Tuesday, July 29, 2008

iPhone + Streaming Radio

Okay, this is not really about networking or IU, but I thought it was pretty cool so I figured I'd share it with all of you (which hopefully includes a few more people than I've already told this to in person). *AND* it did involve 1 piece of network equipment owned by IU, so....

Like many people, I'm amazed by many of the 3rd party applications for the iPhone. I was very busy preparing for the Joint Techs workshop last week, so I didn't have much time to "play" with all the new applications for my iPhone. I did, however, download the AOL Radio application a couple of days before leaving for Lincoln. It worked fairly well and I quickly thought it would be quite cool if I could use it in my car while driving ! I'm too cheap to pay for satellite radio, so the idea of being able to listen to radio stations from all over the country in my car caught my eye !

Of course, the first thing I thought was *DOH* - what about that darn GSM interference ? All that buzzing and popping coming through the radio from the streaming audio over the EDGE network wouldn't do. Luckily, I've been testing a Linksys Mobile Broadband router with a Sprint EV-DO card. So I could plug this into the power outlet in my trunk and connect my iPhone to it via Wifi. Note: with iPhone 2.0 release, you can put the iPhone in "airplane mode" - shutting down the cellular radio - and then enable the Wifi radio :) Problem #1 solved ! BTW- I've been told that HSDPA (AT&T's 3G technology) does not have the same interference issues, but alas I don't have one to test with :-(

The next problem was that Sprint doesn't have 3G in Bloomington yet. So how well would this work over the "slow-as molasses" 1xRTT network ?

Before I left for the airport, I tossed the Linksys into my trunk (not literally) and plugged into the power outlet. I dropped (again not literally) my iphone into the dock in my car and headed out. Shortly after I passed the Bloomington bypass on highway 37, I fired up AOL Radio to see what would happen. The station started, but the audio was in and out, stopping and starting --- unusable :-( I turned it off and went back to listening to a podcast. When I reached Martinsville - safely within Sprint's EV-DO coverage - I tried it again -- tuning into the Jack FM station in Chicago. This time it worked fairly well. Every few minutes there would be a short audio drop as it rebuffered, but all-in-all it worked reasonably well.

While I was in Lincoln, I had some free time to play my iPhone. I downloaded a bunch of 3rd party apps include Pandora. For those of you who haven't used Pandora, it's a personal radio station application. You pick an artist and they select songs from that artist and other similar artists. You can give songs a thumbs up or thumbs down and it supposedly adjusts to your tastes.

While in Lincoln, I used Pandora over the EDGE network from my hotel room and walking around town. I was amazed by how well it worked over the EDGE network. Excellent sound quality and almost no rebuffering. I couldn't wait to try it out on the drive home from the airport.

So, last Thursday night while driving home from the airport I tried it out. Amazing ! The quality over both EV-DO and 1xRTT networks was excellent ! Presumably it would be just as good using the cellular radio internal to the iPhone - assuming there wasn't a GSM interference issue. I've been using it for the past several days and have been amazed at how well it works - even down by my house in the southern part of the county where there are definitely some dead spots !

If I ran a satellite radio company, I'd definitely be paying attention to this. It seems to me the major cost for the satellite radio companies is transport - ie getting the signal from the head-end to the users. The reason people want satellite radio is the large selection of content that is available anywhere - not just within your local broadcast area. Exchanging satellite transport for IP transport (either over wired or wireless networks) could drastically reduce their costs and increase their availability - ie you can get IP-based connection in places you can't easily get satellite - like in basements !

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Internet2 Joint Techs

I'm at the Internet2 Joint Techs Workshop in Lincoln Nebraska this week. The primary reason I'm attending is actually for 2 events that were "tacked-on" to the main workshop: The MPLS Hands-On Workshop on Sunday and the Netguru meeting today and tomorrow.

The MPLS workshop was a 1 day workshop meant to educate campus network engineer about MPLS and it's application on campus networks. The morning was spent on presentations and the afternoon on hands-on configuration of MPLS in a lab setting. This was the first MPLS workshop and it went extremely well. There were 22 people in attendance. I was an instructor for the workshop and gave about a 1 hour talk on the control-plane for MPLS VPNs. I plan to reuse the material to provide some MPLS instruction for the networking staff at IU.

