Internet = InterNOT @ Interop

A short saga of attempted b/g connectivity

I was in New York last Wednesday, 11/18 for a one-day whirlwind tour of the Interop show floor. Sorry to say I did not have time to attend the keynote presentations, but my schedule only afforded enough time to catch up with the twenty or so management vendors who were exhibiting. Little did I know that I would be forced to live the day as one of the unfortunate - the "have-nots" - the "Internet unconnecteds"... First off I was really pleased to see so many people in the aisles of the exhibition. I can't be certain how many were IT professionals looking for technology solutions, how many were VCs peeking out of their shells to look for new investments, or how many were children of the "Great Recession" looking for work, but the overall effect was one of both energy and buzz. Unfortunately, I'm left with a bad taste in my mouth over my ultimately frustrated attempts to connect to the Internet while on the show floor and in the media center. The Interop show has always prided itself on hyper connectivity, including free WiFi access for the last several years. Plus, there are named management vendors who are responsible for monitoring the InteropNet and providing operational assurance. In brief, I attempted to connect via 802.11b/g WiFi, as well as via a fixed ethernet cable in the media center just above the show floor, both before the show opened at 11 AM and then again later in the day around 4 PM. I also tried connecting via 802.11b/g on the show floor in the café area during lunch. In all cases, I had trouble getting an IP address served to my laptop, and when I did get an address I could not achieve more than a trickle of throughput, resulting in timeouts and dropped connections. Overall, a thoroughly unsatisfying experience. And this despite the fact that my laptop WiFi worked just fine before and after I was at the show, and my iPhone 3G faithfully delivered my e-mail all day long without a hiccup (not using the WiFi connections – just the 3G network.) Okay -- a missed opportunity for sure -- I could have asked someone for help, but didn't. I realize the show floor is a busy place and just figured that the access would get better if I tried again later. Let's be honest -- most of us would do the same, since we have all been de-conditioned by the best-effort world of cellular phones. And I was ready to file this experience as just another inconvenience that comes with business travel now and then. But then “Official Interop Troubleshooting and Monitoring Vendor” Splunk started sending me little marketing quips about how many events were happening on the show net, how many attacks were happening, and how many iPhones were connected. Again, I was ready to ignore this as simply curious trivia, but their claim to provide "troubleshooting" would not leave me at peace. So I asked Splunk for help. Could they perhaps tell me what happened that day? They did their best, providing me with what they had on hand, and did so quickly. They sent me log file entries from the Xirrus access points which were serving 802.11b/g connections. Those entries showed me trying to get connected, showed me trying to get an IP address served, and then showed me disconnecting. If that is all you are looking for, you might conclude that I had successful sessions -- several in fact. From an availability viewpoint, I did gain access. But from a performance viewpoint, it was (as my teenager would describe it) an “epic fail.” Splunk is a management information indexing and search product, doing some frankly pretty amazing things in terms of gathering massive amounts of data across multiple domains and making it accessible. They primarily operate by consuming log data, and pride themselves on helping operators find specific details, needles in the haystack if you will, really really fast. Log data has lots of interesting and useful tidbits in it, and are most commonly leveraged for security and systems monitoring purposes. They also provide supportive information about network/service availability, but that's where it stops. The challenges we face today when it comes to network service quality, the really hard ones, are all about performance -- not availability. And log data tells you very little, if anything at all, about performance. I've given Splunk the chance to help dig into this a bit more and will include an update in a future post if one is forthcoming. I suspect, however, that the problems were not within their view. The problem could have been with the access points, but if they were it was one of congestion. But the fact that I could not get connection on the fixed line draws me to believe that there were deeper architectural problems with the InteropNet in the first place. For myself, I won't take for granted that 802.11b/g access will work at the next Interop show. Perhaps I need to look at upgrading my laptop's WiFi to 802.11n - there were two 802.11n networks at the New York show but I didn't have a way to try those. And one parting shot/word of advice for the InteropNet team – next time you select an “Official Troubleshooting Vendor,” make sure they have the firepower they need to look beyond availability. You just can’t do the job without an understanding of (or at least a meaningful viewpoint into) performance.

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

The 10 most powerful companies in enterprise networking 2022