Interview with Open-Mesh.

Introduction

I’ve been using Open-Mesh for several years now, first at Calvary Community Church and more recently at a consulting client’s location. Recently I decided to reach out to Open-Mesh and ask if they’d provide me with an interview and included a number of questions. Michael Burmeister-Brown, President of Open-Mesh, responded to my questions and I have included his answers along with any commentary I might have below.

I’ve also included additional information I gathered from Open-Mesh representatives in recent conversations as I’ve been installing this new mesh network for a client and I’ve included what information I could dig up about Open-Mesh’s corporate background as well…Enjoy!

Interview

Thanks to OpenClipart.org and pgbrandolin for the image.
Thanks to OpenClipart.org and pgbrandolin for the image.

Dave: What happened to the MR500 line of products?

Michael: The MR500 has been discontinued. It was never designed as a successor to the OM2P series, but a second, dual band line. Its successor will come out this summer (2013). The successor will include:

  • Dual Band 2.4/5 ghz.
  • Clients and Mesh will occur on both bands (MR500 was mesh on 5 ghz, clients on 2.4 ghz).
  • Much higher power / receive sensitivity providing greatly improved range / speed. [Dave: From personal experience, the distance was a real issue with MR500 units, a limitation inherent in the 5 ghz spectrum which has a more difficult time penetrating walls and other obstacles.]
  • Each band will support 450 mbps, providing an aggregate output of 900 mbps.
  • The addition of 802.3af POE support, meaning the new units will support standard POE switches. [Dave: Current units in both the MR500 and OM2P lines require injectors and the warranty is voided if units are directly connected to a standard POE switch.]
  • Layer 7 (application) bandwidth control and monitoring. This will allow administrators to control which websites / web applications users can run and how much bandwidth they will be allowed.
  • Active Directory / RADIUS support allowing integrated authentication to company servers.
  • The POE version will have a single gigabit ethernet port while another variation without POE will have five ports.
  • Price point will be $299. While this is more expensive than the MR500 it is still almost $1,000 less than the equivalent Meraki model (MR24).

Dave: What about the future of other products?

Michael: We will be introducing a 5 ghz-only OM5P model identical to the OM2P-HS but operating on 5 ghz. This will allow customers to use all the OM2P-series housing options and build out a 5 ghz or hybrid network consisting of 5 ghz and 2.4 ghz models. Most computers / tables phones in the last couple of years support 5 ghz so this will be an increasingly viable option. It will also be considerably lower in cost than dual-band units while providing more flexibility in installation. The OM5P will have an MSRP of $99.

Dave: The site is pretty simple and there doesn’t seem to be a lot of advertising out about Open-Mesh. Will this change?

Michael: To date we have not done extensive sales or marketing outreach, but I think you can see this is beginning to change by the website and especially the resources page. This summer/fall will see significant increases in this area as new people come onboard.

Dave: How many employees do you have at Open-Mesh?

Michael: I am not sure of the exact count – we are a geographically diverse company with two separate teams in Germany and others in Italy, Canada, China, and of course, the United States.

Dave: For organizations interested in Open-Mesh, how do they know your product will work and that you’ll be around in the future?

Michael: Our sales have doubled each year for the last three years and we have just under 40,000 networks managed on Cloudtrax. Feel free to reach out in a couple months and I’ll be able to share more information on new offerings – especially regarding Cloudtrax.

Open-Mesh Corporate Profile

Open-Mesh is a low profile organization. Unlike many sites that have detailed information about their corporate officers posted on the site, Open-Mesh has none. Go over to CrunchBase and you’ll find a bare-bones company profile. There is no company page on LinkedIn and searching for Open-Mesh employees surfaces only two.

One could take this as a sign that the company is small and unstable, but when it comes to technical companies this is oftentimes the sign that employees are pretty hard-core geeks who spend more time coding and building than they do marketing themselves. It seems to be the latter in the case of Open-Mesh.

