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WiFiAdmin: An Intelligent Web-based Management Environment for Wireless Networks

Eythimios Dimopoulos2, Athanasios Panousis2, Evangelos Sakkopoulos1, 2, Athanasios Tsakalidis1, 2


Technology Institute Internet and Multimedia Technologies Research Unit 61 Riga Feraiou Str. 26110, Greece http://www.ru5.cti.gr/
1 RA Computer

University of Patras Computer Engineering & Informatics Department 26500 Patras, Greece http://www.ceid.upatras.gr/ In parallel, as the World-Wide Web (abbr. Web) continues to evolve, it is clear that its underlying technologies are useful for much more than browsing the internet. An increasing number of Web technologies can also be applied to WiFi network and user community management. Modern web-based WiFi network management enables the administrator to monitor network devices using a Web browser [12]. The most popular way to accomplish this is to embed a Web server into a network device and use that server to provide a Web based management user interface constructed using HTML [26] graphics and other features common to Web browsers. Embedded Web Servers (EWSs) [1],[8],[13] have different requirements, such as low resource utility, high reliability, security and portability. On the other hand, common web servers offer more features and they neither face design issues such as HTTP [25] nor need special embedded application interface. Web-based management user interfaces, based on well-known web servers editions [27],[28] (WebMUIs) have many advantages like ubiquity, user-friendliness, low development cost and high maintainability, because they re-utilize common software solutions on computer and communication web-based management. Moreover, in most cases to the authors knowledge, wireless device web interfaces are limited only to device configuration options, and poor client information manipulation [6]. However, WiFi network administrators need community and user management features in order to administer users in a wider sense and nonetheless, to protect the network from malicious attackers. We present a novel integrated solution named WiFiadmin [30], a management system for metropolitan area network and their respective user community. Authors, designers and developers have taken full advantage of the experience gained by designing and participating in one of the most active community wireless networks in Greece, Patras Wireless Network (http://patraswireless.net), which has a history of success-

Abstract
Wireless network communities face a number of difficulties due to lack of integration between network and community resources management. In this work, we present a novel solution and we outline the architecture, design and implementation of an intelligent web based management system for metropolitan area wireless network communities. The system supports multi-user and personalization features combined with wireless node configuration and monitoring, in a portal-like environment. Additionally to the software discussed, a test-bed implementation is presented to confirm platform and software robustness and cost-effectiveness of the proposed solutions. The overall environment is already operational for two years, while user and administrators feedback has been incorporated into the system in a regular manner. Evaluation of the work has been performed in the online wireless network environment by computer and communication engineers and it strongly indicates that the proposed mechanism is both effective and efficient. Finally, future steps and enhancements are discussed.

1. Introduction
Wireless systems and their applications, seem to attract immense research and development effort for several years now [3],[10],[11]. For example, Cometa Networks announced that they are to build a WiFi network spanning over 20,000 hotspots by the year 2007 [16]. Such networks are widely named Broadband Radio Access Networks (BRANs) and/or Wireless Local Area Networks (WLANs). These systems offer high data rates at adequate capacity volumes for short-range communications with limited mobility. Therefore, they have been widely accepted as efficient solutions for covering residential (home), corporate (office) and other environments. Contemporary WiFi wireless LANs, based on IEEE 802.11b technology [14], provide high data connectivity at 11 Mbit/s, and this data rate is expected to grow radically within the next few years [2],[9].

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ful open source software solutions. Patras Wireless is a community wireless metropolitan network deployed by the local University students, in the city of Patras, Greece. Before we proceed, we need to clarify the following. We extend the concept of the term Access Point, and introduce the Access Point Node which is the superset of the nodes hardware and software systems. It includes all its networking hardware that either enables it to form the BSS (Basic Service Set) or connect to the DS(Distribution System), plus all of its overlying software (for a quick WiFi wireless network specific abbreviations list see [19]). This work is organized as follows: In section 2, the motivation for the presented work is discussed. Section 3 presents related work to the proposed techniques and solutions. In section 4, the functional specifications are outlined. Section 5 presents the overall system architecture and operational details. Section 6 includes implementation details. Section 7 describes the hardware test-bed developed. In section 8, a system evaluation is described. Finally, section 9 proposes future steps and concludes.

