Geek Toys – The future of Apple TV

As WWDC approaches, I once again hope for a new Apple TV. The Apple TApple TVV has so much potential, and so much disappointment associated with it. Will WWDC be the time when we finally see an update? The bigger question is, with such strong competition from other products, has Apple already missed the boat?
I’ve spent quite a bit of time thinking about what I would like to see in a new Apple TV. There has been a lot of change in the last few months around home entertainment, and if Apple really wants to own the space, it has to adapt to compete. There are some key features that I think could make Apple TV ready to own the space again.

Siri

When I hear people discuss using Siri on an Apple TV, I rolled my eyes. I hate Siri. I refuse to use Siri. However, that changed just a little when I received an Amazon Echo. Amazon has knocked voice recognition out of the park! Alexa is fast, error free, and simply amazing. It is so good, I actually caught myself preparing to say “Thank you” to a piece of hardware! Each morning I ask Alexa for the news and my commute information. I use it when cooking for timers. Alexa is the only reason I use Prime Music. Let me repeat that. I began using Amazon Prime Music only because Alexa made it so easy. Make Siri that good on an AppleTV, and I get it now.

Facetime HD camera and mic

I do not understand why this hasn’t happened before. An Apple TV that could connect via FaceTime, is a no brainer in my opinion. Besides the ability to talk with relatives and friends through a TV, a camera could provide a lot of other features. The camera or mic could be used as a detector for HomeKit automation. Add some face recognition, and use it to choose the profile, and permit or deny content based on age restrictions. The list goes on and on.

HomeKit Integration

Imagine the Apple TV turning on lights when motion or sound is detected. It could also provide the remote view capabilities required by those of us who regularly travel and would like to check on our homes. This would be an easy way to integrate HomeKit and directly compete with the existing products on the market from Belkin and Wink and many other companies. I love my Wink Hub and the attached lights, sensors, and outlets. I hope that Apple gets the integration right.

4K

Apple has built the 5K iMac to encourage 4K content creation. 4K content only becomes valuable once there is an easy way to consume that content. Apple TV should be that avenue.

Glances and notifications

The notifications on Watch are the reason I love my watch. There is no reason why this same thing shouldn’t work as a pop-up on the Apple TV.

A decent remote!

Apple works hard to refine every detail of their products, which leads me to ask. What happened? The AppleTV Remote is simple, small, and sleek. It is also the worst of the worst of the entertainment hub remotes. It uses IR, which means it must be in direct line of site of the AppleTV. Anyone who has used both an Apple TV and a Roku or Amazon Fire TV understands what I am talking about. The Roku and Fire TV remotes can be oriented in any direction, and yet they still work. The devices themselves can be hidden behind TVs or in closets and they still work. Not so for the AppleTV. It is time to move to BluetoothLE for the remote and show IR the door.

Games, apps, blah blah, blah.

I don’t play games. I try to care…but I don’t.

Hey Apple, Help Us, Help You!

When the iPhone debuted on the AT&T network, AT&T was clearly not expecting the demand that was created. They were caught off-guard by the influx of customers, and more importantly they were surprised by the data consumption of users, who had purchased a device created to consume data. Problems were reported at a ridiculous rate, and rumors abounded everywhere within the Tech blogs that Apple was threatening to take their ball phone and go home to Verizon if AT&T didn’t do something fast.

In the mean time, Apple began working on ways of optimizing the iPhones use of the carriers network, and kept pushing AT&T for improvements. It took AT&T a couple years, and a LOT of money to build their network up. Some people will argue that if the iPhone had not been made available on other carriers that AT&T would still be having issues.

Apple studies, lives and dies by user experience. They knew that a poorly performing network would reflect on their device. It was not enough to simply blame the network. If the network wasn’t available, then features of their phone weren’t available either.

With that in mind… Apple DOES NOT provide developer access to wireless API’s in IOS. Troubleshooting WLAN issues for IOS devices can only be accomplished from the infrastructure side. Without jailbreaking an iPhone, there is no way to access RSSI, SNR, or other WLAN statistics.

Which device is best for troubleshooting iPad connectivity issues on a WLAN? If you answer anything other than “another iPad”, go directly to jail, do not pass go, and do not collect $200. This is an oversight decision that Apple needs to quickly reconsider.

