What tests should you run on your wireless LAN?

Wireless test vendor VeriWave has released a “master test plan” to guide enterprises in testing wireless LAN gear for performance, behaviors and characteristics.

The 190-page free downloadable document is designed to help network administrators know what to test in order to verify their equipment purchase decisions, according to the Portland, Ore., vendor.

VeriWave’s products work with different brands of WLAN access points and controllers, simulating users and their traffic. The software runs, records and analyzes a broad array of automated tests to review in depth the WLAN’s performance. Azimuth Systems is the other leading vendor in this market, which has traditionally been comprised of equipment manufacturers and carriers. The VeriWave test system is routinely used in Network World’s ClearChoice wireless tests and reviews.

The new “Master Test Plan for Wireless LANS and Muni-Wireless Networks” focuses this expertise on the enterprise market, says Eran Karoloy, vice president of marketing for VeriWave. The report is an answer to a common question, he says: “What do I need to test to verify the equipment I’m going to purchase will do what I need it to do?”

The test plan identifies 1,000 separate tests, broken down into several testable parts:

– Data, measuring such things as TCP throughput, or the data forwarding rate.

– Control, checking how many clients can connect to an access point, or how traffic loads are balanced across access points.

– QoS, studying for example, how well the network differentiates between voice/streaming applications and regular data traffic.

– And, security, to evaluate how it works with various security clients, or performs with backend RADIUS servers. “A user can run all of them or pick and choose the ones relevant to their network,” Karoloy says.

For each test, the master plan describes it, identifies its goal and its business benefits, explains how to run it and what results the tester should look for.

Many of the tests, not surprisingly, require VeriWave’s products but not all. Some can be run with a wireless notebook or handheld computer and open source or third-party software applications. But Karoloy doesn’t expect too many enterprise network executives to buy the VeriWave gear for internal tests. Instead, the master plan offers a laundry list of test data that enterprise users can request from WLAN vendors. “They should demand to see the test results,” he says. “It’s the only way to keep them honest.”

VeriWave QoS tests, for example, can differentiate how a vendor’s access point handles mixed voice and data traffic from 20 associated access points, under certain specific traffic priorities and background data traffic scenarios. The results are presented in specific measures of voice quality for each set of assumptions.

On the WLAN performance side, the tests reveal how the access point responds with different numbers of simultaneous users.

The master test plan can also shed light on vendor security claims. “Vendors will claim, ‘we support 802.1X [authentication],'” Karoloy says. “But one of our tests goes through each security [authentication] scheme, and confirms the equipment can support each and every one.”

Enterprise users won’t have to wade through megabytes of raw data. In 2006, VeriWave introduced automated report summaries, in PDF format, for the VeriWave test systems. Text is combined with bar charts, graphs and other presentations to summarize and clarify the data.

The Master Test Plan is free.

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