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Network Data Flow Analysis

PRTG network sun

PRTG network sun

As more and more broadcast facilities are moving toward IP data for all types of data transfer including digitized audio, video, telephony, documents, email, applications and programs.  Managing an IP network is becoming more and more important.  In most broadcast facilities, Ethernet based IP networks have been the normal operating infrastructure for email, printing, file sharing, common programs, file storage and other office functions for many years.  Either directly or indirectly, most broadcast engineers have some degree of experience with networking.

With many more IP based audio consoles, routing systems, STL’s and other equipment coming online, understanding IP networking is becoming a critical skill set.  Eventually, all distribution of content will transition to IP based systems and the current network of terrestrial broadcast transmitters will be switched off.

The difference between an ordinary office network and an AoIP (Audio over IP) or VoIP network is the transfer consistency.  In an office network, data transfer is generally bursty; somebody moves a file or requests an HTTP page, etc.  Data is transferred quickly from point A to point B, then the network goes back to its mostly quiescent state. In the AoIP environment, the data transfer is steady state and the data volume is high.  That is to say, once a session is started, it is expected to say active 24/7 for the foreseeable future. In this situation, any small error or design flaw, which may not be noticed on an office network can cause great problems on an AoIP network.  The absolute worst kind of problem is the intermittent failure.

Monitoring and analyzing data flow on a network can be a critical part of troubleshooting and network system administration.  Data flow analysis can discover and pinpoint problems such as:

  • Design flaws, infrastructure bottle necks and data choke points
  • Worms, viruses and other malware
  • Abusive or unauthorized use
  • Quality of Service (QoS) issues

Cisco defines flow as the following:

A unidirectional stream of packets between a given source and destination—both defined by a network-layer IP address and transport-layer source and destination port numbers. Specifically, a flow is identified as the combination of the following seven key fields:

  • Source IP address
  • Destination IP address
  • Source port number
  • Destination port number
  • Layer 3 protocol type
  • ToS byte
  • Input logical interface

Packet sniffers such as Wire Shark can do this, but there are far better and easier ways to look at data flow.  Network monitoring tools such as Paessler PRTG can give great insight as to what is going on with a network.  PRTG uses SNMP (Simple Network Management Protocol) on a host machine to run the server core and at least one other host to be used as a sensor.  There are instruction on how to run it as a virtual machine on a windows server, which would be the proper way to implement the server, in my opinion.

For small to medium installations, the freeware version may be all that is needed.  For larger network and major market installation, one of the lower cost paid versions may be required.

Subnetting 101

More information on IP networking:

Most radio station networks that I have seen are divided along several different lines based on functions.  These functions are:

  • Office network; E-mail, document storage and retrieval, printing, applications like traffic and billing, promotions, music scheduling and so on
  • Automation network; automation servers, workstations and audio editing machines used in production
  • Audio over IP (AOIP) network; any AOIP consoles, devices or STL equipment
  • Voice over IP (VOIP); telephone system
  • Wireless LAN; WLAN or WIFI

It is helpful, then, to segment the network into different broadcast domains to reduce the congestion on any one network.  That is where a good subnetting scheme can be beneficial.  Subnets segment the network into smaller parts, reducing the amount of broadcast traffic and increasing network speeds by reducing MAC table sizes, and thus switching and lookup times.  They also can secure certain areas of the network from the outside or other subnets, adding a level of security.  For example, it may not be a good idea for the automation computers or the AOIP consoles to have access to the internet.  Certain functions in routers and switches can be enabled for that added security.

It is also important to efficiently use IP addresses in a large organization where WANs are used.  The better the subnetting scheme, the easier it is to understand and the better it performs.   Avoiding or reducing discontiguous networks is key to efficient and speedy routing.   That is an important consideration where applications like AOIP and VOIP are concerned

To really understand subnetting, it must be broken down into the fundamental parts.  This pertains to IPv4, which will likely remain in use for quite some time.  The big chart, class B networks:

3nd  octet 4th octet CIDR Decimal Wild card Hosts 3rd Up by Subnets
00000000 00000000 /16 255.255.0.0 0.0.255.255 65,534 255 0
10000000 00000000 /17 255.255.128.0 0.0.127.255 32,766 128 2
11000000 00000000 /18 255.255.192.0 0.0.63.255 16,382 64 4
11100000 00000000 /19 255.255.224.0 0.0.31.255 8,190 32 8
11110000 00000000 /20 255.255.240.0 0.0.15.255 4,094 16 16
11111000 00000000 /21 255.255.248.0 0.0.7.255 2,046 8 32
11111100 00000000 /22 255.255.252.0 0.0.3.255 1,022 4 64
11111110 00000000 /23 255.255.254.0 0.0.1.255 510 2 128
11111111 00000000 /24 255.255.255.0 0.0.0.255 254 1 256

Class C networks

3rd octet 4th octet CIDR Decimal Wild card Hosts 4th Up by SubnetsB SubnetsC
11111111 00000000 /24 255.255.255.0 0.0.0.255 254 255 256 0
11111111 10000000 /25 255.255.255.128 0.0.0.127 126 128 512 2
11111111 11000000 /26 255.255.255.192 0.0.0.63 62 64 1024 4
11111111 11100000 /27 255.255.255.224 0.0.0.31 30 32 2048 8
11111111 11110000 /28 255.255.255.240 0.0.0.15 14 16 4096 16
11111111 11111000 /29 255.255.255.248 0.0.0.7 6 8 8192 32
11111111 11111100 /30 255.255.255.252 0.0.0.3 2 4 16384 64
11111111 11111110 /31 255.255.255.254 0.0.0.1 0 2 N/A
11111111 11111111 /32 255.255.255.255 0.0.0.0 0 1 N/A

The terms “Class B” and “Class C” networks are outdated.  Basically, I broke the chart up along a classful boundary to make it easier to read.

