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For Operational Efficiency, Know Your Wi-Fi Environment From the Outside In

Performance management systems have existed for wired networks for years. Think of OpenView or SolarWinds. However, WLAN performance management has been ad hoc with a variety of instruments and tools kept in drawers and on shelves.  They eagerly await the next complaint, reacting to the situation from the inside-out. But 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.  The aforementioned instruments and tools are only as affective as their ability to quickly react to issues and complaints, therefore, some would rather hope the problem goes away before fetching said equipment and schlepping it to the area in question. Since many fail to understand what they do not see, the tendency is to be reactive or to blame issues on client devices, which is not an outside-in, customer focused attitude.

To be proactive, and begin the cycle of efficiency, we need to visualize and bring to life the wireless ecosystem so that we can truly see the forest through the trees.  Therefore, a Wi-Fi performance management system is required which consists of three elements: active testing, passive testing and Wi-Fi analytics.

Active Testing

Active, synthetic 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 a day user experience testing and it captures data relating to client throughput, packet loss, latency and jitter on Voice over IP calls.  These metrics and others tell the real story about the worker experience and their productivity, whereas traditional systems and controllers might only tell you the lights are green and that people are connecting. An IT professional with an attitude geared toward customer service wouldn't blame the client devices, but would instead seek to understand the complete RF picture and how it affects worker productivity, operational efficiency and their organization's long term competitiveness.

Passive Testing

Passive tests monitor and measure all RF activity in the environment to tell us if clients can actually take advantage of the 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 to fully understand the behavior of the network and its impact on worker productivity.

Wi-Fi Analytics

The Wi-Fi environment is brought to life through analytics which allow you to visualize your network in a way that provides actionable intelligence for finding and fixing the root cause of the Wi-Fi performance issues that are inhibiting increases in operational efficiency.  The ability to track and trend performance over time and set service level targets for performance, allows IT pros 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 managing the Wi-Fi network like the important and strategic asset that it is.  Trending charts allow you to isolate and correlate changes in the environment to changes in performance and reliability.  Service level dashboards tell you when throughput or jitter begin to slip out of compliance. Performance SLAs may be set for particular buildings, areas or SSIDs and this allows you to centrally monitor, alert, investigate and resolve Wi-Fi issues prior to complaints about lost productivity and without the need to dispatch resources.

Call it, "putting yourself in someone else's shoes" if you will, but when you shift your focus to the end user and put their Wi-Fi experience at the center of your operation then you have made the switch from the inefficiencies of reactive management to the efficiencies and elevated productivity of proactive management.

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