Wifi network deployment has a strictly cellular architecture that, when combined with a community orientation, leads to the need of centralized client information management. This should include information about the community members, their services, behavior, etc. To address the distinct absence of an integrated mechanism for the management of both the Access Point Node and the cell user community, the authors have developed WiFiAdmin.

3. Related Work
Related mechanisms to the proposed solutions are presented in this section. A number of similar techniques and products are available that cover only partially the proposed unified environment. No system exists that covers all proposed functionality and operational standards in a seamless way, to the authors knowledge. The authors evaluated such packages and mention them briefly below. In terms of Wireless Access Point configuration GUIs, practically every standalone wifi device has a type of web interface enabling remote management. There are numerous solutions that provide graphic representation of statistical data based mainly on RRDtool. RRD is the acronym for Round Robin Database. It provides graphing and logging features, similar to MRTGs; an analytic compilation can be found at [21]. For user community manipulation there is Authenticated User Community (AUC) [15] that runs on a typical UNIX-based web server and allows users to login over the web and access a wealth of personalized communication and data sharing tools, tailored to the organization using the system. In the same category lies Infocentral [18], that is Open Source web database software for nonprofit organizations. Furthermore, there are several network monitoring and management environments such as Nagios [20] or the popular HP-OpenView [17]. Finally, general system administration web-based GUIs include Webmin [29], a web-based interface for Unix system administration. Using a web browser, one can setup user accounts, http servers, DNS, file sharing etc. Undoubtedly, these programs can be used in administration of wireless networks at different levels. However, they are beyond the purpose of providing a unified web based solution that would intelligently handle all aspects of a wireless network and the management of its community.

2. Motivation
A wireless network developed and maintained by a non-profit organization and by volunteer personnel, can only aim at low cost deployment and maintenance. Low cost or cost-efficiency is also a high necessity in most cases of industrial based production environments. All kinds of educational institutions, from elementary schools to university campuses, are being introduced to the broadband era. Small cities and mainly provincial regions have much to gain by broadband wireless. As Patras Wireless Network evolved from a central uni-cell neighborhood to a multi-cell highly connected mesh, cost became a limiting factor. The turn to open source software and trivial cost hardware was intuitive. Following, one may find the primary motivation points for this work. As Eric S. Raymond has pointed out [23], open source developers have an endemic tendency to discourage non-technical users. Open source software usually lacks in one main point: productive user interfacing. In the wireless world, this translates to the lack of integrated remote administration solutions. While all standalone wifi network devices feature some kind of graphical/web interface, there is lack of a web based wireless configuration environment for the GNU/Linux OS. Most wireless devices provide logging functionalities, either locally and/or on a remote logging server. Local logging functionalities are often restricted in a small time window. Furthermore, there is no graphical representation of the historical data. Statistical overview of the Access Point Node's operational history is a necessity in the dynamic wireless environment.

4. Functional Specifications
The proposed functionality of WiFiAdmin solution includes the following:

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1. The solution manages the Access Point node as a whole, integrating hardware configuration, wireless status monitoring and user information management. 2. It dynamically detects the number and type of all the Access Point Node network interfaces, wired or wireless. 3. For any type of Ethernet device, all standard configuration options are implemented. 4. For access point interfaces, MAC address access lists (MAC filtering) can be manipulated. 5. Client information management and fine-grained user privilege assignment is available. The clients of a particular cell form a community, whose members have different access rights to the WiFiAdmin system. Member information is gathered and published through the system. 6. Supporting personalization of the graphical interface according to the user's privileges. A user-specific profile and a general profile are supported according to the multi-level profile presented in [5]. An example of the partial WiFiAdmin functionality accessible to the guest user is shown in figure 2a and figure 2b. 7. Rich Access Point association list information is provided. Associated clients are shown both as MAC addresses/IPs and as named community members. A screenshot of the association list as viewed by the system administrator is presented in figure 3. 8. User accounts and privileges can be stored either in a DBMS or in a csv-like text file, thus enabling powerful accounting functionalities even on low end servers. 9. Statistical graphic representation of the Access Point Node state.

