Monitoring Wireless Capacity

In my last post,  http://wp.me/ps6Jj-am I talked about wireless network challenges, what to look for and how to plan properly for a deployment. I talked about planning for capacity to ensure you don’t go over a certain number of users per AP.

So, the next challenge becomes, how do I ensure that as I grow I don’t begin to exceed the optimal number of users per AP.

This is where advanced network monitoring can help mitigate issues before they become a problem. In the past a network monitor would poll or ping an access point to ensure it is available on the network. Although this is helpful it does nothing to monitor capacity.

Capacity planning is critical to any network management system. Bandwidth, CPU and Memory needs to be monitored on all your network devices. Each configured with a baseline that will alert you when that baseline is exceeded.

Recently we added some new capabilities to our Network Management System to cover Wireless Capacity Monitoring. Our monitors allow me to set the number of associated users threshold to the number of my choosing, either per AP, per Controller or any combination thereof. If the threshold is reached I can either send an email, log, open a ticket in our system, run a WEB service to another system, run a SPROC or do any combination of the above.

For our customers this will ensure a positive wireless experience. For us, it will help cut down on calls to our NOC regarding wireless performance issues, because we will be dealing with them before they become an issue.

This kind of monitoring is critical in less static environments like boardrooms, public areas with guest access and retail environments. In static environments where you know the number of users it may be less critical, but as users may move around, change their daily patterns, or over time you hire more staff, these changes can overload one AP, affecting the user experience and possibly productivity.

Setting all of this monitoring up may be time consuming in the short term, but can save you hours and hours of troubleshooting in the future.

Meraki and Cloud Management

The cloud is taking over IT…. What are we all going to do when everything is cloud managed? Will we all be out of a job?  It is true the the Cloud is becoming a big thing, but like all changes in technology the devices and applications in the cloud still need to be managed and maintained by someone.

Meraki have taken the Cloud  a step further by providing a Cloud Managed Network. This is a great concept and can really simplify the deployment process. The Piece that is missing from this concept is that the Cloud doesn’t actually manage the network. The skilled technical folks that have that ability to isolate a problem and solve it are still required, regardless of the platform for Management. Meraki have made it easier and certainly the less technical would find some benefits in the Meraki approach, but like so many technologies they are sometimes too complex to simplify, or the process of simplifying the technology leaves it missing some key elements.

Cisco’s purchase of Meraki  shows that Cisco really believe in the Cloud, but I am curios how they plan to integrate, if at all. Cisco’s attempt at moving down market with Linksys was a mistake, as I think most Cisco savvy folks would balk at any Linksys Product.

In looking at Meraki’s  products, it would appear that they are well ahead of any Linksys product and slightly behind Cisco Traditional IOS products from a feature standpoint  but obviously well ahead of any Cisco product from a Network Management standpoint, an area that I think Cisco have always struggled with. It will be interesting to see if Cisco try and merge their IOS into Meraki’s cloud Management.

Either way, this has next to no effect on the business of Network Management, as these networks still require Management, regardless of the management platform in which they reside.

 

The Best Network Management Systems are People…

Many years ago when End to End was becoming a more sophisticated Network Management Company we started to build a Web Portal that helped us manage our customers more effectively. Over time that morphed into our eView portal, complete with Network Monitoring, Reporting, Notifications, Mapping, Asset Management, Vendor Contract Management, Trouble Ticketing and more.

We were one of the first that offered a Network Management Portal to our customers. There were other platforms out there – like Solar Winds, but those were just products. Our Differentiation was the people behind all of the reports and notifications, people that actually acted on those alarms to resolution.

Now that I see everyone and their mother out there flogging their Network Management Platform, all claiming to be the best I wonder how is it we can compete. After all, some of these companies as spending billions on Research and Development, something which we cannot compete with because our primary business is Network Management.

So, why don’t we stop development and go ahead with one of these other platforms? I get asked this all the time and the answer is quite simple. All of the tools are similar, they all do some stuff really well, other stuff okay and more stuff not so good. Some are better than others and some are more expensive than others. None of them actually Solve any problem. They may make finding the problem easier, but they do not solve the problem. How do the problems get solved? In all cases, no matter the platform the problem gets solved by people. So, how much time does the right System buy you? I don’t think anyone can answer that. It will come down to the complexity of the problem and the expertise of the Technical minded to pull together all the information and come up with a solution.

