Network Management Software Archive

Cloud routers–the current hot feature for the home network

Increasingly every home-networking equipment vendor is pitching a mid-range or high-end router range that offers “cloud” abilities and features. This kind of feature was simply offered as a remote-access feature but is being marketed under the cloud term, used as a way to make their devices appear to look cool to the customers.

These features are more about simplifying the process of providing authorised users remote access to the control functionality and similar features on these devices and providing this kind of access to someone who is using a smartphone or tablet. It also extends to file access for those of us who connect an external hard disk to these devices to purpose them as network storage.

What benefits does this offer for the home network router

The key feature that is offered for these devices is the ability to allow you to manage them from any Internet connection. This may be about troubleshooting your connection or locking down the Internet connection for rarely-occupied premises like a holiday home or city apartment.

If you connect an external hard disk to your cloud-capable router, you would have the same remote-access functionality as a cloud-capable NAS. This means that you could put and get data while you are on the road using your regular or mobile computing device and an Internet connection.

Some vendors integrate an application-level gateway to their cloud-assisted network services like video surveillance as part of this cloud functionality. This allows you to gain access to these services from the same point of entry as you are provided for your router.

How is this achieved

Like the cloud NAS, this involves the vendor providing a dynamic DNS service to aid in discovery of your router along with the use of SSL and other technologies to create a secure path to your router’s management dashboard.

It is also assisted with a client-side app for the mobile computing platforms so as to provide an integrated operational experience for your smartphone or tablet. This caters for items like access to the notification list, use of the interface style that is distinctive for the platform as well as the ability to get and put files according to what the platform allows.

Vendors who offer other cloud-based services would provide an application-level gateway in the router that ties in with these services and the devices that benefit from them. This is to provide a tight and finished user experience across all of their devices on your network, and is a way to keep you “vendor-loyal”.

Current limitations with this setup and what can be done

As we head towards cloud-capable network devices and add more of these devices to our networks, we will end up with a situation where we have to remember multiple Web addresses and user logins for each of these destinations. The manufacturers like D-Link would exploit this by integrating the cloud functionality for all of their devices or, more likely, devices within certain product ranges so that a user comes in to one entry point to benefit from the cloud functionality for that manufacturer’s device universe.

But the reality is that most of us would create a heterogenous network with devices supplied by different manufacturers and of different product classes. Here, one would have to keep a list of usernames, passwords and Web entry points or install multiple apps on a mobile device to benefit from every device’s cloud functionality.

Similarly, a manufacturer would be interested in evolving their “cloud-side” part of the equation for newer products but could place older products at risk of being shut out. Here, they could maintain the same functionality by keeping the remote access functionality alive and passing stability and security improvements to those of us who maintain the older devices.

Of course, working on systems that are true to industry standards and specifications like TR-069 for remote management can allow for pure interoperability and a future-proof environment. It can also allow for increased flexibility and the ability for third parties to provide the “cloud router” services with their own functionality and branding.

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nVoy–to simplify managing small networks

Website – From the horse’s mouth

nVoy home

My Comments

WD MyNet Range Extender

With nVoy, these devices become easier to set up and integrate in your network

There have been some previous methods available to allow one to manage a network from their desktop. One of these was SMNP which is used primarily to manage equipment in larger networks and is very difficult for anyone to use unless they had good IT skills. Another of these is TR-069 which was developed by the Broadband Forum for use by ISPs and telcos to set up and manage consumer modem routers.

These protocols, like a lot of other network discovery and management protocols relied on an operational network existing between the controller and the controlled device. Similarly, they haven’t work well as a way to allow an average householder or small-business owner to manage a small network effectively and with minimal help.

But a newer specification, known as the iEEE 1905.1 control specification had been set in stone and declared formal. It is now marketed as the nVoy specification and works at a level to manage network segments at the media level.

This is very important with the home-network setups that I prefer and stand for where there is an Ethernet and/or HomePlug AV wired network backbone along with an 802.11n Wi-Fi wireless network segment covering the property where the network is set up at.

This allows logic to be constructed to manage a Wi-Fi, HomePlug AV, MoCA or Cat5 Ethernet segment that is part of the typical home network without having to have a full IP logical network being alive across the whole network.  It also means that media-peculiar network-setup and diagnostics parameters like the ESSIDs and WPA2-Personal passphrases required for wireless networks can be propagated over different network media like Ethernet or HomePlug wired-network segments.

