Maintaining a local area network (LAN) in an ideal world would involve using the latest technologies along with the best software for monitoring and logging, and having a simple, straightforward network with few subnets and organized tiers of topology. Few systems administrators, if any, ever see this LAN wonderland. Most work in areas where business owners know they need a LAN to run but don't understand the needs; it's your job to make small spaces, older technology and mismatched or unorganized systems secure and maintained.
Your server room may be a small closet, or even just a shelf in the closet. It may be populated with a jumble of unlabeled blue Cat 5 wires that resembles spaghetti hanging from the ceiling, and layers of technology hidden from view, such as a switch or router left in a suspended ceiling to provide wireless access. Unfortunately, most small networks are not set up by someone certified to do so. They are set up by a business owner with little knowledge or a relative who is good with computers and needs the work. In these cases, there is no adherence to industry standards of design, implementation or documentation.
Labeling and Organization
If you are stepping into this situation to maintain a network, label everything you can. Buy a permanent marker that will write on a Cat 5 cable and be easy to read in low light. Map your network and document it. Start at the top-level router or modem, and work your way down through all the layers until you have accounted for everything, then labeled and documented it. If you see equipment that has been replaced by something new yet still left in place, remove it so you have less clutter. Bring a pocket full of plastic zip ties and organize all that spaghetti into bundles. While you are doing this, document all your equipment. That means your computers, printers, external drives, routers, switches and hubs, if you haven't yet replaced those with switches. Document all the software running on your network so you can be educated in what the network needs to run well and what will need to be updated.
Once you have a manageable network, look into monitoring software. There several good router monitoring and logging software titles out there like KiwiSysLog, which offers remote access via the Internet, or WinSysLog, which is light on server resources; both offer free trial versions. Whatever monitoring program you choose, it should let you monitor traffic load by computer, log daily highs and lows and monitor any intrusion attempts your router detects. You should also watch for any signs of sudden change that might point toward the activity of a virus on your network. With good documentation, organization and monitoring, you should be able to maintain your network and head off any severe problems.
- Cisco: Low-Tech Network Maintenance
- Network Maintenance and Troubleshooting Guide, 1st Edition; Neal Allen; 1997
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