One of the other aspects of our Services that is hands down better than any other, is that we set it all up. That’s right, we add your devices to the portal, load up the Circuit info, Speeds Monitoring and Reporting parameters. Notifications etc. etc. Over the years we have found that organizations will buy one of these Network Management Platforms, play with it for a couple of days, then shelf it because they don’t have the time to dedicate to make the system work the way it was intended.

The other thing I get asked quite often is about Automated Network Discovery. We don’t have it today and I don’t even have it on the road map. All the other players talk about auto discovery as if it was some great tool that will automatically set everything up for you. I have yet to see someone actually use the auto discover map that gets created. I do think it can be used as a security tool to discover nodes on the network that shouldn’t be there, but other than that I find Auto Discovery to be almost completely useless.

The terms “Self Healing” and “Auto Remediation” have been getting thrown around and I see that as something that will definitely be useful, but once again only when configured and set up by someone who knows what they are doing. We certainly have this on our road map but to what extent remains to be seen. For DSL’s that are always going down there are certain things we can do, but for large complex networks “self healing” is quite a stretch.

Stop trying to sell me yet another Software Package that claims to heal your network… Instead find me some more really good people. This is not to say I want to hear from any headhunters either!

 

Uncontrolled Network Growth

When companies find themselves growing faster than they had planned their network grows with them. Keeping up with the day-to-day tasks of running an organization that is growing obviously requires focus and dedication and the network almost always gets left behind.  I don’t mean left behind from a Bandwidth or Capacity standpoint, as those things must keep up with the business, what I mean by left behind is the planning, maintenance and overall architecture standpoint.

The result can be overwhelming: Where does one start? Do you rip it all out and start fresh? Do you employ a phased approach? What Vendor do you go with? Do you need to hire a Consultant or Project Manager?

When I come into these situations I must be  careful not to insult the person or people who let it get to this stage, after all they were just responding to the needs of the business. So, where does one start……

I have found that if the organization focused on anything it was the server infrastructure and the network infrastructure is nothing more than a number of BIG BOX store items from various manufacturers.

So, I start with this Foundation and based on the business goals segment the network to allow for Stability, Security and Scalability. Spend a few dollars on this infrastructure and you will save yourself a ton of time and effort in the long run. Employ a logical distribution of servers, services and there tasks across different VLAN’s. Think about some of the longer term goals  like VoIP… Maybe putting in PoE switches now is the right thing to do even if VoIP isn’t in your immediate plans. Think about the industry you’re in and if it hasn’t already developed some form of compliance requirement, will it in the future? Build your network as if you are a bank. Build your network based on best practices.

You will find that once this foundation is in place, the task to add, remove or change any aspect of your network becomes just a task and not some unattainable goal.

Document and monitor your network!!!!!! Purchase a maintenance contract on your equipment (it’s called insurance)… And Finally – if you’re not a network professional give us a call to help you design, build and maintain your network because it is what we do for a living…

Finger-Pointing

One of the most annoying attributes of any solution or integration is when the vendors or suppliers start the finger-pointing process. Some are quick and I mean very quick to point the finger at the other guy, and maybe for good reason. Maybe they ran into that particular issue so many times and it is always the other guys fault.

I find,  mostly with carriers and I won’t name names, that the way in which they finger point is the most annoying. In a recent case, half way through my explanation of the issue the technician interrupted me and told me the problem was with the vendor’s equipment. Did he think he was talking to a moron? Does he really talk to that many morons? I was quick to set him straight, but the finger-pointing continued soon after….

So, I will fast forward to a  call by one of our staff to the vendor to report back that the carrier has indicated it is a problem with the vendor’s equipment. The Vendor listened a little longer than the carrier but the ultimate answer was the finger point back to the carrier.

