Sunday, December 3, 2017

What, no MFD this season? Where to get your Wireless info in 2018

Disclaimer / Please Note: I don't have anything to do with the organization behind Tech Field Day / Mobility Field Day, etc. I am merely an attendee and fan. I can't tell you if there will or will not be an event, that's not for me to decide. As an avid internetter I happened to notice there is no official date for MFD posted yet, and that's what spawned this. 

One of the coolest things about the Tech Field Day events is that anyone can sign-up for them. You go over to their site, take a look at what they are up to and fill out a form if you want to put your name in the hat to get selected as a delegate. Here, I'll make it easy, click here.

This coming year, there is something near and dear to me missing from the lineup: Mobility Field Day.

Now, this isn't the first group to dance with the idea of putting the kibosh on wireless, InteropITX struck it as a main track and rolled it into Infrastructure. But, it's frustrating to think that with the lack of support for Wireless Field Day / Mobility Field Day that there now isn't a place where open dialog can be had with a group of enthusiasts that are specific to something as important as wireless. Especially since almost every way we communicate in this day, age, and economy is via wireless. The back-and-forth discussion, the q and a, the ability to get specific questions delivered from the community to the people that can actually answer the question at the manufacturer level, all of that is so essential when helping choose vendors, at least from my perspective. The insight and interaction that MFD and all the Tech Field Day events are known for will be sorely missed in the wireless sector this coming year if an event doesn't surface.

As far as the ancillary Wi-Fi products that thrive because of the WLAN Industry (e.g. Cape Networks, NetScouts, Ekahau, etc) where are we supposed to hear from them now? I get it, smaller budgets, smaller companies, bigger net = bigger fish. But still, that intimate vendor relationship component gets lost when at larger events. I hope to see user group meetings, focused support for smaller, more intimate events, etc.
So it got me thinking, why aren't companies pushing their wireless tech out into the market the same way they were before?

Well, obvious things first: consolidation.

HPE acquired Aruba. Ruckus got picked up by Brocade Broadcom Arris. Xirrus got snapped up by Riverbed. Motorola went to Extreme. Meru to Fortinet. Even OpenMesh went to Datto. Not that all of these guys were TFD/WFD/MFD presenters, but there is an obvious shift in power in the Wi-Fi industry. Smaller Wi-Fi companies are getting acquired by larger groups who see it as more of a feature to their company than a standout or breakthrough technology. All the shine and luster of what were once the "wicked" and groundbreaking technologies are now broken-in and assimilated with much larger organizations. The companies went from trying to prove what made them individually spectacular to being part of a much larger solution.

Secondly, now that these technologies are part of the mothership, their conglomerate marketing machines are going to want you to focus on the pure play, the turnkey solutions, the one-stop shops etc. I don't expect to hear much about Wi-Fi until 802.11ax comes around and everyone has to whip out there wares to show what makes 'em special, but they won't be doing it at individual events; Cisco Live style events will be the launch point. I hate to say it and I hope it never happens, but Atmosphere rolling in to a few days before or after HPE Discover isn't a far stretch of the imagination. I would also bet that Extreme is working on one helluva partner summit. And the rest of em? Xirrus? Will we ever hear from them again?

So where does that leave the rest of the wireless industry?

Well now that CTIA has been gobbled up by Mobile World Congress America, it seems like a great fit for 5G for now. IWCE still seems to be the conference for the nerds of the point to point microwave and LMR groups.

But what about the wireless engineers and solution builders of the world?

Hopefully we'll see a Mobility Field Day pop-up at a later day or at the very least glimpses of Wi-Fi and wireless offerings making their way into the Network Field Day and Tech Field Day events to start. But, without companies supporting specific efforts like Mobility Field Day, independent events like InteropITX, or anything outside of their monolithic meetups like Cisco Live (and don't get me wrong, CLUS and Atmosphere are freaking awesome, they're just not tailored to the Wi-Fi audience) where is one to go to find out the specifics of working with WLANs? For now, it seems like it will be up to the users, partners, and distributors of the technology to be the goto source for information.

There has never been a better time for the Wireless LAN Pros Conference
Keith & company assemble one of the best annual resources for knowledge sharing, professional development, networking and building friendships in this market. Hands down, second to none.

There has never been a deeper need for events like Wi-Fi Trek
For those that follow the certification courses of the CWNA or have an interest in a deeper understanding of how all of this stuff really, really, deeply, works.

For people looking for more information on point to point and multipoint microwave, you have independant multi-vendor supported events like WISPAPALOOZA and maybe even a slim chance Animal Farm might come back someday!

Incredible distributors and resellers put on annual events like:
Wireless Without Limits from Double Radius
Tessco One from Tessco
The UNWIRED Event from Winncom
and more!

Even though it seems to be heading towards Wi-Fi companies turning into Wi-Fi business units, there is still a ton of progress to be made in the wireless space. After all, when's the last time you plugged a cable into your device?

