Learning, certifications and the xISP

One of the most asked questions which comes up in the xISP world is “How do I learn this stuff?”.   Depending on who you ask this could be a lengthy answer or a simple one sentence answer.  Before we answer the question, let’s dive into why the answer is complicated.

In many enterprise environments, there is usually pretty standard deployment of networking hardware.  Typically this is from a certain vendor.  There are many factors involved. in why this is.  The first is total Cost of Ownership (TCO).  It almost always costs less to support one product than to support multiples.  Things like staff training are usually a big factor.  If you are running Cisco it’s cheaper to train and keep updated on just Cisco rather than Cisco and another vendor.

Another factor involved is economies of scale.  Buying all your gear from a certain vendor allows you to leverage buying power. Quantity discounts in other words.  You can commit to buying product over time or all at once.

So, to answer this question in simple terms.  If your network runs Mikrotik, go to a Mikrotik training course.  If you run Ubiquiti go to a Ubiquiti training class.

Now that the simple question has been answered, let’s move on to the complicated, and typically the real world answer and scenario.  Many of our xISP clients have gear from several vendors deployed.  They may have several different kinds of Wireless systems, a switch solution, a router solution, and different pieces in-between.  So where does a person start?

We recommend the following path. You can tweak this a little based on your learning style, skill level, and the gear you want to learn.

1.Start with the Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA) certification in Routing and Switching (R&S).  There are a ton of ways to study for this certification.   There are Bootcamps (not a huge fan of these for learning), iPhone and Android Apps (again these are more focused on getting the cert), online, books, and even youtube videos. Through the process of studying for this certification, you will learn many things which will carry over to any vendor.  Things like subnetting, differences between broadcast and collision domains, and even some IPV6 in the newest tracks.  During the course of studying you will learn, and then reinforce that through practice tests and such.  Don’t necessarily focus on the goal of passing the test, focus on the content of the material.  I used to work with a guy who went into every test with the goal of passing at 100%.  This meant he had to know the material. CompTIA is a side path to the Cisco CCNA.  For reasons explained later, COMPTIA Network+ doesn’t necessarily work into my plan, especially when it comes to #3. I would recommend COMPTIA if you have never taken a certification test before.

2.Once you have the CCNA under your belt, take a course in a vendor you will be working the most with.  At the end of this article, I am going to add links to some of the popular vendor certifications and then 3rd party folks who teach classes. One of the advantages of a 3rd party teacher is they are able to apply this to your real world needs. If you are running Mikrotik, take a class in that. Let the certification be a by-product of that class.

3.Once you have completed #1 and #2 under your belt go back to Cisco for their Cisco Certifed Design Associate (CCDA). This is a very crucial step those on a learning path overlook.  Think of your networking knowledge as your end goal is to be able to build a house.  Steps one and two have given you general knowledge, you can now use tools, do some basic configuration.  But you can’t build a house without knowing what is involved in designing foundations,  what materials you need to use, how to compact the soil, etc.  Network design is no different. These are not things you can read in a manual on how to use the tool.  They also are not tool specific.   Some of the things in the Cisco CCDA will be specific to Cisco, but overall it is a general learning track.  Just follow my philosophy in relationship to #1. Focus on the material.

Once you have all of this under your belt look into pulling in pieces of other knowledge. Understanding what is going on is a key to your success.  If you understand what goes on with an IP packet, learning tools like Wireshark will be easier.  As you progress let things grow organically from this point.  Adding equipment in from a Vendor? Update your knowledge or press the new vendor for training options.  Branch out into some other areas ,such as security, to add to your overall understanding.

Never stop learning! Visit our online store for links to recommend books and products.

WISP Based Traning Folks.
These companies and individuals provide WISP based training. Some of it is vendor focused. Some are not.  My advice is to ask questions. See if they are a fit for what your goals are.
-Connectivity Engineer
Butch Evans
Dennis Burgess
Rickey Frey
Steve Discher
Baltic Networks

Vendor Certification Pages
Ubiquiti
Mikrotik
Cisco
Juniper
CWNA
CompTIA

If you provide training let me know and I will add you to this list.

How I learned to love BGP communities, and so can you

BGP communities can be a powerful, but almost mystical thing.  If you aren’t familiar with communities start here at Wikipedia.  For the purpose of part one of this article we will talk about communities and how they can be utilized for traffic coming into your network. Part two of this article will talk about applying what you have classified to your peers.

So let’s jump into it.  Let’s start with XYZ ISP. They have the following BGP peers:

-Peer one is Typhoon Electric.  XYZ ISP buys an internet connection from Typhoon.
-Peer two is Basement3. XYZ ISP also buy an internet connection from Basement3
-Peer three is Mauler Automotive. XYZ ISP sells internet to Mauler Automotive.
-Peer four is HopOffACloud web hosting.  XYZ ISP and HopOffACloud are in the data center and have determined they exchange enough traffic amongst their ASN’s to justify a dedicated connection between them.
-Peer five is the local Internet exchange (IX) in the data center.

