The Tools Make the Engineer

By Nick Shoemaker, Blog Contributor
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There is an adage that we have all heard at one point or another in our lives, “The right tool for the right job.” In networking, this old saying is especially true. There are so many tools in the world for networking professionals that at times, it’s hard to really know if they are worth the cost or how to actually get the most out of them.

Networking tools can be a great advantage for an engineer to design, implement and troubleshoot a network, but they can also be a danger if they are not understood and used properly. Most networks today have some sort of management system that handles daily tasks for device management, upgrades and troubleshooting. When using an Aruba system, both wired and wireless, AirWave is the management platform to handle daily management tasks, firmware management, deployment of remote sites and troubleshooting. Aruba Central is also a good cloud-based management tool for smaller remote sites that need centralized management and troubleshooting capabilities.

Networking tools, as stated above, are used for design, deployment as well as troubleshooting. Design tools come in many flavors and depend on whether you are designing for wired or wireless networks. Manufacturers have some basic tools for design, but specialized tools are always going to be a better option. There are associated costs and trainings that go with the tools. However, using the wrong tool and in the wrong way can cost significantly more in the long run.

Deployment tools are becoming more and more mainstream with options like Python for writing scripts to do configurations or solutions like AirWave to push a mass deployment to many devices and sites for management and control. Again, without the proper training, these tools can wreak havoc on a network if used improperly, causing misconfigurations, errors in configurations and so on.

Troubleshooting is where networking tools really show their mettle and can make or break an engineer as well. For years, the go-to tool for troubleshooting was always ping. If the packet makes it everything is working right? In theory yes, but do you know what that packet was really doing? So, traceroute was used to see the path the packet was taking. Everything looks fine and the packet makes it, then we are all good right?

To really see what is happening with packets and traffic flow, the de facto for wired and wireless is to grab some packet captures as near to the end device as possible and then use a tool like Wireshark to analyze the packets and try to see what is actually happening. Wireshark also, from a wireless perspective, provides a ton of insight into what the client device is trying to do as well as the network device, in this case an access point, as well as what is supported for the client to connect and function. There are a number of tutorials and great classes out there for Wireshark and other tools for the same purpose, such as OmniPeek.

But, how can an engineer know what the client is really seeing? Logs are okay, but only give us part of the picture. Aruba User Experience Insight provides a system for doing just that. An engineer can set up a User Experience Insight Sensor either on a local network or on a remote network and connect to the network just as a user would. The sensor then checks in with the User Experience Insight cloud and begins to provide analytical data to show any issues with connectivity, such as DHCP, DNS, wireless connectivity, Internet or cloud-based connectivity. Once the sensors are deployed, the system will give a 24x7 view of the network and can even be set for different rooms, areas, or regions with alerts that activate at thresholds. With little training needed and an all in one place view of deployed sensors, troubleshooting becomes easier, especially when paired with AirWave or Central for end-to-end troubleshooting of user and network devices.

Tools are only as good as the craftsman and network tools are only as useful as the engineer using them. When used properly in the right hands network tools can be a significant advantage to engineers in the field, but if used improperly, they can cause chaos as well. Use with caution, the right training and remember always measure twice and cut once.

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