Friday, 3 April 2009


At my previous company, the network cabling was pretty poor – it was put in by a guy they referred to as “Dodgy Dean”. I’m told that he is wanted by 3 separate police forces and is currently living somewhere in the Costas!

Basically, it was a mix of old coaxial cable (with BNC connectors), some Cat 5e cable most of which done correctly, but some of which was reversed (green / orange). It was run through gaps in the walls, through drains, over the roof, through guttering, mixed in with power cable, under motors – pretty much a mess. There was absolutely no structure to it what so ever.

The network used to crash throughout the day – tests showed that quite a number of the cables were dead (around 20%). I also found some strange configurations in the hubs, with cable crossing over and packets travelling unnecessarily longer distances. The speed was pretty poor (as you might expect) and people would often accidently cut through or disturb cables to cause disruption.

I eventually decided enough was enough – I set about replacing all the crap. As I started to pull the old cable out, I found even more hidden away than I knew about – it turns out that he never took anything out, just ran more cable when one piece failed. Some of the old cable was covered in all sorts of green, brown and black slime! Much of it showed signs of the outer sheath cracking or breaking up as it was in such poor condition. In the end, I filled a whole standard skip up with the dead cable and still had enough over to half fill another.

Eventually, it was all tidied up, documented and tested and the network became a lot more stable and transmission speed improved. Then I changed jobs!

When I started with my current company, it was a bit like taking a step back in time. Again, there was a mixture of older coax cable, some fibre and mostly Cat 5e. The cable runs were really poor, just shoved in where they could with no planning of any real kind.

So I trained up one of the staff, showed him how to do basic Cat 5 ends, and punch down in the patch panels. I spent some time analysing what was really needed through the offices and factories, then considered how best to replace all of the garbage.

We started with some fairly basic changes – moving some cables and putting some new ones in a more controlled way. Then we added proper basket tray above the office spaces to carry new cable and it started to take shape. We always run cables in threes – the extra cost is minimal, but it provides a lot more capacity and it is easier than trying to add in later.

When the company decided to build new offices, it was agreed that we would cable it up – we had had quotes in the range of £38,000 to over £50,000. In the end, we put in almost 10,000 metres of cable for the new offices and the cost of materials was a little over £3k. Add in another £3k for staff time involved and it became a major cost saving. It actually allowed them to plan for a really fancy lighting system that cost some £30k.

In the comms rooms, the patch panels look really pretty as they are very carefully patched. In most places, these normally resemble explosions of spaghetti, but ours are very different and nicely laid out. We have had several people in from outside companies that are astonished at the quality of the work we have done. (See the picture above for an example of a comms rack - we have 3 full height units, 1 half size and 2 wall cabinets, and they all look like that.)

So why do we put all this effort in? Well, we take a pride in our job; we want to have something that we can point to as high quality work. It also makes our lives easier; if there is a problem, it takes less time to identify and resolve. The structure we use provides much more capacity for growth with minimal effort – it’s also a lot easier to move people around when necessary.

The problem is of course that within the company, most people don’t recognise the effort that has gone into it. All they are interested in is that the system works when they want it to, and as a result they just don’t appreciate that not everyone takes as much care as we do.

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