How to Monitor Wide Area Networks

WAN icons

A Wide Area Network (WAN) provides the network infrastructure and telecommunication services needed by employees, and their customers, to run business applications and access the Internet.

Companies that have many remote locations, like branch offices or retail stores, invest considerable resources in Wide Area Networks to make them reliable and well performing. For this reason, it’s important that, once that network engineers complete the design and implementation of the WAN, proper monitoring is in place to verify that its performance and availability meet the original requirements set, as well as end-users’ expectations.

Many elements contribute to a WAN’s reliability and performance. The four most important are:

  1. The branch office’s WAN connection and Internet Service Provider (ISP)
  2. The networking hardware
  3. The network monitoring software
  4. The network engineers
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The WAN link and the ISP that connect the remote office to the company’s data centers and to the Internet should provide enough throughput and uptime for uninterrupted communications. There are several options for branch connectivity, like MPLS, metro Ethernet, commodity Internet, etc. This choice is driven by a variety of factors, such as geographical location of the office, the networking technology chosen (e.g. SD-WAN, VPN tunnels, etc.), and the business requirements of users and applications.

The network hardware, like routers, switches, and access points, and their configuration, is another important factor in the design of a WAN. Network technologies evolve at fast pace, trying to catch up, or anticipate, user demand for increased bandwidth. If you have a high-speed Internet connection, but old hardware, you just solved half of the problem. An example of networking technology that is constantly refreshed is the WiFi standard (802.11). WiFi data rates have sensibly increased, and keep increasing. The standard 802.11ay is expected to have a data rate of 176Gbit/s.

Standard

Band

Range

Transmit Power

Year released

Max Data Rate

802.11

2.4 GHz

20 m

100 mW

1997

2 Mbps

802.11b

2.4 GHz

35 m

100 mW

1999

11 Mbps

802.11a

5.0 GHz

35 m

100 mW

1999

54 Mbps

802.11g

2.4 GHz

70 m

100 mW

2003

54 Mbps

802.11n

2.4 GHz
5.0 GHz

70 m

100 mW

2009

600 Mbps

802.11ac

5.0 GHz

35 m

160 mW

2013

6.93 Gbps

802.11ad

60 GHz

10 m

10 mW

2016

6.76 Gbps


Bottom line, if your network is running on hardware that is more than five years old, or its configuration does not include redundancy, your users won’t get enough performance and reliability.

The network engineering and operation teams that design, install, and maintain the network are a fundamental asset of your network. The network engineering team translates business requirements into a design, while the network operations team assures a smooth and uneventful run of the network, assuring minimal network downtime. Companies that invest in employees’ training will see great returns and improved network performance and reliability.

The network monitoring software that verifies performance and connectivity of remote sites should report all the information that is needed to assure and validate that the end-users are having a good experience with the network and applications. Network monitoring software accomplishes this task by collecting key performance indicators and metrics that tell whether the network meets the service level agreements established with the end-users and applications and set in the business requirements. Here is a partial list of some of the most important network metrics:

Area

Metric

Test

Recommended frequency

WAN connection

Latency

PING

5 seconds – 30 seconds

WAN connection

Packet loss

PING

5 seconds – 30 seconds

WAN connection

Internet bandwidth

Speedtest

5 minutes – 1 hour

WAN connection

WAN throughput

Iperf

5 minutes – 1 hour

WiFi

Authentication time

SSID association and disassociation

5 minutes – 1 hour

WiFi

Latency

PING

5 seconds – 30 seconds

WiFi

Packet loss

PING

5 seconds – 30 seconds

VoIP

Mean Opinion Score

VoIP test

5 minutes – 1 hour

Web browsing

Webpage loading

HTTP test

1 minute – 5 minutes


Conclusion
Operating a Wide Area Network that services many remote locations is not an easy task. The higher the number of network locations, the more problems there are that need to be addressed by the network engineers. Regardless of the number of network locations that a WAN services, network monitoring introduces efficiency in troubleshooting and assures proactive detection of network performance and downtime issues. 

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