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Yay me!

I got to be a network engineer all day today. No paper was pushed, though many screws were turned. The WiFi gear we've been running on in the office is equipment that's destined for a couple of schools. I ordered gear for us with my end-of-fiscal-year money in June. The new wireless controller and eight Access Points (APs) have been sitting in my office since they arrived in July. Next week we will be installing the wireless networks in one of those two schools, so their gear had to come out.

I decided on Monday, when I knew that I was just about done with my major E-Rate work, that today would be the day. I glommed various members of my crew in the morning and afternoon to help me rack the new controller and then mount in the ceiling four new APs. Two others are running in wiring closets so there's no funky ceiling mounts for them. I have one more ceiling mount to do now -- it's in the middle of our office area, and I need a TALL ladder. (I'll do that one on Friday when the Boss is back in Atlanta.) The 8th AP is supposed to go into the Grants office, but one of the new APs turned up lame, so that unit will have to wait until we get a replacement.

This gear -- APs and controller made by a company called Airespace that Cisco bought -- is really quite nice. With the controller-based system, the APs are very dumb. You don't configure them at all. You do all the configuration in the controller and the controller pushes it out to the APs. Need to add a new SSID and WLAN? Add it at the controller et voila! Within about 30 seconds all of the APs will know about the new WLAN. Much nicer than the old way of configuring each and every AP. Something that's OK when you're doing one wireless AP for your house, but decidedly NOT OK when you're looking at deploying 1,800 of them district-wide.

All in all, a very good day. If I remember my camera, I'll have some pictures tomorrow.

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( 5 comments — Leave a comment )
also_huey
Dec. 21st, 2006 02:33 am (UTC)
With the controller-based system, the APs are very dumb. You don't configure them at all. You do all the configuration in the controller and the controller pushes it out to the APs.

I think I told you about this before, but my cousin is (or 'was', if he's job-hopped again recently and I'm unaware of it) one of the Head Technology Wizzerds for http://www.trapezenetworks.com, and this is exactly what his last big project was all about - a big mother controller for building- or enterprise-wide WAP deployments. It's dead sexy stuff, and I got to hear about all of the comical bits like "How do you test something that's supposed to be controlling thousands of wireless points without throwing more RF than a busted microwave?". The answer, which I hope you'll find as funny as I did: you lower all of the power outputs, remove all of the antennas, and replace them with BNC connectors and coax, thus creating a network of... ...wireless-over-wires.
netcurmudgeon
Dec. 21st, 2006 03:22 am (UTC)
The answer, which I hope you'll find as funny as I did: you lower all of the power outputs, remove all of the antennas, and replace them with BNC connectors and coax, thus creating a network of... ...wireless-over-wires.

You'd mentioned that before -- but it's just as amusing the second time around!

In all seriousness, that's a real problem that the vendor engineers have in their demo rooms/work areas ... Yeah, all this WiFi gear is FCC certified, but that's based on keeping minimum safe distances (which vary based on antenna type and power level), and assume exposure to one device at a time. I wonder about the health effects this is going to have on the SEs who have a half dozen APs in their cubes all rocking away at once. I mean, when I can feel the 5GHz signal in my head, there's probably too much RF at your desk!
netcurmudgeon
Dec. 21st, 2006 03:23 am (UTC)
BTW...
Any idea how they wired their wireless? Did they just create one big long bus a la thin Ethernet (and what did they do for terminators)?
also_huey
Dec. 21st, 2006 04:18 am (UTC)
Re: BTW...
My apologies. I'm getting old, and I keep retelling the same stories.

My alcohol-infused memory says that yeah, they just made a big collision-domain of wireless transmissions. Jeffy also mentioned that smaller-scale testing involved sending somebody to every even remotely local Fry's to buy them completely out of stock of cheap little Linksys WUSB11 adapters.

The other real interesting bit from that story I remember is that their test-stand of a building's-worth of WAP antennas looked kind of like a fridge wrapped in hex paper, with the hexes made out of omnidirectional WAP antennas about the size and roughly the appearance of home smoke detectors. After completing it, just prior to the big VC-showin'-off public demo, they discovered that their multi-million-dollar test rig was too big to get out the door of the lab to get to the building where the demo was scheduled to take place.

Engineers crack me up. "What do you mean, 'be able to get it through the doorway' wasn't in the design spec?"
netcurmudgeon
Dec. 23rd, 2006 01:07 pm (UTC)
Re: BTW...
"What do you mean, 'be able to get it through the doorway' wasn't in the design spec?"

Oy, that cracks me up! All too common, alas. Some of my relatives wound up donating an upright piano to the local American Legion hall due to a similar failure. Though, in their case it was a failure to get said piano in the door.
( 5 comments — Leave a comment )

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