A Few Words on Networking

Ethernet Cables Courtesy of PixabayNetworking is my weak point, both computer and people. I’m an introvert and mingling with
groups of people is hard for me. But that’s a story for a different day. What I’d like to talk about today is computer networking; modems, firewalls, patch panels, switches, routers, access points, network adapters, oh my!

When I first started as a tech librarian, I knew this cacophany of components was where my steepest learning curve would be. I hoped that I would be able to learn at my own pace. But alas, The Fates had other ideas and those weird sisters are mean bitches.

The first issue I ran into saddled me with not only a lack of knowledge in the configuration specifics but also a little hardware failure to obfuscate whom my real enemy was. The biggest help I had was my predecessor’s documentation. The patch panel, for instance:

Patch Panel

At the simplest level, the architecture is no different than your home: An ISP’s modem connects to a router, which in turn connects to a computer and viola! you have internet. But at this level of the game, things are far from simple. Here are the steps patrons get to the internet in the library:

  1. The Verizon modem is connected to the SonicWall firewall.
  2. The VLANs on the SonicWall connect to switch SW5
  3. The SW5 switch connects to A Patch Panel and B Patch Panel
  4. The SW5 switch ALSO accepts connections from the SW6 switch
  5. The SW6 switch accepts connections from the SW1 switch
  6. The A & B Patch Panels run along the guts of the builds and end in the various Ethernet jacks.
  7. The majority of those various Ethernet jacks connect to another router.
  8. Those routers connect to the various computers and printers used by the patrons. 

If the library could afford a switch with more than 48 ports, steps 4 and 5 could be done away with. As it is, there are more ports in use on the patch panels than a single switch can handle. So we have to daisy chain a series of switches together to handle the load.

This is just a shining example of how important good documentation is. Thankfully, I walked into a job with such documentation in place. In addition to the doc above, there’s another one explaining what A1 and B24 and so forth actually stand for. Still, for me, something was missing. I couldn’t see the entire picture. So I added to the documentation and diagrammed the steps I mentioned above. I’m a very visual learner and found this helps troubleshoot when something invariably goes wrong.

Path to the Internet

As you can see, there’s another step involved, the DNS/AD server. Any one of those things along the path is enough to completely wipe out a single computer or, in a The Sky Is Falling moment, all of them.

I’ve been in this job for about a year and a half now. I’m still not entirely comfortable with networking. But that’s not so surprising because certified networking engineers make beaucoup bucks. And rightly so, their’s is a complex job.

In any case, I just wanted to post my thoughts on things. If I’ve mistated anything, please comment and correct me. If I lost you about 500 words ago, just know this: Documentation is King. With a solid set of documents surrounding the network infrastructure, even a neophyte like me stands a fighting chance.

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