Luckily, finding information on Open-Mesh President Michael Burmeister-Brown, who provided the above interview, is a little easier than finding information on employees generally – and Burmeister-Brown’s background is nothing to laugh at.

Bloomberg’s BusinessWeek tells us that Michael founded Central Point Software in 1981 where he served as President, Chief Executive Officer (CEO), and Chief Technology Officer (CTO) until 1991. Central Point would be acquired by Symantec in 1994 for $60 million.

In 1992 Michael founded another company – Second Nature Software  – and began serving as its president. This company had an environmental focus and committed all its profits to The Nature Conservancy – over $2.5 million. It appears to have closed its doors as of 2012.

Michael founded another company, NetControls.com in the mid-1990’s and in 1997 this company was acquired by Yahoo!. Michael continued at Yahoo for five years working on Yahoo’s News Ticker and Yahoo Messenger products.

He has also served as a Director of WebTrends since October 1996. I am unsure whether this position is ongoing – Bloomberg doesn’t clarify.1This information on Burmeister-Brown consists of info. gathered from Bloomberg but also from NetEquality, Wikipedia, and Second Nature Software’s site.

Michael became a co-founder of NetEquality seeking to ensure that internet access was available for everyone – especially low-income communities. Originally, NetEquality was associated with Meraki, but when Meraki boosted their prices and abandoned the low-cost market, Michael decided to step in and found Open-Mesh.

Want a face to put to that name? Check out Oregon Live’s article here and scroll down the page halfway.

Other News

According to conversations with Open-Mesh representatives I’ve had over the last several weeks, here are a few other tidbits I’ve gathered:

  • There is a significant firmware upgrade on the way for Open-Mesh devices this Spring [unfortunately, I’ve forgotten the details of what is included…but it was pretty exciting.].
  • Another upgrade will occur in the Fall/Winter of 2013 which will include one of Meru’s best features – automatic load balancing across available APs.

Send Me Your News

If you have additional info. or updates on Open-Mesh or CloudTrax, I’d love to hear them and I’ll try to add them to the current article as appropriate.

Support Open Mesh

I’m impressed by what Open Mesh is seeking to accomplish, it seems like a company with an honorable and worthy mission. I’d encourage you to join me in supporting them.

Open-Mesh: I’m Happy.

In 2011 I purchased several MR500 wireless mesh units from Open-Mesh and documented the installation, configuration, and troubleshooting experience. At the time I had some significant issues – specifically units that wouldn’t communicate with each other (due to distance limitations inherent in 802.11n). As time progressed I experienced fairly regular speed interruptions and a variety of issues. Granted, I was using beta units, meant for testing and not production – and overall I didn’t feel that upset about the issues I encountered – and still liked Open-Mesh overall – just hoped that their implementation and support would improve.

Mesh topology
Mesh topology (Photo credit: Wikipedia

It has been nearly two years since I wrote that initial article and I’m happy to be able to update my report and say that I am now satisfied with Open-Mesh’s product and would recommend it to others.

A chain of unfortunate events resulted in this change in my attitude – namely a hot water baseboard pipe burst flooding portions of the church and destroying a significant amount of equipment. All of the AP units were taken down during the remediation process. I then reinstalled them following the remediation process and now have one MR500 in the “source” room (where our Verizon FiOS router is), one in a large room, and one in the church office. I found it was necessary to have the unit in-between in the large room as the Mr500 units were unable to communicate directly with sufficient quality to allow for VoIP communications.

Now I have two computers – a Dell desktop and a Toshiba laptop running wirelessly on the network. I also have a Cisco SPA504G phone (hard wired) which has crystal clear audio quality, and two Dell printers (a color laser and a MFP) that are hard wired into the office MR500. The MR500 units have been running for several days without any downtime or connectivity issues.

I posit that the change in performance may be due to two factors. First, the firmware has been updated on the MR500 units and some bugs may have been ironed out. Secondly, we knocked down a wall in the downstairs of the church which would make it easier for the middle MR500 unit to broadcast its signal both to the source MR500 and to the office MR500.

