How Arista Advanced Its Cognitive WiFi Solution

eWEEK NETWORKING ANALYSIS: Arista's WiFi advancements brings better reliability, security and performance.

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Arista Networks this week announced the next release of its Cognitive WiFi system. The company best known for high-performance data center network products jumped into WiFi with both feet when it acquired Mojo Networks, which was best known for its advanced troubleshooting capabilities. Since then, Arista has advanced what Mojo started with the infusion of artificial intelligence to identify application and network problems, provide location services, optimize performance and automate troubleshooting. 

Cognitive WiFi Helps Manage the Explosion in Video 

This version of Cognitive WiFi tackles one of the biggest problems facing network managers today, and that’s supporting video collaboration over wireless. Bandwidth-intensive applications such as Zoom, Microsoft Teams and Google Hangouts have always played havoc on wireless networks because WiFi is a shared medium. Just a few video users can overwhelm the network, and the problem is only going to get worse. The COVID-19-driven shelter-in-place orders have created unprecedented usage of video collaboration. I fully expect people to return to the office, and I also expect them to continue to use video-based meetings instead of audio, so network managers need to be prepared for an even heavier load of video than prior to the shift to work from home. 

Inside the Arista CloudVision portal, Arista has built a video-collaboration application experience dashboard that shows visibility into the Google Hangouts, Microsoft Teams and Zoom, with more apps coming. This should ensure an optimized video experience. 

CloudVision Displays End-to-End Client Journey Information 

The Arista CloudVision WiFi dashboard provides real-time insights into the end-to-end client journey. This includes a view into what’s causing problems and which clients and applications are impacted. This can help network managers prioritize what to fix. It’s not always obvious what the impact of a problem is, so network operations could be troubleshooting a problem only impacting a small number of users and ignoring one that is more business impacting. CloudVision presents complete analysis of the network and clients instead of showing basic charts or graphs, which would then require some manual correlation. Most users think WiFi problems are related to access points, but they are often related to other issues such as DNS, DHCP or Radius. Now network managers have the visibility to laser in on the problem. 

The AI-powered analytics hit the nail on the proverbial network head, because WiFi troubleshooting is one of the biggest pain points for network managers. Some engineers I’ve interviewed spend as much as 25% of their time doing nothing but trying to fix WiFi problems.

Arista uses AI to provide QoS policy enforcement and root-cause analysis and makes remediation recommendations. I would expect that over time, the recommendations would generate automatic actions leading to a self-healing network. However, with automation, baby steps are needed. No one jumps into a car today that has no steering wheel, driver or controls and trust the autonomous vehicle, even though it might work. Similarly, automation of network configuration will occur in steps as well, with the first one being recommendations.

Arista Provides OpenConfig as an Alternative 

Also, as part of this release, Arista announced that it is one of the first vendors to provide OpenConfig support for WiFi. For those not familiar with OpenConfig, support for it will provide an open and standards-based way of using streamlining telemetry to manage, monitor and baseline the wireless network. Arista has been consistent throughout its history of providing customers with options for managing their infrastructure. OpenConfig is a programmatic, standards-based alternative that uses software-defined network (SDN) principles versus the proprietary methods most vendors use. 

Other enhancements to Arista’s Cognitive WiFi are as follows: 

  • Location services that track the location of access points (APs) and the clients connected to them. Network managers will see WiFi associations and be able to filter based on client, user information, performance issues or connectivity problems. This can help unveil congestion issues, poorly placed APs or places where new APs should be placed.
  • Remote-access-point capabilities that let users plug an AP into their home network and have it automatically connect back to the corporate headquarters over a VPN connection. This is a great alternative for home workers over a traditional software-based VPN client, which is both expensive and complicated. 
  • Software upgrades that update the APs to WiFi6. This brings all the rich features of WiFi6 to Arista customers including OFDMA, MU-MIMO, BSS coloring, target wake time and WPA3. 

This provides some investment protection as customers may not need WiFi6 today but will as internet of things (IoT) devices get connected and as video and other bandwidth-intensive applications such as virtual reality grow in use. 

Zeus Kerravala is an eWEEK regular contributor and the founder and principal analyst with ZK Research. He spent 10 years at Yankee Group and prior to that held a number of corporate IT positions.