Numerous projects that IT consultants undertake require proper cabling and dependable network infrastructure. Office relocations, staff expansions, server redeployments, site remodels, VoIP implementations, and other client requests frequently mean new cabling work is required.
Unfortunately, consultancies don't always possess the fleet vehicles, scissor lifts, cherry pickers, telescoping ladders, and other equipment some cabling jobs require. Some consultancies might use such investments so infrequently it makes no sense to purchase. That's why it's often important to form tight relationships with other contractors.
Your consulting office's engineers still must know how to wire networks, however, and not just because the occasional cabling job must be knocked out in a hurry. The networking knowledge that comes from ensuring each engineer knows how cables are pinned, matched to NICs, linked to properly terminated wall jacks and punch down blocks, and ultimately connected to routers and switches is invaluable.
You can't take it for granted
This issue is fresh in my mind because recently some of our contractors didn't know how to properly terminate a Category 5e Ethernet cable or install a Leviton wall jack. The contractors understood the concept, but they didn't know how to properly sequence the cable's individual copper lines and physically place an RJ-45 modular connector in a die before crimping.
Corporate clients my firm supports also requested we assist them in troubleshooting "mis-wired" wall jacks, which weren't really failing. Completing the final physical connection from the punch down block to a network switch (via a simple patch cable) was all the customer had missed.
In some cases, clients and subcontractors don't possess simple toning equipment or the knowledge required to use a toner. In my experience, I've seen this mean they are unable to ensure they connect the proper unlabeled wall jacks via an unlabeled punch down block to a router performing double duty as a network switch and a firewall.
Networking fundamentals are essential
When a tech consultancy's engineers understand how data packets physical route on a network, the engineers are better prepared to troubleshoot failed LAN, WAN, and other network issues. Consultants must be able to quickly trace physical cabling disconnects, identify missing punch down connections, and diagnose failed switch and router ports. Only by understanding how a NIC's pins mate with an Ethernet cable's individual copper wires, and only by knowing how those individual wires are ultimately paired with specific individual physical connections on a switch or router, are engineers fully prepared to troubleshoot the myriad network failures they're likely to encounter as employees of an IT consultancy every week.
Erik Eckel owns and operates two technology companies. As a managing partner with Louisville Geek, he works daily as an IT consultant to assist small businesses in overcoming technology challenges and maximizing IT investments. He is also president of Eckel Media Corp., a communications company specializing in public relations and technical authoring projects.