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TechRepublic member answers the call: Hardware performance suffering in janitor's closet?

One thing that separates TechRepublic from other IT sites is the unique interaction between its members. Here's one example of how IT pros are able to share their concerns and find help from others working in the IT trenches.

One of the most important aspects of TechRepublic.com and one of the features that separates it from a lot of other tech sites, is the interaction between its members. Where else can you pop in and post a question about a technical issue that's been bugging you and have it answered in the same day by a seasoned IT pro? Anyone can pop around on the Web and try to pick up some pieces of a solution, but to get timely feedback from someone who is actually doing the same job you do is invaluable.

Case in point

TechRepublic member ippirate was at the end of his proverbial rope with technical difficulties that he feared were being caused by computer equipment being stored in a maintenance room. Here's the problem, in his words:

"I have a switch stack and a router/firewall that are being stored in a maintenance/janitorial room. This hardware sits in an open frame wall rack, 4 feet from two industrial air handlers. There is a myriad of chemicals in the room as well, giving off vapors, a mop sink and two large industrial power panels.

All of my backbone hardware as well as my phone equipment sit in this room measuring 8 x 15. Here's a surprise, there are always issues with this equipment. The router resetting, DHCP service being lost, no pass through of SMTP/POP3 traffic to the outside world, and the list goes on. I am freaking out, have been since I got here about the location of this equipment. Management keeps saying, just fix it and find out what is causing it. Me: The environment has a majority to do with it. Them: No, it doesn't.

Here's what I am asking.

Anyone that is willing to comment on this and confirm that the environment can indeed cause these issues on the level of hardware problems, please email a response to the address listed below. I can't effectively troubleshoot the problems because the fixes are so random, this leads me back to something that I either am not or cannot address/mitigate. The few pieces of new equipment that have been installed have been fine for a few months and then the problems begin to occur, increasing over time.

Please, help me get through to these guys."

TechRepublic member bubbaonthenet addresses issue of environment's effect on equipment


Fortunately for ippirate, bubbaonthenet was, well, on the net. Here's his response:

"Your DMark is not DEnd ::snicker:: DMarks [Ed. note: demarc, or demarcation point] are usually LOUD (Water Conditioners, Air Compressors, Electric Mains, Fuse Boxes, that sort of thing), nasty, spider filled rooms that no one ever visits. I've seen some nasty DMarks. I’ve seen them with Emergency Venting that essentially opens almost one exposed wall to the outside environment.

In fact, I have never seen one that has been treated by HVAC even while working for a Hotel Casino. It makes no sense to make the room comfortable for humans when it will not be inhabited by humans. Copper wire punched down to a block does not need 'proper' heating/ventilation. It just needs to be dry and re-punched down correctly once in a while as it loosens or becomes shorted out by other leads.

The rule of thumb is that if the Telephone Company is OK with the DMark (remember they have Millions of dollars of Equipment out on the streets literally, exposed to weather [Summer Heat & Cold Winters]) then whatever else [is] in there should be ok as well.

Yes, I know there are hundreds of Telephone Technicians that are making repairs in your neighborhoods daily, but for the most part how many times has the DMark in your OWN HOME faulted your lines, disconnected a conversation or any other weird DSL Telephone line or Cable Modem anomaly? It’s usually when it gets wet or overheats due to extreme temperatures.

If you have T1 Service to the Building, you be assured they will be sure to check if it is located in a suitable location.

I would suggest the following:

  1. Check your DMark for any obvious abuse or obvious problems (dripping water or water damage on your punch down boxes.)
  2. Any exposed copper on the wiring.
  3. Is the wiring leading to/from the building lying across anything that may interfere with Data Communication: the little transformers in Fluorescent lighting wreck havoc.

  4. Are the pulls from the room to your Server Room in healthy shape (see if your company will rent a Fluke tester to check those lines [to see if the pulls are too long, the connectors are wired right, et al.]
  5. Can you move most of this equipment to your Server Room and do the data pulls to the offices/cubes from there? That makes the most sense as you do not have to run from room to room when you are troubleshooting Network Issues.
  6. Bring in 3 Network Service Companies (like BlackBox or any local Joe) to give their professional opinion on how your Building is wired. Ask them if it is in and up to your Local Codes --this is free to you because they want to rewire your building (see if their diagnoses are uniform.)
  7. Purchase tools to troubleshoot the real issue at hand: If you are dropping packets or information is not getting in/out, purchase a Network Sniffer to give you the real scoop on what is going on; buy the right tool for the problem at hand. Sort of like if you keep burning things in the oven purchase a Thermometer --USE COMMON SENSE. No DHCP [if it is on a Server, check the services, check the event log (NT I am assuming) if it is controlled by a home router that runs a DHCP Service are you running out of IPs? Do the simple troubleshooting steps as directed by the manufacturer.] --Your job is to find out the real issue and inform your Management what you think it needs, what it does and what will be affected, and the costs associated.
  8. Contact your ISP if you feel certain protocols are being blocked–you have a firewall, did you accidentally block SMTP one afternoon?
  9. Relax, step away from the DMark and take one problem at a time."

