Thursday, May 15, 2014

Taking the Mystery Out of Wi-Fi

Many IT departments still treat Wi-Fi like a "second-class" infrastructure asset despite the cultural shift toward mobility and devices, which is responsible for the BYOD mania we deal with at work. IT professionals love their devices too, so why not more love? Perhaps the reluctance to support and embrace Wi-Fi with open arms is due to a lack of visibility. After all, you can't see it, therefore, it's difficult for most people to gauge, manage and control.  But with the emergence of Wi-Fi performance management systems, Wi-Fi no longer has to remain a mystery. In fact, once the system is put in place the data is quite empowering, even to those traditional network engineers with little to no WLAN experience.

Wi-Fi networks today are facing issues with regard to density, capacity and coverage. This is especially true at places where Wi-Fi networks are becoming increasingly mission critical, like at hospitals and institutions of higher learning. If your Wi-Fi network is more than five years old then it likely wasn't built to stand up to these challenges, causing you major headaches. The traditional approach to managing Wi-Fi networks and solving issues has been to use a troubleshooting tool, such as a speed tester or a spectrum analyzer, and walk to the area in question in an attempt to find and fix the issue. However, much to the chagrin of the IT professional who sets out on this expedition, the root cause is rarely discovered and sometimes the problem has even disappeared by the time you get there, which can get really aggravating. Why does Wi-Fi seems to be so fickle? How can it work well one day and be lousy the next? What forces and factors contribute to reliable, high-performance Wi-Fi? With today's tools, answers to these questions remain largely a mystery.

A System of Performance Management

Wireless networks are dynamic systems with many components that must coexist harmoniously to achieve the goals of reliability and high performance. With so many environmental factors and moving parts, this balance can be easily upset, causing both random and chronic issues for clients depending on the network to successfully do their jobs. To visualize and bring to life this ecosystem, a Wi-Fi performance management system is required which consists of three elements: active testing, passive testing and Wi-Fi analytics.

Active tests exercise the network like a client and take continuous measurements that tell us what the network is capable of in terms of performance. It's equivalent to 24 hour per day user experience testing and captures data relating to client throughput, latency and jitter on Voice over IP calls.  Passive tests monitor and measure all RF activity in the environment to tell us if clients can actually take advantage of those performance capabilities as measured by the active testing.  Passive tests track channel usage, retransmission rates, data connection rates and environmental interference to gain a complete and accurate picture of how client devices and wireless access points all interact with each other and the environment in which they operate.  The two sets of tests form the comprehensive data set that is required in order to fully understand the behavior of the network. The data is all brought to life through Wi-Fi analytics which allow you to finally visualize your network in a way that provides actionable intelligence for finding and fixing the root cause of your Wi-Fi performance issues.  Because the system tracks and trends performance over time and allows you to set service level targets for performance, you now have the ability to be proactive in identifying issues before they actually hamper the performance of clients on your network.  No longer are you reacting to complaints, but rather you are truly managing the Wi-Fi network like the important and strategic asset that it is.

The Wi-Fi Performance Cycle

As a result of putting in place a system of performance management, you have created a Wi-Fi performance cycle within your environment that assures on-going reliability. The performance cycle begins with continuous measurements.  The metrics generated are benchmarked and compared against service level targets for performance. An analysis of the data brings to light weak spots that were never visible in the past. This allows you intelligently optimize your network based on data, not anecdotes, complaints or theories. Changes to clients, access points or the environment can all be verified through the continuous measurements taken within the system.  This on-going verification provides network assurance, giving you confidence in the exact capabilities and limitations of your network now and in the future.

A Wi-Fi performance management system, like the one provided by 7signal that can be purchased through Great Lakes, takes the mystery out of managing Wi-Fi networks. It allows users to see how clients are experiencing the network and proactively detect and correct issues before anybody notices or complains.  It is the only way to ensure that wireless devices and the people who use them, remain productive, saving your organization both time and money.

Guest blog post written by Eric Camulli – VP of Marketing, 7signal Solutions

1 comment:

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