Hopefully when the vendors start to innovate with 802.11ax and future wireless technology, we will get to hear about it and it will be catered specifically to the group of people that are passionate about it instead of it being stuffed in the corner of a larger annual meeting.

Friday, November 10, 2017

Service Defined Networks: Decoupling Support and Hardware from Wi-Fi Manufacturers

I had the opportunity visit the Cambium Networks campus to be part of the Managed Service Provider kick-off. It was great to see friendly old faces and the new, old faces, that have made their way over to the company. The last time I was here, the place was buzzing as it was still very much in its infancy and trying to ramp up its brand in the industry.

Now, in November 2017, they have swept the WISPA awards, gained international recognition and delivered products to the market with a commons sense to it that is not seen very often any more.

What Makes Cambium Wi-Fi Different? 

One of the key things that I discussed with their product team before our live webcast, was about the licensing structure and some of the "why" behind the support and on-going maintenance offering they have. Along with providing hardware to the industry at a significantly lower cost and taking over the middle-market of the Wi-Fi industry (think, above UBNT and EnGenius, below Aruba and Cisco), they do some pretty unique stuff when it comes to licensing and management software.

If you don’t know, their licensing, management, support, and updates are included in the price of the access point. Yes, freely available.  You get some amazing features with cnMaestro, which we can discuss later, but more importantly is the “why” behind their free licensing and what makes it different. It turns out, it's about overall customer satisfaction and gaining trust and repeat business. So, regardless of what they do with hardware, I want to draw attention to this program.

When cnMaestro and all of the freely available updates were first introduced, I thought it was awesome. I didn’t understand the reasoning behind it, nor did I ask. But check this out.

By including the updates, firmware revs, feature updates, and support with the hardware, it makes the product a better product for you. If they charge for support and updates to a product you own, and you choose not to purchase those support and update contracts, you’re only driving yourself to a bad customer experience. At the end of the day, if you own the hardware and you can’t update it to the latest version of firmware when something comes out, are you gonna get mad at purchasing for not approving the budget or at the manufacturer for not helping you get the most out of the product you already paid for? 

And what then? You have hardware that is limited by a licensing issue? How likely are you to purchase hardware from that company next if there is another option on the table? It sounds like a vicious cycle, but know that you are probably already caught in it.

Now I get it, somewhere, someone got the idea to make the customers beholden to the hardware manufacturer by requiring licensing fees to the software, but thankfully, that is coming apart. Of course I understand that in order to offer support and services and get new features and what not require a whirring machine of people that have to draw paychecks from somewhere. But that too seems to be changing. 

Support and services are being offloaded onto the industry and away from corporate resources. Ubiquiti helped usher in the “hey we just make the stuff” model and others have followed suit. Wireless engineers, designers, and network consultants are positioned to better help customers than ever before, their toolsets are continuously growing and the technical and maintenance support system is being spread wider across the globe. Look at the boom in the WLAN Pros Conference. There are amazing people in the industry that you can rely on to help you without having to purchase contracts from manufacturers. They're skilled, knowledgeable, and can add value you can't find in a support subscription.

Just like open and software defined networking has decoupled software and services from hardware, so goes the way of the industry. Maybe not everywhere, yet. But to see an example of what it could be, take a look at Cambium. 

You buy the hardware and they keep it being the best that it can be for you. At no additional cost.
They’re not the only ones. Cape’s doing it with sensors, Ubiquiti is doing it with a number of devices, and more are coming. 

It’s like this awesome trend in the auto industry.
When you buy certain cars, at least in parts of my area, you get lifetime oil changes and maintenance. Sure it could be a gimmick, but guess what, it keeps the car running wonderfully the whole time you have it. The cost is absorbed into the price of the vehicle and you know what comes out of it? A happy customer. A customer who enthusiastically spreads the word about your brand. They spend more time loving their car than complaining about it not working because they don't maintain it.

Now, if you go buy a vehicle and that vehicle’s functionality is only as good as the service you give it, which A. Doesn’t happen as regularly as it should and B. you have to come out of pocket for, you’re not going to be as happy as the person who has zero worries. And you’re not gonna rave about your vehicle. You will never be heard saying what awesome service is provided by the manufacturer.

As a matter of fact as far as a brand advocate goes, you’ll probably be LESS likely to recommend that brand to someone who trusts you because you know how much work it takes to make sure it continues to do what it was supposed to do in the first place. High-end brand or not, you can't continuously charge for customer satisfaction and loyalty and expect everyone to be peachy keen about it, especially in a world where those options are now opening up.

So now, 

Which car would you be more likely to buy? 
The one that has a great service department that you have to pay for or the one that has a great service department that you never have to pay for because it’s just “taken care of”?

That thought in mind, which AP would you be more likely to buy? 
The one that keeps you locked into a service contract that you need in order to keep the device functioning the way it’s supposed to, or the one that you know will be supported by the manufacturer?

Thankfully the observation of this was made by one of the team at Cambium when the products were coming together and it made it’s way into the pricing structure. 

