Wearing the Cape

Looking at Cape Networks after their presentation at Mobility Field Day 2.

There’s a trend in the networking industry of turning client devices into trustworthy monitoring and troubleshooting devices. In the past it was common for users to call the network team to say “the Wi-Fi isn’t working” and the network team would promptly log into the controller/dashboard/APs or other network gear and say “it looks good from this end.” Especially with Wi-Fi, it can be very difficult to understand the client perspective when you’re looking at the network – it’s like the other side of the fence.

Cape Networks is doing a solid job of putting the network engineer on the client side of the fence. Check out the #MFD2 presentation here:

Cape Networks Presents at Mobility Field Day 2

Cape gives us a client device whose entire purpose is to report standard, trustworthy, and consistent performance metrics to the network engineer, in their own language. It’s an interesting idea if you think about it – they’re making a user talk like a network engineer… usually the network engineers are tasked with putting themselves in the users’ shoes.

No more “It was WAY faster yesterday!”

How do I even measure that…?

No more “The Wi-Fi is down everywhere!”

Does that really mean Wi-Fi, or did DNS crash again?

How about a user that can tell you that how much download throughput they’ve had from YouTube for every ten minutes over the last 24 hours, and even as far back as the last 30 days?

Cape - Youtube perf

How about a user that can give you bar graphs tying RSSI to Channel Utilization, Retry Rate, and BSSID, again for every ten minutes in the last 24 hours to 30 days?

Cape - Wifi stats

Oh and this user has PCAPs every time they have a “bad” experience, triggered by crossing a performance threshold.

Cape - PCAPs

But wait… there’s more! Your superhero user has iPerf stats too.

Cape - iperf setup

Icing on the cake: when this user can’t connect to Wi-Fi, the tests still run, and you are still seeing the results in your monitoring dashboard because the user is sending you the stats via their cellular hotspot. There’s also a battery – so the sensor can still send you a notification via cellular when it loses power. In fact, my office sensor has been the first way I find out someone has blown the 2nd floor breaker every time without fail. Damn 100+ year-old buildings and interns with their space heaters. But I digress…

I have junior engineers that can do this for me. But it’s not productive to have them sitting in a remote office running these tests all the time. Plus my boss would make me feed them and give them bathroom breaks. My Cape sensors dutifully sit on the wall, PoE powered, reporting stats 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year, without a dime in overtime pay.

If you’re like me, you’re also digging this dashboard UI. Cape has some killer UI designers. The whole interface is easy to navigate and configure. Having an intuitive and simple UI is an advantage that is hard to overstate – if the functionality is there, an easy UI makes the Cape sensor the Most Valuable Employee you’ve got – but you never have to promote them and search for months for a replacement that will never be as effective and still a pleasure to deal with.

There is some room for improvement. Email notifications get annoying and are often just noise, but this is an issue with any NMS too. I’ve found myself ignoring most notifications, because I’ve learned that those I do check into are often back to normal by the time I log into the dashboard, usually just a couple of minutes. Tuning alert thresholds can help with this. Better yet, I’ve suggested to Cape that something like a mobile app that can give me the green light/red light behaviour without emailing me to death would be a welcome addition – and I’ve been told this is being explored.

Cape - thresholds

Which is another strength – like all of the good cloud based services these days, Cape is pushing out new firmware and features on a regular basis. Both iPerf testing and PCAPs are features that have appeared since I first got a sensor to test in February, and the Cape team is hard at work making improvements all the time.

I’ve had Cape in the office and lab since then, and it definitely beats every infrastructure based NMS I’ve worked with. Keep an eye on these guys and reach out to their team if you’d like to try them out. They’ve been very great to deal with as a company.

In the interest of full disclosure, I won a Cape sensor with free service as a door prize at the WLPC conference in February, and was also provided a sensor as a #MFD2 delegate. I have not otherwise been paid to review their product but have chosen to do so because I have been impressed with them as a solution and company.