Connecting the Internet of Things | NETSCOUT
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Connecting the Internet of Things

Introduction

The Internet of Things (IoT) can be daunting to understand considering the overwhelming amount of articles available on the subject. Meanwhile, the rapid proliferation of new IoT devices continues in both our personal lives as well as in virtually every industry. The purpose of this document is to quell the hype and facilitate a discussion of how to prepare for and manage an IoT deployment at a fundamental level.

This document will provide some best practices to help you understand how to deploy, validate and troubleshoot using purpose-built solutions that are designed to be quick and easy to use, such that anyone on the IT team of any skill level can become proficient at these tasks, allowing organizations to do more with the available staff.

The Drive for IoT

Digital transformation is driving a rapid proliferation of IoT devices, which will require IP connectivity and – in many cases – network-delivered power. Organizations are moving towards more IoT connected devices in an effort to drive down operational costs, and upgrade building automation systems to achieve efficiency gains, such as in HVAC and lighting as just two examples. This move compels integration and cooperation across IT, and OT (Operational Technology) organizations and technologies. This puts increasing demands on already-strained enterprise access networks and support resources. The image below provides an example as to the breadth of the types of devices that are becoming network connected.

An example showing the breadth of IoT connected devices. © Cisco Systems, Used with Permission.

Other devices may be connected via a PAN (Personal Area Network) with technologies such as wireless ZigBee, Bluetooth or the new Bluetooth 5 developed with IoT in mind. These PAN devices are usually connected to the networks via some kind of Field Gateway which is connected to the Ethernet network. There are other connectivity technologies – such as cellular technologies 3G, 4G and in the future 5G – for connecting IoT devices but the majority of devices, currently an estimated 10 billion, are connected in some way to an Ethernet 802.3 wired or 802.11 wireless connection. Connecting IoT devices or machines to each other and other control systems requires the skills of a highly-skilled network engineer. However, using the right tools that are designed to be used by any skill level through automated tests and pre-configured profiles will ensure an effective deployment as well as ongoing support and troubleshooting.

Strategies to Ensure a Successful Deployment

It is important to understand the challenges of deployment that can occur not only across organizational silos, but also those that are likely to occur when outside vendors are involved. As noted earlier in this document, some types of devices you may be deploying would be typically part of the operational technology (OT, or facilities) group, such as lighting, access controls, and HVAC. However, since these systems will now become network-connected and likely require Power over Ethernet (PoE) for power, facilitating collaboration between IT, OT and any third-party vendors should be a principle component in your deployment strategy. You can imagine that between all the various groups involved, each may only have a perspective of their specific component, which could mean finger-pointing should problems arise. This can become frustrating, time-consuming and expensive, so advanced planning and communications are key to lessen or eliminate the finger pointing.

Planning Considerations

During the planning phase, you should take into consideration both local and remote site needs with regard to IT support, device configuration, network connectivity testing requirements and performance, plus the need for documentation. Consider including the following components in your project plan:

Identify IT Resources

Give some thought to the resources you have available to help with deployment as well as on-going support. As you think about these resources, consider how enabling more individuals could help to offload deployment and troubleshooting tasks from more senior technicians or network engineering. Senior network engineers are typically frustrated by the volume of escalations that distract them from important IT projects. Through use of the right toolset, many organizations are finding success in enabling lower-level technicians to find more problems on their own or provide them with the ability to escalate more effectively with actionable visibility. This alleviates workload from network engineering, improves collaboration, and enables teams to be more efficient with the same staffing resources.