Keeping customers happy isn't just about building a great product. It's about standing beside that product and ensuring that it will always be the best product it can be so that it can be used the way its supposed to as a testament to the manufacturer.


Friday, June 30, 2017

Getting to know Cisco Live, an Outsiders View.

An eye-opening view from a first timing, non-Cisco partner. 

Image Credit: Scott McDermott. Used under Creative Commons 2.0

Let me be clear up-front:

I’m not a Cisco partner. I wasn’t invited or paid to be at the event by Cisco. I don’t sell Cisco products, in fact I’m pretty well versed in how to sell against many Cisco products and a believe in choosing the right product for the job over how well they snap together. That being said, sometime Cisco is the right choice. A lot of times Cisco has the right options to help the customers, it’s just not my “go to” answer.

To get the “Why Not?” Out of the way..

  1. Sometimes it really isn’t the best product.
    Just to say that is almost blasphemous in the Cisco partner world. There is such a strict brand loyalty with the company that seems the all-or-nothing mentality is embedded in the partner program. And it’s the customers too. You’re either all Cisco or not. I don’t believe it can always be everything to everyone and rather than be scoffed at by customers whose pitchers are full of blue kool-aid and waste time at meetings fighting an uphill battle, I choose to deal with everyone else and steer clear of the brand. 
  2. Margins.
    As a small business owner trying to make money, build a successful business, and provide customer friendly solutions, it’s not friendly. The same deal, the same amount of time spent in the account, and its scrapping over 5 points of margin vs other brands where it’s an easy 20%. And who am I fighting against for that 5%?…..
  3. Everyone.
    Everyone sells Cisco. And by everyone I mean I’m competing with CDW, Insight, SHI, and a host of other statewide partners that can murder me with expense accounts, the ability to ride an opportunity out for 6 months, and the buying power to get incentives that I can’t touch because I don’t deal in enormous volume. 

Why am I not a Cisco partner? 

Because even though the products are small business friendly, the reseller side isn’t. I can’t build a small business selling Cisco.

Then what was I doing at Cisco Live?

Having an amazing time. Listening to passionate product managers and engineers talk about their products. Getting to know what Cisco can do and seeing how partners around the world can help solve huge problems.

I was learning more than I imagined about the products and services that Cisco offered while being overwhelmed with helpful people, an amazing community of fans, and a customer-centric company like I have never seen.

I was taking selfies as a virtual superhero, listening to Bryan Cranston talk about killing chickens, jumping up and down to Bruno Mars. I was high-fiving the people in the hallways whose only job it was was to make sure you knew where lunch, the keynotes, or the expo floor was as they danced to the DJ filled areas that donated electricity to school students in 3rd world countries.

I was listening to keynotes that kept it real, telling execs that it costs too much money and takes too much time to achieve Cisco certifications and that means that the way Cisco does business is cumbersome and broken in this day and age.
I was having a freaking blast at Cisco Live. I was changing my perspective on the stuffy company I thought it was.

Am I Going to Go Home and Star Selling Cisco?

Not as a reseller. Not yet. That part is going to be impossible to fix. Why? Because it’s not broken. It’s operating the way I’m sure it’s supposed to. It’s just not supposed to operate for small VARs like me.

Will I be more inclined to sells overall solutions that Cisco offers?

Absolutely. This company does a phenomenal job of being a solution expert. It’s what I imagine IBM used to be the giant of doing: taking complex problems and finding big, chunky, powerful ways to solve enormous problems. The difference is Cisco has the tools and tool sets in addition to the solutions. Granted, they might not always be the *best* products to craft the solution, but they will get the job done.

I get it..

I get why people use it, live it and love it. I didn’t really get it though until i showed up to Cisco Live. To be inside the machine is amazing. It’s informative, inspiring, and empowering. Cisco does a better job than any company I’ve seen making you feel like you’re part of the overall solution and not just a component.

And seriously, they can throw a party. Their Customer Appreciation Event was incredible. Absolutely incredible.

If only in some magical world I could either be big enough to compete to sell Cisco products or they had incentives that leveled the playing field for small business trying to be a part of the Cisco World of Solutions, it would be amazing.

At Cisco Live, you feel like being a part of this mystical world of the technology of tomorrow is attainable. What better place to have it than Vegas. In this town everything feels magical. At every turn you have a machine that sings to you about how it can change your life. At CLUS you feel the same vibe of “anything’s possible”.

But tomorrow, I fly home.

Part of airplanes landing is touchdown back on Earth. For me that means 5–10% margins competing against Cisco Gold partners with 3 or more CCIEs on staff and unlimited resources making it impossible for me to be a part of that magical Cisco world. It means not being able to survive marathon buying cycles and seemingly unlimited incentives for larger partners. It means continuing to work hard while being creative and intelligent enough to craft the solutions out of several best-of-breed products.
Until I can build a small business large enough to compete with the global dominance of big business…

What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas.

