[IMGCAP(1)]In many ways, my home office is somewhat unusual. Even though I’m usually the only one working in it, there are four desks, three tables, four or more printers/MFPs, boxes everywhere, and various pieces of hardware being tested—or waiting to be tested—for review. That’s not counting the four PCs in the room (we have about a dozen PCs and laptops in the house). I also have a server rack in the basement with five servers, and about 40TB of NAS disk storage on the network.

But at least in one way, my office is very typical: It’s a mess. Not only are there boxes all over the place and spilling into the entrance hall (hey, they have to be somewhere), but there are Ethernet patch cables running hither and yon, and three Ethernet switches sitting on the floor. The long cable runs are a result of the cable drops being on the opposite side of a 30-foot room from where my primary work desk resides. To make things worse, there are no drops along one wall where I have a desktop and a table that usually has some network device under test. And, until recently, our Wi-Fi consisted solely of a Cisco access point. It’s a commercial model and works great, but it lacks a WPS button and is an 802.11n model, not supporting the newest tri-band wireless standard.

Recently, I got tired of tripping over wires and trying to figure which cable went to which switch and which device, so I did a bit of premature spring cleaning and consolidation. I’ll be honest, I only went halfway. To really straighten out my office, I should have pulled more cable and added another five or six drops. But I went a somewhat less labor-intensive (i.e. lazier) route.

The first step was to replace the three 4 and 8 port gigabit switches with a 24-port D-Link DGS-1024D Gigabit Switch. It’s compact and can sit on a desktop (or in my case, on the floor near the cable drop), or be rack mounted. I have two of the earlier version of this switch downstairs in my server rack and they’ve worked flawlessly for years.

Step two was to disconnect all of the existing patch cables and switches. I measured the distance from the switch to the device the cable had to be plugged into, added three feet in case something had to be moved, and used a Brother wireless labeler to identify which device the cable was for, putting the label on the PC/device end.

Gathering the cables together into two bundles (for devices to the left and right of the switch), I used zip ties every few feet to neaten the cable runs and plugged everything into the various PCs and printers. I also pulled two 10-foot patch cords from the switch and rolled them into a loop to hang on the side of the desk where the switch resides so that if I need to temporarily plug something into the network, I don’t have to crawl under the desk to the switch.

The next step was to address the difficulty of using WPS to connect to the Cisco access point. The access point does have WPS capability, but it is accomplished using administrator rights in a browser connection to the access point, a real pain which kind of defeats the whole idea of WPS—which is to provide push-button connection of a Wi-Fi device to the network.

The solution was simple. I just added a new wireless router configured as an access point (so it doesn’t interfere with the hardware gateway/router in the server rack). The one I have is a new Netgear Nighthawk X6 (model R8000). This is a tri-band unit which supports multiple wires connections and intelligently allocates bandwidth depending on what kind of application each wireless device is running. It has six fold-out antennas which can be positioned to provide the best coverage, and to be honest, looks somewhat like a giant beetle lying on its back with its feet in the air. But it works flawlessly, and has the treasured WPS button which is a real boon when I have to connect a printer or other wireless device I’m reviewing to our network. Also, it provides a really fast network connection to the laptop in my bedroom, which is upstairs and completely across the house and one of the few rooms where there isn’t a cable drop.

Baby Steps

In the interest of complete disclosure, my office is more organized now, but I’m not sure it looks it. There are still boxes all over the place with hard disk drives and other pieces of hardware, a giant box full of Ethernet and USB cables, and stuff waiting to be reviewed or waiting to be returned. And that’s not even counting the two large bookcases full of binders, manuals, multiple UPS units, and assorted pieces of hardware and test equipment.

But then, there’s always next spring. And on the plus side (and the real point of this post), I’ve gotten rid of at least one slow switch and upgraded my Wi-Fi to 802.11ac, so the few hours straitening up promises to pay off in improved performance, and easier use and access to the network. Take a quick look around your office. Sometimes even small changes can make an out-of-proportion improvement.

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