So now that we know who our peers are, we need to assign some communities and classify who goes in what community.  The Thing to keep in mind here, is communities are something you come up with. There are common numbers people use for communities, but there is no rule on what you have to number your communities as. So before we proceed we will need to also know what our own ASN is.  For XYZ we will say they were assigned AS64512. For those of you who are familiar with BGP, you will see this is a private ASN.  I just used this to lessen any confusion.  If you are following along at home replace 65412 with your own ASN.

So we will create four communities .

64512:100 = transit
64512:200 = peers
64512:300 = customers
64512:400 = my routes

Where did we create these? For now on paper.

So let’s break down each of these and how they apply to XYZ network. If you need some help with the terminology see this previous post.
64512:100 – Transit
Transit will apply to Typhoon Electric and Basement3.  These are companies you are buying internet transit from.

64512:200 – Peers
Peers apply to HopOffACloud and the IX. These are folks you are just exchanging your own and your customer’s routes with.

64512:300 – Customers
This applies to Mauler Automotive.  This is a customer buying Internet from you. They transit your network to get to the Internet.

64512:200 – Local
This applies to your own prefixes.  These are routes within your own network or this particular ASN.

Our next step is to take the incoming traffic and classify into one of these communities. Once we have it classified we can do stuff with it.

If we wanted to classify the Typhoon Electric traffic we would do the following in Mikrotik land:

/routing filter
add action=passthrough chain=TYPHOON-IN prefix=0.0.0.0/0 prefix-length=0-32 set-bgp-communities=64512:100 comment="Tag incoming prefixes with :100"

This would go at the top of your filter chain for the Typhoon Electric peer.  This simply applies 64512:100 to the prefixes learned from Typhoon.

In Cisco Land our configuration would look like this:

route-map Typhoon-in permit 20  
match ip address 102  
set community 64512:100

The above Cisco configuration creates a route map, matches a pre-existing access list named 102, and applies community 64512:100 to prefixes learned.

For Juniper you can add the following command to an incoming peer in policy-options:

set community Typhoon-in members 64512:100

Similar to the others you are applying this community to a policy.

So what have we done so far, we have taken the received prefixes from Typhoon Electric and applied community 64512:100 to it.  This simply puts a classifier on all traffic from that peer. We could modify the above example to classify traffic from our other peers based upon what community we want them tagged as.

In our next segment we will learn what we can do with these communities.

WISPS growing up in the tower industry Part 1

As more and more Wireless ISPs (WISPS) get into licensed microwaves, bigger antennas, and fiber up the tower (FUTT) they are getting into an arena typically reserved just for the Cellular and broadcast folks.  This can result in an overwhelming amount of things to deal with.

If you are renting space on a commercial tower managed by a regional or national company such as American Tower (ATC) you will run into things like application fees, engineering studies, and closeout documents to just name a few. Once you have your notice to proceed (NTP), the real work begins.

During your negotiation phase, and in your contract, you should have a center line on the tower.  This states the center line on the tower where your equipment is mounted.  An example is if your centerline states 200, on most contracts that means you have something like 5 feet above that and 5 feet below that.  Think of it as a window.  You have a window of 195-205′ on the tower for your equipment to fit in.

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Centerline example. Photo courtesy of Michael Pelsor

The equipment you put on the tower was specified in the engineering phase of the paperwork.  Model numbers of mounts, antenna models, and all that are decided before the first piece of equipment is ever put on the tower. This is very important to adhere to because many tower companies will require a closeout procedure.  This normally includes pictures of your equipment and how it’s mounted, pictures of what is called a tape drop, and other things.

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Tape Drop Pic courtesy of Michael Pelsor

The sheer amount of things to think about on a commercial tower with multiple tenants could extend this blog post on for a long time. But, one of the biggest things to consider is when you are installing how your cable runs, antennas, etc. are in relationship to other equipment.  Are your cables somewhere they might be stepped on by someone passing your equipment to get to theirs? Does your equipment cross mounts which may be removed later or modified?

In the second part of this series we will talk about some of the higher-end tools which may save you tons of time, thus paying for themselves rather quickly.

Open Source Box Design

One of the biggest challenges WISPs and anyone deploying wireless gear is power and distribution.  I have put together a checklist for purchasing items to make a standard box MTIN would deploy. This is not designed to be a how-to, but rather a “What to buy” guide.

Link to the PDF (7Meg Download)

Throughout this documents I make notes based upon experience. As with anything, these are not hard rules. They are meant to be guidelines to follow. Please adapt to your uses. For example, if you don’t have any non-cambium radios you don’t need the POE injectors found on page 5.

If you find this document useful please feel free to send your thoughts, beer money, or other admiration. Links to http://www.mtin.net/blog are always appreciated, as well as twitter ( @j2sw ) or facebook follows (http://www.facebook.com/mtinnet )are always appreciated.   If you reproduce any parts of this Open Source document please give credit to the original source.

