Eight Things You Should Have in Case of a Computer Network Emergency

By Doug Lowe

When you first network your office computers, you need to find a closet where you can stash some network goodies. If you can’t find a whole closet, shoot for a shelf, a drawer, or at least a sturdy cardboard box.

Here’s a list of what stuff to keep on hand.

Duct Tape

Duct tape helped get the crew of Apollo 13 back from their near-disastrous moon voyage. You won’t actually use it much to maintain your network, but it serves the symbolic purpose of demonstrating that you realize things sometimes go wrong and you’re willing to improvise to get your network up and running.

If you don’t like duct tape, a little baling wire and some chewing gum serve the same symbolic purpose.

Tools

Make sure that you have at least a basic computer toolkit, the kind you can pick up for $15 from just about any office supply store. At the minimum, you’ll need a good set of screwdrivers, plus wire cutters, wire strippers, and cable crimpers for assembling RJ-45 connectors.

Patch Cables

Keep a good supply of patch cables on hand. You’ll use them often: when you move users around from one office to another, when you add computers to your network, or when you need to rearrange things at the patch panels (assuming you wired your network using patch panels).

When you buy patch cables, buy them in a variety of lengths and colors. One good way to quickly make a mess of your patch panels is to use 15′ cables when 3′ cables will do the job. And having a variety of colors can help you sort out a mass of cables.

The last place you should buy patch cables is from one of those big-box office supply or consumer electronics stores. Instead, get them online. Cables that sell for $15 or $20 each at chain stores can be purchased online for $3 or $4 each.

Cable Ties

Cable ties — those little plastic zip things that you wrap around a group of cables and pull to tighten — can go a long way toward helping keep your network cables neat and organized. You can buy them in bags of 1,000 at big-box home-improvement stores.

Extra Network Cards

Ideally, nearly all your computers will have network interfaces built directly into the motherboard. However, you will occasionally find that the motherboard’s network interface goes bad. Rather than replace the entire motherboard, you can often fix the problem by adding a cheap (less than $20) network card to use instead of the on-board network interface.

Cheap Network Switches

Keep a couple of inexpensive (about $20) four- or eight-port network switches on hand. You don’t want to use them for your main network infrastructure, but they sure come in handy when you need to add a computer or printer somewhere, and you don’t have an available network jack.

For example, suppose one of your users has a short-term need for a second computer, but there’s only one network jack in the user’s office. Rather than pulling a new cable to the user’s office, just plug a cheap switch into the existing jack and then plug both of the computers into the switch.

The Complete Documentation of the Network

Don’t spend hours documenting your network and then hide the documentation under a pile of old magazines behind your desk. Put the binder in the closet with the other network supplies so that you and everyone else always know where to find it. And keep backup copies of the Word, Excel, Visio, or other documents that make up the network binder in a fireproof safe or at another site.

Don’t you dare chisel passwords into the network documentation, though. Shame on you for even thinking about it!

If you decide to chisel the network documentation onto actual stone tablets, consider using sandstone. It’s attractive, inexpensive, and easy to update (just rub out the old info and chisel in the new). Keep in mind, however, that sandstone is subject to erosion from spilled Diet Coke. Oh, and make sure that you store it on a reinforced shelf.

The Network Manuals and Disks

In the Land of Oz, a common lament of the Network Scarecrow is, “If I only had the manual.” True, the manual probably isn’t a Pulitzer Prize candidate, but that doesn’t mean you should toss it in a landfill, either.

Put the manuals and disks for all the software you use on your network where they belong — in the closet with all the other network tools and artifacts.