I have been in this business long enough to know that the only solution to this is the following:

1. Call the carrier.

2. Call the Vendor.

3. Conference them together.

4. Say the following: ‘I neither provide the equipment or the circuit, you two on the other hand do provide the equipment and the circuit. So I don’t really care whose problem this is as long as it is fixed, so lets stop finger-pointing and work together to get to the bottom of this. ‘

I wish I could say that all the two become great friends and happily fix your (their) issue – well they don’t, but be strong…With your help they will get to the bottom of it eventually.

the Right People

Yes, it has been a while since my last post, but as we all know the end of summer is always a busy time. And does it matter anyway? How many bloggers are there out there and why would one read this blog over another? I can’t imagine anyone, other than maybe my Dad, actually thinking ‘ I wonder what Heath wrote about today?’….

The reason I bring this up is a book I read lately called “Made to Stick” that attempts to explain what ingredients are needed to make a point, argument or statement stick in the minds of others. I found the information in this book to be absolutely amazing and was really impressed with not just the ideas but the entire structure of the book.

I received a call this morning from yet another “telemarketer” or was it? It could have been a sales guy who got my name from some list and thought he would give it a go…. “Hi Heath, I just wanted to reach out and…” at this point I have to either listen to the entire spiel before saying no thank you or interrupt and say no thank you.

My first question to the telemarketer – Would you rather I cut you off before saying no thank you, or should I let you go on and on before I say no thank you?

My second question  – how many NO’s do I need to say before you will give up?

Third – If I say I am not interested, but you may call me back in a couple of months, do you put that in your prospect list as a 50% or more interest?

I think the effectiveness of Telemarketing is mostly based around the timing as was proved just a couple of weeks ago when I received a unsolitited call and at that moment I need that service – what a bonus, for both me and the caller.

End to End Networks have struggled with the whole getting the message out for quite some time. We have always relied on “word of mouth” and it has served us well for many many years. But we need to get the message out that we are better than the rest, that we have been doing this for a long time, that we have long-lasting relationships with our customers, vendors and suppliers…. Breaking it down into what makes us the best – All I ever come up with is that we the RIGHT PEOPLE………………………………………………….

Network Design

Options, Options, Options…… That is what network design comes down to. There are so many options, how does one choose the best way to go. Some people choose the cheapest, regardless of the options, security, performance and scalability. Some are all about the Speeds and Feeds – how much traffic it can handle, and some weigh all of the above and come up with the best bang for the buck. Many only look at the cost of the Hardware, which can be a huge mistake. Don’t forget the Maintenance Costs year over year, the cost of Managing the Hardware and the cost when it won’t do what you need it to do.

I see a lot of organizations putting in Hardware just because that was the hardware they used last time, and although I can understand the desire use what is familiar they are often either putting in devices that are near end of life, devices that have a replacement product that is often cheaper and has better performance, or devices that have been over provisioned. The most common example I see is the deployment of the Cisco Catalyst 3750 Switches. These are stackable Layer 3 switches with Gig and PoE options and they are excellent switches. But how many layer 3 devices are really needed in a network – even a big one? It’s great practice to have a couple, for routing redundancy, but many of theses switches I see deployed are basic access switches – there is no need for the added cost of the L3 capabilities.

Others keep purchasing these switches because they can be stacked, and that is a great feature, however Cisco recently release the 2960S series which have the stacking capabilities without the added cost of L3.

For those that do not stack the switches but require L3 functionality there are the 3560 and 3560E series. Essentially the same switches without the stacking.  

Then there are Access-Points! I am still not a big believer in the Lightweight Access-Points (LAP) and the Wireless Controller. Certainly there are some designs where this can be beneficial, and I’m sure that as the technology matures I will be convinced that they are the way to go, but the LAP’s costs  the same as the autonomous AP’s – and those controllers are still thousands of dollars. Unless your managing thousands, I do not see a benefit. Try and convince me otherwise…

I guess what I’m trying to say is, that no matter what network you are going to build there are a lot of options, and no one option will be the best. No one option is the right one. It comes down to a lot of research and a lot of balancing between what is wanted, what is needed and of course what the budget is. If you are in the decision process for a network overhaul or a new network, don’t let some sales guy tell you that his way is the best. That may be his opinion, but I can tell you that no matter what design someone comes up with I can improve on it. Not just me, but anyone with experience can improve on it.