Interestingly enough, you can’t buy the MR500 units from Open-Mesh anymore and there is very little mention of them on the site. I was under the impression (perhaps wrong?) that the MR500 was the successor to the OM2P series, but it appears that the MR500 series has ceased and Open-Mesh has invested in further developing the OM2P series.

I purchased two of these OM2P units but have not installed them yet. They are tiny compared to the MR-500! They are nice units, though I wish Open-Mesh still had a MR-500-like unit, b/c they have four ports for hard wired LAN connectivity and one for WAN, whereas the OM2P has two total.

If I had all OM2P units instead of the MR500 units, I would have to have a switch in addition to the OM2P unit in the church office to connect the two printers and the phone into. It is nice to have everything in one small unit.

But, having to buy a switch isn’t a big deal for those who are purchasing OM2P units and, in general, OM2P units are used to provide wireless access, not wired access.

I’ve also needed tech support (in fact, I’m getting tech support for configuring the OM2P units as I write this) several times and have been happy with the response times and the quality of the answers. That said, none of the problems near the severity I was having initially (in 2011), so I am unsure whether the ability to handle more advanced problems has improved.

I do think Open-Mesh could improve their CloudTrax cloud-based network controller which manages the mesh network and each of the individual nodes. A little time ironing out the bugs in the interface and tightening up the UI‘s snazziness could go a long way. That said, I’ve used Meru’s network controller and it is a nightmare compared to CloudTrax.

I also think that from a business perspective Open-Mesh needs to work on their publicity and communication. I’ve been a customer for over two years now and don’t think I’ve ever received a communication from them. What is going on? They are obviously still in business and progressing forward, but communication with existing customers, potential customers, and the press could be improved. I’d love to know more about where Open-Mesh is heading, how sales are going, who the team behind Open-Mesh and the other standard corporate site information that Open-Mesh lacks.

At the end of the day, Open-Mesh offers for a tenth of the price devices which (in my experience) operate with similar effectiveness to Meru or Meraki’s much more expensive units. Getting yourself setup with a mesh network is fairly easy and the price is right. I wish Open-Mesh all the best luck and look forward to continuing to utilize their products in the future.

Open-Mesh: The Experience Thus Far.

UPDATED 4/10/13

Please see my new post on Open-Mesh here.

Introduction

Partially connected mesh topology
Partially connected mesh topology (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’m an elder at a fairly small congregational church (Calvary Community Church) that consists of three separate buildings: the main building, a parsonage, and a fellowship hall (think gym/kitchen). For a number of years now we’ve had Verizon FiOS at the location and a single Actiontec router would distribute internet access throughout the entire building.

Problem was, we had a few printers that only supported wired ethernet ports. I had been using some Panasonic Ethernet-over-Power adapters to get the network to these devices, but around a year ago began experiencing significant issues. It seemed that on Sunday mornings without fail the devices would fail. We did a sound upgrade the summer the issues began and I suspect that something with the sound system was causing interference – but after a lot of work and time I was unable to track anything down, so I needed an alternative…

This is when I stumbled upon Open-Mesh and as part of a larger upgrade sought to implement the Open-Mesh routers to replace our current wireless and wired systems. This article is documentation on the experience thus far.

The Equipment

So, we kept the Verizon Actiontec router but turned off it’s wireless – so it wouldn’t send out signals and interfere with the Open-Mesh routers. Initially I purchased four of the Open-Mesh MR500 routers at $59/ea. These routers are the next-generation routers from Open-Mesh and currently in beta. I wanted to get these devices rather than the more tried-and-true OM1P’s b/c the MR500’s were 802.11n and supported both 2.4 and 5 GHz bandwidths.

I had a desktop in the office along with two printers (all Dell) and a Cisco VoIP phone. One of the features that attracted me to Open-Mesh was that each router included switch ports – so I could wirelessly transmit signal but still run cable to the units that didn’t support wireless.

