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Wireless LAN troubleshooting includes event-based forensics

Meru Networks : 10 June, 2009  (New Product)
Detailed information can now be determined from wireless network events using E(z)RF network manager from Meru Networks
E(z)RF Network Manager 2.0, the first wireless LAN management system to record every client-network wireless protocol interaction, rather than merely gathering aggregate statistics, has been introduced by Meru Networks. Meru's E(z)RF Network Manager 2.0 represents a fundamentally new approach to WLAN management, using continuous event recording, data mining and a knowledge-based inference engine to reduce troubleshooting time - and user downtime - from days to minutes.

With knowledge of every past RF event, the system allows network managers to 'rewind' the WLAN, recreating past event sequences to quickly pinpoint the causes of client problems - even long after those problems have occurred. The system also automatically correlates across all recorded events to make highly accurate inferences about problems that may not yet have even been reported.

Highly scalable to accommodate growing enterprise requirements, E(z)RF Network Manager 2.0 allows management of up to 25,000 access points and hundreds of controllers across multiple geographic regions. From a single console, users can rapidly drill down and view activity details at each level of the infrastructure: controllers, access points (APs) and individual wireless client devices.

Most WLAN management systems - both vendor-specific and third-party - work by periodically polling the network and reporting on statistics such as throughput, packet loss and signal strength. But the simplistic statistics-based approach provides no information on the causes of network problems - and thus no basis for correcting them. Network managers must manually correlate information to look for potential causes, a lengthy and tedious process that can affect user productivity for long periods of time. In contrast, Meru's E(z)RF 2.0 continuously monitors the state of every client and the wireless infrastructure, capturing and storing all key over-the-air events and client state transitions, to greatly simplify the job of managing wireless LANs:

E(z)RF Network Manager 2.0 records every state change a client undergoes (e.g., connection, authentication, station handoff, DHCP events, IP address discovery) and stores that information for later mining. By capturing client-network interactions in the order in which they occurred - rather than just periodic or aggregated statistics - the system maintains all crucial client information that can be used to help recreate the historical state of the network at any instant in time.

A proactive knowledge-based inference engine automatically correlates information across all recorded events and generates inferences about potential client and infrastructure issues, enabling proactive identification of those issues - often before they are reported by users. The inference engine currently can identify more than 100 relevant event patterns indicating possible problems, and can be enhanced to understand new patterns as they develop.

Starting from a high-level 'Trend Dashboard' showing aggregate global trends for the entire WLAN - including key over-the-air metrics such as high noise or packet loss for both radios and clients - network managers can drill down through the infrastructure, from controller to APs and finally to individual clients, to see usage trends and full event histories. Help-desk personnel can replay exact sequences of events by entering the client MAC address and the time period during which a problem occurred. APs and client devices can be located on WLAN 'heat maps,' visually recreating past RF state.

Sri Juvvadi, director of product management for Meru, said Meru's event-based approach to WLAN diagnostics 'leapfrogs existing wireless network management techniques, making it far easier and faster for help-desk personnel to do after-the-fact troubleshooting.

'All too often, by the time the help desk can respond to a problem, the dynamic RF environment has changed, and evidence of the problem's cause has disappeared like footprints in the sand,' Juvvadi said. 'Without knowing which events led up to a problem, the IT staffer has no way to tell whether that problem was caused by the infrastructure or the client, or at what step of the connection process the failure occurred. With E(z)RF Network Manager, you can roll back time to get to the relevant series of events and the RF state at that instant in time, dramatically shortening the time needed for troubleshooting.

'In a wireless network, a single symptom may have a variety of causes. Current statistics-based RF management tools force you to pore over huge volumes of WLAN data, checking various logs and often having to track down end-users and do packet-captures to diagnose the cause of their problems. Proactive cross-event correlation in E(z)RF Network Manager eliminates this painstaking process. For example, if E(z)RF Network Manager sees a client device getting many AP reassociations but no IP address assignments, the inference engine automatically infers that the cause is an unreachable DHCP server. The system generates an alert even before the user has reported a problem.'

'Wireless issues have to be resolved as quickly as possible after they occur,' said James F. Eyrich, wireless service manager at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, which has more than 2,500 Meru APs installed across some 200 buildings. 'But poring through error logs and visiting the scene of the problem or having the user bring a device to the IT office to recreate the problem is very time-consuming. E(z)RF shortens the time we spend on day-to-day management by rewinding the network and recreating past scenarios so we see what was happening on the network when the problem occurred.'

Brian Fruits, network services specialist at the University of North Carolina-Charlotte, said, 'E(z)RF Network Manger 2.0 is both a monitoring and reporting system and a critical troubleshooting tool. With all the new technology out today, we simply don't have the time to monitor each individual component of our wireless network. E(z)RF provides a one-stop service where I can quickly switch between high-level summaries and detailed diagnostics for our wireless environment. This allows us to significantly reduce the time spent on troubleshooting as well as the downtime users experience when they have an issue. In addition, the historical trending with detailed statistics has proven very useful in our capacity planning activities.'
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