How NOT to Set Up a Network!

If you need to set up a network, we can tell you exactly how to do it, and how to do it right. Today, however, for your reference and amusement, I’m going to tell you how NOT to.

How NOT to set up a network

I’ve been carrying out freelance IT Consultancy under the Responsive Computing banner for over a decade now, and prior to that I’ve been involved in everything from telephone support to running multi-site IT departments with teams of staff.

That, coupled with my formal training, is why I feel confident enough to sell my consultancy services, and 99.9% of the time everything goes well. I’m pleased to say that the occasions when I’ve had to send a client packing can be counted on the fingers of one hand.

In this article, with no reference to any names, I’m going to share one of those bad experiences, which to my mind is a classic example of how NOT to set up a network.

How I like to set up a network for a small business

My objective has always been for smaller businesses to be able to enjoy the kind of IT infrastructure the large corporates have. This means fast file access, flexible remote working and backups that don’t fail.

To achieve this I’ve had to do some things that have really justified my fee, including climbing around under desks, running cables though a rodent-infested cellar (sad but true), and trailing Cat5 network leads over a roof in Putney in the rain.

You’ll perhaps notice that I’ve introduced the theme of cables?

Even in these days of WiFi, the best way to set up a network that works well in a small office is using proper network cabling. It guarantees fast and reliable access to the server(s) and to the Internet connection – and if you’re sitting at a desk there’s no reason not to plug a cable in.

Ethernet Port

Doing things this way was far more crucial back when WiFi was a reasonably new thing. Back then, the common standard was called 802.11b, and it offered data transfer speeds of up to 11Mbits/sec. You don’t have to understand the science of that, beyond the fact that a modern cabled network connection can offer theoretical speeds of up to 1Gb/sec. It can therefore be up to 93 times faster. 

NB. Technology has moved on now, and WiFi is much quicker – this is merely an anecdote.

Anyway, my point is that using cables was always the best way back then, hence my efforts in cellars and on roofs – to make sure my clients’ networks performed well.

Enter the “nightmare client”

I’m not going to mention any names, but this was a city consulting firm working in the boom times before the 2008 financial crash (I don’t claim the two things are linked, but who knows?!)

I had been tasked to manage the IT side of their office move, and when I visited the new premises, I was delighted to find wonderful structured cabling worked into the raised floor. This was going to be easy.

Well, it should have been. Unfortunately the big boss man was the very embodiment of “a little knowledge is a dangerous thing” with regard to IT. He decided he “wanted everything wireless.” I patiently explained the whole “93 times faster” thing, but this served only to antagonise him.

After a long meeting where I perhaps allowed my irritation to show a little, he decreed that not only would we be doing everything (including printing) wirelessly, he was (I think out of spite) also going to arrange for this beautiful unobtrusive network cabling to be removed.

How NOT to set up a network!

I probably should have walked at this point, but I did as I was told.

Unsurprisingly, the network was a disaster. To this day, I still don’t like wireless printing. It can prove flaky, even with today’s modern technology. The staff at this poor company liked it even less, especially when they tried to send 40-page PowerPoint documents filled with snazzy graphics to the printer, over a wireless network that was struggling to even share the Internet connection.

A Wireless Router

Every visit I made to that client site was the same; I was basically there to absorb abuse from very expensive city consultants who wanted to know why their network was so appallingly bad. My fee was earned from trying to diplomatically tell them that it was essentially because their boss had refused to listen to anything I said. The WiFi strategy and removal of the cabling was sadly the mere tip of the iceberg in terms of his decisions.

I’ve no idea how many times I headed into London’s Square Mile to deal with an “emergency” at this site, nor how much money the client wasted on pointlessly trying to will old-school Wi-Fi to work faster than it was capable of! On one occasion, I discovered that several of the consultants had taken to connecting to an open unsecured network in a neighbouring company’s office instead, as it was less congested that their own. I shudder to think what this firm’s blue chip clients would have thought about that!

Eventually I threw in the towel, and was honest about why. I’ve just looked online and see that the company is still in business, but that the Chief Executive has moved on. I really hope, for the sake of those poor consultants, that his replacement has let someone come in and set up a network properly.

We don’t often send our clients packing! We like businesses to have IT systems they can actually enjoy using. Contact us to see how we can help you.  

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