A missed detail derails a server room move

A project takes on a life of its own when Internet, intranet, and phone connections act up -- and the reason remains elusive

None of us has time for long, puzzling, drawn-out tech problems. But the source must be found so the nightmare can end. And even though every detail is triple-checked, something small can get you -- such as one wrong item on a contract proposal.

Recently, the office where I work consolidated space, and the server room had to move to a different location in the same building. Company policy requires three quotes for each part of the construction phase, so I made quite a few phone calls and sent a lot of emails.

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I was able to get quotes from several electrical, HVAC, alarm, and cable installers. But finding three quotes for companies that install network cabling was much more difficult. I contacted six companies, but only one even came out to review the requirements and give us a proposal.

I've been working with computers for more than 25 years, and I've been at my current position as a network administrator for 18 years. I don't know much about electrical circuits, HVAC, or alarm systems, so I had to trust that the contractors knew what they were recommending. I do work with CAT 5 and CAT 6 cables fairly frequently, but I have very little experience with fiber. When the salesman asked if we wanted multi-mode or single-mode, I said we'd like the same type we currently had.

It took a few weeks, but we made decisions on which contractors to use and did the paperwork. The company said we could move forward with the one network cable installer that had given us a quote. Finally, we were ready to move on to the next phase.

Let the work begin

During the next month, I lost a lot of sleep, as I had to get to work early many days to let the contractors into the building. Company policy also required that visitors be escorted, which meant I wasn't doing my usual job much of the time they were there. So I was also staying late to catch up on work.

The cable installers were at the office for three days installing copper and fiber, including some runs to the building's phone closet in the basement. The cables were installed and tested, and the results showed the cables were working properly. We then set our sights on moving and hoped the project would be completed within days.

Boy, were we wrong.

The problem that wouldn't go away

Saturday: My coworker and I got to the office bright and early and spent about 12 hours moving the server equipment, most of which would be set up the same way it had been before. There were a number of networking changes, but I'd worked on those ahead of time.

The item I'd been most concerned about was our Internet connection. We have a 20Mbps MPLS connection to another location, and then we get on the Internet from there. We also have a VoIP system that runs over the same MPLS connection.

There were a few bumps on the road during the day, including a Cisco command I'd overlooked. Our company's Cisco expert was on vacation in an area he had warned us had spotty cell reception, so we crossed our fingers and hoped to reach him. Fortunately, we were able to contact him around 7 p.m., and he diagnosed the problem and gave us the fix in five minutes.

By 8:30 p.m. we were confident we had the critical equipment moved from the old server room to the new one. There were a few glitches we'd have to work on the next week, but the resources our users needed were working -- or so we thought.

Monday: I was at work early to make sure there weren't any problems users would notice. The file and printer server were working. Email was working. The Internet, intranet, and phones worked. We were ready for users.

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