In response to ippirates's statement that he has been taking things one problem at a time but is still continually frustrated, bubbaonthenet answered:

"Here is how I approach it at small shops where you have to be a jack of all trades:

  1. Take each issue and document the exact problem, work on resolving it and document the fix [build a knowledge base.]
    Building a knowledge base is so beneficial on saving time and justifying purchases as well as hiring additional resources (it also identifies where you spend the majority of your time.)
  2. When you have to fly solo you are sometimes too involved with the current problem you sometimes forget to step back to see if there are other forces influencing the issue at hand. So step back and refer to other issues and give them some investigation and absolve them.
    Remember you can get fried out too easily as being the only guy or 1 of 3 or 1 of 2. Take vacation time. Take time out for you. Do whatever, but your mental health is just as important as your skill sets when troubleshooting.
  3. You're in charge of a lot more than you think, you have to remember that there are hundreds of responsibilities and thousands of tasks with running an IT Infrastructure and maintaining their systems. You do not work in a Large Corporate structure where you have a given scope of responsibilities and duties, where you report at 7, finish your day's routines by 11:14AM and spend the rest of the day meeting and philosophizing about what "Ideal IT" is.
    Sometimes things are not going to be the result of another problem's having cascading effect—if at all. You may have your Exchange Server go down one minute and then an applet at a website your sales people always go won't work. Keep perspective: Start out with basic troubleshooting rather then looking at the least likely like the DMark.
  4. Remember that this job really is more then just working with Computers, it is how you can balance in an ever changing environment (most of it in the control of your users hands, a tiny portion in your control and the remainder of control in the hands of outside entities—remember that when a virus pays you a visit or an upgrade turns into a nightmare.)
    Maintaining your cool and confidence in what got you to where you are today; being honest with your capabilities (remember IT is NOT about Ego it is about Computer Technology—NO ONE in this industry knows everything, NO ONE does, and those who claim they do are loose canons.)
    Never be afraid to say to your Boss I do not know but I will find out—he hired you knowing your limitations and he expects you to grow, so take this chance and run.
  5. Remember, the less resources or people there are to support a Network the more things will go wrong as the systems become neglected. Keep the Manpower Ratios (Server to Manpower, Users to Manpower, Maintenance to Manpower, and Workstations to Manpower) always in Mind. You always should be proud of what you accomplish even when you feel you are not doing much.

OK? That's the pep talk. Now let's troubleshoot your problems. Tell me about the DMark again:

  1. What kind of hardware do you have? Give as much facts as you can.
  2. What kind of DHCP is running (appliance or Software?)
  3. Post good snapshots of the DMark on a page on a website and perhaps someone will be able to instantly see an issue.
  4. What sort of maintenance have you done? If the hardware has fans are they clean and running --that sort of thing.
  5. Have you tried configuring and swapping in/out new or similar hardware?
  6. Do not be afraid to list your level of expertise with the hardware as someone may give you "advice" such as a good book or a beneficial course to help get you to where you need to be supporting your environment.

Consider joining a local HelpDesk Chapter—although they are geared to Helpdesks it is beneficial for Administrators like us to meet and Network with others http://www.thinkhdi.com/.

List all of the variables, and give your picture color with the make and model information because there are geeks out there that could tell you similar woes with a product or what they did to get things running."

Thanks!

On behalf of ippirate and ourselves, we'd like to thank bubbaonthenet for taking time out of his schedule to offer such an eloquent and well-thought-out response to an IT issue nagging another TechRepublic member. If you have a question or feel you could offer some insight into another member's question, drop by the Discussion Center.

About

Toni Bowers is Managing Editor of TechRepublic and is the award-winning blogger of the Career Management blog. She has edited newsletters, books, and web sites pertaining to software, IT career, and IT management issues.

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