Review: Motorola RF Management Software v2.0 (RF Management Suite Part 4) - Page 2

By Lisa Phifer

January 15, 2009

Site planning


The RFMS v2.0 home page displays a hierarchical tree, rooted at "All Sites." In the stand-alone product, all configured Sites are indeed listed beneath that root, added by RFMS planning tools. But when we used the integrated product, that tree always contained just one Site--a Site that we configured within the MSP and used to launch RFMS.


This tight integration simplifies set-up by avoiding duplicate (and potentially conflicting) Site configuration. It also enables context-sensitive access—for example, when you're investigating an MSP-generated event, there's no need to search the RFMS Site tree for the subject of that event. Even so, we would like to see all of our Sites on the RFMS tree, which would let us more easily compare performance across Sites or generate reports for multiple Sites without having to drill through the MSP to each Site individually.


Whether Sites are added directly to RFMS or populated by the MSP, administrators still use RFMS planning tools to link each Site to a floor plan and position monitored devices (switches and APs). In fact, these steps must be completed before RFMS can begin to display real-time status for each Site.


RFMSv2.0 supports two Site planning methods: using RFMS to draw a floor plan and place devices, or importing 3D RF models generated by Motorola's LAN Planner. Customers that buy the entire RF Management Suite should use the latter method—see part 2 for our review of the suite's LAN Planner. Those with smaller WLANs can save a few bucks by using the less sophisticated 2D planning tools embedded in RFMS itself.

We used both methods during our test drive. First, we defined a simple remote office WLAN, consisting of a single Motorola AP-5131, using RFMS tools. We accomplished this by uploading a background image, then using a calibration tool to identify two coordinates and the distance between them. Geographic coordinates (latitude and longitude) can also be supplied here for more precise real-time locationing. Later, we defined a larger two-story WLAN, consisting of one WS2000 switch and three AP-300s, imported from LAN Planner.


AP placement


Once an RFMS-planned Site has been saved, it's time for AP placement. Here again, RFMS offers two choices: manual or automated. In manual mode, administrators can add Motorola switches, APs, and fixed RFID readers, identified by IP address, MAC address, model, and SNMP version/community. Version 2.0 can monitor "thick" APs (5131 or 5181), switches (2000, 5100, or 7000), and "thin" APs adopted by those switches (including "adaptive" APs that can morph from thin to thick). Note that all are Motorola devices—third-party APs cannot be added to RFMS.


In both manual and automated modes, the next step is defining barriers (like walls and doors that attenuate RF) and coverage areas (defined by type, spectrum, and data rate). RFMS supplies attenuations for common building materials, including cubical, dry, wooden, concrete, metal, and glass—or you can define your own barrier types. Coverage type tells RFMS how it should optimize performance when planning a designated area—for example, based on target signal strength or data rate.



Figure 4.1 – A plan drawn within RFMS, using manual placement. Click to enlarge.


These modeling parameters are not as detailed as those used by the LAN Planner—for instance, they only define two-dimensional coverage areas. However, RFMS really must have a good grasp on RF barriers to generate useful heat maps. If you don't add realistic barriers (or import a LAN Plan that includes them), RFMS will just end up displaying roughly circular coverage bands and RSSI-based locationing will be inaccurate.


With auto-placement, those barriers and coverage areas are used to suggest where APs belong. Specifically, RFMS will create and place your specified number of APs to satisfy coverage needs. Our simple remote office WLAN did not really give this feature a good workout, nor will many small WLANs. Customers with large, multi-story or distributed WLANs are likely to use the full-blown LAN Planner. As a result, auto-placement felt like an intriguing, but evolutionary step in RFMS development, surpassed by recently-added LAN Planner integration.


In fact, LAN Planner integration was so new that we ran into a few hiccups during import. We had to install a newer version of LAN Planner, then patch the MSP/RFMS, before we could export zip files from LAN Planner and import them into RFMS, one floor per Site. When we updated and re-imported LAN Planner output, the Site's old background continued to be displayed until we cleared our browser's cache.




Figure 4.2 – A plan imported from LAN Planner and populated by the MSP. Click to enlarge.


Our biggest plan import gripe turned out to be a "works as designed" feature. With the integrated MSP/RFMS, the MSP automatically populates each Site in RFMS by putting all discovered switches and APs in the upper-left corner of the floor plan. Here again, kudos for avoiding duplicate data entry. However, the background image generated by LAN Planner shows intended AP locations using "target" symbols and text labels. The RFMS administrator must drag and drop each MSP-created APs onto those targets. We found it all too easy to place the wrong AP on each target—in a larger WLANs, this would clearly be tedious and error-prone. We hope that future versions of RFMS will automatically place MSP-discovered onto imported plan targets.


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