Tips for Managing Wireless Sensor Networks in Your Data Center

By Paul Parker, SolarWinds Federal & National Government Chief Technologist

Here is an interesting article from my colleague, Joe Kim, in which he points out some of the challenges of managing wireless sensor networks.

For several years, government network administrators have tried to turn knowledge into action to keep their networks and data centers running optimally and efficiently. For instance, they have adopted automated network monitoring to better manage increasingly complex data centers.

Now, a new factor has entered this equation: wireless sensor networks. These networks are composed of spatially distributed, autonomous sensors that monitor physical or environmental conditions within data centers to detect conditions such as sound, temperature, or humidity levels.

However, wireless sensor networks can be extraordinarily complex, as they are capable of providing a very large amount of data. This can make it difficult for managers to get an accurate read on the type of information their connected devices are capturing, which in turn can throw into question the effectiveness of an agency’s network monitoring processes. 

Fortunately, there are several steps federal IT managers can take to help ease the burden of managing, maintaining, and improving the efficacy of their wireless sensor networks. By following these guidelines, administrators can take the knowledge they receive from their sensor arrays and make it work for their agencies.

Establish a baseline for more effective measurement and security

Before implementing wireless sensors, managers should first monitor their wireless networks to create a baseline of activity. Only with this data will teams be able to accurately determine whether or not their wireless sensor networks are delivering the desired results.

Establishing a baseline allows managers to more easily identify any changes in network activity after their sensors are deployed, which, in turn, provides a true picture of network functionality. Also, a baseline provides a reference point for potential security issues.

Set trackable metrics to monitor performance and deliver ROI

Following the baseline assessment, administrators should configure trackable metrics to help them get the most out of their wireless sensor networks. For example, bandwidth monitoring that lets managers track usage over time can help them more effectively and efficiently allocate network resources. Watching monthly usage trends can also help teams better plan for future deployments and adjust budgets accordingly.

Metrics (along with the initial baseline) also can help agencies achieve measurable results. The goal is to know specifically what is needed from devices so that teams can get the most out of their wireless sensors. With metrics in hand, managers can understand whether or not their deployments are delivering the best return on investment.

Apply appropriate network monitoring tools to keep watch over sensor arrays

Network monitoring principles should be applied to wireless sensor networks to help ensure that they continue to operate effectively and securely. For instance, network performance and bandwidth monitoring software can be effective at identifying potential network anomalies and problematic usage patterns. These and other tools can also be used to forecast device scalability and threshold alerts, allowing managers to act on the information that sensors are sending out.

These tools, along with the other strategies mentioned above, are designed to do one thing: provide knowledge that can be turned into effective action. Managers can use these practices to bridge the gap between the raw data that their sensors are providing and the steps needed to keep their networks and applications running. And there is nothing scary about that.

Find the full article on Government Computer News.

  • Yes and the other guy in town is only a bit cheaper and his work is considerably less reliable - as in sometimes things aren't labeled, sometimes they are and sometimes the labels even match the wiring. One time we use "the other guy" and asked for shielded cable - which he ran, but none of the connectors on the ends were shielded so . . .

  • Don't fall victim to the IoT assumption that every device that CAN have an IP address (even IPv6) SHOULD have a network connection.

    Wireless isn't going away, but it isn't going to get better if folks don't say "no to poorly secured IoT solutions."

  • Wow, now that's an expensive ethernet drop!

  • Generally speaking a wireless network is more expensive than wired, but not always.

    • Get a good set of floorplans for every location, floor, building etc.
    • Make sure you have an accurate site survey (using a specific Survey SSID - AP on a stick sort of thing) with the product you are planning to purchase
    • Set a baseline for performance expectations and survey-the-design to those specifications
    • Use a good onboarding/enrollmant product
    • (As an example - we had a wireless product - I won't name names, but the name sounds like a tropical Island and we replaced it with a product that has a dog mascot and a name like a honda motorcycle. The product A had 200 access points in the hospital alone after vendor of product A did their survey we were told that we needed 300 APs to cover the hospital with the specs that we required. Vendor R came along and did a proper survey using products from vendor R and found that they could do the entire area with 90 APs but we used 100 for a little extra redundancy. The new product can both send and receive at much better distances. The proper survey gave a more accurate result)
    • In our case the wiring vendor (not a lot of choices around here) gets an average of close to $1000 per drop for wire - more than the cost of an AP that can handle hundreds of clients at a time (yes, that is accurate, I don't even get concerned with these APs until I see more than 200 connections on a radio - they are all dual radio)

    Wireless is not as secure as wired, but I wouldn't call it insecure either. With proper onboarding, firewalling and monitoring it manageable. (Again, baseline requirements and don't allow insecure protocols)

    I do agree that wireless is vulnerable to attacks from outside the building and that's hard to mitigate. (as a side note a terms and services page doesn't prevent bad people from doing bad thing (or good people from doing not so smart things) but it does help protect your entity from prosecution of such things - ALWAYS have a terms and services for all of your networks)

    I also agree that APs can only handle so much of a load - with Vendor A we had APs that couldn't handle a dozen active connections and if you had 35 people just connected but less active - i.e. phones, email, and such that AP would get very very unhappy. With Vendor R I've used their products in conferences with hundreds of active users and it is rock solid. So, do your homework.

    I also agree that multiple SSIDs create additional problems - keep the SSIDs to a minimum, preferably 4 or fewer.

    In our case wireless is less expensive for our use and though not as fast, the speed has not been an issue with any of our users (after switching to R). Troubleshooting is a little harder, but between the R dashboard, the CP onboarding, SolarWinds monitoring, E for mapping and WLAN noise/interference troubleshooting, we find the wireless to be a great asset in our environment.

  • IPv6 only makes it even more strange to me now that everything is going to have an IP address o.O!