Have you worn out your wireless? Some Diagnostic questions to ask yourself

Posted by Mike Welling on September 12, 2016

Wireless networks have gone from an exciting innovation to an expected convenience in a few short years. Along the way, the standards and technologies have changed multiple times. As a consequence, many companies are finding that what used to be on the cutting edge is a bit worn around the edges. That’s why I get a lot of calls asking about wireless networks.

For example, I just started working with a client who is experiencing slow downloads on their wireless network. There are dozens of things that could cause this - including the wireless controller being misconfigured, a loop in the network or a problem with the way the firewall was set up. Here are some of the questions I begin with when I get the call from a client...

Could it be the switches?

wireless_switches.pngA switch is more complicated than it sounds. It’s like a traffic manager between your users and the servers or your users and the wireless router. The trick is, wireless technology has changed a lot in the last few years and the power demands of the different switches is difficult to keep track of, let alone manage.

For example, if your company has moved to Voice Over Internet Protocol (VOIP) - or is planning to in the future - it means your phones will be powered by switches and it's important to choose your switches carefully. And since the power requirements have changed several times, you can end up with new switches that will need to be replaced in a year because future demands weren't taken into account.

Configuring the right power to switches has become much more complicated. The Hewlett Packard switches I work with help me simplify installation. Both the Procurve switches and the Aruba switches can be configured with the console as well as through a web interface. The console feature also allows me to configure it with a menu system so I don’t have to type out long, cryptic strings of commands.

Could it be the access points?

I mentioned before that a wireless network can have a misconfigured controller. As I wrote in a past blog, there are some great new innovations in managing your wireless access points using HP’s Aruba products. Among the new solutions are:

  • Instant IAP
    With this access point, the controller is built in so you can manage all your wireless devices in a fraction of the time it used to take. You can skip having a separate controller altogether.

  • Wireless from the Cloud
    In this setup, all your access points would get their commands from a central point in the Cloud. Update the central profile in the Cloud and your whole wireless network is automatically updated.

Of course, you can still use wireless controllers and HP has those too.

Every once in a while a wireless network can throw you a curve ball. In a couple cases I’ve encountered, there were actually too many access points. More is better in wireless, right? Not always. In some cases overlapping coverage causes the controller to actually turn down the wireless radios to compensate. That can cause dead spots.

Managing wireless access points is a constantly moving target. For example, the FCC just opened up four new channels for wireless. That could make my job a lot easier.

Could it be the server connection?

Server technology hasn’t changed a lot over the years, but what we try to do with them has gotten a lot more complicated. About a month ago I wrote about the workhorse of the industry, the HP Proliant servers, and how they are tested and supported and have built-in warning systems to prevent failure. One of the new challenges with servers is the speed demands of the connections. It used to be a server did one thing, so the connection to it - often one gigabyte - didn’t need to be very complicated. But now with server virtualization, we are pushing each server to multitask in lots of new ways. A 10 gigabyte connection used to be a luxury and a rarity; now dual 10 gig connections are running on a lot of servers just to keep up with demands.

In short, make sure the connections to the servers support the demands you are putting on them. They could be slowing down your wireless network.

As you can see, all of these things are interconnected. I often talk to clients who want to upgrade one component - the switches for example - but that can easily affect all the other components of a network. It's important to take time for the up-front planning and assessment to prevent costly surprises down the road.

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Topics: Business IT