This simplifies setup routines like creating new Wi-Fi wireless or HomePlug AV powerline segments in a secure manner; or adding additional network devices to the existing heterogenous multi-segment small network. It even encompasses the establishment of secondary access points in order to extend the coverage of a Wi-Fi wireless network in a “cellular” fashion.

The user experience would be based on using NFC “touch-and-go” setup or two-button “push-push” setup of new Wi-Fi and HomePlug devices. As well, you would be able to manage the network from devices that use a full management interface, whether local to the network or remotely via something like TR-069 or SMNP.

Even through the life-cycle of the network, the nVoy specification can allow one to use a management interface at one single point of control to bring up diagnostic information about the network or parts thereof so as to identify points of failure or to optimise the network for best performance. The fact that nVoy is determined as a standard could allow computer operating-system developers to bake this function in to subsequent versions of their operating systems and establish one point of control in the operating system user interface.

Beyond the ease of setup and troubleshooting that it offers for small networks, nVoy has the ability to enable easy-to-manage “multiple concurrent pipe” connections in an easy-to-manage form. This allows for two or more connections to be aggregated for higher throughput, as a load-balancing arrangement so that particular traffic can go via one connection while other traffic goes via another connection as well as a fail-over arrangement if things don’t work out on one pipe. This will be more real with the common practice to equip most client devices with two or more network “on-ramps” such as Ethernet and Wi-Fi wireless.

Personally, I would also like to see nVoy work with most client devices in extending their network abilities. For example, a network printer or consumer AV device that has integrated Wi-Fi wireless and a wired connection like Ethernet or HomePlug be able to allow you to set up the Wi-Fi connectivity as an access point if it is connected to the network via the wired connection. Similarly, the same device could be set up as a wireless client bridge for another device like a PS3 or Blu-Ray player that is connected to the Ethernet socket on the device when it is connected via the wireless connection.

Similarly, the nVoy specification could also tackle quality-of-service for IP telephony, AV streaming and real-time gaming so as to guarantee throughput for these network activities. As well, when standards evolve for synchronous “broadcast” network activity on the different media such as for multi-channel wireless speakers or party-streaming modes, nVoy could be used to support network-wide synchronising abilities for these applications.

What I applaud about nVoy being set in stone is that the small network becomes easier to manage whether it is based on one segment or medium or uses many different segments or media.

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Product Review–WiFi Analyzer (Android)

Links:

Android Market direct link

qrcode

Click on or scan this barcode from your Android device to install this program.

Introduction

I am reviewing WiFi Analyzer which is an elementary wireless-network site-survey tool for the Android platform. This program is free-to-download but is ad-supported with ads that can be suppressed for a few weeks at a time through a user option. There is also the ability for users to donate via PayPal to keep the program being developed.

Like all other WiFi site-survey tools, this program relies on the “beacon” information sent out by wireless networks at regular information and a low-traffic wireless network may occasionally show up on the program’s radar whereas a regularly-used network will exist on the program’s radar.

Data views

This program has a few different methods of visualising the wireless-network space that your Android device as listed below.

There is a Channel graph which, like inSSIDer, can show the relative strength of each SSID on the Y axis and channel positioning on the X axis. This can be useful for determining whether a wireless network is being swamped out by other networks or determining where to tune the wireless access point’s operating channel to.

Wi-Fi Analyzer for Android Channel Graph

Wi-Fi Analyzer Channel Graph

There is also a time graph which shows relative signal strength of access points over a time period. This can be useful for determining what happens when a certain network comes on line for example.

There is also an access-point list which lists each access point that the Android phone can pick up. Here, you are provided with the ESSID, BSSID, channel number and security type (including WPS capability) of each access point and can have this sorted by ESSID, channel,signal strength or security type (“openness”). This list can be grouped by ESSID and security type so you can identify multi-access-point networks. This view may not be accurate if you have multiple wireless routers in an area set to default SSIDs like “linksys” or “dlink” but working on different WEP keys or WPA passphrases.

Wi-Fi Analyzer Network List

Wi-Fi Analyzer Network List by ESSID

There is a Channel-rating bar graph which measures channel useability by the number of stars where the more stars that exist, the better the channel is for your network. You can also “set” an access point to this graph so you can compare channels to the one it is tuned to at the moment. Again, this would come in handy for tuning the access point for best operation.