expose to the user space configuration and statistics specific to common Wireless LANs. Its main advantage is that it can support all the variations of Wireless LANs, regardless of their type, as long as the driver supports Wireless Extensions. These parameters may be changed on the fly without restarting the driver or the system.
Kernel Space *nix Kernel Wireless Network Driver
PCI bus

Hardware

WLAN0
m iu ed M s ss s l e ce ire Ac W

Wireless Extensions

WLAN1

WLAN2

Wireless Network Community


1 P/ .1

TT

Web Server with PHP support Wireless Tools WiFiAdmin


hs

HTTP/ 1.1

The Internet

Grap

RRDtool Database Management System User Space

Cron Daemon

Figure 1: Access Point Node System Architecture

5. System Architecture & Operational Details


We present the general architecture of the system in figure 1. An example hardware setup is utilized so as to clearly present our architecture. We can see numerous PCI WiFi cards that connect to the nodes PCI/PCMCIA bus, providing wireless service to the clients of the basic service set (BSS) and interconnectivity through the Wireless Distribution System (WDS). WiFiAdmin has been based on a GNU/Linux operating system with a contemporary kernel (greater than version 2.2). Such a kernel is necessary for wireless networking support. Before installing WiFiAdmin on a node, its wireless configuration must be already functioning, because WiFiAdmin is a high level management application. Thus, a fully working wireless network driver must be properly installed on the host machine. Moreover, the wireless driver should support the wireless extensions, which is a common case amongst *NIX wireless network drivers. Wireless Extensions [24] is an open source project that provides a generic application programming interface (API) allowing a network driver to

Wireless Tools is another project that provides the user space functions to manipulate the wireless extensions. Any PHP-enabled HTTP server is capable of serving Wifiadmin. There are many free and proprietary solutions that fit our demands, ranging from full featured web servers, like the Open Source Apache Web server, to small embedded ones. Based on a database, local or remote, WiFiAdmin becomes a powerful community tool. User data like privileges or personal information are stored in a database, which can be either a csv-like text file for low cost hardware, or a full DBMS for maximum functionality, when adequate processing power and memory are available.

6. Implementation Details
A typical setting of wireless Access Point Node installation is on a computer (i.e. special smart device or just a personal computer) with wireless cards attached. In the example case an outdated PC has been utilized (next section includes details).

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Figure 2a: Community guest user views and possible actions. Local Community user list.

Figure 2b: Community guest user views and possible actions. Wireless hotspots detailed table.
Registered local WiFi Community Users
40 35 30 25 Use rs 20 15 10 5 0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 Ten Node-based Com m unitie s

Figure 3: Main administration for wireless hotspots & users.

Figure 4: Registered users in WiFiAdmin nodes.

Furthermore, a driver named HostAP that supports a so called Host AP mode, takes care of IEEE 802.11 management functions in the host computer and acts as an access point, without hardware support for such operation. HostAP, in details, is a GNU driver for wireless LAN cards based on Intersil's Prism2/2.5/3 chipset which is also a widespread WiFi implementation. In addition to this, it has support for normal station operations in BSS and possible also in independent basic service set (IBSS). This means that using HostAP, a wireless card can act either as an Access Point or as a client, and even take part in an ad-hoc wireless topology. This particular network device driver adds up to the reasons that GNU/Linux is the operating system of choice. The configuration settings managed by WiFiAdmin, are usually accessible only to the appropriately privileged users. In order to gather historical data related to the wireless host, we use the Cron scheduling daemon. Dedicated software jobs are scheduled in order to gather and store data concerning the wireless node. We use RRDtool, which is designed to store and display time-series data. It stores the data in a compact round robin database that will not expand over time. Additionally, it renders colorful

graphs by processing the data to enforce a certain data density. Gathered data include signal-noise levels and connection bit rate of the wireless interfaces, number of current associations on Access Point devices, network traffic rates and more.

