If every network were as ‘pure’ as the one depicted on the left below, none of us who deal with networking problems would ever have anything to do. But the reality is that most small businesses, whether they are based in the owner’s home, or in a professional office building, have networks that more commonly resemble the example on the right.
In this mini-series we will look at some causes of common network problems, how to identify these network nightmares, and the applicable standards that should be put in place.
When something goes wrong with a client’s network, who knows ‘anything about it’? Most of the time nobody. So you may have a difficult time finding the answer to critical questions like:
✓ What’s on the network?
It would be nice if everyone had a network diagram like this one, but the only people I have seen with anything like this, are our own clients for whom we prepared network diagrams.
Local Area Network
Our business policy is that we never work on a network, or even a networked QuickBooks installation, without performing (and maintaining) a Network Survey and Diagram.
✓ Where are all the components of the network?
Typically someone will point you to the ‘hottest’ closet in the place. People don’t seem to understand that their valuable network hardware, including server, do not deserve to be ‘locked up’ in the smallest, most air-tight closet they can find to put it in. But just because they told you that the closet was the ‘pile of gold’ doesn’t mean that it really is. How many times have you tracked down a small switch behind the cobweb infested space behind a file cabinet, under the unoccupied desk in the back office, or even in the attack space?
✓ Who all uses the network?
I had a client who told me that they had 3 computers and a printer connected to their 1 Gigabyte peer-to-peer network and that recently had 1 of their computers start running much slower than the other 2. They pointed me to the ‘telephone closet’ across down the hall in the office building.
As it turned out, both the ‘telephone company’ and the ‘cable provider’ brought service into this closet and terminated service on designated sections of plywood boards for each business in the building. When we identified our client’s service, we noticed that a switch had been plugged into the client’s 4-port cable-modem/router/switch (MRS). Three gray Ethernet cable runs were plugged into the MRS, plus the 5 port switch. One gray wire and 4 blue wires were plugged into this switch. We quickly determined that another ‘office’ in the building was ‘bootlegging’ internet service from our client by simply plugging in the switch into the MRS and then plugging their network cables into the same switch. The fact that the little switch was only 100mbps meant that our client’s 1 computer plugged-in to the switch was the reason they ‘slowed down’.
If it hadn’t been for this ‘slow-down’, our client might not have ever discovered that one of their building neighbors were in fact ‘stealing’ internet service. We promptly relocated the MRS from the ‘common communications closet’ to a secured area of our client’s office; and also reported the offender to both building management and the ‘cable company’ after documenting and photographing the felonious activity.
✓ How is the client using the network?
We once got called to a business that reported that QuickBooks kept ‘disconnecting’ from the network every few minutes on one computer. When we got to the client’s office we found out that that the computer in question was an ‘all-in’ one set up at the front reception desk with a wireless keyboard and mouse. Trouble was that this computer was also connected via a wireless network card to a wireless hub in a cabinet less than 4 feet away in a credenza behind the front desk.
Every other users was connected to the network via Ethernet 6 cables running at 1 Gigabyte, they simply didn’t like the idea of a network cable running to the front desktop computer and cluttering up their otherwise ‘wireless’ look. (Well there was a power cable, how does that fit your fancy?) After showing them where QuickBooks doesn’t support ‘wireless networks’ we installed an 8 foot cable and resolved the connection problem. By the way, the hundreds of wireless connection breaks had seriously corrupted their QuickBooks Company file.