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Wireless Partners, Learn Your Craft! It's on You.

Estimated reading time: 3 minutes, 18 seconds. Contains 662 words

Cisco sucks! Aruba sucks! Ruckus sucks! [Insert vendor name] sucks!

How many times has good product been pulled because of a bad design? Doesn’t it make sense that bad installs are bad for business?

"Why don’t wireless manufactures require their partners to have a bare minimum of RF knowledge before they are allowed to sell their products?" - Me

It just dawned on me while having a small Twitter conversation with my fellow wireless peeps that the vendors that I’ve partnered with have never even asked about my qualifications to install their stuff. They absolutely insisted that we get “certified” on their particular product to remain in good standing, but I don’t ever remember them asking about what we knew about RF, wireless design, or even switching & routing.

I was installing wireless networks for over a year before I was running into situations where I had no idea what the proper solution, or design was for the customer. By this time I started following various people on Twitter like @KeithRParsons, @DevinAkin, @WiFiKiwi, etc. and started to quickly realize I did not have a clue about what I was doing, or what I was talking about.

Coming from a voice and switching background, and working with large PBXs, Windows Server (Exchange, SharePoint, etc.) I thought I was pretty smart. I mean, just put an AP over there, and over there, and one more over there for good measure! How hard could it be? Yes, I was brilliant.

Thank God for David Westcott (no twitter handle, c’mon, Dave!). I first ran into him when he taught an Aruba training class (don’t remember which one I had him in several) and he just stopped the class one day when he realized how clueless we were and starting teaching us about antennas patterns and the Rule of 10s & 3s.

It was then and there that I realized I had no business being in the wireless business. I was doing my customers a grave disservice in deploying the “wireless design” I had cobbled together on my laptop. And by design I mean floor plans with round circles denoting where the APs should be placed according to whatever whim hit me.

Thanks to Mr. Wescott my shame turned to curiosity, which then turned into a voracious appetite to learn everything I could about wireless. I started following more and more people on Twitter, reading more blogs, buying more books, eventually landing at the CWNP Web site.

It’s been a long road just to get to the first step of the ladder (CWNA in Dec. 2013) with a goal of CWNE. I know I’m still lightyears away from where I need to be, but at least I KNOW IT and doing everything in my power to get there.

The little knowledge I have gleaned so far from the generous wireless community, self-study, and CWNP training has reaped huge rewards. And not just financially, but more importantly for my customers. Not only are my designs better and much more carefully considered, I have even gone back to existing clients and done free “wifi tuneups” where I tried my best to fix there errors I had committed.

Sadly, the one place I haven’t seen any recognition of the huge change in myself and the company I own is from our wireless vendor. The money and time we’ve put in to get our team trained (all CWNAs now), and set aside time for paid study, and with a real plan for continued education isn’t even a blip on their radar.

So, now I’m back to my initial question: “Why don’t wireless manufactures require their partners to have a bare minimum of RF knowledge before they are allowed to sell their products?”

Hell if I know.

UPDATE: Aruba Networks is now encouraging users to get “Mobility Certified” which includes getting a CWNA - via their Airhead Community blog. While not a requirement for partners it’s refreshing to see major manufacturer actively encourage end-users and partners to go through the CWNP program. Way to go Aruba!

So, I got my ACCP

Estimated reading time: 4 minutes, 10 seconds. Contains 836 words

Today I passed my ACCP v6.0 Exam (Aruba Certified ClearPass Professional). I’ve been working on ClearPass Policy Manger (CPPM) since early 2013 and I have to say I really enjoy deploying this solution, but I totally forgot about the exam this Monday. I was a little nervous on Friday after I got back from the Wireless LAN Professionals Conference. I never test well, so even though I have several deployments under my belt I was still wondering how many questions I’d miss just from not reading them correctly, or pure nerves. Well, fortunately I passed with a pretty decent grade and can add another bunch of letters to my name!

I have to say CPPM is quite a large beast to tangle with and the first training class I took did not instill confidence. I remember taking this class in late 2012 and thinking after we were done that I spent a week on a product and I still don’t know anything about it. I mean I had an idea of what it did, but it felt more like a week-long sales training class than a technical deep dive.

So, along comes my first deployment and it’s for a large non-profit with a pretty complex network. Also, very smart people so it’s not like I could pull the wool over their eyes! :-) I honestly had no idea how to move ahead with this project. But, sometimes those are the projects that force you to focus and get the job done. And I did. I dug through some really limited not-so-great documentation (at the time), and even had support from the great Matt Sidhu, and Kaveh Mehrjoo at Aruba (Matt’s no longer there).

Fortunately, Aruba had figured out that their existing training was wholly inadequate for getting qualified implementers out on the streets. They started an advanced CPPM Workshop that was invite only (I think - could be wrong) to get partners up to speed. The class was a week long at their Sunnyvale campus. It was in the ClearPass engineering department so we literally had direct access to them. I mean we could call over the cubicles to them of we needed to. And of course they had several on hand just for the training. So, in the midst of the project we postponed for a week so I could go to the workshop.

The workshop consisted of all of us arriving for a briefing on Monday morning. The briefing was a faux school district that was presenting their requirements for the CPPM (802.1x, OnBoarding, Integrating Cisco WLC and IP Phones, Guest Access, OnGuard, AirGroup sharing, etc.). Our job - in groups of two - was to complete a successful working deployment by the end of the week. So, that’s what we did. We would start on each piece, have a break-out session to go over the deliverables and best practices and then, BOOM! You’re off!

It was the hardest training class I think I’ve ever taken. Most of us worked until 8, 9, sometime 10pm each night (Aruba was kind enough to leave the lights on for us) and we loved it! So, basically without using a customer as our lab (as I had begin to do) each of us were able to go through the pain and glory of a full deployment. Not only did I meet some awesome people there among the trainees and Aruba employees I got deep into CPPM in a way you normally can’t in a standard training course.

I have to hand it to Aruba. They were in a pickle. They had this fantastic product that was so deep, so powerful, so complex that partners couldn’t do the deployment on there own. Believe me - as a partner - professional services is where it’s at. If you have to bring in the manufacturer to deploy you’ve already lost a big chunk of your income (and stake) in the project. But, Aruba’s Advanced Workshop was exactly what they needed to do. A real “deep-dive” into a product where you not only get hands-on, but you get access to the people who built it, and work on it everyday. At the end of the week you really felt like you had a handle on CPPM. Not experts mind you, but at least you knew you were ready to tackle an enterprise project and come out the other end alive.

Coming back to the customer site afterwards was night and day. I had a mental handle on what we were doing. It wasn’t easy as it was still my first deployment, but at least now I had the tools to figure out what and how things needed to be done. Talk about trial by fire!

I would love to see this kind of approach across other products and vendors. Especially with deep, complicated products like ClearPass. I don’t know if this approach works with every product, but I can say I’ve never been to anything like that class and it would be a shame if I never did again.