just banging stuff in could very well make things worse.

Ooh, Vodafone have released android 4.3 update for my work mobile. Downloaded and installed.

After a few other telephone and wireless jobs and faults it was nearly time to go home, but not before two staff members turned up at the office requesting some network and equipment setups... for the following morning. FFS.

Day 2

We're definitely getting back to normal (two people turned up late).

Started much the same with office moves, equipment setups and dealing with emails that have been in since Christmas. I also installed a trial version of AirMagnet WiFi Analyzer from Fluke. I had been sent the trial licence and had been meaning to put it on for a while but just had no time.

Impressed with the amount of features and information, but I really need to find a manual or user guide to see how I'm going to use it every day.

Then we started getting a number of faults in saying that phones were not working in whole buildings. As usual this was the staff members exaggerating. Not only was it only a handful of numbers that were disconnected, they were disconnected because the department had asked for them to be moved.

[Rant 2] Most of these were traditional lines. In these cases we have to physically wire the numbers through to the sockets (as BT would), but because the line had been down for a few minutes while we do the work that they requested, they start filling in fault forms and bombarding the helpdesk with complaints.

Then the day just got better. After helping a guy out with a DNS issue and discussing his iPad. I popped in on another fault that had been reported, that was in someone else's job queue, but as I was nearby I thought it sensible to take a look. Big mistake.

[Rant 3] The guy was an absolute arse. He kept going on about how he had reported it "AGES AGO", which meant before Christmas when (1) The University is closed over the Christmas holiday so we couldn't come in and work even if we wanted to (2) The problem was on his laptop which should have been locked away or at home over Christmas (3) My colleague said he had tried to get in touch with him before Christmas but couldn't (4) This was only my second day back (5) We had three members of staff in and were required to get much more important and time sensitive things done (such as a 300 person conference, department moves, completion for handover of a £50million Engineering building and a £9.2million training centre for starters).

Biting my tongue I basically said that I was here now and let me take a look at your fault. To which he replied that it was working now. Well thanks.

Day 3

The usual phone changes and a quick update on here so far.

Plenty of wireless surveys to do and I notice I have been booked in to attend not one, but two meetings tomorrow. One might even be a meeting about a meeting.

Lucky me.