Wifi Is Still Hard #cetpak20

Cisco, HP, Ruckus, Meraki and now Aerohive. I’ve used a lot of wireless systems in my time and I’ve come to appreciate when wifi has just worked and practiced my cursing on systems that promised the sun with every future update and delivered something more like a florescent light bulb.

For a time I deluded myself into thinking that with one Access Point per classroom, any system would be good enough but in the wifi space with a heterogeneous network approaching 5,000 district owned wireless devices and who knows how many personal devices, I’m finding it’s the little things that really count and one AP per classroom has brought a whole new set of challenges.

With density comes different issues. Channel overlap and power settings become critical. A client’s ability, or lack of, to roam seamlessly between APs without taking 5 minutes to re-associate manifests as intermittent disconnects and support tickets piling up for “no Internet”. A lack of visibility to what is going on, either because the charts don’t update properly in the current version or because there are not charts for important data points like what a client is actually doing on the network grow tiring when attempting to troubleshoot “the Internet is slow” complaints that are inevitable but disruptive to learning. Other things, like AirPlay Mirroring performance tanking for no apparent reason, are easy to blame on the wifi but hard to actually point to a specific thing and say, “Ah ha, if only we force AppleTV to 5Ghz, with unlimited bandwidth, we’ll be back in business!” Sadly no.

I have yet to find the perfect wifi system but I know what I miss. I miss easy access to client usage data, being able to see at a glance which clients are doing what on the network. I miss a system that supports roaming MacBooks without jumping through a million hoops, actually auto balances channels and power and integrates Google Apps authentication without a per user charge. Above all, I miss a GUI interface designed for humans instead of engineers.

I’m not sure why Wifi is so hard. I don’t think it has to be. Like everything else in IT these days, maybe I’m chasing a dream of a streamlined, easy to use system that just works. With just 10 sites, I’d like to think I should be able to have a wireless system that doesn’t require a full time network engineer to manage. Lately, I’m wondering if it’s really possible.