I thought we'd spend some time on the sorts of tools your support
staff should have to make their lives easier and to make them
more effective in their jobs. The signs on the sides of my truck
say "Network Security" and "Troubleshooting"
as the key bulleted items. The reason for this is that I've been
involved in so many cases that started out looking like one and
turned out to be the other. You never know until you start digging.
So keep an open mind as to the possibilities.
said, "The only difference between men and boys is the cost
of their toys". That's not quite true, and, of course, not
all of us in this business are men. I've known several female
techies who loved their "techie-toys" just as much
(or more) than the guys did.
let's think (out loud) about favorite toys. I'm sure many of
you will know about some that I've missed, but this should be
cable testers: These will check copper and fibers for distance,
DB loss, miswirings, breakages/damage, etc. My pet Fluke one
can come with several "ID" adapters for the other end,
which help to identify some miswirings and help you tell one
jack from another.
cable testers: These will check adapter cables that go from USB(A/B),
BNC, Centronics, DB-25, DB-9, RJ-11/14/45, DB-15, AUI (also 15
pins, but larger connector/lower density) and FireWire in any
combination you care to name. They will also tell you which pin
on which connector is wired to which pin on the other connector.
for the following two: The National Electrical Code specifies
that any circuit that is under continuous load (three hours or
more per day) for 15 and 20 amp branch circuits shall not exceed
80% of its rated capacity. This means that a 20 amp circuit cannot
carry more than 16 amps for three hours or longer and 15 amp
circuits cannot carry more than 12 amps for three hours or longer.
For circuits larger than 20 amps (30+ for most purposes), the
capacity of the breaker must be at least 125% of the rated full-time
load. I've seen entire server rooms brought down because of daisy-chained
power strips (which is a no-no from the fire marshal's point
of view anyway) that finally overloaded the breaker. I've also
seen data center management who, when informed that they were
close to the breaking point load-wise, refused to schedule time
to rearrange the loads because "we can't spare the time."
I sometimes wonder if they ever got "bitten" by that.
ammeter: These will measure the AC amperage load of any device
as long as it's clamped around ONE of the conductors. It's typically
used at the breaker panel by an electrician, but I've made up
some pigtails where each of the conductors has a loop sticking
out and a male and female connector on the ends so that I can
insert it into the power cord and measure the load of a single
device or group of devices. Here's a mini-picture:
"8" represents where the loops are sticking out of
the cable, with the plug on the left side and the socket on the
right side. One good way of doing this is to plug this pigtail
adapter between a UPS and the wall socket. That way (unless your
batteries are dead/dying) you don't interrupt a production environment.
Do not leave one of these in a production environment; this is
strictly a test and measurement tool. For longer term use, see
the next item.
Digital load read-out power strips: These are usually bolted
on to each rack of equipment and provide continuous digital readout
of the current load on the power strip.
breaker locators: These handy little guys are two-part. One part
plugs into a wall socket (110v only) and generates a tone on
the power line (assuming that the circuit is live). You take
the other end to the breaker panel and scan it over the breakers
listening for the tone. If you don't find the tone, turn up the
sensitivity until you do hear it. If you get the tone over several
breakers, then lower the sensitivity until it's just on one breaker.
If you still don't find the tone, or it shows on all breakers,
find another breaker panel.
and banana": This is originally a telephone installer's
tool, but it works for copper network cabling as well. Similar
to the breaker locator above, it's two parts: a battery-powered
tone generator that has both alligator clips and an RJ-11 plug
to connect to one end of the phone line, and a battery-powered
pickup that you run along the line of jacks and cable until you
hear the tone. Saves a LOT of time.
labeling machines: You know the ones. They range from 1/4"
to 1" tape width with a variety of tape and print colors.
Some also have USB ports so that you can drive the printing from
For straightening out bent pins in connectors. If you're anywhere
near my age, you'll also need a
magnifying glass: I found a neat one that folds as a square and
unfolds to stand up on its own. I've seen them in Fry's Electronics,
Radio Shack, various mail-order magazines.
