When bargain cabling is no bargain

If you won't listen to the IT people you hire, what's the point of having them in the first place? I work IT at the corporate headquarters of a midsize company in Los Angeles; our network includes about 250 computers. We moved to our current location about 15 years ago, and at that point, Cat-5 cable was a relatively new product. I did some research and discovered that if we ever decided to upgrade our 10Base-T

If you won't listen to the IT people you hire, what's the point of having them in the first place?

I work IT at the corporate headquarters of a midsize company in Los Angeles; our network includes about 250 computers. We moved to our current location about 15 years ago, and at that point, Cat-5 cable was a relatively new product. I did some research and discovered that if we ever decided to upgrade our 10Base-T network to 100Base-TX, we'd need Cat-5 cable. Seemed straightforward enough. While 10Base-T will work in spite of poor wiring (split pairs, poor terminations, even short sections of flat cable), 100Base-TX is far less tolerant. Cat-5 was the way to go.

My boss, the IT director, ran several bids for phone and network drops, and he decided (as usual) to go with the lowest bid. He chose a company that I'll call Big Joe's Bargain Brand Cabling Company. "Oh yeah, Cat-5 cable, no problemo."

As the years passed and our company grew, I acquired numerous network engineering certifications and moved into management. By now my title was Network Administrator. My boss moved up the administrative ladder, too, and hired a replacement for himself. Unfortunately, the new IT director (we can call him Egbert) had little knowledge of networking issues.

This became a problem when we did, in fact, migrate the network to 100Base-TX and began experiencing maddening problems due to Big Joe's slapdash cabling job. Suddenly stations would go off the net, and when my techs went crawling into the overhead, they'd find cables that were running over fluorescent lights, jacks and patch panels that were not Cat-5 compliant, and shielding that was pulled back more than three inches before the cables were punched.

I told Egbert that we needed new cabling. He insisted that we needed a "network assessment" and began soliciting bids. During a series of meetings, I repeatedly recommended that we get the cabling problems fixed before we paid for a network assessment so that the assessment might actually reveal something useful. But Egbert and his cronies in upper management disagreed. At one point, the CIO pounded his fist on the conference table and shouted, "We do NOT have a cabling problem!" Finally, Egbert and the CIO settled on one particular company to do the assessment for "only" 50 grand.

The network assessment company went to work, using a software package that produced pretty graphs of what the network looked like. In the end, it could come up with only one suggestion, and you can guess what it was: Fix the cabling. After we paid the team an additional 22 grand, it replaced all the network jacks and patch panels but left the existing cables in place -- even though they were still pulled incorrectly. To this day, my staff continues to move cables off of fluorescent lighting junctions as we find problems. (It turns out that many of the jacks were tested after hours, when the lights were off. Clever.)

With the money we paid for the patch panel/jack work, we could have had all our Cat-5 cabling repulled correctly -- with a copy of that network sniffer they used thrown into the bargain. In my opinion, the network assessment was a joke. We never got anything for our money.

The bottom line is this: If you're not prepared to listen to what your network administrators are telling you, you either need to hire new ones or get out of the way and let qualified people do their jobs.

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