Monthly Archives: January 2015

The Power of an Engine – by Victor Pak

2009_Chevrolet_Corvette_Stingray_Concept

Courtesy: G patkar

Car fanatics like me know a lot about the price of quality.

For example, let’s look at the fifth generation of the Camaro, which Chevrolet launched in 2010. An almost $50,000 price difference stands between their entry-level model, the LS coupe, and the top-of-the-line Z/28.

Why?

While both cars appear similar, the Z/28 offers 505 horsepower and a 7.0 liter engine compared to the LS’s 323 horsepower and 3.6 liter engine. The price is in the performance.

We know that bigger engines come with components that can handle the output – this includes speed-rated tires, carbon-ceramic matrix brakes, a special track-oriented suspension, a six-speed manual transmission, and much more.

But while it’s easy to measure the performance of a car’s engine, the performance of a network’s router or switch is much harder to measure.

We all know that consumer-grade all-in-one routers fail miserably in comparison to enterprise-grade equipment—they’re slow, they overheat frequently, they get “stuck” every few days and require frequent rebooting, and eventually break after just two years or so. That’s because it’s designed to meet a certain price point and sacrifices quality for the sake of affordability. Other limitations of all-in-one devices include lack of scalability (what if your network gets bigger?), lack of advanced features (IGMP snooping, QoS), and weak wireless coverage. All-in-one devices are also meant for general applications and not designed for networks with advanced gaming and sound systems.

But what about enterprise-grade equipment? What makes one router better than another when they’re both labeled as “enterprise-grade”?

If I asked my drinking buddies this question, they will incorrectly answer that the difference is in the port speeds or the number of ports. Those who know a bit more about networking technology will talk about VLANs, QoS, firewalls, and other advanced functionality. While they’re not exactly wrong, what they are overlooking is the high performance chipset.

The chipset, also known as the processor, is the engine of a networking device. True enterprise-grade chipsets are designed to handle more traffic, including traffic bursts, without any hiccups or failures. Their impressive speeds keep data packets from falling out of order, so that video and audio streaming never freezes up. Enterprise-grade chipsets also impact the lifetime of a router or switch, ensuring that the device can keep running like new even 10 years down the line.

Another feature constantly overlooked in networking devices is the memory. Memory benefits networking devices in two ways: first, it allows a router or switch to have more features like VLANs, QoS, and IGMP Snooping. Second, it helps a router handle heavier traffic. Let’s say two routers are identical in every way in their specs, except one router has more memory than the other. Both can stream A/V devices properly when traffic is light, but as the traffic gets heavier and heavier, the lower-memory router will not be able to keep up with the heavy traffic. Features like QoS would no longer work properly. Routers and switches with greater memory can therefore handle a larger network overall.

The next time you consider the purchase of network equipment, start first with the most important part – the engine. While most manufacturing companies shy away from the details regarding their product components, one way to learn more about these hidden parts is by asking questions. Ask the manufacturer what the chipset is. Ask them what makes it special and capable of handling your traffic. Ask them how it makes a difference.

So the next time you see two routers with the same specs, look under the hood.

Keep Your Network in Top Shape with an Annual Maintenance Checkup

checkup

The network has become a critical part of the business and home infrastructure today. Professional IT managers understand the importance of the network infrastructure in daily business operation and invest significant time and resources to maintain their multi-million (and multi-billion) dollar network systems.

Just as you visit your doctor for an annual health physical, your network also needs an annual checkup to ensure that it is in tip-top shape. When was the last time you made a “house call” and checked on the health of your customers’ networks?

The Pakedge Technical Support team has compiled a list of network maintenance best practices and checklist to help you protect your customers’ networks and keep your customers’ Pakedge networks in top health.

Perform an audit of the current network installation

  • Review inventory against last recorded list of equipment. Verify brand, model, serial number, MAC address and IP address (if known) of equipment.
  • For equipment added since your last visit, record brand, model, serial number, MAC address, IP address (if known).

Check and update firmware on equipment

  • Review the list of latest firmware versions available on the Pakedge dealer portal (for Pakedge network equipment only)
  • Check firmware versions on equipment and update as necessary
    • Pakedge Wireless Access Points (WAPs) W6 or W7, must be updated in steps:
      1. W6 – if current is below v1.7 then update to v1.7 prior to v1.8 or v1.9
      2. W7 – if current is below v1.6 then update to v1.6 prior to v1.8
      3. After firmware update to v1.9, please factory default APs.
    • Pakedge WK and WX series access points, as well as the RE and RK series routers, can be updated from the cloud through the unit’s management menu. If you are not able to do so, please log in to the Pakedge dealer portal, go to the specific product, and then go to the Firmware tab to find the latest firmware version. With this, you can then update firmware manually.
    • For other products, including the K60D and R10 routers, the SX and SK series switches, please log in to the Pakedge dealer portal, go to the specific product, and then go to the Firmware tab to find the latest firmware version. With this, you can then update firmware manually.
    • For the C36 wireless controller and NP36 BakPak appliance, these can be updated directly through the unit’s management interface.
    • If you have the NP36  in your network, you can also update firmware for all the switches, routers and WAPs directly from the BakPak profile without having to go into each unit’s management menu.
    • If you have the C36 in your wireless network, you can also update the firmware for all the WAPs directly from the C36 management interface without having to go into each unit’s management menu separately.