Apple, we are the network. Without WLAN Engineers, iPads and iPhones won’t function correctly on corporate networks. Without the proper tools, WLAN engineers cannot support IOS devices when there are issues on the WLAN. Without tools, our network problems reflect on your devices. Help US, help YOU.

Supporting Apple devices on the WLAN

Since the iPad was released, it has received a mixed welcome within Enterprise environments. While a lot companies have at least some plan to move forward with iPads, these drivers are usually coming from the business side, instead of IT. In-fact, most IT shops are being dragged into IOS support with strong reluctance.

The broad questions which are causing resistance can be summed up in one word: SUPPORT. IT departments must figure out how to support the device in multiple areas. Information integrity and control, end-user support, and connectivity support all must be dealt with. Since this is a networking blog, I want to deal with the last one; and will do so in the next two articles.

Supporting iPads on the network is more complex than connecting them to an SSID and providing login credentials. If we look at the standard iPad user in most organizations, we see a highly mobile user, users who also have laptops. Most of these users requested an iPad after having a positive experience with their company issued iPhones. That translates to a user having three wireless devices at there desk at any given time: their laptop, their iPhone and their iPad.

To understand the problem this creates, let’s look at how we survey for a wireless network. There are two considerations: coverage and capacity.

Wireless Coverage
A survey can be  based on square footage, and provide a certain RSSI from wall-to-wall. This is a perfectly acceptable way to survey if everyone has their own office. However in Cube-ville, a single AP may cover 100 desk or more. If each desk has one wireless device, you now have a physical medium (the channel or airspace) that is incapable of supporting all of the connected clients.

Wireless Capacity
The other way to perform a wireless survey is based on capacity. In a high capacity environment, the wireless spectrum, not the AP is the bottleneck. More on this later…

In a capacity based scenario, a number of desk are chosen, lets say 25. For every 25 desk, there is an AP. Those AP’s are placed based on coverage area, and in to minimize channel overlap. For the same 100 desk in Cube-ville, you now have 4 AP’s. Since there will be channel overlap, the radios are turned way down, and in general, the physical medium is now capable of handling the number of clients.

Taking this environment to the next step, each desk gets an iPhone, and a few months later, 1 in 4 request an iPad. We can safely assume that complaints will begin coming into IT about the wireless network. The AP airspace that was previously servicing 25 clients now contends with 62 per AP. Time for another wireless survey and at least twice as many AP’s!

Now we can see the problem that many companies are facing. The i-devices are here, and businesses seem to love them. The network team must begin planning and building now. I would like to make a few suggestions which might keep network teams from finding themselves behind the eight  ball.

  • Budget to begin surveying your high density environments now.
  • Develop a plan for support, complete with timelines and cost. Present this to the highest management level you can reach, so that it can be considered as the business begins planning device deployments.
  • If your company has a charge-back system for devices, be certain a cost is associated with each IOS device to support the wireless network going forward.
  • Be certain to include a survey and additional equipment as a cost of any iPad rollout projects, make certain the business can see the total cost of deploying iPads and iPhones.
  • Finally, be first in line to get an iPad if you don’t already have one. You can’t support what you don’t understand; besides, it really is a great device.

I realize that there are other options out there other than the “i” devices. However, I haven’t heard of, or seen, a single enterprise level roll out. However, these rules apply to the world of Android and Windows too. More devices per square foot equals more demand on the wireless network.

And now for something completely different…an iPad background for Network Engineers

ASA iPad Background

ASA iPad Background

I’ve never really found a lock screen for my iPad. I’ve been looking for something that has some geek humor, with a little bit of, “yes, I am a network engineer” mixed in. Finally, I decided to create something. I’m tossing it out for anyone to use.

What would you like to see as an iPad background? What IOS commands scream “Look at me every time you turn on your iPad”?

Like Swiss Cheese – The road to being certifiable – Part 2

I tested, and received my first certification in 2000. I had been in IT for only 6 months, and I passed the Windows NT Server exam, which gave me the title of Microsoft Certified Professional. I did so after spending $7000 on a 6 month MCSE course. Finishing the course, just so happened to coincide with Microsoft announcing the end of the 4.0 track, and the beginning of the 2000 track. I didn’t have enough time to pass all 6 exams, to complete my MCSE, so I spent $7100, including the exam fee to attain my MCP. Needless to say, I wasn’t happy.

