Pieces of the WLAN mgmt. puzzle that can’t be solved by WLAN gear vendors

Series of tests proposed to assess ad-hoc WLAN mgmt tools

As robust as they are, the management systems shipping with today’s WLAN gear are only part of the whole enterprise WLAN management picture. There are several classes of ad-hoc tools that address a number of broad management areas that may not be included in any given management system from a WLAN gear vendor.

As robust as they are, the management systems shipping with today’s wireless LAN gear are only part of the whole enterprise WLAN management picture. There are several classes of ad-hoc tools that address a number of broad management areas that may not be included in any given management system from a WLAN gear vendor.

The most common adjunct tools are designed for WLAN assurance, which verify WLAN functions and provide independent monitoring of the network. The best known tools here are from AirMagnet and WildPackets (OmniPeek).

But there are many others ad hoc tools that provide a broad range of functions that help administrators keep a thumb on the pulse of their WLAN deployments, many of which are available as freeware or shareware. These include:

•  Wi-Fi discovery tools – These are the descendents of the original hacking tools (remember such amusements as Airsnort and WEPCrack?) developed to exploit the weaknesses in Wired Equivalent Privacy encryption. These are used today for the general analysis of Wi-Fi signals in a given location. Examples include NetStumbler and its many derivatives.

•  Packet capture applications – These tools are analogous to the packet capture “datascope” tools that have been available on wired LANs for many years, and are useful for protocol analysis and troubleshooting. A couple of examples include AitPcap and WireShark.

•  Traffic analyzers – These examine the real-time flow of packets across a WLAN, and can be used for bandwidth allocation, planning and performance analysis. Examples of this class product include Kismet and vxSniffer.

•  Spectral analyzers – These tools operate at Layer 1 of the OSI model and are used to analyze the radio environment. They are particularly useful in pre-deployment RF sweeps and in the analysis of interference. Cisco’s Spectrum Expert technology is the best known capability here, and is embodied in a number of OEM products. But MetaGeek’s Wi-Spy is also available and a less-expensive option.

•  Site survey – These applications verify coverage and assist in the placement of access points. These are usually included with WLAN products and management systems, and there’s some debate as to how well these really consider not just coverage, but performance. Examples include Helium Networks’ SiteStumbler and Wireless Recon, and Motorola’s LANPlanner.

Some products overlap multiple categories. Over the next couple of months, Network World will be publishing the results of comparative testing from each of these product groupings. Stay tuned.

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