Network Connectivity Requirements

Every deployment and network environment will have its own set of unique network connectivity requirements. Spending time up front to identify what these parameters are will save time and frustration down the road by having a standardized and agreed upon network connectivity requirement. As part of defining this requirement, you should establish a plan for both how it will be validated and who will do the validation. You will want to find a way to run the required set of tests in an automated, consistent way that allows a broader team to help spread the workload across more people, regardless of their skill level. An example of validation parameters would include:

  • Required PoE voltage level at the connection jack
  • Speed/duplex
  • Switch detail, such name slot/port/VLAN
  • Internet connectivity address/port

Documentation Needs

Documentation of connection path between jack and switch slot/port/VLAN as well as other parameters, such as information about the connected devices is desired, but not always easy to obtain and maintain. Documentation is also essential for when problems arise down the road. Having a baseline of what things looked like when everything was working and connected properly saves significant time when troubleshooting. Define what information would be useful to your organization to have along with how it should be organized, be it by site, floor or other. Also, identify who will need access to this information during both the initial input of information as well as down the road when it would be useful in troubleshooting.

Avoiding Finger-Pointing

There may be many departments and outside contractors involved with the installation and ongoing maintenance of IoT devices and systems. Therefore, it is imperative that all involved come together under one project to assess, identify, and agree on the connectivity requirements for the deployment, as well as access to device configuration resources be it on premises, in the cloud, or Android app-based1. This ensures that all parties understand the requirements for the deployment and what performance is expected of the device for ongoing maintenance and troubleshooting. Once the network and services requirements are completed, a set of network connectivity tests and reporting requirements for validating the installation, together with an ongoing support strategy and ownership, should be specified.

Qualifying Network Services

When organizations deploy or troubleshoot IoT devices, the most fundamental component is the ability to ensure the network services required to support the connected device are configured and working correctly. Network services would include link speed/duplex, PoE, switch configuration, IP address assignment, DNS and Gateway connectivity and connectivity to required resources.

By having an automated method to perform each test the same way every time, organizations can not only ensure a consistent and repeatable testing process, but should a problem occur, the automated test will provide an indication of the problem domain. When an escalation to network engineering is needed, problem triage can begin faster with actionable visibility into problem domain. It helps knowing what tests were already run by the technician so time is not wasted performing the same tests, so more advanced troubleshooting can begin right at the core of the issue.

IoT Device Configuration

During both the deployment and ongoing support, you should have an understanding as to how your devices are configured and managed, even if a third party will be doing the initial install. Today, most device vendors have either an Android app-based1, or cloud-based application to facilitate device configuration. You should familiarize yourself with what is available for the devices being deployed and by whom, and how those applications will be accessed during deployment as well as ongoing support and troubleshooting. This will help you to identify both resource responsibilities at the various project phases, and what tools and connectivity methods are required.

The Right Tool for the Job

When identifying the test parameters necessary to validate IoT device deployment, it is important to consider the test equipment that will be able to meet your needs. The most important factor is to ensure a consistent, repeatable set of tests (i.e., an AutoTest), which ensures the same tests with the same test limits can be initiated by all technicians throughout the deployment project. This, along with the ability to obtain test records in an automated way to a central database of measurement results, will provide not only a platform for collaboration and reporting but also a baseline of correct connectivity, useful for future troubleshooting. This central view of results could identify a common component or service failure very quickly, therefore averting a major project delay or major expense. This also facilitates ongoing support after the devices have been installed and commissioned. This could be local or remote support allowing more experienced engineers to collaborate and help resolve problems faster by using the tester’s remote visibility via the cloud service or real-time control over the network.

Consider different tool requirements based on skill level of user, varying requirements by site, and of course budget to find the solution mix that’s right for your organization. Having the right solution can also prove useful should finger-pointing occur, by being able to identify if a given problem is in the network or the device itself.

Deploying 802.3 Wired Ethernet IoT devices

When installing or commissioning 802.3 wired Ethernet devices you should validate network services through testing of the connectivity requirements you identified during the planning phase. The most effective way to do this is through creation of an AutoTest “profile” that can be run by anyone on the deployment team. Using a pre-defined test profile provides a consistent, standardized testing methodology.