Thanks for the memories Cisco Live. See you next year.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Discovering HPE Discover

Early in 2017, I received a direct message on Twitter followed by an email inviting me to HPE Discover. Honestly, it's not a show that I had ever considered going to, but this year I wanted to give it a chance. I have been doing more with Aruba, selling complete solutions with HPE, and have a lot of respect for their teams and products. If there was ever a great time to attend, this was definitely it.

It always exciting to be a first-timer at events. The all-out production isn't lost on people that have never seen it, and every turn reveals something new and exciting.

What is HPE Discover?

Discover is a conference that celebrates all things HPE. From keynotes by the CEO, technical deep dives with Product Managers, and access to the people behind the products, Discover shows you the very best that the product families can produce when working in harmony with each other and anyone in their circle of supporting vendors. Discover is HPEs wonderland of solutions.

Their show floor is a beautiful, well laid out testimony to what they can provide with their family of technology solutions and has everything from product demos to solution demos, in an area they call the Transformation Zone. Every product they make is on the floor.  Every expert and product line manager is available. They are all eager to show you what you can do with their technology, and they step you through their platforms with genuine enthusiasm.  This is that great moment where the people that make the magic get to put it directly in the hands of the people that use it.

A great example of this is a well spoken, extremely intelligent, patient, and driven team member named simply, Y. Y took us on a tour of something that had absolutely nothing to do with wireless, but she did it in a way that was filled with pride, knowledge, and the type of affection that can only come from someone who has dedicated a significant portion of their time to passionately building something they believe in. Regardless of what it had to do with me and my purpose at Discover, the conversation I had with her had everything to do with the reason I was at Discover: to Discover what HPE could do for me, not from a brochure or sales pitch, but from someone who knew how to apply something they believe in, to anyone that cared to spend time with them. Y, you were incredible. Thank you for the laughs and thank you for loving what you do enough that it made the impression it did. HPE is lucky to have you.

Discovering Discover is truly what made it a great experience.

What About All the Products?

The products were all tremendous, as should be expected. The launch of the 8400 series Core switch, as another example, was something really neat to be around. The room buzzed with excitement about the new piece of hardware on the turntable in the Aruba section of the show. Demos were given by people like Ed and Karthik who again, weren't there to sell you, but to show off what they had worked on with an unmatched level of spirit. Why it worked, how it worked, why it did what it did and the thought process behind things as simple as the fan mechanisms to the intricacies of the database structure were applied to real world scenarios.

Again, the power of Discover was that the right product people were there, accessible, eager to talk, and ready to help.

From someone who is used to walking past tradeshow booths of people trying to pitch their latest product, quick-sell you on why they're awesome, or make their widget work in your world, it's refreshing to see the people behind the curtain being given the opportunity to come out and represent what they are passionate about. It makes a huge difference.

With the understanding that the formalities have been dropped and the acknowledgment that I was a guest in "their house", it made for candid, fun and meaningful conversations. There was nothing to prove about why their product was better than someone else, why the HPE solution made the most sense, or why it was imperative that we stop by the booth to "learn more". We were all there on their turf, fully immersed, and ready to soak it up. In other words, since we had moved passed any of the pitches long before opening the door, it was easier for everyone to keep it real.

When it comes to keeping it real, you can't get more real than Jon Garside. From the Baccarat table to the boardroom, you need to get this guy in front of everyone you work with if they don't think security is important. With the understanding that we were all there to learn, his session on security was insightful and eye-opening without being so scary that it drove everyone away. Just to clarify, we didn't actually play Baccarrat but I though it added a nice touch of character to throw it in there.

Real-world security examples were laid out in thoughtful and ultra-realistic ways that provoked thought, conversation, and hopefully, calls to action. From using vending machines and printers to compromise corporate networks to identifying anomalous behavior with machine learning, the conversation was confident yet candid and very well put together.

Talks like this are always appreciated, at least by me, because they are not filled with vendor buzzwords and dialect, they're filled with things that make you think and that drive you to be better at your job.

How About the HPE & Aruba Acquisition? 

Obviously, the Aruba acquisition is finally starting to settle in with the move of all of HPE Switching being branded Aruba switching. Now, somewhere between second and third place globally, Aruba and the HPE team have coalesced to do amazing things with wireless technology, that's a given. Adding their powerful switching line to the mix and throwing the HPE resources at it, if handled the right way, is sure to make an impact on the industry. They are off to a great start with the 8400 and the 2900 series switches.

Culturally, there are still some small traces of Aruba "ride til ya die" in the crowd. I can't necessarily say who or where, but I can tell you that it's still pretty easy to recognize the Aruba folks in the HPE crowd.

Honestly, and I wasn't sure I was going to mention this, but I want to be honest about my experience, my first impression of HPE Discover was "Look at all the suits!"

