[Ietf-62] FW: reflections from the trenches of ietf62 wireless

"Odonoghue, Karen F CIV B35-Branch" <karen.odonoghue@navy.mil> Tue, 15 March 2005 18:23 UTC

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From: "Odonoghue, Karen F CIV B35-Branch" <karen.odonoghue@navy.mil>
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Subject: [Ietf-62] FW: reflections from the trenches of ietf62 wireless
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-----Original Message-----
From: ietf-bounces@ietf.org [mailto:ietf-bounces@ietf.org]On Behalf Of Odonoghue, Karen F CIV B35-Branch
Sent: Tuesday, March 15, 2005 12:09
To: ietf@ietf.org
Subject: reflections from the trenches of ietf62 wireless


After a few days of decompressing, I have been considering 
what to say that is helpful without unnecessarily prolonging 
this conversation. I have been involved in the delivery of 
wireless for six IETF meetings (#s 46, 56, 58, 60, 61, and 62), 
some less painful than others and four without hosts. For those 
commenting on how a familiar venue should help and wasn't it 
better last time we were in Minneapolis, I distinctly remember 
sitting in the health club hot tub at the end of IETF58 swearing 
I would never do the wireless again. Believe me, it wasn't 
better last time. For whatever reason, Minneapolis hasn't been 
kind to IETF wireless recently. 

As I wrote this it got longer and longer, so the abridged version is: 
-  We had problems on Monday, but we believed the wlan to 
be operational (albeit without IPv6) with a few obscure 
problem reports from Tuesday onward. If people were 
indeed experiencing debilitating problems all week, then it 
is unfortunate that we were not aware of the issues. 
-  We can document lessons learned and recommendations 
for future hosts, but I believe the current model for 
providing wireless to attendees is broken and needs to be 
fixed. I would be happy to participate in the discussion on 
how to fix this. These discussions should probably take place 
off this already overloaded list. 

So, unless you want gory details and rambling... you can stop 
reading here... 

Technical Summary/Issues: 
-  We had no wireless hardware one week before we were 
scheduled to install the wireless. We twisted arms to get 
hardware and support from two companies who really 
stepped up at the last moment. We started the wireless 
install on Friday, March 4th.  
-  We did not deploy anything new or experimental. We 
deployed what we had available. In the case of the 
wireless, the alternative was about a dozen Cisco 350s 
the secretariat had stashed away in case of emergency. 
We did what we have done for the past two IETF 
meetings - only with a different combination of 
equipment in a different venue. The addition of 802.11a 
did not add complexity and if anything improved the 
situation by moving some of our wireless users out of 
the b/g range. I would agree that we could drop the wep 
and .1x portions, but again, this worked fine for the 
previous two events. Believe me, we are very risk 
-  After a surprisingly easy install, we had a meltdown 
Monday morning at the beginning of the first session. 
This meltdown and the following shockwaves on 
Monday resulted from some less than optimal 
deployment decisions, a configuration issue, a bug in 
the deployed code, and some unforeseen interactions 
with the infrastructure. In an attempt to stabilize things, 
we shed a number of capabilities culminating in a 
downgrade of controller code on Monday night. I 
would like to say that we did this in a careful and 
reasoned fashion, but I will admit there was a fair 
amount of chaos. 
-  Tuesday morning we wandered around trying to see 
how things were going. Most people we talked to 
seemed happy enough at the time but willing to tell us 
war stories from Monday. (Thank you, but we already 
knew Monday was bad.) We were getting sporadic 
reports of IP connectivity problems, but we couldn't 
seem to catch anyone actively experiencing the 
problem. I sent out email soliciting input from people 
experiencing or having experienced the problem 
sometime after Monday. I received a total of four 
responses over the next two days. 
-  At this point, we considered moving to more current 
code, but the reports we were getting indicated that 
things were working. Because our perception at that 
point was that things were working, we made a decision 
on Tuesday evening not to upgrade. 
-  We don't really have a good way to measure the user 
experience. In this case, we thought the wireless was 
mostly working. I asked for gentle feedback during the 
meeting. With the exception of Steve Casner who 
patiently reported back to us, we received basically 
nothing. The helpdesk was also tracking problems for 
us and again after Monday received very few reports. 
-  Until the flood of email started on Friday, we believed 
that we had delivered a working wireless network (after 
Monday) and with an occasional problem that impacted 
a small subset of users but was not debilitating. 

Structural/Administrative Issues: 
-  I do not see much motivation for hosts (or vendors for a 
meeting without a host) to support the IETF network. 
The risk to benefit ratio is just too high. They can get 
much better exposure in environments that are less 
stressful and that they have more control over. 
-  Advanced staging helps to reduce configuration issues 
and allows more time for operational troubleshooting 
onsite. This can't happen when you don't have a host or 
contract out the service. 

So where do we go from here...Well, we have been asked to 
document our lessons learned. While we can do this, it seems 
to me that there are new issues that bite us each time (e.g. one 
time we had APs that rebooted every time a certain threshold 
of clients was reached. The code was eventually fixed. The 
problem doesn't exist anymore.) We can provide guidelines 
and experiences, but war stories from the world of IETF 
wireless deployments don't seem that useful. I would be happy 
to work to document the basic guidelines that we use, but 
generally there is a set of constraints that complicate things - 
like having no hardware. The key to improving the reliability is 
continuity between meetings and the current model does not 
support that. 

Given the trouble the IETF has with getting sponsors for the 
meetings, perhaps it is time to revisit our model of operation. If 
we want the network (including wireless) as a production 
service, then perhaps we should contract out that service to an 
entity that would be responsible for it and could sustain more 
continuity than the current model allows. This naturally costs 
money. There are people out there that will do this for the right 
price. I would be happy to hand over my green dot to someone 
properly resourced to do the job. 

Karen O'Donoghue 

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