Networking

Ensure consultancy engineers know how to wire networks

Engineers at IT consultancies should know how to wire networks because they'll be better prepared to troubleshoot the myriad network failures they'll encounter on the job.

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.

About

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 o...

3 comments
AnsuGisalas
AnsuGisalas

At first I thought you said that the engineers had theoretical knowledge, but lacked hands-on know-how. But then later, you say they should have more theoretical knowledge (in both senses). I don't understand how that follows from the problem you described at first. Would have expected more of a "let your techs play with wires during downtime" conclusion. Let them do it, hands-on, and they'll have something to pin their theoretic knowledge on; that'll make them much more dexterous with their work.

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

And for color blindness. Every keystone jack I've seen in the past five years (from any manufacturer) is color-coded. All the contractor needs to know is "Are we wiring 'A' or 'B'?"

markeskdale
markeskdale

Totaly agree with the statement. It is crutical you understand the cabling infrastructure as the name implies it is the the infrastructure / fabric which the network is built apon. It is definetely a good idea to get a close relationship with a cabling / electrical company whom you can trust and who understand that structured network cabling is not just like electical cable. I had a project to oversee the wiring of a new building. The electricians had cut and joined all the Cat5 cabling and did not test before enclosing the walls. I had walked through this with the electricians and explained there should be no breaks in the cables, however they ignored what I had explained and decided that it was just cable and they would run the same way they ran power cables. Needless to say most points had failed and we had to rip out walls and ceiling to rerun cable. Lessons learned, choose a contractor you know understands data cabling.

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