An IP v4 address consists of four octets of binary data. A common example is 192.168.1.154, which in binary numbers looks like this: 11000000.10101000.00000001.11111110. It is converted to base ten numbers (dotted decimal) so that we humans can deal with it. A typical subnet mask seen in many office networks is 255.255.255.0, which in binary looks like this: 11111111.11111111.11111111.00000000.  When a router receives a packet, it does something called an “ANDing process.”  When a router ANDs, it overlays the subnet mask on the network address and uses the following function: 1+1 = 1, 1+0 = 0 and 0+0 = 0.  Thus, in the above example, a router AND would look like this:

Dotted Decimal Binary Octets
192 168 1 254
255 255 255 0
192 168 1 0
11000000 10101000 00000001 11111110
11111111 11111111 11111111 00000000
11000000 10101000 00000001 00000000

The subnet mask is telling the router to ignore the last octet, thus saving a bit of time and processing power.  It may seem very small and insignificant.  When considering that routers make sometimes hundreds or thousands of routing decisions in a second, even a small bit of work reduction adds up quickly.  Subnet masks allow routers to look at only the layer three network address, ignoring the host portion.  This takes advantage of IPs inherent hierarchical addressing system and speeds the process of routing to the proper destination.

Another way to look at it:

IPv4 subnet chart

IPv4 subnet chart, click for .pdf version

There are three IPv4 address ranges set aside for private (internal) use:

  • 192.168.0.0 to 192.168.255.255 /16
  • 172.16.0.0 to 172.31.255.255 /12
  • 10.0.0.0 to 10.255.255.255 /8

Thus, very large networks can use an internal IP address scheme in the 10.0.0.0 range and have up to 16,777,216 hosts, or 224 addresses minus two, one for the network line address and one for the broadcast address.  That would be one giant network clogged with ARP requests, ICMP packets and other miscellaneous multicast messages. A notation of /16 means that 16 bits are used for the network address, the remaining address bits are host bits.  A /24 network has 24 network bits and 8 host bits making the available hosts 254.

An example of an efficient network would be a medium market operation with six radio station under one roof.  This facility has ten studios and a news room using AOIP consoles, a VOIP phone system, an automation system, an office network with an internal file server and exchange server.  The number of required hosts on each subnetwork is

  • Office network, servers and wireless hosts: 78
  • VOIP phone system: 70
  • AOIP consoles and nodes: 30
  • Broadcast automation system: 22

Given IP address: 172.19.0.0 /22

In most instances, office networks are usually installed on one class C segment, that is to say, the network mask is 255.255.255.0.  However, in the example above, 254 hosts are not needed on the office network, thus it can be divided in half using the subnet mask of 255.255.255.128, leaving the other half for the VOIP phone system.  This subnetting scheme would leave 126 hosts on the office network and 126 hosts on the VOIP network.  The AOIP console and broadcast automation system can be placed on another class C segment, using the subnet mask of 255.255.255.192, which would give each subnet 62 hosts.  All subnets would have room to expand.  Each subnet is isolated from the others by a router.  The office subnet contains the gateway to the internet, usually .1 or .126 (first or last) IP address.

That would look something like this:

Office network
Line address First available Last available Broadcast Subnet mask
172.19.0.0 172.19.0.1 172.19.0.126 172.19.0.127 255.255.255.128
VOIP phone system
Line address First available Last available Broadcast Subnet mask
172.19.0.128 172.19.0.129 172.19.0.254 172.19.0.255 255.255.255.128
AOIP consoles and nodes
Line address First available Last available Broadcast Subnet mask
172.19.1.0 172.19.1.1 172.19.1.62 172.19.1.63 255.255.255.192
Broadcast Automation system
Line address First available Last available Broadcast Subnet mask
172.19.1.64 172.19.1.65 172.19.1.126 172.19.1.127 255.255.255.192

That keeps the network segments small but has room to grow.  This is a diagram of a converged network:

Radio Broadcast Facility converged network

Radio Broadcast Facility converged network

With a setup like this, reliability is the key to a happy life. The router should be a good Cisco product with four or more Fast Ethernet ports. A second way to do this would be to have four routers plugged into a distribution switch and use OSPF to route between subnetworks. The switches should also be a good Cisco product, which can take advantage of port security options and QoS on the VOIP and AOIP segments.  VOIP systems usually require Power over Ethernet (POE) ports, thus that switch can be specialized for that purpose.

Many AOIP systems want to see Gigabit switches or at least Fast Ethernet switches with Gigabit or better back planes.  Any AOIP STL system can be connected to the AOIP network along with other things like AOIP remote broadcast and studio telephone solutions.

Many WLAN access points can be configured as a network router and DHCP server for wireless hosts.

The largest users of the public (i.e. internet) network would be the VOIP phone system and office network.  The broadcast automation network may also be a if voice tracking or other program delivery over WAN is used.

Axiom


A pessimist sees the glass as half empty. An optimist sees the glass as half full. The engineer sees the glass as twice the size it needs to be.

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
~1st amendment to the United States Constitution

Any society that would give up a little liberty to gain a little security will deserve neither and lose both.
~Benjamin Franklin

The individual has always had to struggle to keep from being overwhelmed by the tribe. To be your own man is hard business. If you try it, you will be lonely often, and sometimes frightened. But no price is too high to pay for the privilege of owning yourself.
~Rudyard Kipling

Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes the freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers
~Universal Declaration Of Human Rights, Article 19

...radio was discovered, and not invented, and that these frequencies and principles were always in existence long before man was aware of them. Therefore, no one owns them. They are there as free as sunlight, which is a higher frequency form of the same energy.
~Alan Weiner

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