connectivity matters
mining dump truck March 15, 2013

Network Drift – Extending the Discipline from Wired to Wireless

No matter how well a wireless mesh network is planned and deployed, bad things happen to it over time. Devices are added. New applications are supported. Antennae are moved. A new setting is not optimized. Infrastructure is poorly located. Batteries are down. Suddenly, the network is not working as it should.

We call this phenomenon “network drift.” It’s a real problem, and it’s entirely avoidable.  On the surface, it appears to be an issue of network management, and it is.  There is also, however, a substantial and complicated economic element to be considered, along with thorny ownership and maintenance concerns.

Any large network requires change control and continuous maintenance.  There are many fine network management tools on the market that provide a good birds-eye view of network assets, setting, antennae, etc., and let us oversee and manage the network. But they are only as effective as we let them be.

Factor in the dynamic nature of the typical Kinetic Mesh network, with dozens of moving assets and multiple changes, and the scope of Network Drift becomes even more complicated. Diligence and the discipline of proactive management should be even more stringent with wireless networks. Unfortunately, the opposite is almost always true.

Most companies have very specific rules governing change control for their wired networks.  For some reason, these rules don’t always extend to the wireless side.  This isn’t due to negligence.  It’s more a case of the mesh network not fitting the description of a typical ‘network’ – with a wired closet and fixed desktop assets, routers, etc. It’s not inside the building. It’s almost as if this network doesn’t exist. But it does exist, and in the absence of discipline, drift is inevitable.

In the coming weeks, we will share some examples of network drift encountered in the field, and some best practices for keeping it under control.  There’s no magic formula or proprietary technology involved – just some lessons learned in designing, deploying, and managing the most dynamic networks in some of the most challenging environments on Earth.

It’s about network management. Tools help us oversee and manage the network, but they are only as effective as you left them be. Factor in the mobility and dynamic nature of the typical kinetic mesh network, and the picture becomes more complicated.

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