This show is dripping with old school "business". In my head, as I was walking in the first day, I couldn't help but think of the words of Bad Religion's "Inner Logic"

Automatons with business suits clinging black boxes,
Sequestering the blueprints of daily life
Contented, free of care, they rejoice in morning ritual
As they file like drone ant colonies to their office in the sky

I mean, this place was straight up suitville. I didn't smell an ounce of Tom Ford or see a set of sneakers at this show. This is definitely an after shave only scented event straight out of a traditional business setting.

Normally I would have felt totally underdressed rocking my typical jeans and a button up with some bright blue kicks, but my name tag did say "blogger" not "analyst" and besides I was humming Bad Religion, so yeah .. to be the man you gotta beat the man. I was surrounded by the man. But that's what made being there so punk.

This is of absolute stark contrast to the Aruba Atmosphere show that took place an earlier in the year in Nashville. Engineers stormed the floor, filled the sessions, and had no problem talking shop in the hallways of the Gaylord.

Here, amongst the crowds and lunch tables, it was mainly filled with mouthfuls of jargon that is the typical dialect of a corporate CxO.

Dare to be Different?

Maybe that's what opened the teams up to me and created my experience. Maybe because I was so willing to let the nerds geek out about their products and not focus on the business case, bottom line and P's and Q's they were willing to keep it real. A funny thing happens when you tap into passion, it equalizes the conversation and gets down to the why instead of the how that drives decisions.

What I will tell you is that if you're a techie nerd at heart, this might be a great opportunity for you. Get there before it becomes so laid back that your presence doesn't make a difference. In a sea of gray suits, rock your favorite band T-shirt, grab a pair of kicks from Midnight Run on the strip, and give the product teams a breath of fresh air that doesn't smell like starched wool.

All kidding aside, the show is absolutely worth your time. I am truly appreciative that I was invited by HPE to attend and I will gladly welcome the opportunity to attend again, regardless of what I'm wearing.

All of it couldn't be possible without the teams at HPE and Aruba, namely Pegah and Becca that took care of us. Instead of stumbling around trying to figure out where to go, Pegah had sessions, tracks, and showcases that may interest us identified and optionally available for us to attend. It was awesome. We got the best of the show and the rest of the show. Thanks for your hard work ladies.

Friday, June 2, 2017

What's Wrong With Your Wi-Fi? I want to hear about it..

Every network is a special little snowflake. And every admin is a magical, mystical and all knowing unicorn amiright?

If that's the case, what does that make the end-users?

I'll tell you one thing end-users can be: unhappy.

When what they want to work doesn't work, that's when they get downright angry. The transformation from happy end-users to Wi-Fi monsters is quick and vicious: the teeth come out, the growls get deeper, their chests puff out ... it can get scary!

How do you keep Dr. Jekyll Wi-Fi users from going to Mr. Hyde?

Well that's the question. But read it again with some emphasis on YOU.

How do YOU keep Dr. Jekyll from turning into Mr. Hyde?

We all have our problems with our networks and we all have our toolsets and practices for finding the best solutions.

I want to hear about it.

I will be working on a new production for Cape Networks where we interview people to find out what their problems are, specific to industry, and what the solutions are.

What makes YOU great at what you do? I want to understand that and share it!

Starting at HPE Discover 2017 and Cisco Live 2017, I will have a studio in a box with me to hear your stories. I'm asking for 30 minutes of your time. I will have 4 questions for you, and through some banter, we'll get it down to 4 answers, record it, edit it, and publish it!

After we get the stories online, we'll collectively solve the world's wifi problems! By getting to learn how we all work in our own industries, hopefully we can find ways to help each other solve problems and be the best at what we can do!

Interested in sharing your story?

To prime the pump on the stories, you can sign-up to be interviewed. Let me know what show you'll be attending next so we can grab your story!

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Tech Field Day From Both Sides of the Table

A few years ago I got the opportunity to fly out to Silicon Valley and give a presentation to a group of people at Wireless Field Day on behalf of a vendor, AirTight (now Mojo) Networks. It was a great opportunity to get in front of a group of people that lean-in a bit more than others in the wireless industry.

A conversation after that event led me to start this blog and eventually led to me having a spot on the opposite side of the table: as a Tech Field Day delegate for Mobility Field Day and Network Field Day.

For the upcoming Mobility Field Day 2 event, I'm back on the vendor side of the table having just recently announced that I am now at Cape Networks.

If you don't know what Tech Field Day is, I'll try to make it simple:

Gestalt IT does a fantastic job of identifying influencers and people who take certain segments of the tech industry more seriously than others. Storage, Networking, Mobility, and more. These folks tend to ask great questions that others are interested in hearing the answers to, and they also usually blog or tweet the second they get an answer so they can share it with the world.

When you get people like this together and park 'em in front of a vendor for an hour or more, not only do they dig deep to get tough questions answered, but they feed off of each other to ask things that others might not realize. All of this ends up resulting in a fascinating live stream and recorded content that helps users understand the products, and vendors understand the users.

For Tech Field Day Vendors

From the Vendor side of the table, you get to air out your product in front of a group of people that are intelligent enough to understand what it does and how it works. The group will ooh and ahh with you over your product, but will also challenge what you are presenting to them; not to bully you, but to cut through the bullshit and get to how you can help them, the companies they work for, and the people who are watching or who will be watching in the future.

