Introducing LXI to your IT Department

Simon Appleby

- Seeking help in the beginning from those in the know can save you time and money

Why do we need IT for my Test System?

As you build new or upgrade existing test systems, there are a lot of thinks you need to consider - issues of budget, space, time frames come to mind. But with the addition of LXI based instruments to your test arsenal, you have a new factor to consider - your network, which is the realm of the IT department. Any device that has an RJ-45 and can connect to the company network comes under their scrutiny.

A little advance planning and involving IT early in the process can smooth your integration plans. In this paper, we explain the reasons and the information that IT needs to feel comfortable with your plans.

The world of IT

Every business in the modern world now relies to a greater or lesser extent on computers. From the desktop PC used to enter bookkeeping information to the mobile phone in your pocket, computers are everywhere and touch every aspect of our daily lives. When you pull up to traffic lights, these are controlled by a computer. When you draw cash from an automated teller machine, many hundreds of computers may communicate over long distances to authorize your transaction before the machine hands over your hard earned cash.

In the background to all of this an army of specialists, often unseen, maintain and manage these complex computer systems. Indeed most offices or businesses may have an individual or group of individuals devoted to maintaining these computers. Their work can seem mysterious even unnecessary to an outside observer. But without their intervention and work, most of the technology we rely on each day would soon grind to a halt as hard drives fill up and components fail.

The old stereotype of a computer specialist used to be a long haired individual with untidy clothes and questionable personal hygiene habits. But the modern day reality is far removed from this. As computers became a more essential part of businesses, so the IT staff that support them have evolved. Your IT manager is now likely to wear a suit and carry a briefcase, having a much more business oriented approach to IT, which is something without which, most businesses in today's markets would not survive.

A modern IT department in a larger business may consist of a manager and a number of technicians. It is the IT manager's job to ensure the IT equipment works as intended and handles the purchasing and support. Part of the job may also include planning for the introduction of new equipment.

The IT Managers job covers a wide range of responsibilities. Essential business systems such as email and accounts may all be handled through their department. So responsibilities include disaster recovery, security and routine maintenance. The introduction of new hardware or software is based upon business needs and return on investment. This involves detailed planning to ensure the introduction of new hardware does not disrupt existing systems and that the equipment is deployed in such a way as to maximize its potential.

Adding LXI Devices to the Network Mix

So to introduce LXI into this environment will require close liaison with your IT department to ensure that things behave in the manner expected and that its deployment does not interfere with other systems in the company. Approaching your IT Manager early in the design phase of an LXI Based test system is a good idea. As LXI is still an emerging technology they may not have knowledge about its capabilities and requirements. So coming prepared with some basic information will allow them to plan ahead and make sure your deployment goes smoothly.

One of the first things they will want to know is how will it be used within the corporate LAN? Indeed, your LXI device may not even need to be connected to the wider network, and instead be isolated to lab or production cell. This information is necessary so the IT department can plan IP address allocations. These IP addresses can be thought of as ZIP or Postcodes for computer systems. Allowing messages across a network to send and receive information and ensure it gets to its correct destination. You can imagine the chaos at your Post Office if we were allowed to choose arbitrary ZIP or Postcodes. Imagine now if we all had the same ZIP or Postcode! And so it is with the computer network that each piece of connected equipment requires its own unique IP address in order for messages to be routed correctly. Your IT department may use DHCP to dynamically assign addresses, or they may use static addresses where they are set manually.

Even if your equipment is isolated from the wider LAN to a cell or lab, IP addresses are still required. Your IT department can advise on the correct range of IP addresses to use so that everything will work as expected.

Security is also a concern that falls under the auspices of the IT manager. Security can mean many things. The data that flows across a network has commercial value, so it must be secured from unauthorized access. Also, the range of threats that a network connected to the internet is exposed to is huge. From outsiders hacking in to less obtrusive but equally damaging threats from within the network, the deployment of equipment is often carefully controlled to minimise these threats.

