Wiring offices for sysadmins
December 24, 2011
Our office full of sysadmins has a network wiring problem: we don't have enough. Watching how we've dealt with this problem has given me some opinions on how you should wire an office area for sysadmins in specific, as opposed to just general usage.
In a conventionally wired office area, all of the drops (network ports) run back to a big wiring closet (generally one to a floor or so) or even all the way back to your machine room. In the wiring closet or machine room, the drops go to a patch panel and are then connected to appropriate switches (and reconnected, as your networking needs change). This is a perfectly sensible arrangement and has the great advantage that you don't need to go into office spaces in order to shuffle what network a port is connected to; assuming that you have an accurate port number you can just go to the wiring area, switch the cabling, and you're done.
However, this is not the right setup for a sysadmin office area. In a sysadmin office area all of the drops should go to a wiring closet area in the office itself, which is also where all of the connections from the main wiring closet or machine room should go. Why?
A sysadmin office area has the unusual requirement that we periodically want to set up new private networks, ones that are mostly or completely disconnected from our regular networks. Going off to the machine room or the floor's wiring closet every time you want to do this is a time-consuming pain; since sysadmins are either lazy or very good at working efficiently (depending on your perspective), the end result is that most of the ad-hoc testing networks will actually be implemented by just running wires around the office. The end result of this is wires strung all over the place.
(The exception is any test network that needs to touch servers in the machine room.)
Running sysadmin drops back to something in the office makes it easy to set up these ad-hoc testing networks, in fact easier than grabbing some cabling. This is what you want to keep the office in some sort of order.
There are various downsides to this two-stage wiring, with different ones depending on how you've set things up. The top level summary is that, well, you've added another wiring closet and thus another level of indirection in your network. My personal opinion is that it's worth it. If you want to reduce the problems, you could wire the normal office drops straight through to the normal wiring point and then add extra drops (clearly marked) that go only to the in-office wiring area. The drawback of this is that you have to decide how many of each sort of drops each spot will need instead of being able to adjust the purpose of drops on the fly.
Written on 24 December 2011.
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