By Doug Lowe

The biggest network mistakes can be easily avoided. Here’s some of the most common mistakes made by network novices. Avoid these mistakes and you deprive your local computer geek of the pleasure of a good laugh at your expense.

Skimping on hardware

Professional-grade equipment is expensive, and in a business environment, it’s worth it.

Why? Because professional-grade equipment is designed with performance, reliability, and centralized management in mind.

Professional server computers typically include redundancy in all the key systems — duplicate power supplies, duplicate network ports, duplicate disk controllers, and often even duplicate CPUs and motherboards. So, if one component fails, the server can continue operating.

Professional switches typically include management features that let you pinpoint problems on your network, segment your network for better performance, and monitor your employees’ usage of the network.

In the long run, the Scrooge approach may actually prove to be more expensive than investing in a good cable installation in the first place. A professionally installed cable infrastructure will last much longer than the computers it services, and will be considerably more reliable.

Turning off or restarting a server computer while users are logged on

If your network is set up with a dedicated file server, you probably won’t be tempted to turn it off or restart it. But if your network is set up as a true peer-to-peer network, where each of the workstation computers — including your own — also doubles as a server computer, be careful about the impulsive urge to turn off or restart your computer. Someone may be accessing a file or printer on your computer at that very moment.

So, before you turn off or restart a server computer, find out whether anyone is logged on. If so, politely ask her to log off.

Many server problems don’t require a server reboot. Instead, you can often correct the problem just by restarting the particular service that’s affected.

Deleting important files on the server

You can’t capriciously delete files from a network server just because you don’t need them. They may not be yours. You wouldn’t want someone deleting your files, would you?

Be especially careful about files that are required to keep the network running. For example, some versions of Windows use a folder named wgpo0000 to hold email. If you delete this folder, your email is history. Look before you delete.

The first time you accidentally delete an important file from a network share, you may be unpleasantly surprised to discover that the Recycle Bin does not work for network files. The Recycle Bin saves copies of files you’ve deleted from your computer’s local hard disk, but it does not save copies of files you delete from network shares. As a result, you can’t undelete a file you’ve accidentally deleted from the network.

Copying a file from the server, changing it, and then copying it back

You’re asking for trouble if you copy the file to your PC’s local hard drive, make changes to the file, and then copy the updated version of the file back to the server. Why? Because somebody else may be trying the same thing at the same time. If that happens, the updates made by one of you — whoever copies the file back to the server first — are lost.

Copying a file to a local drive is rarely a good idea.

Sending something to the printer again just because it didn’t print the first time

What do you do if you send something to the printer and nothing happens?

  • Right answer: Find out why nothing happened and fix it.
  • Wrong answer: Send it again and see whether it works this time.

Some users keep sending it over and over again, hoping that one of these days, it’ll take. The result is rather embarrassing when someone finally clears the paper jam and then watches 30 copies of the same letter print.

Assuming that the server is safely backed up

Never assume that the network jocks are doing their jobs backing up the network data every day, even if they are. Check up on them. Conduct a surprise inspection one day: Burst into the computer room wearing white gloves and demand to see the backup tapes. Check the tape rotation to make sure that more than one day’s worth of backups is available.

If you’re not impressed with your network’s backup procedures, take it upon yourself to make sure that you never lose any of your data. Back up your most valued files to a flash drive. Or purchase an inexpensive 2TB or 4TB portable hard drive and back up your critical data to it.

Connecting to the Internet without considering security issues

Never connect a networked computer to the Internet without first considering the security issues:

  • How will you protect yourself and the network from viruses?
  • How will you ensure that the sensitive files located on your file server don’t suddenly become accessible to the entire world?
  • How can you prevent evil hackers from sneaking into your network, stealing your customer file, and selling your customer’s credit card data on the black market?

Plugging in a wireless access point without asking

For that matter, plugging any device into your network without first getting permission from the network administrator is a big no-no. But wireless access points (WAPs) are particularly insidious. Many users fall for the marketing line that wireless networking is as easy as plugging in one of these devices to the network. Then, your wireless notebook PC or handheld device can instantly join the network.

The trouble is, so can anyone else within about one-quarter mile of the WAP. Therefore, you must employ extra security measures to make sure hackers can’t get into your network via a wireless computer located in the parking lot or across the street.

If you think that’s unlikely, think again. Several underground websites on the Internet actually display maps of unsecured wireless networks in major cities

Thinking you can’t work just because the network is down

Just because your computer is attached to a network doesn’t mean that it won’t work when the network is down. True — if the wind flies out of the network sails, you can’t access any network devices. You can’t get files from network drives, and you can’t print on network printers. But you can still use your computer for local work — accessing files and programs on your local hard drive and printing on your local printer (if you’re lucky enough to have one).

Running out of space on a server

One of the most disastrous mistakes to make on a network server is to let it run out of disk space. Bad things begin to happen when you get down to a few gigabytes of free space on a server. When you finally run out of space completely, users line up at your door demanding an immediate fix:

The best way to avoid this unhappy situation is to monitor the free disk space on your servers on a daily basis. It’s also a good idea to keep track of free disk space on a weekly basis so you can look for project trends.

Adding additional disk storage to your servers isn’t always the best solution to the problem of running out of disk space. Before you buy more disks, you should

  • Look for old and unnecessary files that can be removed.
  • Consider using disk quotas to limit the amount of network disk space your users can consume.

Always blaming the network

Some people treat the network kind of like the village idiot who can be blamed whenever anything goes wrong. Networks cause problems of their own, but they aren’t the root of all evil:

If your monitor displays only capital letters, it’s probably because you pressed the Caps Lock key.

Don’t blame the network.

If you spill coffee on the keyboard, well, that’s your fault.

Don’t blame the network.

If your toddler sticks Play-Doh in the USB ports, kids will be kids.

Don’t blame the network.

Get the point?