AirMagnet bolsters Wi-Fi management tools

AirMagnet is releasing updates to two of its main Wi-Fi network management tools.

AirMagnet is releasing updates to two of its main Wi-Fi network management tools. Wi-Fi Analyzer now can explore delve deeper into roaming problems. And Survey can now run passive and active Wi-Fi scans at the same time.

Product Review: AirMagnet's Spectrum XT Analyzer

The key to both changes is what AirMagnet calls "multi-adapter support." Basically, these laptop applications can now pull network data from two or three Wi-Fi adapters plugged into the laptop and active at the same time. That means both faster and more in-depth RF scans are possible, according to company executives.

In the past, the applications relied on a single Wi-Fi adapter. That meant Wi-Fi Analyzer could scan only one channel at a time, and could miss frames on a different channel, says Dilip Advani, product manager for AirMagnet Mobile Solutions. AirMagnet was bought by Fluke Networks in 2009. By supporting three radios at once, Analyzer can monitor simultaneously the three non-overlapping Wi-Fi channels, which are most commonly used in enterprise deployments.

According to Advani, AirMagnet's analysis of enterprise Wi-Fi problems shows that most of them are related to "inefficient roaming" -- a wireless client associated with an access point picks up signals from one or more other access points and "decides" to drop the first connection in favor of another. But the new connection may, in fact, be a worse choice, due to interference, the presence of both data and voice traffic, and so on. "Sometimes, the decision to roam may not be the best decision for that client," Advani says.

In the past, he says, AirMagnet and its rivals showed little more than the fact that a roam had take place.

But Wi-Fi Analyzer 9.0 can use up to three Wi-Fi adapters to collect and analyze a lot of new data about each of these "roaming events." (Wi-Fi Analyzer is a spectrum analyzer program that can test and diagnose a wide range of wireless performance issues dealing with throughput, connectivity, device conflicts and multipath problems. See our 2009 Clear Choice Test of rival analysis products, including AirMagnet: "Analyze this: Low-cost wireless spectrum analyzers do the trick".)

The 9.0 release can see exactly which clients are roaming, when they roam, how long it takes and the length of time for other related activities such as associating, authenticating, getting an IP address and so on. It can also assess the impact of the new association on the client's Wi-Fi performance and overall wireless experience, such as before-and-after MOSS scores, which indicate the quality of a Wi-Fi voice call, Advani says.

With this information, network administrators can see roaming patterns, both as they happen and over time: such as areas in the network where roams are frequent, frequently roaming clients, or back-end issues associated with the roam. The data can be used to uncover the causes for inefficient roaming. Then, administrators can make changes to the Wi-Fi network, such as configuring clients to prefer a newer, more up-to-date access point.

A second change in version 9.0, is a new, greatly expanded dashboard display: data about the clients and network are shown in easily-read graphic summaries of issues and behaviors.

Also new is the addition of testing for FTP and HTTP application connectivity. In the past, Analyzer supported DCHP, Ping and Trace. Now all these can be run at once with a single mouse-click if desired, and the results now are packaged into a full "connection audit report."

AirMagnet Survey is an application used in site surveys to collect live data on radio signals, performance and spectrum. The data is used to accurately measure network performance and RF coverage.

The 8.0 release now uses two Wi-Fi adapters. An administrator plugs the adapters into a laptop, with the new Survey release, and, as with Analyzer, moves the laptop from one location to another. One adapter can make a passive scan of the airwaves, the other can actively connect to the nearest access point and mimic the activity of user to collect data. With a single pass, Survey can capture both types of information.

The software now runs on 64-bit operating systems. The software's Airwise Engine, which identifies specific security and performance problems has been updated with 34 new alarms. Finally, survey for the first time lets administrators create completely customized reports of all results.

To simplify juggling a laptop with multiple adapters, AirMagnet now also offers a "multi-adapter kit" for each of the two applications. The kit is a five-board USB hub, and two or three Proxim USB 802.11abgn Wi-Fi adapters. The kit for Wi-Fi Analyzer, with three adapters, is $495; for Survey, with two adapters, it's $345.

Pricing for AirMagnet Wi-Fi Analyzer and AirMagnet Survey is unchanged: each application is $3,995.

John Cox covers wireless networking and mobile computing for Network World.



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