RealTime IT News

Simplified WLAN Analysis: The AirMagnet Attraction Part 3

Last week, in Part 2 of our analysis, we showed how AirMagnet can be used for site surveys and to improve existing WLAN installation. Now that we've seen AirMagnet in action, it's time to talk to an actual WISP that uses it, and to learn about future AirMagnet products.

Rapid growth

According to CEO Dean Au, over 500 paying customers have purchased AirMagnet. Not bad for a small startup, founded under two years ago, with nine months on the market. Customers include some very big names in the vertical markets that are driving WLAN deployment. A few examples:

  • manufacturing (e.g., GM, Toyota)
  • retail (e.g., Nordstrom, McDonalds)
  • entertainment (e.g., Ticketmaster, Harrahs)
  • financial (e.g., Federal Reserve, Mastercard)
  • medical (e.g., Stanford Medical Center, Independence Blue Cross)
  • transportation (e.g., Delta, Hertz, FEDEX)
  • energy (e.g., Chevron-Texaco)
  • education (e.g., UCLA, Johns Hopkins)
  • government (e.g., CDC, DoD)
  • defense (e.g., Boeing, Lockheed-Martin)

"McDonalds is looking at using our combo tool to do internal IT assessments," said Au. "Harrahs have 26 properties. They purchased four units to start, and plan to deploy about 50 units, primarily for performance and security analysis. FEDEX is using AirMagnet to survey and analyze performance in their packing distribution center hub."

Network equipment and technology suppliers, systems integrators, and consulting firms are also drawn to AirMagnet. Industry heavyweights like Cisco, Agere, Intel, Microsoft, Motorola, EDS, IBM Global Services, and KPMG have all purchased the product. AirMagnet is working with one consulting firm to equip 300 field technicians with AirMagnet, literally clipping units onto workbelts.

Carrier and service provider customers include NTT, AT&T Wireless, Spring, Verizon, Swisscom Mobile, and Cox Communications. According to Au, Sprint and Verizon are probably using AirMagnet initially for internal WLAN administration. NTT/DoCoMo is using AirMagnet for hotspot site surveys.

According to AirMagnet CTO Chia-Chee Kuan, another hotspot operator just purchased 10 units for use by field technicians. Techs run through a checklist of about 65 steps at each new venue. "They use AirMagnet to spot and log SSIDs and signal trends during the initial site survey. On routine spotchecks, they identify any problems and collect information about SSIDs and APs (not necessarily theirs) to know how crowded the area is." Logged results are fed into central database that is used to make business decisions.

Case study: Covansys

To dig deeper, we contacted another customer, Covansys, a global technology and consulting services company. Covansys employee Jeff Peterson evaluated several analyzers last summer before choosing AirMagnet as part of his team's technology toolbox.

"We use AirMagnet for data collection and audit functions in our wireless technology consulting services," explained Peterson. "This mostly involves security audits and wireless infrastructure planning/implementation. Because keeping our consultants well-trained on emerging technologies can be a challenge, we need tools they can utilize that are powerful, intuitive and have a wide range of functionality."

"The way data is collected and presented within AirMagnet makes determining signal strength and noise a very simple process," added Peterson. "When we are mapping out a location for a wireless infrastructure, AirMagnet is quick and easy to use. Based on results from our initial surveys, using AirMagnet for access point placement, antenna type and power levels, we have great results every time."

"From a technical point of view, the most important feature is the ability to work in conjunction with Cisco's LEAP wireless architecture," said Peterson. "I am not aware of any other products similar to AirMagnet that have the ability to interoperate both with Cisco's LEAP architecture as well as 'standard' encrypted and open 802.11b networks. Because the majority of our clients are early adopters of LEAP, we require [this feature] to meet the needs of our clients."

Peterson considered other wireless tools on both Linux and Windows platforms, including freeware like NetStumbler (for discovery), Kismet (for throughput analysis), and Ethereal (for packet analysis), and commercial analyzers like WildPackets' AiroPeek and Network Associates' Sniffer Wireless. "Without going into a head to head comparison of these tools, the single biggest decision factor for us was cost," said Peterson. "This makes a big difference to budget constrained IT departments (and consulting firms!). We feel that, with AirMagnet, there is much more value for the IT dollar."

The handheld form factor was another a key for Covansys. "All our consultants have laptops that most of the other tools available would run on, but it is quite uncomfortable to lug a laptop around in a site that encompasses a few acres just to record some signal propagation characteristics," argued Peterson. "The handheld is the perfect tool for this application." AirMagnet's form factor was rather unique when Covansys made its selection last summer, but several other handheld analyzers are now available, including YellowJacket by Berkeley Varitronics Systems, Fluke Networks' WaveRunner, and a Pocket PC version of Sniffer Wireless.

"One of the most effective ways to ensure a wireless network is as safe and secure as possible is to perform regular scans," said Peterson. "AirMagnet makes this simple plus provides the functionality to drill down into more onerous problems when they arise. We would feel comfortable handing an AirMagnet platform to a person with average system admin type skills and getting them to be productive with it in just a few minutes for some of the basic chores of maintaining wireless network security and performance."

Of course, no product is perfect. Peterson cited the same sore spot identified during our evaluation: tight-coupling with PC cards. "For the most part, we use the Proxim card that came with the package, although to use the LEAP features, a Cisco card is essential," said Peterson. "I rely on my Orinoco (Lucent) card when I am using other (Linux-based) wireless tools. The point is that I end up with three cards and all their associated drivers and configuration settings. It's kind of a pain, but until there is just one chipset out there, it's something that is going to happen. We have to be ready for anything that our clients may have, from Linksys access points to Cisco Access Control Servers."

Reprinted from ISP-Planet.