On the 2.5th floor I had another laptop – an older unit that is just used to control PowerPoint presentations and make audio recordings of services. Then there were the random units that make their way into the church – whether one of my laptops or someone else who is working in the church.

The Setup

The initial setup was fairly easy. I plugged a network cable into the Actiontec wireless router and ran it into the first MR500 unit. Then I went to the office and plugged in the second MR500 unit and plugged all the non->wireless devices into it. I placed another MR500 on the wall facing the parsonage and fellowship hall and the final unit I placed in the parsonage itself.

I then went to the CloudTrax control panel and registered all four devices. Three came up no problem – one didn’t…the one in the parsonage. Granted, it is a little distance from a the parsonage to the church – but I had previously rigged an 802.11g NetGear router in the same spot and had been able to pick up signal in the parsonage…so I was a bit confused as to why this wouldn’t work – same distance, better technology, right?

Communications to the office seemed to work fine. Every once in a while some of the devices would lose connectivity momentarily but then gain it back. The machine on the 2.5th floor always held connectivity without issue. Other free-floating laptops seemed to be able to hold connectivity fine within the building.

After further troubleshooting I purchased a fifth unit – in case the one in the parsonage was bad and swapped it out. Still no luck. But if I brought either unit back into the main church building and used it – it worked fine. Hmmm…so it was a distance thing right?

The Real Conundrum

Now, no one could get connectivity from the parsonage, but connectivity with the same laptops in the church worked. But sometimes if you disconnected the MR500 in the parsonage and reconnected you would get a connection to the network.

I finally figured it out. The unit in the parsonage was not communicating with any of the units in the main church building, but the laptops could communicate with the units in the main church building. Wait a second – my laptops with their weak 802.11g radios are getting signal while the 802.11n MR500 isn’t?

This didn’t and still doesn’t make sense to me.

The Current Situation

I’m at a bit of a loss at this juncture. Unfortunately, I’ve twice spoken to representatives from Open-Mesh and both times they’ve promised after some initial quick testing to take a look at the account and get back to me – but I’ve never received a call back or a return email. 🙁

Overall Thoughts

  • The MR500 routers are nice devices, they have multiple ports and the price is great compared to either Meru or Meraki – the two other major mesh network providers (I mean, by hundreds of dollars!).
  • The cloud based management portal is fairly intuitive and while a little rough around the edges, does what it should. I like it.
  • The MR500 routers are beta devices and the Open-Mesh folks do warn on the site not to use them in production…so, I’m not complaining that the device doesn’t work right.
  • But I am saddened that such a promising company and product line has failed to communicate with me. I’m an IT professional – more than willing to walk through processes to resolve these issues and help the product exit beta – but thus far I haven’t been given the chance.
  • Right now, my routers are apparently running outdated firmware. I spoke with Open-Mesh about how to upgrade the firmware through CloudTrax – but it hasn’t worked and no one has contacted me back..

I hate to post blog posts like this – especially about smaller companies that are trying to do good things…but I’m a bit at the end of my rope here. 🙁

Update 5/11/11

No sooner had I published this article then I figured out the issue preventing the firmware from upgrading and began preventing it. Towards the bottom of a KB article on the next generation (NG) firmware was the following note:

“NG nodes will further auto-upgrade over-the-air to the latest version of NG if the following conditions are met…All nodes are up and checking into the dashboard.”

So I deleted the non-functioning nodes and two out of my three devices still remaining upgraded – one just crashed. Then, I brought over the remaining two devices and with the crashed one added them all back into CloudTrax – now all but one has finished upgrading, and I expect the last one to finish sometime tonight.

I’m not sure this will fix the issues with the routers communicating between each other and relaying, but I am happy to have the latest firmware in any case.

My main complaint at this juncture is still the lack of customer support. 🙁 But maybe I’ll try calling again once I get everything I can figured out from my end (I prefer to do things myself when possible).