Apr 22

Mass upgrades with Cisco Prime Infrastructure 2.0

Cisco Prime Infrastructure (PI) is supposed to make managing your wireless controllers easy. One way that PI helps with the work load is with software upgrades on your wireless LAN controllers (WLC). If you only have a few controllers, the software upgrade is pretty easy and very manageable. Depending on your network, you could have 700 or more controllers to manage. When you have this many controllers, logging into each one to perform a software upgrade is not manageable.

If you have a lot of controllers to upgrade and have to do the upgrade after hours, PI can do it for you. The process is very simple,

1. Select the controllers
2. Schedule the date, time, Reboot Type
3. Select the software image and FTP server (or TFTP)
4. Sleep through the upgrade


Select similar controller models (CONFIGURE –> CONTROLLERS). Make sure the controllers you select can all go to the software version you are moving to. Selecting the controllers in PI could be a challenge. I prefer to sort the controllers by Software Version. If you are moving to (Latest as of the writing of this post), then select the controllers at a lower version.

If you are using the PI Server/Appliance as the FTP server, I found 20 software downloads at a time is about all it can do. If you do more downloads at the same time, the failure rate increases. Do some testing on your network to see if it works better.

After you select your controllers, In the upper right select “DOWNLOAD SOFTWARE (FTP)” then click “GO”.


The next screen will list the controllers you have selected and the current software version.
– Click the radio button next to “Scheduled”.
– Enter a name in the “Task Name” Field
– To the right of “Reboot Type” Click the radio button next to “Automatic”
– This will cause the WLC to reboot after the software has been downloaded and installed.
– Select the Date and Time
– Enter the FTP Username
– Enter the FTP Password
– FTP port defaults to 21


I prefer to use FTP over TFTP because it is more reliable.
– To select an FTP server, click the radio button next to “FTP Server”
– Server Name, Default Server
– Enter the IP address of the FTP server, I use the PI appliance and it enters /localdisk/ftp for the location. That is the location where I have the file.
– No matter what FTP server you use, you need to make sure that it has the file and the username/password work.
– Enter the file name.
– Click “DOWNLOAD”

Now the job is scheduled and will run at the selected time. To view this task go to CONTROLLER –> SCHEDULED CONFIGURATION TASKS –> DOWNLOAD SOFTWARE. Once you are there, look for your task name. You can go to this same location after the job ran to see the results.

You need to do some testing to see how long the download takes. You may want to schedule 20 controllers every 15 minutes throughout your maintenance window. Maybe your FTP server can handle more or less and maybe it takes less or more time.

How do you know what WLC you already have scheduled when you go back to your list to schedule the next group? Cisco made it very simple, they put a little scheduled icon next to the current software version. When you list your controllers (CONFIGURE –> CONTROLLERS) you will see the following image next to the software version of controllers that are already scheduled.

PI Scheduled Job Icon

PI Scheduled Job Icon

I don’t advise doing this over the WAN with 4404 WLCs. I have had 4404s crash while performing an FTP image transfer over a T-1 connection. Cisco does recommend transferring the image over the LAN, not the WAN. On the flip side, I have upgraded hundreds of 2100s WLCs over the WAN with FTP.

Have you performed mass software upgrades with Prime Infrastructure and if so, how did it go?

Mar 18

What you really need to take advantage of Cisco’s CleanAir technology

For the past few years Cisco has been talking about their CleanAir technology. If you are not familiar with CleanAir, the CleanAir technology will detect wireless interference and some access points (AP) will change channels to get away from the interference. To read more about Cisco’s CleanAir technology click here.

I feel like the ability to view interferes is highly valuable, especially when the site you are supporting is somewhere else. I have sites that are many hours away and with the non-CleanAir APs, I simply guess at interference problems. In these sites, I randomly change the channels when I feel like the problem may be interference. For me, it was very exciting to receive some CleanAir APs and put them into my network.

After digging into the output that I can receive, I wasn’t very impressed, but I didn’t know what to expect either. On the controller, you are able to find the AP that you want, then look at the CleanAir information. It does give you a list of interferes in real time. It gives you a code of what the device is and gives you a few graphs. In the graphs, it will show you the Air Quality, Channel Utilization and Interference Power. All of this is very good information. As you can see in the image below, it also gives you some information on the interferes.

Cisco WLC 5508 CleanAir

Cisco WLC 5508 CleanAir

(Click on the image to view a larger image)

The controller will give you the real time information, but what about historical information? Prime Infrastructure should solve that problem. Prime Infrastructure (PI), used to be WCS, is the management system that manages the wireless controllers and access points. You are able to manage many controllers and access points from PI. PI is Cisco’s preferred way of managing your wireless infrastructure. PI has a section of canned reports ready to be run for CleanAir information. When I ran these reports, I never got any information, nothing was ever found. I figured this was due to a bug in PI, but never had the urgency to open a case on it.

The lack of CleanAir information in PI has nothing to do with a Bug in the software. PI is not the location to store the historical CleanAir information. This explains why PI would never have anything in the CleanAir reports. All of the historical information is stored in the Mobility Services Engine (MSE). Only after purchasing and connecting my MSE to PI, PI was able to provide information in these reports that I tried to run in the past.

If you want your network to automatically change channels to avoid wireless interference, you need an AP that fully supports CleanAir. Some APs like the 1600 series only report the clean air information, they don’t take any action. The 3600 series APs are supposed to automatically change channels to move away from the interference. You need to identify your needs and your budget to figure out what you should get.

If you want historical information, you need to purchase PI and the MSE. It was very disappointing for me to find out that PI is THE MANAGEMENT SYSTEM, but it doesn’t store historical CleanAir information. It runs on a server, can have plenty of disk space, is advertised as the way you should manage your wireless system, but it doesn’t display any useful CleanAir information by itself.

I do have to say that with the MSE connected to PI, there is some really good CleanAir information that can be gathered through PI. In this regard, Cisco did a good job.

Has anybody else run into this same disappointment as I have?
Any thoughts?

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