Evaluating Readiness to Support Wireless LANs, Part I

Evaluating Readiness to Support Wireless LANs, Part I

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Written By Eric Sandler

By Eric Geier

February 16, 2007

Ensure that your support staff has the knowledge and tools to maintain a Wi-Fi network properly.

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Many companies hire third party solution providers in order to deploy a wireless LAN in their facility, even though internal staff may be extremely knowledgeable in wired networks thanks to experience gained in deploying and supporting their existing Ethernet network. Although a solution provider may implement a precisely designed and installed WLAN, you’ll likely run into complete chaos if you aren’t prepared to support it. Proper training and familiarity for those who are going to be tasked with supporting and ensuring the security of the new Wi-Fi network is vital.

Earlier tutorials such as the Planning WLAN Operational Support series provide a quite extensive look into support issues in the design of wireless LANs; however, this series concentrates more on the evaluation of your current support system to see how ready you are, and to determine what you may need to do before deeming the new network operational.

When preparing your support plan for your wireless LAN, consider areas such as:

  • Education and experience
  • Management and support tools
  • Support structure
  • Polices
  • Backup plans
  • Technical coordination

This part of the tutorial covers the first two bulleted items shown above; a later tutorial will cover the remaining items.

Education and Experience

Although your current network or PC support staff may have a vast knowledge of networking, wireless LANs introduce many other aspects and fundamentals which people who have a traditional wired networking background typically lack.

You should poll your support teams to gain an understanding of their tech skills and knowledge to ensure they are educated in areas such as:

  • Introduction to wireless LANs

Your help desk, desktop support, and especially any network support teams should have a basic understanding of the main components and essential operation of a wireless LAN, as well as the ability to compare and contrast the 802.11 standards, which provides some common sense when dealing with wireless networks.

  • Wireless LAN administration and troubleshooting

The knowledge of the individuals intended to administer and support the wireless network should include (but not be limited to) installing, configuring and securing client radios and access points, knowledge of RF fundamentals and 802.11 network architecture, performing RF site surveys, and understanding Wi-Fi security issues.

  • Wireless LAN security

The security or network support team should have an extensive understanding of Wi-Fi security, including intrusion tools and techniques, technologies such as 802.1X/EAP, VLAN-based security solutions, 802.11i, and Authentication, Authorization and Accounting (AAA) Systems.

  • 802.11 packet analysis

Understanding how 802.11 devices communicate, such as the exchange of packets during the authentication and association process, how a network reacts to power-saving clients, and understanding the data within the packets can greatly help when troubleshooting issues on the wireless network.

  • Vendor-specific hardware training

Those who are going to be installing and configuring the wireless infrastructure equipment should have a great deal of prior hands-on experience to ensure seamless support when your wireless LAN is operational.

If more training is required, you may want to take the opportunity to have the support teams earn related certifications such as through the Certified Wireless Network Professional (CWNP) and Cisco Career Certification programs.

While throwing a few books at the support teams may provide great knowledge, many IT professionals need a bit more hands-on training through live training courses. However, if live training is out of your budget, you may want to look into e-learning or computer-based training (CBT) courses, which typically provide video lectures and demonstrations. You could also gather some extra wireless networking gear for them to play around with to get some hands-on experience before the network is operational.

Don’t forget about all the resources you have online, such as the insightful tutorials and articles here on Wi-Fi Planet.

Management and Support Tools

Properly supporting and troubleshooting wireless LANs typically requires adding a few new tools to your arsenal. If you haven’t already acquired them in the design and installation phases, you may want to consider purchasing several tools before going operational:

Wireless network management and monitoring tools with features including:

  • Support for multi-vendor APs
  • Rogue AP detection
  • Configurable security policies
  • Alerts
  • Network health monitoring (such as throughput and excessive packet retries)
  • Monitoring of RF conditions (for instance, interference from neighboring networks and other 2.4 or 5 GHz devices)
  • Ability to remotely manage the network (including changing security, channel, and SSID settings and updating firmware)

802.11 packet analyzer

Among other things, this tool enables you to “see” what is actually happening over the airwaves to aid in troubleshooting performance or connectivity issues with your Wi-Fi network or devices.

RF Spectrum analyzer

Spectrum analyzers give you a better picture of the RF environment to help identify and find devices interfering with your Wireless LAN. Even though other tools such as a packet analyzer may give you some of these features, a spectrum analyzer will provide much more detail of the RF environment.

Wireless LAN surveying tool

Though usually not a necessity, Wi-Fi surveying software provides a usefully graphic representation of your wireless network coverage layered on a digital floor plan you import. With the software’s simulation features, these tools can aid in detecting coverage holes and may provide predicted coverage maps when considering the movement of APs and the changing of other characteristics, such as channel assignments, transmit power and antenna type.You may want to look into the software suites and hardware tools of vendors such as AirMagnet and Berkeley Varitronics Systems. In addition, make sure the support staff has a solid understanding of the tools you choose before making your wireless LAN operational.Stay tuned! The next part of this series will cover the remaining items to consider during your evaluation of supporting a Wi-Fi network.

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