Moving forward over the next 5 years, I worked in every aspect of IT. I worked as help desk support, DBA, .Net programmer, and Web Developer. Eventually, I got sick of programming, and decided to plot my return to servers and networking. It was that or walk away from IT all together.

It took me a year, but I finally found a job that would trust me with their network, and I quickly made up for lost time. I fell in love with networking, and realized that I had finally found my niche in IT. Wired, wireless, firewalls, it all just made sense to me on a level that nothing else I had ever touched had.

Since that time, I have considered getting certified multiple times. In my opinion, the Cisco certifications are the most well respected vendor certifications available, and since I was working with about 90% Cisco equipment, there was no reason for me NOT to be certified. The only problem was, there didn’t seem to be any reason for me TO be certified either.

Salary surveys and employment studies seemed to indicate that certifications didn’t equal better pay, or higher level of employment. I have always been a busy guy, and passing certifications would require me to give up a lot of personal time that could be used to pursue other interest.

I was facing a motivation crisis. Couple that with my past experience in certifications, and the fear of, dare I say it, not passing an exam (also known as failure). I had plenty of reasons NOT to take a certification exam.

This all changed a couple of months ago. I made a couple of realizations that made getting certifications important to me, not for resume building, but for me as an individual.

I had just finished having a conversation with a junior level engineer over TRILL. I had explained in detail the finer points of TRILL vs. every vendors’ competitor. I discussed how it would most likely push L3 routing back into the Core and Distribution layers and out of the Access layer. I explained IS-IS.

Then, I was asked for help to setup a static Frame Relay map. My response was “Google for it” and I walked away quickly. I could discuss complex new technologies and yet somehow, a basic CCNA level task had escaped me. There were holes in my knowledge that I couldn’t escape.

I thought about that experience over the next couple of weeks. I realized that I was suddenly surrounded by real network experts through twitter: @etherealmind, @amyengineer, @matthewnorwood, @jtie_6ee7, @networkingnerd, @ecbanks, and many more. I liked the conversations that were taking place through blogs and other avenues. I also felt like I had a dirty little secret that would one day be discovered. I didn’t know (some) basic CCNA level stuff about networking.

It didn’t matter how well I could discuss PAGP vs. LACP, OSPF vs. EIGRP, IPv6, TRILL, or any other topic. It didn’t matter that my home network included an ASA and aironet AP. I could be easily stumped (without the internet) on basic topics that I never bothered to learn and memorize.

That was when I decided it was time to begin my certification journey. I would start with ICND1, taking no shortcuts. I wouldn’t take the CCNA composite test, in-case it didn’t cover a topic in-depth enough. I would become certified, and more importantly I would fill in the gaps, and know where I stood.

I easily passed the ICND1. According to Cisco, I have at least entry level experience and knowledge (surprising, right?). I quickly scheduled the ICND2, and there is where the holes appeared. On the portions of the test I knew, I didn’t miss any, or at least not more than one. ACL’s, OSPF, STP, and IP subnetting wasn’t a problem. There were problems though, and despite a few HORRIBLY worded questions, I can only blame myself. I missed passing by 21 points out of 1000.

Needless to say, I will be retaking the exam next week. I expect to pass, and more importantly, I will have filled in a few more holes.

ICND- Is Cisco oN Drugs – The road to being certifiable – Part 1

So I have a dirty little secret that I’m going to let you in on. Until recently the only IT certification that I held was an expired MCP certification dating back to the days of NT4.0. That’s right, I wasn’t a CCanything, and didn’t really see the need. I had years of experience on my resume, and didn’t want to put myself through the emotional distress caused by chasing certifications. There was also the question in the back of my mind: “if I begin taking exams, when do I stop, ccna, ccnp, ccie?”

So for reasons that will be explained later, I decided that it was time to begin the journey to become certifiable certified. Rather than jump directly into the Route, Switch, and Tshoot exams, which I really wanted to do, I instead decided to make myself step through it one step at a time, beginning with ICND1. I spent a week going over the material, just to be certain I knew what to expect, and scheduled the exam.

I wouldn’t say that I have “test anxiety” but anytime you spend $125 on an exam there are going to be strong emotions involved. I went into the exam a little nervous, but still expecting to pass easily.

This brings me to the reason that I HATE certification exams. I was shocked throughout the exam at how many poorly worded questions there were. I felt like I was arguing semantics with someone over whether or not “yes” means “yes” always or just on the odd and even numbered days. It finally led to the question that if I had been in an argument, I would have walked away before resorting to violence.

