Integrators and their clients can realize time and cost savings from enhanced understanding of network technology.

This is a post that was originally written for as an article Commercial Integrator magazine and is expanded on in an older ihiji blog post on network troubleshooting tools and recommended equipment.

As integrators migrate to business models based on service as opposed to profit margins, their command of networks becomes even more critical.

IP control systems, Wifi-based touch panels and content delivery via the network are becoming standard. Clients demand the latest and greatest, and expect it to function as it did on day one. To keep up with that demand, integrators must keep up with networking tools and technologies.

To ensure the customer experience is not compromised due to equipment malfunction or failure, integrators must utilize the power of network technology and incorporate advanced diagnostics into their technical support offerings. This may seem daunting, but once you understand the basics there are significant and tangible benefits that soon can be realized. For instance, by implementing cloud-based remote monitoring at client sites, integrators receive alerts that aid in the early detection and resolution of client-site issues.

Easily identifying that a malfunctioning projector or touch panel is the result of an accidentally unplugged wireless access point, and then eliminating an unnecessary service call to reset it, creates a much more positive experience for your clients. They’re happy and you potentially saved a bundle; it’s a win-win scenario.


Networking Devices Perform Distinct Functions

We’ll assume that you are using a Windowsbased system (although much of this information is relevant and some of the applications mentioned are available for Macs).

Networks derive their functionality from routers, switches and wireless access points (WAPs). Each of these devices has a unique and distinct function to perform on a network. To understand network functionality best, you must understand how each functions within the environment, how best to configure them in order to maximize their performance, and troubleshoot any issues that occur down the road. Utilizing the right networking equipment will not only improve your client’s overall experience, but your firm’s productivity and profitability. Remember: Face time with clients is good, but being efficient with their time and yours is better.


Routers:

These can be thought of as the main brains of the network, ensuring information (data) is properly routed from its originator to its destination. They create a network and serve as the controller, enabling networks and their devices to talk to each other efficiently. Many routers also include services for firewall, Network Address Translation (NAT), Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol (DHCP), Port Forwarding, Dynamic Domain Name Services (Dynamic DNS), and Virtual Local Area Networks (VLAN).


Network Switch:

A switch connects network segments, effectively expanding the reach of the network and the number of devices connected to that network. Network switches are both a more common and a more efficient way to expand a network in comparison to older ‘hub’ technology.


Managed Switches:

A managed switch is configurable, offering greater flexibility and capacity than an unmanaged switch. They can be monitored and adjusted either locally or remotely, giving integrators the ability to expand their service offering and improve the customer experience. Managed switches also provide for more advanced troubleshooting, such as bandwidth management, port role assignment, and port status, as well as advanced configuration for VLANs.


Unmanaged Switches:

Unmanaged switches are more “plug and play” than managed switches but are basically “dumb;” they are neither configurable nor accessible remotely. They are completely “transparent,” typically requiring onsite technician visits to troubleshoot and resolve issues.


Wireless Access Point (WAP):

Expanding network access to 802.11 wireless devices, WAPs come in four general varieties; A, B, G and N (each offering different range and speeds). The higher-end WAPs provide expanded features such as Virtual SSIDs, VLAN integration, Auto channel selection, removable antennas, and central controllers.

Additionally, many IP-based power distribution modules exist, allowing integrators to remotely reboot equipment. You also can get creative with relays and a control systems processor for added functionality.


Networking Tools and Terminology

Basic routing, Ethernet, and IP principals are the fundamental building blocks from which solid troubleshooting skills can be established. To stay ahead of the curve, you will need to expand your horizon and add more definitive network administration skills. Become comfortable with the OSI model; OSI layers establish functionality across a network and each stage is essential for any information to be passed through a network. Using these layers, you can easily troubleshoot and pinpoint the exact source of network problems.

Windows comes standard with diagnostic tools that can be run from the command line to assess the status of the network. Here are just a few that you should know about and use as part of your troubleshooting regime:

To access the command line in Windows go to start 1run, type “command,” and hit Enter.


ipconfig:

Will display the IP address, subnet, and gateway of the associated computer and each of its interfaces. Ipconfig /all will show DNS information. ipconfig /release or ipconfig /renew will reset the IP connection if it is using a DHCP. ipconfig /? Will display help for the ipconfig command.


Ping:

Basic troubleshooting tool to determine if a device is able to communicate over the network. Internally you can ping the local gateway to test LAN connectivity (typically the router). Once LAN connectivity is verified, you can ping DNS servers or your service provider’s gateway to verify Internet connectivity. Two common DNS servers for testing are Verizon 4.2.2.2 or Google 8.8.8.8. Type ping — help for more information on the ping command.


Tracert:

Troubleshooting tool that allows you to determine where in the network latency or network outage exist. Trace route will show you the hops across a network to the final destination. Try tracert 8.8.8.8 to see the route to Google’s DNS server from your home or office, through your ISP network, and through the “Big I” Internet.


nslookup:

Will look up the IP address for a domain name. Try nslookup to look up Google’s server address.



ihiji is committed to helping dealers increase their knowledge of networking because we feel it is a critical skill for all businesses and technicians. We continue to help create and instruct our own networking essentials webinars, CEDIA University courses, write blog posts, guest editorials and work with our dealers to accomplish this. Please follow us on Twitter and Facebook for the upcoming news and resources.

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