Creating Dynamic WLANs with APIs

By Scott Lester, Blog Contributor
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What would life be like if we had wireless networks that could dynamically change their coverage model based on an arbitrary list of metrics? Have you ever had the need for a space to dynamically change the wireless network from one event to the next? How about the ability to tie those network changes to something so that the network dynamically recreated itself?

Welcome to the world of Python and APIs. When I mentioned “dynamic WLANs” in the title, I’m referring to the ability of the network design to change with evolving conditions, possibly even with little or no IT involvement. If you were looking for the “easy” button, you won’t find it here. However, by utilizing ArubaOS 8's APIs and Python, we can make life much easier.

Dynamic Networks in Warehouses and Large Public Venues

Let’s take a look at how APIs can help create those dynamic networks in two everyday scenarios: warehouses and large public venues (LPV).

Warehouses have long been places where wireless was relied upon, and some might even say they were the birthplace of wireless. It wasn’t that long ago that 802.11b found itself being rolled out into warehouse spaces. It provided excellent service for low-bandwidth devices, such as handheld barcode scanners. Since a wireless frame transmitted with a low data rate can be demodulated at a much greater distance, these early 802.11 systems had the ability to cover a lot of space with a much smaller number of access points than needed today.

Naturally with the evolution of technology and the logistical needs of warehouse increasing, warehouses are finding themselves in a place where a higher quality capacity/coverage model is required to provide better service for realtime applications such as voice. The number of APs now required for that level of service is much higher than what warehouses have used ever before. With the increase in AP count, the potential for higher levels of co-channel interference and roaming/performance issues increases as well. Yet, with the use of APIs in an Aruba environment, one can mitigate those effects.

LPVs also have the need for coverage models to change based on what event is ongoing and face many of the same challenges as warehouses. Within LPVs, typically the spaces are very flexible. They could hold a concert with 10,000 fans one night, only to shift to a tradeshow occupying the entire floor space the next. Obviously, those events have usage requirements that are very different from each other. In one case, we need overhead coverage for the seating bowl with dozens of radios to provide capacity. The second scenario only needs floor coverage that could see its performance degraded if the additional seating bowl radios remained on.

Here again, another application where the use of APIs in the Aruba environment could help solve a problem. How so, you ask?

In either scenario, major changes would need to be implemented by the wireless engineer to provide the same level of service, regardless of changing inventory levels in the warehouse or what event is being held in the LPV. By utilizing APIs, the network engineer now has the ability to change the network with very little effort.

For example, if the warehouse WLAN engineer decides that when inventory levels are low, he or she can disable a certain number of APs in order to lower the amount of channel utilization taken up by beacons while maintaining similar coverage and performance levels. The LPV WLAN engineer might be able to utilize those same APIs, tying them into a scheduling system so that the network dynamically changed to a “floor only” coverage model and reconfigured the channels and power levels used automatically.

As always, one caveat to this usage is that physical changes in racks/shelving locations or bleacher/stage relocations should result in a new evaluation of the space and potentially changes in physical AP locations.

Abilities like this are just the tip of the iceberg for engineers, and these abilities can provide greater levels of network automation than before. Certainly, this automation can be implemented with much greater ease than ever possible in life without APIs. While ArubaOS 8 APIs are not a magic bullet to solve all of our wireless problems, they go a long way in helping lower the administrative burden of operating a quality wireless network.

For more information on working with Aruba APIs, or to get started for those new to APIs and Python, check out the YouTube videos by Aruba's own Joe Neville. He created a four-part series taking you through the steps needed to create a working Python environment and interacting with ArubaOS Switches.

You can find the first in the series here.

Follow Scott Lester on Twitter at @theITrebel.