RJ crimping tool: I've seen (no joke) the price range for these
from less than $20 (Radio Shack) to over $400. Decent ones range
from roughly $40 to $250. Do not buy the Radio Shack ones, as
they do not enforce the proper crimping pressure on the pins.
I also always use my cable tester on all crimps made at the time
to eliminate the possibility that I've just introduced a problem
into the environment.
ties and adhesive pads: You know what they are. Question is:
Do you carry some with you? You can also get cable ties with
little label areas to identify a cable with your quickie label
of "hook and loop" ribbon: Used like cable ties, but
you can undo and redo them later.
gun for 8 mm round cable: Helps make visible wiring neater.
You should have at least #0, #1 and #2 Phillips and 3/16"
and 1/4" or better flat blade ones. I prefer Klein because
of the better quality. (They are usually sold at Electrical Wholesale
houses, but I've also seen them at Home Depot.)
wrenches, wire cutters, torx drivers, punch tools (more for telephone
straight-through and crossover cables: Cat 5e or Cat 6 (or whatever
console cables: Most people are familiar with the Cisco light
blue ones. But there are many brands of equipment that don't
meet that standard -- including Cisco equipment from acquisitions
(Arrowpoint comes to mind). I've set up my own standard based
on the old US Robotics serial cable -- simply because I worked
at 3Com at the time and the USR setup used all possible pins
within an RJ-45, whereas the native 3Com ones did not. By setting
it up this way, I've got a bunch of different style connectors
(DB-9M, DB-9F, DB-25M, DB25F, RJ-45) that can be plugged in almost
any serial port and to your PC (desktop or laptop) and gain instant
connectivity to the console port.
Mb Hub: Not a switch, a hub. For use in sniffing traffic at odd
places where you don't have access to a SPAN port. Netgear still
sells these as a 4-port or 8-port unit for roughly $20-30.
floppy diskette drive: Fewer systems these days are made with
a floppy drive installed. These can still help you out of a jam.
You can also still use WinZip to make a multi-volume floppy-diskette-based
zip file that will span as many of these as you want.
external hard drive: For making copies (Ghost and such) for configurations,
documents and forensic images (requires special boot CD).
grounding strap: If you're working on electronic equipment and
you've got to take out parts, ground yourself to the chassis.
multi-voltage power supply: Test replacement for equipment that
uses those "calculator-type" power supplies. They typically
have a switch on top to control the output voltage and polarity,
and then a bunch of different style connectors for many devices.
Just note that if you measure the output voltage not under load,
it will be higher than you expect. Don't worry.
vacuum: Heat buildup is the enemy of all electronics. Computers,
switches, routers, television sets, stereos -- doesn't matter.
The buildup of dust acts as an insulating blanket that will accelerate
the aging of your equipment, and in some cases cause strange
failures that are difficult to diagnose. In my shop, I actually
use filtered, dehumidified compressed air, and I've got a tank
that I can take with me. The problem with that is if dust is
a serious problem, you can't be blowing it all over, so the vacuum
approach will still help -- and be neater. I just found a 1-gallon
shop vacuum at a local Ace hardware store for about $40.
surge and artifact power filter: Most people think of surge protectors
as keeping lightening strikes from burning up their PC. But electrical
artifacts can come in the ranges of seconds, 10ths and hundredths
of seconds, milliseconds, microseconds and nanoseconds. Each
of those different duration artifacts can have different effects
on your equipment depending on the length, spacing, repetition
and frequency of the artifact, and the quality of the power supply
on the equipment. The best ones are made by APC and Tripp-Lite:
It's amazing how many people (and networks) suffer problems because
of dirty electrical power. Since this is part of your toolkit,
it's just to plug the system under suspicion into to see if cleaning
up the power solves the problem. I've been called in for a few
cases where the customer was sure that someone was deliberately
crashing their networks, and the culprit was dirty electrical
power. The solution is not one of these power strips, it's a
UPS. The power strip simply helps you identify when dirty electrical
power is the problem.
be sure to buy the very best quality tools you can afford.