Saturday, November 28, 2009

Home Networking Nightmare

Our previous house was built when the typical household had at most one computer. Being in the technology industry we had a decent collection of computers, each of which needed to be connected to the Internet. So shortly after we moved in I borrowed my brother and father for a weekend and we wired the house up for ethernet. Nearly every room got its own Ethernet jack, and some of the rooms received multiple connections. Along with Ethernet we wired rooms for telephone and cable. All wiring was "home run" back to a central point underneath the basement stairs and terminated in either a patch panel or (for telephone) a 66 block. Since I was making all the decisions on equipment I made sure that the installation made sense.

Our current home was built to order, and they provided the option of wiring the house for telephone, Ethernet, and cable. So this time I opted to pay someone else to do the dirty work. Unfortunately that means I get what they like rather than what I like. All connections were terminated in a central location in the basement, but not in to any sort of patch panel. Ethernet and telephone are all Category 6 wiring, terminated with a 8P8C modular connector (sometimes mistakenly called RJ-45), bundled and tie wrapped together, and placed in a GE "Smart Connection Center" box. Cable connections were terminated with an F-connector and also bundled together in to the same box. This box can't possibly live up to its name as it is one of the worst designs for networking that I have ever seen. Perhaps it works well for telephone, but for Ethernet it is worse than useless. It is about 3 inches deep and requires special inserts to mount just about anything inside the box. These inserts are impossible to find, even in the information age. The box came with one insert to do telephone distribution. Since I use ooma I have to do some rewiring to get the ooma dial tone distributed throughout the house while still grabbing the DSL signal from AT&T.

The connections were terminated to reach this box and no farther. There is no room in the box for a patch panel, and not even enough room for my switch. No patch panel means no labels. The only way to label the circuits is on the outside of the wire itself, which means tracking down the right cable is time consuming and difficult. All my equipment (router, DSL box, ooma box, server) is on a cabinet placed below the connection center with cables running up to it. There's no hope of closing the door to the connection center: even if I did route all my extra cables through the bottom of the box the switch simply wont fit with the door closed. The switch can't be placed with the rest of the equipment because the circuits won't reach.

To make matters worse, the terminations were done very poorly. The circuit to my office did not work when we moved in, due to poor termination. So the sub-contractor came out to repair the circuit, and re-terminated both ends. In the basement this made the wire even shorter. But rather than alert me to the fact that the wire no longer reached my switch, he simply plugged it back in and left the switch to dangle by this too-short connection (see the picture). I have since propped the switch up on some spools of tape. This is a complete disaster and a nightmare to troubleshoot or change.

So my next project is to rip all that out and redo it. I already have a wall-mount rack and a used Cisco 2924 switch to mount in the rack. I will buy a 24-port keystone patch panel and a whole bunch of Cat 5e modular couplers and F-connector couplers to put in the panel. All existing connections will be wired in to the patch panel, clearly labeled, then patched in to wherever they need to go. This should end the nightmare. I will post a followup (with before and after pictures) when I finish.

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