For Tech Field Day Delegates

From the Delegate side of the table, you get to see the latest and greatest in technology. You get insightful and exclusive opportunities to see the product and meet the people behind it, a chauffeured trip around Silicon Valley with Ramon, and the chance to network with peers and people you normally wouldn't meet.

The networking side of TFD is incredible and occasionally ends up pushing delegates to the other side of the table.

Such is the case for me, and why I disqualified myself from being a Mobility Field Day delegate. This is a good thing.

My Thoughts on Vendors at the Tech Field Day Table

There is a pretty strict and unspoken "no vendor" rule with TFD, and that's a good thing. My take on it is that it sets a level of comfort for the delegates where they can be free and objective about what they say, how they say it, when they say it. In the end, and in my opinion, the objectiveness is what sets the TFD series of events apart.

"Influencer" programs with vendors, bloggers, and social media takeovers are great, but they serve an agenda. With TFD, you get raw opinions not based on products, but based on technology and solutions. That's not to say that there aren't people that are huge vendor-specific customers in the groups, but they do their absolute best to keep their eye on the overall picture, and they do a great job at it.

Having vendors at the table would throw that balance off, even slightly, which is enough to cause it to spin out of control. Having been on both sides of the table, I have to absolutely compliment the entire TFD team for how they handle vendors and delegates to ensure that the balance remains.

It's not an easy job when there is a combination of alpha-nerds in the room. There are vendors who basically practice gavage with their kool-aid while delegates who lose interest try to put vendors on-tilt with snarky questions (not saying I'm innocent there either!). But what's not seen on cameras are Tom, Stephen, Megan, and Kat who are always there to herd the nerds. Without them, the heart of Tech Field Day, the whole thing would go nuts.

So, yeah, I'm  bummed I'm not a Delegate for MFD2

But it's all good. I'm not supposed to be a delegate this time. But, I'll be there, back to my spot on the other side of the table. Ready to answer questions, share some passion, and show my appreciation for this thing that Gestalt IT has put together.

A note on Gestalt IT

Image result for gestalt it logo

Stephen likes to remind us what the term Gestalt means, so I'll throw this out there.
Gestalt is defined as "the idea that natural systems and their properties should be viewed as wholes, not as collections of parts." I think that has absolutely everything to do with the event as a whole. Not just how the delegates chosen to participate are the hive-mind of a specific tech segment, but how the vendors play their part as well.

It's a great recipe that produces great results, no matter what side of the table you're on.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Cylance Steals The Show With the UNDRWRLD Live Demo at InteropITX

I know it doesn't have anything to do with wireless, but I wanted to take a moment to give some love to a great vendor demo. From time to time you come across vendors who can really nail a point and drive it home without being cheesy or too salesy.

Sean Blanton was a perfect example of this. His “Wall of Sheep” demo at AirTight (now Mojo) Networks has been duplicated by a number of partners, including me. Showing off how technology works not by explaining a dashboard, but by engaging the audience and walking them through what the problem is and clearly defining how their solution can be the fix. Doing it with personality, some flair, a few laughs, and a little bit of uneasiness goes a long way.

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At InteropITX this year I was beckoned into a booth by a loud and excited individual named Richard from Cylance. Granted, I had NO idea who Cylance was. Other than the few years that their advertisements in SJC and airports around the US had replaced Barracuda for “airport sponsorship", I had never engaged with them. I don’t know why, I mean I knew the name, I just figured they were good at what they did .. but not for me. The advertising worked is what I’m saying, kind of. I thought it was Cyclance. Whatever. Haha. I should've checked em out is all I'm saying.

So Richard belts out a “GOOD MORNING” to me and I engage. I walk into the booth and say “Tell me what Cyclance does” he says “It’s actually Cylance, but hey at least that’s one way to start a conversation”. Done. Hooked. Great job.

Yada yada yada, he hands me a ticket for an event they’re doing that evening and introduces me to Matt. They explain that it’s a history of the criminal underworld and how it’s changing with time. The event is called UNDRWRLD. I’m intrigued and interested. He asks me to come on by, check it out and grab a drink. He lets me know I’ll learn about the product and get my questions answered .. and hey, free booze in Vegas right?

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I recruit two of my friends to go with me and we roll into the Ling Ling at Hakkasan, a darkened room, big enough for the event, but small enough to be cozy. They get started.

What transpired was freaking awesome.
It wasn’t the fact that they proved a point, handed out free stuff, and had a great time with us, it was that they communicated what their product did absolutely effectively, with real-world examples and in a way that left no doubt that they had the capability to solve the problems of everyone in the room. It was nerd-goosebump inducing. The fact that I’m 6 paragraphs into a blog post about a vendor demo should tell you how impressed I was. I cannot be appreciative enough of the Richard & Matt. Well done guys.

What was the demo?

