10 Items That Should be in Every SysAdmin’s Backpack, Episode 4: Network Admin Edition

Posted by Wesley David in IT Professional, SysAdmin on 19-11-2010

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I see you’re back for more, intrepid SysAdmin. We’ve come a long way, and I’m sure that after reading Episodes 1, 2 and 3 in this series you’ve developed a nice set of trapezius muscles by lugging your overstocked backpack around. You are now the kind of SysAdmin that most users only dream about, but we can do better. You are about to be hurtled into the realm of network admins – prepare to become EPIC!

I understand that it might be insulting to pure network admins to be lumped in with SysAdmins. I also know that this blog is known as SysAdmin-Talk and not NetAdmin-Talk. Without any intended offense to a particular profession, I believe that the information is pertinent enough to both SysAdmins and network admins to warrant the cross pollination of the categories. In many cases, the SysAdmin is the network admin, or at least works close enough with the network admin(s) or network infrastructure to need to know this stuff. In any case, can’t we all just get along?

Here are ten things that the more network-minded among us should have in their bag of tricks:

  1. Velcro straps and twist ties. No administrator should have to know the difference between a square knot and a granny knot while tying back a loose cascade of sundry cabling. There’s also a disturbing tendency for cable plants to turn into cable jungles and eventually Sentient Cable Beings that want to om nom nom you. Resist the urge to use plastic zip ties, because yhey are made of pure evil (in most scenarios, anyway). Velcro straps, on the other hand, are convenient, durable and made of condensed awesome. Twist-ties are only made of distilled niftiness, but are still a good choice if that’s all you have. If you choose to use twist-ties, make sure you get a sample first, because some have a rather poor paper wrapper that will easily slough off and leave you with an annoying-to-manage, pokey piece of metal. Plastic / rubber wrapped twist-ties are the best.
  2. Cable Crimpers and 8P8C connectors. Yes, I said “8P8C” again, and not “RJ-45″. I demand another high-five. This should go without saying, but you will need to fix, resize and make cables from scratch. A good pair of crimpers have never been further than a few feet away from me for quite a few years now, but make sure to keep a good supply of 8P8C ends around. Also, a card describing 568A and 568B wiring specifications is also helpful. Unless you can recall the wiring specifications from memory, in which case I despise  you. I can barely remember 568b, and then only because of a deranged mental picture I’ve conjured up involving a river, a valley, the sun, the earth and bubbles. I wish I was joking.
  3. Punchdown/impact tool. The tool we love to hate. Yes, you need to have one with you. No, you will not like it. Make sure to get a quality punchdown tool; no $1.99 electronic store special will do – Greenlee or Fluke tools won’t let you down. Just make sure you keep a stock of both 110 and 66 block blades with you, as it’s no fun staring at a 66 block with a 110 blade in your impact tool.
  4. Fishtape. Sounds a bit overkill? Perhaps. But having a compact roll of fishtape lying around will make you feel like a hero when it’s necessary. If you deal with networks, then you naturally deal with cables. If you deal with cables, you will invariably need to run new ones. As a side note: please do not let electricians near your network cabling. Ever.
  5. A Fox and Hound. No, I’m not suggesting keeping a copy of the Disney classic movie in your backpack. I’m talking about a good old fashioned cable tester. You will especially need one of these if you didn’t heed my warning in the last point, and decided to let electricians run your cable. Always carry extra batteries with you for these things (But then you would have known to do that if you had read my previous post, “10 Things That Should be in Every SysAdmin’s Backpack, Episode 1“)
  6. Cable Toner and Probe. Invaluable in tracking down mislabeled cabling (see my article on “The Fine Art of Documenting With Labels” for some inspiration on how to approach labeling). Ah, the fond memories that come flooding back when I hear the unmistakable shriek of a cable toner as I jab the probe into a bundle of unmarked cables with the circumference of a Lebanon cedar. Oh yes, and you will most definitely need a toner if your cabling was installed by electricians.
  7. Assorted Patch Cables. Sounds like an obvious one, right? In a way it is. However, make sure that you choose patch cables in unholy colors if your patching is intended to be temporary or so that you can tell who’s been pilfering from your sack of goodies. A test network I helped design used bright pink cables to ward off potential cable snatchers; it worked beautifully. Seeing DayGlo colors in a switch rack will either remind you that you need to implement the final cable design, or alert you to sticky-fingered coworkers. Oh, and make sure to carry a wide assortment of lengths. I kept 1 footers as well as a few rolls of 50 footers. Come to think of it, at that length is it really a “patch” cable?
  8. Keystone Jacks. Even peskier than 8P8C connectors, it’s still nice to have a handful of these nearby. Decide if you want tool-less or punchdown jacks. While you’re installing these, you can instruct the electrician in proper keystone installation while he’s trying to figure out what that little white string is for inside of a Cat 5 shield.
  9. Wireless Analyzer. Nothing says “fun” like warwalking through the office (or neighborhood, or mall, or industrial park… wait, forget that last one). Keeping tabs of wireless network activity is a must for any technology worker that has 802.11 frequencies within his realm of influence . Having the proper tools to monitor rogue access points and unauthorized access attempts to official networks can help make your job a whole lot easier. Bonus points if the analyzer tool can blast rogue devices off the airwaves. As an example, AirMagnet makes a handled wireless analyzer. No word yet on whether it can help you destroy rogue AP’s with the power of your mind.
  10. Cable Strippers. Not just any cable strippers. Good cable strippers. The cable stripping blade that you typically find on a pair of crimpers requires you to take three Ritalin pills and be a 6th-Dan in Kendo before you can successfully remove the sheath without damaging the copper wires inside. I prefer a tool that is dedicated to cable stripping.

There you have it! Ten things which, if you keep them in your backpack, will make you an EPIC SysAdmin / NetAdmin. With any luck, you’ll be better able to keep the network stable and available, which is very important if you’re going to keep your Team Fortress 2 server up and running… err, I mean, if you’re going to keep your corporate wiki accessible.

After 4 episodes, could there possibly be any more that you could carry with you? I hear they make backpacks that attach to the front of your body so you can carry two with you. You may need one…

Comments (2)

Something else to consider adding to your pack along with the cable stripper is a pair of electrician’s snips. Useful for cutting those pesky plastic zip-ties. Also useful for cutting off those miswired 8P8C connectors the electricians installed trying to be helpful.

Thanks Sarge! I’ve noted it in my list of backpack tools I’ve overlooked. Perhaps it will make an appearance in a future article. =)

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