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Significance of standardised network troubleshooting

09 Dec 2013  | Mark Mullins

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Wi-Fi Problems: Like testing a wired network, starting at layer 1 and working up to layer 3 is an effective way to test a Wi-Fi network. A quick way to validate Wi-Fi performance is to access a number of servers or services on both the wired and Wi-Fi side of the network and compare response times. This can quickly show if the issue is limited to a single server, or the Wi-Fi network, or if everything is slow.

Service Provider Problems: These problems may be out of the realm of the technician to solve, but identifying the source of the problem will speed its resolution. One technique is to compare the performance of on-site and off-site cloud applications and see if there is a larger difference than expected. A more in-depth approach would be to measure the performance (throughput, loss, latency) of the service provider link in question.

Automate and accelerate
Once a network troubleshooting process is defined, it can be automated. There are several benefits to an automated test. First, it's much faster than performing the tests manually. Second, it's not subject to the human error of leaving out a test. Third, it allows anyone, regardless of skill level, to run the standard battery of tests and identify the root cause of common problems.

The savings from automation can be substantial. Tests using the Fluke Networks OneTouch AT Network Assistant, for example, show that approximately an hour's worth of standardised tests as described above can be done in a minute or less – a potentially huge savings over trial-and-error troubleshooting.

Collaborate and communicate
Network technicians regularly need to work with someone else to resolve problems. Here are some best practices to speed the collaborative process.

Reports: A detailed report of everything tested and observed allows the technician to show a colleague exactly what was happening when they were observing the problem.

In-Line Packet Capture: Having a trace file is indispensable for resolving very difficult problems or as evidence to an outside group such as application developers, service providers, or equipment suppliers. Technicians do not often have the time or switch access required to create a mirror port and collect trace files using a laptop PC. Alternatively each technician can be outfitted with an inline packet capture tool like the OneTouch AT that will facilitate packet capture without having to access the switch.

Remote Interface: The technician's testing gear should have software, such as VNC, that allows remote access by other personnel in the organisation. Not only can the remote user see what the tech is seeing, but also they can control the remote tester and export trace files or reports to their local device. As this can be a source of security vulnerabilities, it must be installed and maintained properly. The OneTouch AT can also be accessed and controlled remotely, and its embedded OS means there's no security risk.

Though trial and error troubleshooting will still be needed for unique problems, setting up the network support team with a standardised troubleshooting process and a standardised set of tools can substantially reduce the time required to identify the root cause of a majority of problems, simplify collaboration and speed packet capture. These approaches can reduce trouble ticket resolution time, restore end-user productivity and free up staff to work on forward-looking projects.

About the author
Mark Mullins is with Fluke Networks.

To download the PDF version of this article, click here.

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