The AutoTest should perform the following tests:

  • First verify PoE under load at the jack where the IoT device will connect to ensure enough power is being provided by the switch to ensure proper function. The under load test is important particularly in environments where you will be deploying devices such as digital lighting that require higher levels of power. Even if the cabling has passed a certification test, it does not mean that the complete system is providing the necessary level of power. Loaded testing means that you are able to see the “requested vs. received” power levels from the point at which the device will connect to the network. It is also important to be able to see what pairs PoE is running over to ensure proper configuration. The tool you are using must be capable of supporting loaded testing up to the highest wattage a given device may require in order to run.

Figure 1: LinkRunner G2 single page AutoTest Results.

Figure 2: LinkRunner G2 in-depth test result detail for PoE. User can drill into more detail for each test.

  • Next, link speed and duplex. When Ethernet devices try to connect to each other, a negotiation takes place to establish maximum speed and duplex at which they can communicate prior to establishing the link. Low-speed and/or inefficient half-duplex connections are to be avoided for bandwidth heavy applications.
  • The next step to be verified is IPv4 addressing, this may be provided by Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol (DHCP) or via static addressing, which is more likely if the device is to be permanently connected to the network. During the DHCP process, or if the device IP is statically set, the DNS (Domain Name System) server address(s) will need to be identified and the DNS server response time verified. The tool should also preferably be future proof by being ready to verify IPv6 addressing.

Having a standardized AutoTest ensures the same tests are made by multiple tools and technicians. This provides consistent testing throughout the project, and quickly shows any anomalies between tests.

Another useful feature is the ability to validate the physical cable and identify distance-to-fault, be it an open, short, or split pair. It is also helpful to quickly identify reversed and crossed pairs.

Figure 3: LinkRunner G2 cable test result.

Deploying 802.11 Wireless LAN IoT devices

As with wired Ethernet devices, 802.11 wireless LAN devices will also need to be verified during the installation, validation, and on-going maintenance stages of its life cycle.

First off, the wireless IoT devices should be programmed with the specific credentials to connect into the correct or appropriate area of the network, usually via a specific SSID (Service Set Identification or network name). Connections can be monitored / verified by a testing device to ensure the device is connected to the right Access Point (AP) and SSID.

Figure 4: AirCheck G2 access point details test.

Figure 5: AirCheck G2 Channel utilization test.

The next capability to be verified is roaming, where you may need to check if a device can move around the building by seamlessly re-associating to the next nearest AP. A loss in connectivity may cause the device to drop out of an application or drop the call if it’s a Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) connection.

If a wireless IoT device drops out intermittently, is unable to connect, or experiences a slow connection, it may be that the wireless channel or bonded channels are being interfered with by a non-wireless device like a microwave or analogue surveillance camera. This can be identified by using a spectrum analyzer or a tool that can differentiate between wireless and non-wireless Radio Frequency (RF) signals by channel.

Figure 6: AirCheck G2 Wi-Fi interferer overview.

Figure 7: AirCheck G2 iPerf test.

If there are a very large number of IoT devices connected to the network, there may be a lack of capacity or throughput available on the network. This can be verified using a testing tool with some kind of throughput performance verification via the wireless connection back through the network to a wired Ethernet connection

In addition, having the ability to remotely view and control a tester as well as a central repository of results accessible by multiple people, can reduce troubleshooting time by facilitating collaboration with remote engineers.

Conclusion

The proliferation of IoT connected devices in today’s network environment is challenging organizations to do more with the same staff. It also creates the potential for increased complexity of project management across organizational silos and outside vendors. Therefore, as you embark on managing and supporting the deployment of more and more network connected devices, give some thought to how you can expand your ability to manage the project by enabling more resources, build collaboration across teams, and ensure you have the visibility you need to control the finger pointing when it begins.

Organizations who deploy these tools and empower field technicians to play a larger role during deployment and post-deployment troubleshooting find improved collaboration with engineering faster realization of project ROI. In addition, these tools provide a means to quell the finger-pointing across team members or outside vendors should a problem arise.

You can learn more about purpose-built test solutions at:
https://enterprise.netscout.com/industries/handheld-network-test-solutions

1 Android is a registered trademark of Google Inc.

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