A loose paraphrase of the question was:

Which are swapped to change a straight-through cable to a crossover cable?
1 and 2
2 and 4
1 and 3
etc.
etc.

Now, the very first answer was “1 and 2” , which I understood to mean “the orange pair that includes wires 1 & 2” so I clicked the check box and then began looking for “3 and 6” to indicate the green pair. The only problem was, there was no “3 and 6” as an answer. I re-read the question, and all of the answers, still no “3 and 6”, I re-re-read, and still no dice.

At this point, I had seen a couple of poor questions or examples, and I was about to chalk this up as “another screw up on this stupid exam” and just click a box so that I could move on. But, I couldn’t stand to be beaten by such a simple question. I re-re-re-read the question, and finally figured out what they were really asking.

The question was really asking which STRANDS, WIRES, or PINS are swapped, not which PAIRS. Why one of those simple words was not used, I cannot tell you. It would have made the 4 minutes I spent on that question less than 20 seconds. At this point I was so frustrated with the many poorly worded questions, I spent 5 minutes writing a comment on this question before I moved on.

By the end of the exam I was sure that I had passed, and when my last two questions were “complex” subnetting questions, I guessed because I didn’t feel like doing the math, and wanted to be done with the exam. I passed with a great score, and ~20 minutes left.

I don’t mind challenging questions. I like to think, and want to know that when I complete an exam I have accomplished something. At the end of the ICND1 exam,  I had figured out what Cisco was TRYING TO ASK enough times to pass. That is all that I feel I accomplished.

Making people decipher and decode poorly written questions does not vet them as a capable certification candidate.

I now know that ICND really stands for “Is Cisco oN Drugs”

Could Cisco Prime be the first step towards OpenFlow competition?

As it has been clear from my previous post, I have a love/hate relationship with Cisco. I love some of their products and I love working in IOS. There are also things that I hate: Cisco’s management platform and the lack of consistency between product lines; subnet mask vs. wildcard mask being a great example. Another thing I hate, Cisco’s management tools. CiscoWorks is a joke, and in smaller environments, where CiscoWorks would be overkill, companies are left with Cisco Network Assistant(CNA).

<RANT>
I realize that CNA is free, that Cisco doesn’t make any money on it, and that it was never meant for large enterprise. However, if there has ever been a product deserving of a “Beta” tag, I’m not sure what it is. What a piece of junk!
</RANT>

Now Cisco has released Cisco Prime. In all of the articles that I have read, the primary function is listed as “unified access across wired and wireless networks”. Clearly Cisco intends this to be a security solution. However, as you read further, things get a little more interesting. Here are the features as per a Cisco Blog post: http://bit.ly/gWBijM

Centralized Policy. Support any user on any device and provide secure access across the entire network by setting a single set of policies that can be distributed and enforced across the entire network.

Network Management. Unified management via Cisco Prime for wired and wireless networks helps increase IT efficiency, reduce IT training, and decrease time to resolve IT issues by providing a converged service-centric management platform.

Automation for Voice and Video. Ensure consistent high-quality user experience on any end-point. The latest innovations using Cisco Medianet enhancements provide automation and troubleshooting in the network to deliver application quality of experience, particularly video. Plus, organizations can reduce cost and time when resolving application choke points in the network, and scale applications to any endpoint with greater speed and efficiency.

The last two items are what piqued my interest. Unified network management, bandwidth control and shaping for audio and video; aren’t these features discussed when OpenFlow comes up? Is it possible that Cisco has recognized the need to address OpenFlow now, before it gets a stronger foothold in the market?

If I’ve properly read between the lines, and my guesses are accurate, there are a few things to remember. IF, then:

-This product has been rushed to production. I wouldn’t touch it within the first 6-9 months, or until it’s been upgraded at least once.
-Let’s face it, some of Cisco’s best new to market products were bought, not built internally. This was built internally. Enough said.
-Prime’s feature set will explode over the next few years, to make it better compete with the full OpenFlow feature set.
-The next version of IOS, ASA, WCS, etc. will have new hooks for this software to continue it’s feature expansion. Use caution with new versions of code for any devices. New hooks in the software = new security vulnerabilities and new bugs
-We may actually see a great security/network management product from Cisco in the next couple of years!