If purchases of new equipment are uncontrolled, these threats are magnified. For example, when wireless access points became cheaper, it was often found that office users would purchase their own so they could eliminate cables or allow greater movement within their offices. As these purchases were often made without the knowledge of the IT department, problems ranging from data collisions to serious security holes are opened up through badly configured devices. More often than not these were utilized by passers-by, keen to piggy-back on free internet connections to get email. But who is to say the guy in the coffee shop down the road isn't using your open access point to download illegal content or is doing something more insidious such as accessing your personnel or pay-roll records?

Security also covers protecting individual operating systems from threats such as viruses and other software that falls under the umbrella of so called malware. For many years the operating system of choice that hackers would target was Microsoft operating systems. Some LXI boxes run these operating systems, but if yours does not, it is certainly no reason to be complacent. Malware can be targeted at any operating systems vulnerability. Malware exists for almost any platform you care to mention, including the various flavors of Linux and Mac OSX. And targeted malware can emerge very quickly as vulnerabilities are discovered, often within a few hours. So it is essential that your device is secured as embedded devices such as those in an LXI device often do not have sufficient storage capacity to run anti-virus programs. Your IT department will be able to give you specific instructions regarding their particular security policies, and help you implement a system that is safe for the greater network and secure.

Another aspect of IT management is the allocation of network resources. Many people think that setting a network up is simply a job of connecting all the LAN ports on the computers up to a hub or switch and turning everything on. With small systems consisting of a few PC's and a workgroup server this is perfectly acceptable. But with a larger network, consisting of many hundreds of computers severe difficulties would result from this configuration.

A network cable has a specific capacity measured in bits per second. Most desktop computers have LAN ports capable of supporting 10, 100 or 1000 Million bits per second. Therefore the speed of the connection affects the amount of information that can be transmitted through the cable. This speed is known as the cables bandwidth. With knowledge of the information flowing through a network, an IT manager can plan capacity based on bandwidth, and ensure the expensive and higher bandwidth connections are used only where needed, Reserving the slower connections for devices such as printers.

Additionally, routers and switches can be deployed to segregate network traffic to prevent information from one part of a network from being copied to all others. These devices can also provide security by utilizing policies that prevent access from one part of the network to another. For instance, an IT manager may configure a router to prevent email from being sent via any other means than the corporate email server. By restricting network traffic to those services which are authorized, more bandwidth is made available to the applications the IT manager does actually want to run, and disables access to those which could cause harm.

In introducing LXI into your company's infrastructure, especially when connecting your device to the corporate network, inform your IT manager of the type and volume of data you expect to transfer. They can help ensure that capacity is available, and configure routers and switches to allow access from those parts of the corporate LAN that require it. A good example is where test data from a production environment may need to be archived for quality control reasons. The archive location may be physically separated from the test location, the data travelling across many departments. Having the tests pause while data transfers from one location to another could halt production and cause lost revenue. Additionally, you do not want your transfer to pause because someone in another department has decided to start a long print job. In these examples having a fast, properly configured connection saves both time and money.

When deploying any new device it is also useful to know which services are available on a specific device so that adequate bandwidth and security measures are implemented. Some devices connected to the network have only one service available. For example a printer may only have a port for receiving print jobs. Another type of printer may have multiple services. Not only does it have a port for receiving print jobs, it may run a service that eases discovery of the printer on the network. It might also have an administration page accessed via a web browser, yet another service.

LXI Boxes by design have a minimum number of services. These are the web server used to configure the device and a VXI-11 service for discovery. But this does not mean that an LXI device may only contains these services. On a complicated device such as a spectrum analyzer there are likely to be additional services running, to transfer data, for control and remote administration. Other services designed to ease control and logging tasks such as SOAP may also be available. It is entirely dependent on the manufacturer of the LXI device and the services they choose to offer. Some of these services may be controlled via the LXI devices web interface, giving the ability to switch off unwanted functionality and therefore the associated service. So its useful before deploying an LXI device to discuss which services will be required for a given device and how they will be utilized. 

A smooth Transition.....

As can be seen, connecting an LXI device or devices in a corporate environment can be made significantly easier with the help of your IT department. By using the experience and knowledge of the IT professionals within your organization you can greatly reduce the problems associated with connecting a multitude of devices with a disparate network.

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