7. Hardware Host Platform


In this section, the proposed Access Point Node hardware is described. This hardware infrastructure is a testbed platform that authors designed and developed. It is currently implemented on the Patras Wireless Network community (a wireless metropolitan network) and managed by the WiFiAdmin software solution. Technical diagrams, hardware connectivity, cost estimation and photographs of the platform are presented in [22]. The goals of the hardware implementation project were to achieve: 1. Non-Stop operation of the WiFi hardware. 2. Robust outdoor installation. 3. Recycling of hardware parts for low budget final result. 4. Full scalability of the WiFi network design, deployment and maintenance in comparison to existing commercial solutions.

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5. Performance and efficiency test-bed evaluation of the WiFiAdmin proposed solution. In a hardware perspective, wireless metropolitan networks, consist of interconnected cells (BSSs). The BSS service is provided by an Access Point. Each access point node deploys at least two wireless interfaces, meaning two WiFi devices with a respective number of antennas. One of them is the Access Point device, and the rest link the cell with its neighboring cells. The proposed host hardware is based on a low end computer (typically a Pentium I machine) with PCI or PCMCIA WiFi cards. Using the HostAP driver, one of the wireless client cards has been converted by means of software to Access Point mode (Master mode). Since 802.11a, 802.11b or 802.11g WiFi devices are mainly manufactured for indoor use, they typically provide an RF power of 31 mW, or 15 dBi. External hi-gain antennas are needed to achieve the signal range required by a metropolitan network. Keeping in mind the power limitations posed by local regulations, we are able to extend our range to distances that exceed a kilometer. An omni directional antenna is connected to the Access Point device and directional antennas are used for the links between Access Point Nodes, forming the wireless Distribution System. The length of the RF cable connecting a WiFi device to an antenna is preferably not more than a few meters, since radiofrequency (RF) cables introduce a signal loss proportional to cable length. Signal propagation at microwave frequencies (2.4GHz of 802.11b, 802.11g and 5GHz for 802.11a) resembles light propagation. Therefore, line of sight (LOS) or near line of sight (near LOS) is required between antennas, which means metropolitan network antennas are usually placed on building rooftops. As a result, the whole wireless node hardware is contained in a waterproof box and placed on a rooftop, close to the antennas. Remote administration solutions are necessary.

8. System Evaluation
In the sequel, system evaluation is presented. The presented solution has been operational for more than a year. Feedback concerning WiFiAdmin different versions has been requested repeatedly. In this section, evaluation of results will be examined in order to determine the fulfillment of our objectives. For the evaluation procedure, sixteen communication engineers have experimented with WiFiAdmin in production environments of ten WiFiAdmin nodes, see figure 4. Results have shown that 60% of the node managers use WiFiAdmin throughout the day for node and community management and 90% of them state that they do not need any extra software for the WiFi node management. The most frequently utilized operation of WiFiAdmin is associated users view, network device graphs and ban network MAC functionality for malicious users.

