Reliable wireless network connectivity has become essential to nearly all business and personal activities. Users expect the ability to connect anytime, anywhere to wireless networks and access desired applications without issue.
The following strategies, when combined, are intended to improve wireless network support so that users have a delightful experience. This list of strategies has been compiled from feedback and recommendations from network engineers and operators, as well as network users to identify support activities that are most helpful to proactively avoid network issues and reduce response time when a wireless network issue occurs.
The list can be used to assess whether your organization has the right tools, capabilities and processes in place to enable the best response to wireless network issues.
1. Monitor network status & health at the application level
Given the proliferation of apps for business and personal activities on the network, it is less important to monitor if the network is up/down and can route packets on the network/Internet. More important to users is that the right packets for the apps they need to use are able to be transmitted over the network.
Use application monitoring capabilities that can assess the experience that users have within specific applications as a key component of determining overall network status. Lastly, for the most common/critical applications, use assessment and troubleshooting tools that accelerate root cause analysis by determining if a user experience issue is the result of poor network connectivity or the result of poor application architecture or application errors.
2. Enable mobile access to network status & issues
Unfortunately you cannot predict when your network or the apps it runs will experience poor health. In many complex environments, the people working at the network operations center (NOC) at the time of a network incident may not have all of the knowledge or skills necessary to resolve the incident.
As a strategy to reduce mean time to response (MTTR), it is recommended to enable or deploy capabilities that alert engineering staff (within configurable parameters) when a network incident does occur and provide secure mobile access for people not in the NOC to be able to see network data, in order to determine if they can help to resolve the issue.
3. Understand trends rather than up/down status
If your network support strategy is to not engage until you have a red status in the NOC, you won’t engage to provide support until your users are already having a poor wireless network experience. Hence, rather than monitoring red/green status on sites, ports and access points in the NOC, it's more important to understand the trends that occur on your network.
If you still have a monitor in your NOC that shows red/green port status, consider updating that view to display a location heat map which shows traffic flow or user count at a specific site. NOC staff should transition from monitoring status to observing trends and then assessing if your wireless network infrastructure can remain in good health as trends occur.
Consider the following example of such a scenario: if a significant number of people gather in the lunch room daily, is there sufficient access point coverage in the lunch room to handle an increase network clients/network usage without impacting app health?
4. Use location aware capabilities to increase effectiveness of on-site engineering support
Wireless networks are comprised of on-site infrastructure that does require on-site support from time to time. Even with spares on-site, support run-books or mobile apps that can guide troubleshooting by people other network engineers, in some instances it is still necessary to send an engineer on-site to fix a complex or unexpected wireless problem.
When this occurs, consider if the processes and/or tools that are used to dispatch an engineer seek to proactively identify other value-add tasks that a network engineer could perform while visiting a specific site.
To ensure network engineering efforts are focused on providing the best experience for network users, consider deploying tools that can send alerts or notifications to network engineers when they arrive at a hot room (a space/room where multiple users/clients have wireless problems). Such alerts enable the engineer to provide proactive response and communication to users impacted in that specific room.
5. Make it simple for engineers to share wireless troubleshooting info
Assess the ease at which network engineers can run network diagnostic commands and share the output from those commands with other engineers or staff who may also be responding to or watching activities to resolve a network issue.
Seek to deploy network diagnostic tools that enable the diagnostic output to be exchanged with collaboration tools without the need to rekey information. It is also recommended to use tools that enable engineers to see prior activities and troubleshooting that have been performed as they join collaboration to resolve an incident.
6. Interface/link to OEM or partner support capabilities
Explore how your support processes and tools could interface directly with OEM support systems. As an example, if you identify that a specific support incident needs to be escalated to the OEM for troubleshooting, create a mechanism so that existing troubleshooting data from initial root cause analysis can be shared with the OEM.
It is common that during an escalation, the OEM may repeat the same initial troubleshooting that has been performed which can slow response, so sharing the outcome/data from initial activities is intended to enable the OEM to continue escalation vs. having to repeat prior steps to gather pre-requisite data for advanced troubleshooting.
7. Standardize configuration of wireless hardware across locations/branches
Consider if it is possible for your organization to adopt standard configurations for wireless sites. As a result of wireless networking platforms now being able to support a greater number of configuration options via templates and/or API automation, it now possible to standardize/automate complex branch network configurations.
Deploying branch networks in accordance with standards/templates can accelerate the provisioning of wireless hardware by automating provisioning tasks in accordance with standards, streamline configuration updates across all branches as updates are applied to a common configuration, and enable common troubleshooting processes across all branches/locations.
8. Offer guidance to solve wireless network problems
Deploy tools and systems that can inform network engineers of recommended troubleshooting activities based upon run-books and/or OEM/industry recommendations. Set expectations so that network engineers respond to issues first using the recommended troubleshooting actions prior to performing ad-hoc activities.
If it is necessary for an engineer to perform ad-hoc troubleshooting, create a way that the engineer can capture and share the additional actions that were performed to complete root cause analysis and resolve the issue so that these additional actions can updated in run-books and/or communicated to others if the issue occurs again.
9. Enable network engineers to find problematic wireless hardware quickly
A typical branch location will have multiple pieces of networking hardware deployed (switches, access points, etc). It is possible that any piece of this hardware may need to be inspected and/or swapped to restore good wireless network service.
Consider deploying networking tools/infrastructure that provide the capability for engineers to quickly locate a problematic device — such capabilities include: flashing the LED on a specific device, and/or wayfinding to a specific device.
10. Set service level expectations (SLEs) for network & application performance considering industry benchmarks
Review available industry data for application and/or network health and performance to ensure communicated SLEs are attainable and sustainable. Avoid setting SLEs that are not attainable (above industry average), as failure to meet these expectations will negatively bias users regarding the quality and reliability of applications and/or wireless networks.
In closing, these strategies are intended to enable your organization to assess if you have the right infrastructure, processes and tools in place to be able to support your wireless network in a proactive and highly responsive manner.
We can help advise on specific infrastructure, network tools and operational processes that can be put in place to satisfy all of these recommended strategies. Contact us today to get started.