It was sick. And they do it on tour. So if you see them coming into town, I would totally sign-up to see it.

Essentially they had an audience member, a random person, in this case a female attendee come up to the front. They walked her through building a malware package using freely available tools. It wasn’t some bullshit malware package that had no teeth. It was a payload that delivered ransomware that held the computer hostage for 65 bitcoin. If you didn’t pay the ransom it scaled to 180 bitcoins over 120 days.

They took it and ran it through an online tool (Metadefender) to check how many Anti-Virus programs would identify it as malware. Out of I think 40, there were 20% or so that it could slide by. Scarier than that, they were names that you and I know on a daily basis.

So, they solicited another random audience member and had him kick it up a notch. He ran it through a stub generator program, again another freely available tool, and stuck an MS Office icon onto it. This time when they ran it through the Metadefender: undetectable. By every one of the toolsets you would normally know.

They had just produced legitimate ransomware in front of us using random audience members, paid in cash and champagne, in less than 10 minutes.

Please note on this, they were not doing this as a training lesson on how to build ransomware. They didn't provide links or software so we could do this. They didn't promote it as a session to learn how to build ransomware, they did it to prove a point. 
A point that EVERYONE got: anyone can do this now. Anyone.

So what do you think they did next?

They deployed it on a machine not running their software.
The effect? They locked up one of their own boxes in front of us using ransomware created on a website on the darkweb,. A gutsy move by anyone.
Next, they deployed it on another machine protected by their tool, and obviously it didn’t even execute the file.

What happened next was even more awesome.

In the 2nd week of May 2017 a distributed ransomware attack took Fortune 100 companies and over 150 countries by storm. It was called WanaCry. It was the largest deployment of ransomware with the largest effect of any distributed ransom based malware to date.

They had 3 variants of it on hand. It was almost the digital equivalency of playing with a vial of HIV tainted blood.

What next? What do you think?

They fired off the WanaCry executables on a machine protected with their software.
All 3 variants failed to even execute.

And the gutsiest part? They did it on their algorithm from 2015, 2 years before WanaCry even existed. Just to prove a point.

A point well taken.

To learn more about Cylance, visit them online at

Please Note: this post was NOT sponsored, endorsed, provoked, or even asked-for by Cylance or the crew that made it happen. I just had to show some love to some guys who put their heart into making it awesome.

My Experience at InteropITX 2017 / Where was the Wi-Fi?

As one of the last, national, vendor agnostic conferences in networking, Interop has seen itself transform over the years. Crowd sizes have varied, content has shifted, vendors have come and gone, but it has persisted.

In 2017, we saw Interop get a new name - InteropITX. If I told you that I knew what the ITX was for without Googling it, I'd be lying.  About 4 minutes later:
In its 31st year, Interop added ITX to its name to reflect the next generation of the Interop brand which keeps apace the rapidly changing needs of a modern IT organization. Interop ITX is about technology excellence. Interop ITX is about IT experience. Interop ITX is about the X factor – what’s needed to thrive in this rapidly changing environment. 
A change in experience. Fittingly, and totally unknowingly planned from my perspective, this was the theme of my week in Las Vegas.

It was evident that change was in the air. A new venue: The MGM Grand Conference Center. A new exhibit hall: sized perfectly for the event. Tracks that were broken out into easy to follow sections:

Although there were 6 distinct tracks, it seemed like security was the thought on everyone's mind. From the keynotes to the demos, to the conversation at the podiums and beyond there was an underlying tone of making sure the "security first" mindset. It was one of the key takeaways .. in addition to those crazy Watchguard bears.

The "User Experience" was also a common theme with some of the sessions I attended, as well as my own. How you are connected matters less than what you are connected to and when you are connected to it. The topics around SDN and SD-WAN were focused on providing the best experience for the users on a network based on their needs. Automation, Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence dominated the "buzzword bingo" by talking about making your network smarter and more efficient using data from the network, sensors, and users to optimize data delivery in microseconds as opposed to taking humans thousands of years to do so.

Examples of the computer beating Kasparov at Chess or creatively taking down Lee Se-dol 4-1 at Go were side by side with how Google deployed that same technology to increase efficiencies by handing one of it's data centers over to AI.

Once again, one of my favorite booths was the NBASE-T Alliance.
Peter and the crew and brought together vendors like Spirent, Intel, Panduit, Meraki, Aquantia, MicroSemi, FlukeAukua, and the UNH Interoperability Testing Lab (IOL) to have a plugfest and show off their (gasp!) INTEROPERABILITY. This always makes me miss Interopnet. I pine for the days of a datacenter on the show floor.

It was great to see more vendors, some we didn't see last year, jumping into the multi-gig copper game. If you don't know, one of the key points of NBASE-T Alliance is to promote doing more with the investments you already have. Don't re-cable if you need multi-gig and don't go crazy with 10Gbps fiber if you only need 2.5-5Gbps. It's one of those common sense things that I love seeing product announcements for adopting the technology. Keep up the great work guys!