The second event I'm attending is the Netguru's meeting. Netguru is a small group of network architects from universities around the country. As you might imagine, campus network architects often have lots of challenging problems they're trying to solve and find it very helpful to discuss these with other people who are facing the same challenges. I think it's typical for these folks to have 1 or 2 network architect friends that they discuss issues with on a fairly regular basis. A few years ago I shared a cab ride to an airport with David Richardson and Mark Pepin. David and I got together to discuss networking issues on a fairly regular basis - whenever we were in the same city (David worked at the Univ. of Washington before leaving to work for Amazon). We somehow started talking about how network architects share information and Mark Pepin brought up the idea of starting a small group (10-15 people) of network architects that met in conjunction with the I2 Joint Techs workshop to discuss issues of the day. Thus Netguru was born ! We have a full agenda for this afternoon, dinner tonight and all day tomorrow. I've missed the last 2 meetings, so I'm looking forward to the discussions today and tomorrow.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Catching up (again)...

Well, it's been 3 weeks since my last post, but I assure you we have not been sitting around twiddling our thumbs ! Here's a summary of what's been going on...

The wireless and core upgrade projects are moving along smoothly. About 1,000 of the 1,200 APs in Bloomington have been replaced. We're also starting to complete some of the dorms in Bloomington as well - so some of the dorm rooms will have wireless by the start of the fall semester. At IUPUI, we're not quite as far along as in Bloomington, but will have completed wireless upgrades in all the on-campus buildings by the time the UITS change freeze goes into effect on August 18th.

We're finishing up the preparations for adding the "IU Guest" SSID to all the APs. This will be the SSID guests who have been given Network Access Accounts will use to access the network. This will allow us to shutdown our old web portal authentication system. The system has a scaling limitation related to the number of MAC addresses on wireless and we've been putting band-aids in place for 2 years to get it to scale to the number of wireless users we have. The "IU Guest" SSID will use the web-portal authentication built-in to the HP WESM modules - these do not have the same scaling limitations.

With these projects moving along smoothly, Jason and I have shifted our attention to the *next* set of projects. Here's a bit about what we've been up to...

We spent a day at IU-Northwest talking with them about the major network upgrade they're planning. During the next 12 months they'll be upgrading all their wiring to Cat6e, consolidating IDFs, improving their outside fiber plant, upgrading all their switches to HP5400's, and deploying over 150 new 802.11n APs.

Jason spent a day at IU-Kokomo helping them setup their new HP wireless gear and discussing their future use of HP's Identity Driven Management product. IU-Kokomo undertook a major upgrade of their network earlier this year, replacing all their switches with HP 5400's, and as part of that they purchased HP's Identity Driven Management system. I could devote a whole post just to this (and probably will eventually), but essentially this is a policy engine that let's you decide when and where users can connect to your network and what type of network service they get - which is done by placing them on different VLANs or applying ACLs to their connection. We've been interested in getting our feet wet with a system like this for some time and Kokomo has agreed to be a guinea pig of sorts :) Thanks Chris !

We had our yearly retreat with the IT Security Office - now called the University Information Security Office. This is something we've been doing for a few years now. A couple people from ITSO and a couple people from Networks get together off-campus and spend several hours thinking strategically about improving security - instead of the tactical thinking we usually do. Tom Zeller hosted the event again - Tom has a large screened in porch in the woods and we were able to watch some wildlife in addition to discussing security !

We met with the University Place Conference Center staff at IUPUI to discuss their unique wireless and guest access needs. They have web-portal authentication on both their wireless network and their wired network. The new web-portal system on the HP WESMs only works for wireless users, so when we upgrade wireless in the hotel and conference center, we'll have to do a bit of a one-off for them.

I've been very busy preparing for the upcoming MPLS Workshop at the Internet2 Joint Tech's workshop in Lincoln, Nebraska. MPLS VPNs are becoming a hot-button topic for campuses as they struggle to meet the divergent networking needs of their different constituents - from the business aspect of the university, to student housing, to researchers. In fact, we're planning to roll-out MPLS VPNs this fall, so when I was asked to be an instructor for this workshop, I figured it would be a great opportunity to sharpen my skills on MPLS VPNs *AND* I could reuse the materials I develop to provide training for all the UITS networking staff that will need to learn how to support MPLS VPNs ! As part of this process, I put together a small MPLS testlab with 3 routers and, when I return, will use this to start preparing for our MPLS VPN deployment.

We've also continued to develop our plans for networking in the new data center. I'll share some more about later once I get past the Joint Tech's workshop in Lincoln !