Review device logs for messages and errors. Review any logs from BakPak Cloud Management System (if used) and logs stored in your network devices. Look for recurring messages and address any problems as necessary.

Check condition of wall ports and unused ports in network equipment. Verify no damage, no dust or other foreign materials (contamination), and check continuity. Check condition of fiber optic and copper cables – verify no broken tabs, exposed cabling, and other physical damage.

Perform wireless system performance optimizations

  1. Perform site survey to determine if there have been changes in the surroundings that clients or technicians are unaware of
  2. Verify if there have been added devices on the jobsite that utilize 2.4GHz as this may affect wireless connection if near WAPs.
  3. Check channels (pending amount of wireless traffic onsite and offsite – recommend channels 1, 6, and 11 since they do not interfere with one another for WAPs on 2.4 GHz band). Use results of the site survey to see what channels neighboring WAPs are operating on, and change channels as appropriate to mitigate interference.

Update network configuration settings. Review new equipment added to network since your last network inspection. Install any new devices (if any). Update network and device configuration settings.

Security

  • Usernames and Passwords. Review User Administrator Profile information on devices (routers, switches, access points) and update your security on your devices (i.e. username and password information)
    1. On 60C and/or 60D router models: verify that User section only has needed User Profiles set up for SSL & PPTP access
    2. On WAPs – update passwords as needed
    3. Guest networks (wired and wireless) – update guest network username and passwords
    4. Update VPN policies and passwords (as needed).
  • Verify devices connected to the correct VLANs. For networks with VLANs, verify that current and new devices have been assigned to the correct VLANs. Verify that previously connected devices are still connected to the right VLANs.
  • Verify devices connected to guest networks. Confirm that devices meant for guest usage (desktop computers, terminals, televisions, etc.) are still connected to the designated guest ports. If those devices have changed locations, it may be necessary to reassign the ports or update the wiring connection at the switch to the guest ports.
  • Review firewall configurations and reports. Re-subscribe to existing anti-virus, intrusion protection and other security management services (if needed).
  • Update website access control lists (whitelists, blacklists) as necessary.
  • Block unauthorized devices. Scan and identify wireless network for “rogue” devices and block access to network.
  • Update port forwarding. Review, add and remove devices that require port forwarding as needed.
  • Update Dynamic DNS (including Pakedge DNS) as needed.
  • Update Demilitarized Zones (DMZ). For routers with DMZ capabilities, review and update any devices to be placed in the DMZ.
  • Perform security audit. Perform other tasks on the network security audit and checklist.

Power Schedules. If there are network devices, or devices connected to the network that are on an on/off power schedule (through PoE ports or PDU control):

  1. Check to see if those schedules are still active, or if any changes need to be made.
  2. Add any new devices to the schedule
  3. Remove any devices from schedule (as needed)

Verify proper network failover operation

  1. Failover paths of existing equipment (if so configured)
  2. Redundant equipment connected in network
  3. Spare or backup equipment not yet connected to network

Create backup configuration files for all devices (including those devices that do not require any configuration updates) so as to be able to restore if necessary. (this does not apply if updating firmware and then trying to re-establish settings)

Check batteries and proper backup power operation. For devices connected to backup power or UPS sources, check battery condition and verify proper operation in fail-over mode.

Verify unobstructed airflow around vents. Check to make sure ventilation slots on network equipment and network racks are clear. Verify that there are sufficient clearances around equipment for adequate airflow. Remove dust with compressed air. Change out any dust filters.

Inspect for damage. Check equipment and racks for signs of any corrosion or other damage.

Check with the local Internet Service Provider (ISP) to see what services and upgrades are available

  • Contact the ISP to see what service speed tiers are available, or what new services/speed tiers are being offered, including any free speed upgrades
  • Perform a speed test (through a wired connection) to see what current speeds are and to see if ISP has upgraded customer incoming service speeds (either free upgrades or paid upgrades). If current speeds are not consistent with the subscribed service tier, the modem may need to be reset.
  • Verify modem compatibility with higher speed services that may be offered by the local Internet Service Provider.
  • If customer has upgraded service levels, determine if any equipment or network configuration settings need to readjusted.

Discuss network upgrade needs with customer, including:

  • Is there any consumer grade equipment in network that may require upgrading for better and scalable and performance, security or increased reliability?
  • Any plans to upgrade to higher speed services?
  • Will the site be expanding in the next six months? Any construction planned?
  • Will the network be supporting more devices in the next six months?
    1. Upgrade switches from 10/100 to the 10/100/1000 switches.
    2. Upgrade higher port count switches at the edge or in the closet
    3. Upgrade to a higher performance router
  • If there have been more wireless devices being used, consider upgrading to later model WAPs to support the increased wireless connectivity needs.
  • Project may need to utilize multiple VLANs – evaluate a change to managed switches if there is multiple home automation systems and devices integrated into the network.
  • Discuss if any network redundancy requirements have changed – determine if any new equipment to be added to the failover plan.

Discuss network health maintenance needs and planning with customer

  • Review checkup results with customer
  • Discuss any network monitoring and maintenance needs, including any automated monitoring needs (with BakPak Cloud Management System)
  • Develop and update network monitoring and maintenance plan.