Only 10% spotted changes in the navigation and personalization features of the WiFiAdmin interface. In particular, zoom facilities at the statistical graphs have been requested in order to provide clearer views of the figures. This feature will be incorporated in the next editions. A metropolitan Extended Service Set, relies on a wireless distribution system to ensure cell (BSS) interconnectivity. In a full or partial mesh topology, the nodes degree in the mesh graph is of high importance. This directly translates to the number of the node's network interfaces. WiFiAdmin can manage any number of network interfaces that is supported by the host hardware. WiFiAdmin can also support any number of users a cell community can have. In a typical community network this number is not more than fifty users. The juxtaposition of signal/noise, wireless bit rate and traffic graphs, displays performance in the Physical, MAC, and Ethernet layers. This can help the administrator determine complex problems of the Access Point Host, by visually associating fluctuations of different network layers. It can be the administrators best option of troubleshooting a degraded wireless link. Since the system interacts with the underlying operating system through user level applications (e.g. wireless tools, network tools), caution was taken to system performance. For example when a user's web browser opens the wireless status page, which lists the clients associated with the access point, a wireless tools process has to be spawned and collect the data which will then be rendered on the web page. Processes that can take a long time, like reverse DNS name lookups, are given a time-out. If the lookup fails to meet the time-out, it is abandoned, and the client IP is displayed instead. In terms of data transfers between administrative clients and WiFiAdmin, the rendered file sizes have an average of 4,6 Kb (in 28 total rendered files including figures). Overall, WiFiAdmin performance depends mainly on the execution times of external called processes and the DBMS performance.

9. Conclusions and Future Work


Overall, WiFiAdmin came to scratch a WiFi network itch. During its development, it is continually used and tested in a production environment an active wireless network community for over a year time. The proposed unified solution for network configuration, statistical monitoring and community management has already received promising comments both from expert and guest WiFi users. Future directions include support for mobility of community members would enable smart clients and mobile users to take advantage of WiFiAdmin functionality while on the move. Further next steps will be collaboration among multiple WiFiAdmins to produce a centralized generic network management suite will provide aware-

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ness of all wireless community behavior. Finally, considering the fact that the underlying operating system can multiply the amount of information provided to the network administrator, a wireless lightweight OS distribution managed by WiFiAdmin as a whole will provide even more effective services.

[11] U. Varshney, Recent advances in wireless networking, IEEE Computer, Vol. 33, No. 6, June 2000 [12] C. Wellens, K.K. Auerbach, Towards useful management, The Simple Times, 4(3), July 1996, pp. 16. [13] A. Wilson, The challenge of embedded internet, Electronic Product Design, 312, January1998. [14] IEEE. 802.11b/d3.0 Wireless LAN Medium Access Control (MAC) and Physical Layer (PHY) Specification, August 1999. [15] Authenticated User Community, Sourceforge: http://auc.sourceforge.net/about.shtml (2004) [16] Cometa Networks Wi-Fi future News Release http://cometanetworks.com/news/newsitems/wired.html [17] HP OpenView: http://www.openview.hp.com/ (2004) [18] Infocentral: http://www.infocentral.org/ (2004) [19] Jiwire: http://www.jiwire.com/glossary.htm?id=49 (2004) [20] Nagios: http://www.nagios.org/ (2004) [21] T. Oetiker, RRDTool Related Project List, http://people.ee.ethz.ch/~oetiker/webtools/rrdtool/rrdworld/ index.html (2004) [22] A. Panousis, RoofTop PC project, http://students.ceid.upatras.gr/~panousis/taratsa/ (2004) [23] E.R. Raymond: The Luxury of Ignorance: An Open-Source Horror Story, http://www.catb.org/~esr/writings/cupshorror.html (2004) [24] J. Tourrilhes, Wireless tools and wireless extensions, http://www.hpl.hp.com/personal/Jean_Tourrilhes/Linux/To ols.html (2004) [25] W3C. Hypertext Transfer Protocol-HTTP/1.1. Internet Draft draft-ietf-http-v11-spec-rev-06, HTTP Working Group. [26] W3C. HTML 4.0 Specification. Internet Draft REC html40-19980424, HTML Working Group. [27] Web Server Apache http://www.apache.org (2004) [28] Web Server Microsoft Internet Information Server http://www.microsoft.com/iis (2004) [29] Webmin: http://www.webmin.com/ (2004) [30] WiFiAdmin: http://wifiadmin.sourceforge.net/ (2004)

10. References
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