IT professionals who work with Cisco’s vast array of products and technologies should be very familiar with Cisco’s Technical Assistance Center, otherwise known as TAC. This site can be an invaluable tool when it comes to setting up, configuring, and troubleshooting Cisco products.

What you may not know is that Cisco has recently undertaken the task of updating its interface to the TAC. The change is designed to make finding information quicker and more convenient by simplifying the interface and giving a more consistent appearance. As part of this revamping effort, Cisco has added a Hardware Troubleshooting Index to the TAC. I’ll show how this new resource can help you in troubleshooting and managing Cisco equipment.

Site access

Currently, the troubleshooting index can be accessed using a registered Cisco user (CCO) account or by registering as a guest. Hopefully, the site will remain available to unregistered users for the benefit of IT professionals who do not meet Cisco CCO registration requirements.

Site overview
Whether you’re new to Cisco technologies or you’re a CCIE, the new troubleshooting index will help you work with complex Cisco-related issues. This is not your typical endless sea of irrelevant support documents thrown into a so-called “knowledge base.” The troubleshooting index consists of three groups of Cisco products (Figure A): high-end routers, LAN switches, and typical access router products.

Figure A
The main page of Cisco’s Hardware Troubleshooting Index

The most widely used Cisco routers are listed, including the 1600, 1700, 2600, 3600, 4000, and 6400 series. Further drilldown into the various products reveal Tech Notes, which are centered on both basic and advanced troubleshooting procedures. In addition, numerous error codes, step-by-step troubleshooting tutorials, and links to related articles are available.

The index also includes information seldom offered by vendor support Web sites in its Preparing To Troubleshoot section, provided for LAN switches and modules. This area is designed to prepare you to troubleshoot hardware problems on Catalyst series switches by enabling you to first identify what you are troubleshooting.

In an effort to promote feedback, Cisco has included a brief questionnaire asking about the usefulness of the site in helping you troubleshoot your device. Filling out the short questionnaire with your comments is the best way to improve the site even further.

Common usage example
Let’s take a look at a scenario where the troubleshooting index may provide some value. Suppose you just received a new Cisco 2600 router that you want to configure to replace your limited 1600 router. You unpack the router from the box and hook up your console cable to your laptop to begin the initial configuration. You power on the router and you watch it boot, as expected.

But what you do not expect is to see is a continuous loop, where the router repeatedly cycles through the boot process and is unrecoverable. The continuous loop never lets you gain access to the router, and the router continues to give a scrolling error message, “%ERR-1-GT64010: Fatal error, PCI Master read,” until it is powered off.

You visit Cisco’s Hardware Troubleshooting Index and, under the Cisco 2600 Router link, you select the document “Hardware Troubleshooting for the Cisco 2600 Series Router.” A short review of the document takes you straight to your symptom and error code. You are then directed to a troubleshooting flowchart for “Bus Error Exception, %ERR-1-GT64010, and Watchdog Timeout Continuous Loops.” By following the flowchart, you determine that the constant reboots were caused by a mis-seated network module. Hence, the problem is solved, and the router is now ready to be configured.

Cisco appears to be working hard to expand the Hardware Troubleshooting Index and provide greater functionality. There are, however, some shortcomings that are important to mention.

First, the products provided within the index make up only a partial list of the numerous Cisco products used by organizations today. IT professionals troubleshooting the often complicated Cisco security and IP Telephony products, for example, must look for help elsewhere. Other omitted products include the PIX firewalls and Integrated Communication Systems (ICS).

Another drawback is the lack of an integrated search engine within the index, which makes finding specific error messages or error codes a more lengthy process than it needs to be.

And unfortunately, Cisco has so far failed to fully promote the use of the Hardware Troubleshooting Index as a valuable support tool. Additions are being made daily, and IT professionals who use Cisco products would benefit from being aware of this new offering.

When problems arise with critical networking, security, or IP communications, you need to know where to turn to quickly troubleshoot the issues. Cisco, the worldwide leader in internetworking equipment, has made the process easier with the introduction of its Hardware Troubleshooting Index. As the site is updated to provide even more support for Cisco products, it will undoubtedly become a vital tool for professionals who routinely work with and troubleshoot Cisco equipment.