More Dashboards Do Not Equal Better Wi-Fi Performance

By Lee Badman, Blog Contributor
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Dashboards are a way of life in networking, and always have been. We deal with copious amounts of information, from simple monitoring of network devices and key performance metrics to tracking clients and applications. The more complex the environment, the busier our dashboards get. Wi-Fi environments can get pretty darn complex, and every vendor has their own dashboard offerings. I’m a firm believer that accurate information is among our most powerful support tools and so the right dashboard is a critical asset.

Too Much of a Good Thing
Remember that there are only so many dashboards we can digest and make use of simultaneously. Dashboards we have in the same environment frequently overlap in functionality, and when two interfaces show the same data in different lights, it can be hard to know which one can be trusted.

Of late, we have a trend where artificial intelligence and machine learning are touted as the sole reasons why some third-party dashboards can find problems you didn’t know you had, anticipate problems before they hit, and basically function as a virtual Harry Potter in magically fixing all the woes that are playing out in your environment. Sounds nice, but do you actually needyet another tool looking at the same environment?

Trust What You Already Have
Chances are, if you have a big Aruba WLAN, you already own the AirWave network management platform. Between AirWave and other like resources like syslog, it may not make operational or financial sense to fall for other dashboard sales pitches. You are already sitting on a wealth of performance information with the dashboard resources that you’ve invested in. If it seems that you’re not getting what you need out of the systems that you already own, it may be worth getting expert help from an Aruba partner to knock down the noise and better bubble up the problems that the others guys promise to show you.

As with a good intrusion prevention system, network performance dashboards also need tuning to be truly useful. Your alerts may be my false alarms, and my false alarms may be another engineer’s overwhelming noise from the same dashboard if we haven’t put the time in to tuning – and often we do not. Tune ‘em up!

Prevent Problems with Good Design
Where colleagues have found value in some of the same third-party dashboards that I have ultimately passed on after evaluating them, it seems that many of the problems identified boil down to poor underlying network design.

Put another way, the expensive dashboard has identified issues that will be expensive to fix to get past expensive reputational damage, but all that expense could have been saved if the network was designed right to begin with. The dashboard has appeal in that it will solve “problems,” but the problems are often cans that were kicked down the road when the WLAN was put in without professional design or verification. A well-designed, implemented, and integrated network is your best insurance policy against the siren song of sexy third-party dashboards.

In no way am I anti-dashboard as a rule. Without good NMS and syslog dashboards, I’d be at a serious disadvantage when trouble hits. But on a healthy and well-designed network created and supported by trained professionals, trouble is usually centered around specific network users or devices and not at system defects. Trust your choice in WLAN vendor and the quality WLAN professionals who implemented the wireless environment. Tune your dashboards and look for other places to spend the money you don’t spend on competing dashboards.

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