Wednesday, November 19, 2014

How do you stage your access points?


This blogpost is about my quest to refine my access point staging process.


Back in the day, I used to stage the (autonomous) access points in my deployments one by one.  It took a long time to configure each one, and I’ve always been on a quest to perfect the perfect staging process. 


Fast forward to 2014, and I find myself surveying, designing, configuring and installing.   With most of my deployments nowadays, I hire Electricians and Telecommunications Technicians to install the access points.  However, I still find that staging the access points myself is usually worth the effort.  I’m a believer in powering up all access points, “burning them in”, configuring them, and labeling them – long before they ever end up in the Installer’s hands.  I guess it is personal preference.  I would rather know that an AP has been powered up, associated to a WLAN controller and has been configured, rather than stare up at a ceiling an wonder why if the AP is “bad” from the factory.  When I prime them, I know they’re ready, and can rule out AP configuration or DOA issues.


Not too long ago, Nigel Bowden (a WLAN Consultant) and I were conversing via email about the AP staging process.  I had a macro-enabled spreadsheet that I had used in the past with a Symbol scanner to make labels for new AP deployments.  He had a spreadsheet that he used to do CLI configuration of access points once they joined the controller.


This gave me an idea.  What if I combined my spreadsheet with his?  My idea was, if I labeled an AP right out of the box, created the same hostname “labels” in the spreadsheet and then scanned its barcodes (MAC and Serial Number), could I create a spreadsheet that would create the CLI without having to scrape the information from the WLC after plugging it in?


They answer is YES!  Now I will tell you how it was done, and it has dramatically decreased the time it takes me to stage and AP.  After all, staging 20 access points is “fun”, staging 2000 access points is “less fun”.



First, we’ll start with the AP numbering scheme.  Sometimes the designer can develop it, or the organization may already have one.  Let’s pretend we’re staging a few hundred access points for a hospital in Denver.  They already have a naming convention and they want you to follow it.


I use my new spreadsheet to create the number of access points per floor, per telco closet, per seating area, etc.  I’m sure you get the point.  In this example, we’ll go with 19 APs in this area.  Using the spreadsheet, create AP01, then drag down to AP19.




Next, I will create the “area” of the access point.  This could be the seating area of a baseball stadium, or a floor of a hospital.  The area stays the same, so I use Excel to make it all the same.



The spreadsheet adds the two columns together to make my hostname of the AP:



Then we use a few more columns to define the Primary and Secondary WLC, along with the IP addresses of them.  I never configure a tertiary WLC, as I want the AP to discover a tertiary WLC if the secondary is not available.



Next thing I do is take 20 APs and plug them into the PoE switch that I have configured with the WLC on the bench.  I want to have the APs boot up and find the WLC via option 43, download the version of code I will be using in production, and then configure them.


Here they are:



I want to make the labeling and configuring process as simple, accurate and fast as I possibly can.  When I see that all the APs have joined (not all do, and I usually have a few stubborn ones right out of the box) the WLC, I want to label, configure and box them up quickly.  Here’s how it works…


We know that when an AP boots up, it will show up on the WLC with a default name – one that is derived from the MAC address of the unit.  If the MAC address of the unit was de:ad:be:ef:ca:fe, the default hostname would be,right?  That MAC address (and the serial number) is also on the barcode on the underside of the AP.


I create the labels and affix them to the APs after I know all of them have joined the WLC.  I don’t care which label goes on what AP, however I usually start with AP01 and work my way through the pile in the same direction I plan on scanning. 



With the Ethernet cable still attached, I flip the AP over and scan the SN# and MAC address barcode of the matching line on my spreadsheet: (the apSerial and apMAC automatically populate and go down to the next row)




After I scan the APs on the bench, they automatically populate in the spreadsheet.  Notice the spreadsheet’s rows have the Primary and Secondary WLCs in there!



The spreadsheet then generates the CLI for the renaming of the AP from the default name to the name you want to use, along with the Primary and Secondary WLC.  All I do is copy/past these three columns into the WLC and this batch of APs is staged – accurately and efficiently.  And now I have a spreadsheet of the SN#, MAC, Hostname, and how each AP was configured.  I also have a column for APGroup, which I did not use in this example.



The best part is, I go from this:



To this in one simple copy/paste.



The command structure, for those who are interested, looks like this:



I am interested in hearing what other processes you may use to stage large quantities of APs.


How many APs can you stage in a day?  (this includes unboxing, code upgrades, labeling, configuring, and boxing back up)


What is your opinion for “must haves” in an AP naming convention?


I’m looking for an easier way to create AP labels.  Instead of using one of the handheld label makers, I would like to use something that creates them directly from the spreadsheet.  I’ve used sheets of labels in the past and not had the best of luck with some of them.  Problems included:


·         Labels peeling off resulting in a jammed printer

·         Reprinting one label meant wasting an entire sheet

·         Labels peeling off access points


What are your favorite labels?


Do you have a favorite labeling machine?  (possibly one with a USB interface that can print straight from your laptop)