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Box in deployment. Fiber has not been dressed so don’t worry it gets better protected.

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Basic no frills box with 2 PacketFlux gigabit injectors

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Getting the most out of your climbs

I have been wanting to write this article for awhile. When the topic is fresh in my mind I am usually too tired from a day of climbing. By the time things get around the lessons learned have escaped me. So, after a day of being in the sun on a 150 foot monopole I figured I would share some best practices.  These are aimed toward the WISP who wants to maximize their climbs.

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1.Tighten sector brackets on the ground and other bolts.  If it is holding it to the sector tighten it. The idea is the climber wants to be able to position the antenna against the mounting pole as easily as possible without needing extra hands.  Sometimes having both hands free is a challenge.  If you want to adjust downtilt on the ground the following links can help speed up the process. This is not necessary nor is it a requirement.  It just is one less thing to do in the air. Some helpful Links:

Proxim Downtilt Calculator

Wisp-Router downtilt calculator

I am planning on another blog article about downtilt calculations and my thoughts. We will go into this in a future post.

2.For Wireless backhaul shots in the 0-7 mile range use google earth.  Draw a line between the two points and use two reference points to get in the neighborhood.  By looking at the below screenshot I know to align my path over the edge of the building almost at the base of the tower.  This helped me determine mounting location and get a pretty close aim. You can get fancy with compasses, GPS alignment devices, and other high-tech toys, but people are typically visual people.  Having a reference point is easier on the mind than having a number like 121 degrees off north.  Microwave shots are a different beast so don’t lump tight beamwidth licensed links into the above statement.

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3.Don’t get too hung up on labels.  Instead I like to color code things.  If I am putting up 3 sectors I will get some colored tape and label them with a blue piece, a red piece, and a green piece.   This way if the client wants to have a sector facing north We have the software labeled blue.  I can identify color and tell the ground crew I faced the blue sector north. Makes things easier in the high stress environment of being hundreds of feet in the air. The cellular companies have some standardized labeling of their sectors:

Alpha is the North FACING vertical antenna on the cell tower
Beta is the Southeast FACING vertical antenna on the cell tower
Gamma is the Southwest FACING vertical antenna on the cell tower

I would suggest come up with a SOP for all your tower deployments, but be flexible.  Due to the various mounting locations it’s not always prudent to cookie cutter a WISP deployment like the cellular folks do.  I have installed gear on towers where you have a small corner of a rooftop or grain facility.  Due to other things being up there, the fact you are trading service or paying very little, your mounting options may be limited.

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4.On a related note color code everything. If you use colored tape, make sure to match the ethernet cables going to the sectors.  This way it is easier to identify the cable going to the sector. This also helps in easier identification of where things are plugged in.

5.There are six phases of the a WISP deployment.
Stage one- assembly and staging
Stage two – Mounting radio equipment and antennas
Stage three – Connecting power and connectivity.
Stage four – Physical adjustment and tuning
Stage five – Testing and tweaking
Stage six – cleanup and zip up

Think about each of these.  This will be another future blog post.

6.Have a plan of action.  Have a flexible order of doing things. Be able to adjust this on the fly due to various factors.  Sometimes is makes sense to mount the sectors, backhauls, and any other boxes at the top.  Once you have them mounted then make the connections.  Other times it may make sense to run the cable when you mount the device.

7. Have a loadout of specific tools in a bucket or tool pouch.  I like to include the following:
Knife – Automatic or assisted opening
Crescent wrench
Super-88 Tape
Zip ties
Phillips Screwdriver
Flat Screwdriver
Slip Joint pliers
Other tools such as ratchet wrenches, different sized tools, power tools, etc. are handy, and can make life easier. However, the above tools will allow you to 90% of what you need to do to install or remove most WISP equipment.  The flat screwdriver can be used to pry things loose or for leverage.

8.If you can do it on the ground do it.  Terminating and testing cat-5 is easier on the ground than 150 feet in the air.

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9. Train the ground crew to think about how this affects someone on the tower.  Most of the time folks don’t have the luxury of platforms. So they are hanging off the tower in awkward positions.  Doing a pull with 3 sectors attached to a load line might seem like you are saving time, but it might make things complicated for the climber.  Sometimes, 3 pulls might make their life easier.  They only have to deal with one thing at a time.  They aren’t fighting trying to unhook multiple antennas or figuring out what is what.  This is where straps come in very handy. A strap allows a climber some extra flexibility to move things around and position them better.

10.Have a checklist of sorts.  This can be a running thing as you go along.  I routinely tell the ground crew to remind me to do this.  If you have someone writing this stuff down they can read it back to you before you come down.

There are a great variety of tools, tricks, and ways of putting stuff on the tower.  Many people have their own ways of doing things.  These are just some of the best practices I have come up with through experience. We could debate tape vs zip ties and other things for hours.  Please leave comments and some tips that make your life easier.