Unified Wired and Wireless Network Management – Is It a Reality?

There has been a lot of argument and discussion about integrating all the different aspects of wireless network management as well as wired network management. Tech Target’s Lisa Phifer makes the business case and covers how to prepare for the integration. One thing to keep in mind, while wireless networks do require the same kinds of analytical and diagnostic tools as any other LAN to maintain, optimize and secure network functions, the transport of wireless is vastly different.

In a LAN environment, signals are conducted over a fixed, well-defined and stable set of electric cables. Wireless network signals are transmitted using Radio Frequency (RF) technology. Even with the new 802.11n ramification that gives wireless similar bandwidth, security, and speed to a wired network, wireless still contains more layers that need to be managed as compared to a wired network. Which leaves you asking the question “Do I really need to have an integrated network?” Never say never, but for the most part an integrated wired and wireless network is not where you should be focusing your energy when creating and managing wireless. Instead, focus your attention to the four layers that make-up the wireless network and the best design, and then continue to monitor these different layers to get the most out of your wireless networks, especially if you are running on 802.11n.

Watch this quick video that explains each layer:

or read below for an overview of these layers.

Spectrum Layer – More Devices Affect Your Data

Before blanketing new areas with wireless access, understand the spectrum and be aware of any devices that might affect your wireless network. The 802.11 protocol is free and unlicensed, which means that other devices such as microwaves, radar, wireless cameras, and motion detectors may already be using the same frequencies used for your wireless access points. Having a thorough understanding of how your spectrum is being used and the devices that might affect it is an absolute requirement to ensure the health of your network.

Wi-Fi Layer – Where Do You Get the Best Signal Strength?

With a good understanding of the context in which you’ll be setting up access points, it is time to analyze the Wi-Fi layer. Pay special attention to signal strengths within different locations, signal-to-noise ratios, and data rates. It might even be as simple as walking around with your laptop to understand dead zones and where the strongest signal can be obtained. By doing this analysis, you’ll understand how to better use your Wi-Fi network to maximize efficiency.

Network Layer – What’s the Overall Utilization of Your Network?

Now that you’ve confirmed where the air is clear and where it is not, monitor the flow of data itself. Determine top users, what protocols they are using and what the overall utilization of the network is at any given time. Network analysis reports can provide visibility into network traffic as well as insights on how to track, analyze, and fix areas in the network that could be causing trouble. Focus on issues of throughput, transmissions, and how packets are moving during this stage.

Wired and Wireless Interface Layer: Comparison of these Networks

Wireless network traffic doesn’t always travel through the air link. For example, when authenticating over WPA2 or 802.11x, wireless traffic is oftentimes sent through the wired network to the authentication server and then back to the wireless device, thus data is frequently exchanged between a wired and wireless network. You can’t rely solely on wireless data — you must account for the wired portion as well to effectively troubleshoot problems as they arise. Network downtime might be due to an issue with a wired router or switch that has nothing to do with the wireless network. Thus, monitor both your wired and wireless networks as the two systems are in constant interaction with one another.

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