Lastly, there is a Signal strength meter which allows you to measure the signal strength of an access point. This can be useful for locating rogue or interfering access points or simply to determine the coverage of an access point.

Wi-Fi Analyzer signal strength meter

Wi-Fi Analyzer signal strength meter

There is the ability for one to connect to a network if the user installs the “WiFi Connector Library” either through the application or by visiting the Android Market. This can allow the user to “lock-on” to a network while monitoring other wireless access points.

It works well as a basic handheld tool for setting up a new wireless router or access point or keeping a small wireless network operating at its best. For businesses who run public wireless hotspots, this program allows them to assess their hotspot’s performance or find rogue access points (fake hotspots / evil-twins).

Usage tests

I had put the program to some usage tests with different wireless networks including my own and a wireless hotspot, This hotspot was a complementary-use service run by a small independently-run cafe whom I have been helping out with concerning its performance and keeping it “business-safe”. Here, I used the signal-strength meter to check that there was proper signal coverage over the public dining room and terrace area of that cafe. I also used the channel-graph view to determine if there are other access points or ad-hoc wireless networks able to be picked up in the cafe. Both of these functions worked well with assessing the hotspot’s coverage and quality-of-service.

As well, I used it in two shopping strips to assess how it and the Samsung Galaxy S Android handset that I was running it on could handle many wireless networks. It is able to identify each SSID and plot it properly on the graph and could cope with me walking into and out of particular access-point coverage ranges.

Limitations and Points of Improvement

For this application, the program could support “whitelisting” of BSSIDs against an ESSID so that one can easily know if the access point that is using your ESSID is really your network. This would work well with managing public networks like wireless hotspots by identifying rogue access points like the aforementioned “fake hotspots”. It can also work well with managing multiple-access-point wireless networks.

A “Pro” version, which would be sold for at an extra cost and wouldn’t have in-app advertising, could provide various extra functions like SSID whitelist management for use in optimising or managing wireless-network activity in particular sites or GPS support for “plotting” network coverage maps or the ability to keep standard log files for use with desktop software.

It is worth noting that this program is restricted to the frequency bands that the smartphone or tablet can cover and this is typically the 2.4GHz platform. At the moment, there aren’t any Android devices that can cover the 5GHz spectrum using their own hardware.

Conclusion

At last this is a program that answers my need for a cost-effective easy-to-use handheld network-survey tool in a popular smartphone platform. It can therefore be a good companion program to the inSSIDer program that I had previously reviewed on this site.

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Product Review – MetaGeek inSSIDer Wireless Network Analyser

The program is a free download from the MetaGeek Website or other download directories like TuCOWS or CNet. There is another application from this same team that works with a 2.4GHz spectrum analyzer for use in determining interference on this band, but it comes at extra cost.

The installation routine didn’t take long when I installed it on a Dell Studio 15 laptop that was lent to me as a review sample. It could work with the standard Wi-Fi network card that came with this laptop and could therefore work with any Wi-Fi network adaptor that is used with the host computer.

The program provides a “dashboard” with three concurrent views:inssider-screen

  • a table which lists the Wi-Fi networks that the program can find with their SSID, BSSID (MAC address) and channel for each detected wireless network.
  • a signal-strength / time graph for all of the discovered Wi-Fi networks
  • a signal-strength / channel graph for all of the discovered Wi-Fi networks

As far as I am concerned, the highlight of this program is the signal-strength / channel graph which is useful for identifying channel clashes or blank channels that you can tune the wireless access point to.

One of the main limitations is that it doesn’t detect “extended service set” networks nor does it support detection of multi-SSID access points which become a wireless on-ramp for many networks.. This may be of concern when using this program to manage routers with “guest-network” functionality or managing hotspots. Another improvement that I would like to see would be to provide for network grouping by SSID or BSSID (MAC address) so you can identify “foreign” networks easily.This would then help in identifying rogue access points or “evil-twin” hotspots easily.

I would then determine it as being very useful for “tuning” a wireless access point or router so it can coexist with other Wi-Fi networks, either as part of setting one up or troubleshooting a network. I would also recommend it as an essential tool for hotspot owners who want to keep their hotspot networks operating in an optimum manner and providing good customer service. It can also work well in “smoking out” rogue access points or fake “evil-twin” hotspots.

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