InteropITX Continues to Be An Important and Great Event

It's clear that the vision of InteropITX changing the "experience" was more than just a logo with 3 new letters at the end of it. This show did a great job, at the perfect moment, of signaling the changing experiences of our users via the networks we're connected to and the way we use, consume, and provide data to make our jobs and lives better. Kudos to the team at UBM for sticking with the times and showing that you can continue to roll with the industry by crafting an event that supports the future of data communications.

Also, special thanks to Madeleina and Susan for everything you guys do! Meghan, great job!

So, what was missing from this event?


Wireless Vendors in attendance: 2.5
Extreme,  2 guys from Meraki, and Watchguard.
Although I think Extreme counts as like 4 vendors at this point. 
Thank you for the support. It was great to see you there!!

Wireless sessions at the event: 4
A 3-hour workshop, Wi-Fi for High-density and Campus, Wi-Fi Gotchas to Avoid, and Artificial Intelligence for Wi-FI. There was another wireless session by a vendor, but that vendor didn't have a booth.

Here's my question:

Where was the wireless industry?

Why didn't they show up?
If there would've been more vendors who signed up, I probably could've wrangled more content. They probably would've had more room especially if a company was making a commitment. But there weren't wireless companies making a commitment. Hell, they gave away a slot to a vendor that didn't even have a booth!

Also, just sayin: Cisco should've been all over this. There must've been 300 APs in the venue!!

Got a Better Offer?

The speculation was heavy amongst attendees: Maybe Cisco really wanted to focus on Cisco Live coming up in a few weeks. Maybe Aruba has shifted to put emphasis on Atmosphere and Discover. Maybe Ruckus is still working out their stuff. Even at that, there are a few more players in the industry. Where was Mist? Aerohive? Xirrus / Riverbed? Huawei? Mojo Networks? Fortinet? Cambium? Ubiquiti? Even EnGenius didn't show this year!

I spoke last year about how important it was for wireless to have a stand-out presence at events like these. With stats like "70% of all data is delivered across wireless networks" you would think that at a show focused on connecting clients to networks would be attractive to people who make equipment in that space. I tried to prove my point at the Network Field Day 15 event this past Spring with my mic-drop burner of a question "How many of you have a cable plugged in right now?"

So I ask you dear reader, how many of you are reading this one a device that is attached to an Ethernet cable? How prevalent is wireless technology? And if your answer is anything like mine, why wouldn't the vendor community support an event with an emphasis on data delivery?

After wrapping my 3-hour session about Emerging Wireless Technologies and Services, and attending the other standing-room-only sessions for Wi-Fi a few things became absolutely clear:

1. There is an ENORMOUS demand for wireless information from a vendor-agnostic perspective. 
I had around 150 people in my session and about another hundred that were turned away because there was nowhere for them to sit. Over the course of the session, some would leave but get immediately replaced by someone waiting outside. The other sessions discussing wireless were the same.

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2. The people looking for the information are seriously, honestly, thirsty for the knowledge. 
And they are not you regular wireless people. I canvassed just my group and found 4 hands go up when asked "How many of you consider yourself good at wireless?" 4 out of 200.

3. Understanding basic principals of design, functionality, and troubleshooting are in great demand.
"If I just buy the most expensive stuff, it does all that for me, right?" was actually a question at one of the events.

4. Everyone is talking about security, but few are looking at the connection medium.
Wireless attacks are going to get more pervasive as IoT takes over. It's a given. Wi-Fi is wide-open when it comes to being a threat surface, but if the industry continues to focus on the user and the network, who's watching the air?

All 4 of those points are things that I would imagine an industry that provides access points, hardware, and software would say "Hey, I can point them in the right direction" but the wireless industry was a no call, no show.

In the same fashion that I would pen a letter to an employee that is having a rough time at their job, I want to write one to my beloved Wi-Fi industry:

Dear Wireless Industry,
Hey, help me out here guys. I love being a wireless nerd. I love the industry, the products, the services, and all the amazing advancements. You guys are killing it when it comes to getting great product to market, listening to feedback, and improving feature sets. 
However, by not representing what you do and helping the customers that need you the most except when it's on your terms, it's really getting tough to show the love. Without your support in places where people are turning up to find answers unaccompanied by sales pitches, customers will continue to have issues they don't understand because they need help and direction in addition to data sheets and part numbers.
Your shows, like Atmosphere and Cisco Live, are great and full of awesome information, but not everyone can justify attendance to a single-vendor event. 
Please help me, as a VAR/Integrator and a consultant, help you. Please get involved in events like InteropITX that are trying to give the industry a place that everyone can attend to see how their networks and management are supposed to work together. They're trying to figure it out from a big picture perspective that involves more than just the products from a single vendor. These guys really need our help, now more than ever. 
I hope you feel better soon and I look forward to seeing you when you're ready to get back to work. The customers are waiting for us too and the longer we wait to help them, the more trouble they're going to get themselves into. See you soon.