We all know the expression: Keep it Simple, Stupid! or just KISS for short. No matter how many times we hear it, though, it's an easy one to forget. This last week was a great example for me. Just when I thought I'd gotten through my little IT Project Failure, the line into our central office went down.
It looked like the line coming in from the cable company was fine; even the new firewall we'd installed had been working like a champ with all systems go. On closer inspection, the Ethernet cable connecting the cable modem to the firewall for the Superintendent's office was pretty badly nicked and scratched. It was probably only a matter of time until it failed anyway, even without the tugging and jostling of the new firewall install.
A quick call to the janitors had me on a lift looking in the giant vaulted ceilings of the building, trying to find the shortest way to pull new cable. Unfortunately, there just wasn't a short way. In fact, the original cable followed a remarkably circuitous path for a connection that was only about 50 feet as the crow flies (vaulted ceilings and a strangely-placed head-in room were the culprit for that one).
Since the new Internet connection came from our cable company, I decided to look for a coaxial drop into the office, bypassing the Ethernet connection. Some experimentation made it clear that the media center in the building was preventing any sort of reasonable data traffic on those lines, though.
How about a wireless bridge? Consumer equipment is hitting 300MBps, so I might actually improve my transmission speeds, right? Of course, like most schools, this one is built like a bunker, so as I was setting up the bridging, I started thinking of alternatives in case I just didn't get the performance I needed without investing in more expensive wireless equipment.
Already beginning to kick myself for wasted time and effort, I grabbed a ladder and climbed up to the drop ceiling (thankfully, only 8 feet in the office) and started tracing the beat up Ethernet cable back as far as the ceiling tiles would allow. About 10 feet back from its terminus, the cable felt smooth and intact. Without much to lose, I cut the cable, punched it into a spare Ethernet wall jack I had in my office, connected a new patch cable (this time avoiding the large fluorescent fixture over which the bad cable had been draped), and clicked into the firewall. Bam. 7MBps to the desktops.
While its entirely possible that the cable is damaged elsewhere (and thus, I'm looking at other long-term solutions), my users will be up and running in the morning with what amounted to about 15 minutes of my time. If I'd kept things simple in the first place, exhausting the easy options before jumping to the geeky ones, I could have saved myself a lot of time and effort.