18 April 2010

Innovation Shouldn't Have To Be Delivered By Forklift

Ever notice how the latest and greatest innovation from some vendors invariably requires replacing the equipment you've already installed? Known as a "forklift" upgrade, these swap-outs benefit the vendor at the expense of the customer's time and money.

Let's face it, forklift upgrades are driven by vendor greed. The worst offenders make no apologies for their inability and/or unwillingness to design upgradable products. It's just not in their DNA.
Product design recapitulates corporate philosophy, to paraphrase Haeckel.

There are existence proofs that a forklift is not a mandatory prerogative to obtain a new feature - even one incorporating a profoundly complex new technology. Therefore a forklift-based strategy must originate in a forklift-oriented mentality.

Case in point - spectrum analysis.

Wi-Fi networks operate in environments containing electrical and radio frequency devices that can interfere with network communications. 2.4 GHz cordless phones, microwave ovens, wireless telemetry systems, and even adjacent Wi-Fi networks are all potential sources of interference. Interference sources can be either continuous or intermittent, the latter being the most difficult to isolate.

The task of identifying interference typically falls to a spectrum analyzer, the gold standard for isolating RF impediments. Spectrum analyzers help isolate packet transmission issues, over-the-air quality of service problems, and traffic congestion caused by contention with other devices operating in the same channel or band. They are an essential tool to ensure that networks run as they should.

To be effective the analyzer needs to be in the right place at the right time. The ideal solution is a spectrum analyzer that’s built into the wireless LAN infrastructure, and can examine the spectral composition of the RF environment anywhere in the Wi-Fi network, at any time. Today vendors offer handheld spectrum analyzers as well as ones that require the addition of spectrum analysis monitors (effectively doubling the total number of access points on site for full coverage).

Rumors are that at least one vendor will be offering new access points with integrated spectrum analysis. Consistent with their company policy, however, a forklift upgrade will be required to use it.

Aruba has taken a completely different tack with spectrum analysis. Its recently introduced scientific-grade spectrum analyzer includes traditional tools such as Fast Fourier Transform (FFT), spectrograms, and interference source classification. It also includes powerful new features such as interference charts, channel quality measurement, and spectrum recording and playback.

Uniquely, the new spectrum analyzer works with all Aruba 802.11n access points, including those already in service. That is, a customer with an existing Aruba 802.11n deployment can enable spectrum analysis on any of their existing access points without adding any new hardware. None.

And the cost? Zero if you are already using Aruba's Wireless Intrusion Protection (WIPS) Module into which the new analyzer is integrated.

Why does Aruba introduce new features that expand the capabilities of its customers' already deployed networks? Why did it add distributed forwarding without a controller in the data path? E9-1-1 call positioning? Wired switch management?

Because adding features recapitulates our corporate commitment to value, driving growth by enhancing the utility of our customers' investments. It's a mutually beneficial arrangement, and one that stands in sharp contrast to a forklift mentality.

The next time you consider an IT vendor consider how they deliver innovative features. With a hand outstretched in partnership or reaching for your wallet.