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Diary of a Network Administrator: The Project Launch

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Have you ever kept a diary of the work you’ve dodged or completed? Ever wonder what’s in other network administrator’s diaries? In this series of articles, Joseph Phillips opens his diary for look into the life of network administrator. In this article covering the project launch, he shares his nightmare experience while creating a network plan for a new client.
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As an independent consultant, I'm exposed to many different industries, many different networks, and many different types of aspirin. Don't get me wrong—there's nothing better than a good challenge, but sometimes I wish for my own network, in which I can implement things the right way from the ground up.

Ever hear of being careful for what you wish for? A couple of months ago, I got my wish. A new client invited me to take a look at his network. Not just the servers, routers, and patch panels—the physical network. Let me give you some background.

This company has close to 100 clients on its LAN, a couple of small remote sites, and a T1 line connecting it to the outside world. Its ultimate goal is to upgrade its clients and servers to Windows 2000 on a speedy, acceptable network. The clients are all running (please promise not to giggle...) Windows 95. I know, Windows 95, but this is in Indiana, where we don't participate in daylight savings time so the cows will get milked on time. The five servers are running Windows NT 4 with the latest service pack. More on that later...

As I was saying, the client asked me to look at his network. Starting in the server room, which wasn't more than a closet, I could see that something wasn't quite right. Thirty or so CAT5 cables spilled out of the plenum (the area between the drop ceiling and the floor above) like someone dropped a bowl of spaghetti. Each cable wasn't punched down, but crimped and plugged into stacks of hubs.

Snakes, Holidays, and Insulation

If you've been paying attention, and I know you have, you're wondering where the other 70 cables for the network clients are. As I soon (and occasionally) discovered, throughout this office, there were hubs hidden away like forgotten Easter eggs. Don't like Easter? How about Christmas? Because there were so many collisions, the hubs blinked red and green like a string of lights on Snoopy's doghouse.

Most of the hubs were connected to only one other hub, although a few of the hubs were connected to two or three other hubs. A real mess. As you may be aware, Ethernet uses CSMA/CD, which means that network participants listen before they speak on the network. If two clients happen to speak at the same time, they'll collide and then they'll take a short siesta. The trouble is that when you start daisy-chaining hubs together, especially like this rocket scientist did, collisions increase and the network slows. No fun for anyone.

In the plenum, it reminded me of, well, you ever watch the Discovery Channel during snake week? I've never seen a bigger mess. Whoever had "installed" the cable must have thought CAT5 had a run of 100 inches rather than 100 meters. This joker had clipped and spliced the wires together with line extenders—every 10 feet or so on every cable. One cable had 27 splices from its hub to the client's PC. He might as well have used barbed wire and hoped for the best.

At each client's PC, there wasn't a wall jack. I bet you were guessing this already. The wire popped out of the ceiling, ran through a tube, and connected directly to the client's computer. Above each cubicle, a network cable dropped from the ceiling into the NIC. One fellow had at least decorated his network cable with GI Joe and Batman action figures. I think he got more use out of the network than anyone else did.

How this network actually worked to some level is beyond me. As I climbed down from my ladder, the staff could tell things were not good. I was just thinking that I would need an old priest and a young priest to exorcise this network.

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