The Infrastructure Behind Hamor Photography — Introduction: Beware of Business-Class and Consumer-Grade Internet

The Infrastructure Behind Hamor Photography — Home Office Core Rack — StarTech.com 12U Server Room Wall Mount Network Rack for Data and IT Equipment.

Introduction

Earlier this week, a colleague reached out to me on LinkedIn to inquire about my small office/home office (SOHO) network setup. This was perfect timing, since it’s been on my to-do list to write such an article for a while now. Rather than attempt to pack everything into a single article, and make my colleague wait, I’ll split each topic up into parts of a series.

Future installments will cover many topics, including:

  • Small Office/Home Office Network and Wi-Fi — The basics of installing affordable, enterprise-class wired Ethernet and wireless Wi-Fi networks at home or in a small office, paralleling the scope of professional networks deployed in large corporate offices.
  • To Rack, or Not to Rack? — Proper mounting, noise reduction, and heat dissipation of network equipment, computer servers, storage devices, and audiovisual equipment.

Not only does virtually all of the gear outlined within this series power my home and home office networks, but I have also deployed most of the same equipment to:

  • Homes and home business offices of family, friends, and colleagues.
  • Multiple data centers and offices while constructing those facilities.
  • Dozens of hotels and convention centers for corporate, consumer, private, and entertainment events.

This series is just as applicable to large corporate offices as it is to small home business offices. Enterprise-class is simply a buzzword that refers to products and services with a robust warranty or service-level agreement (SLA). That also includes any device that is designed to be scalable across a large organization, which is easily software- or firmware-upgradeable, and streamlines deployment of security fixes, bug fixes, and new features.

All costs considered, an enterprise-class centrally-managed deployment can be more economical in the long run than implementing a mixed-vendor hodgepodge of consumer- and business-class equipment.

If You Built It, They Will Not Have to Come

If you’re a sole proprietor, or run a small business, then chances are that you’re also your own technical support team. Nowadays, as an entrepreneur, it doesn’t matter what job title you’ve given yourself. You’ll also have to learn how to install and maintain your own network. That is, unless you can afford to hire a trusted information systems (IS) or information technology (IT) contractor to build and monitor your network for you.

Learning how to operate your own network has become critical, now more than ever, as businesses adopt work-from-home practices. The single consumer Wi-Fi router provided with your home internet connection may no longer be sufficient to support the increased Wi-Fi and internet traffic generated while working under pandemic stay-at-home orders.

Whether you have your own home business office, or simply work from home for a corporation, installing and maintaining your own enterprise-class network at home can save time and money by reducing technical support calls. And fewer technical support calls correlates to a safer work-at-home environment because contractors or support technicians will not have to come to your home.

Enterprise Productivity at Home

Installing an affordable enterprise-class Wi-Fi network within your home or home business office can increase your own productivity, and can also increase the productivity of other family members. Especially students in your household who are attending remote learning classes, or the up-and-coming YouTube star or Instagram influencer in the family.

Case in point: I was attending a LiveWebinar earlier this week and, at one point, the presenter’s audio and video de-synced and became choppy. The inevitable “can you hear me now” banter proceeded for the next five minutes until the presenter begrudgingly yielded that their degraded video quality was probably caused by other household members streaming movies and playing online games. Their audio was de-synced for the remainder of the LiveWebinar.

This scenario is not something you want to have happen while presenting a webinar, attending a corporate meeting, or pitching your own services to prospective clients.

Beware of Business-Class and Consumer-Grade

A cable modem or fiber-optic installation technician from your internet service provider (ISP) may do nothing more than the bare minimum to install your consumer-grade home or home office internet service. These consumer-grade installations typically entail the technician drilling a few holes through your wall, ceiling, or floor, and running a coaxial or fiber-optic cable to a location in your home or office that’s closest to your television.

They then install and turn on the Wi-Fi router, do a speed test with their laptop or smartphone while standing directly next to the Wi-Fi router, and leave. It’s not until after they leave that you may discover poor Wi-Fi connectivity in the areas of your home that are farthest away from the Wi-Fi router. Don’t indifferently accept this poor Wi-Fi connectivity, believing that it’s just par for the course. The Wi-Fi router was probably installed in a suboptimal location.

Frustratingly, in my experience, business-class small office installations are similarly lackluster. Business-class is just a fancy buzzword for consumer-grade with an SLA where the installation technician usually runs a cable into a designated server room, telco closet, or comms closet. So now, instead of the Wi-Fi router being out in the open near a television, its antenna is hidden away behind closed doors which reduces range and increases interference.

Wi-Fi devices should have line-of-sight to the antenna of the Wi-Fi router, and mounting the Wi-Fi router behind closed doors diminishes performance. Additionally, Wi-Fi antennas should be mounted in the highest possible location, clear of any metal, obstructions, or interference.

Here are only a few subpar business-class internet installations that I’ve had to mitigate:

  • Austin, Texas — An ISP installed a Wi-Fi router for a 50-person office inside of a comms closet on the bottom shelf of a metal server cabinet. As a result, there was no Wi-Fi signal in the far quarter of the office. Additionally, the coaxial cable was poorly routed, so the cable would have been sliced open or severed completely had the server cabinet been swung completely shut. Since I am not located in Austin, I had to hire a third-party to reroute the cable and relocate the Wi-Fi router.
  • Boston, Massachusetts — An ISP failed to utilize the existing cable pass-through in the drop ceiling of an office server room. Unnecessary holes were punched in the adjacent ceiling tile, and the coaxial cable was sliced open by the sharp edge of the ceiling grid cross tee, causing a partial internet outage. I had to cut, re-crimp, and reroute the cable myself after replacing the ceiling tile that was damaged by the ISP.
  • Boston, Massachusetts — An ISP failed to provide adequate stress relief for a fiber-optic cable in a building telco closet. Shortly after installation, the office experienced a full internet outage due to the cable in the ceiling somehow getting tied into a tight knot, which severed the silica core. The office was offline for two days while waiting for a technician from the ISP to replace the faulty cable. Additionally, like the previous example, the replacement cable was not routed through the existing cable pass-through, and I had to reroute the cable myself.
  • Lexington, Massachusetts — An ISP failed to utilize the cable conduits servicing the building telco room, and instead installed the fiber-optic cable that serves the entire building directly into a tenant’s private server room. As a result, I had to escort ISP technicians to the private server room every time they performed internet installations or maintenance for other tenants in the building.
  • Xinyi District, Taipei — An ISP utilized flat, non-twisted RJ45 cables on the Ethernet router and switches for a 50-person office spanning the 46th and 47th floors of the tallest building in Taipei. As a result, the office had multi-day internet outages because of electromagnetic and radio-frequency interference during solar flare events. Reliable internet was restored once I replaced the uncertified RJ45 cables with a proper Cat5e twisted-pair Ethernet cables.

Every friend, family member, or colleague who has asked me to help them with their internet has lead to me tearing out most of the ISPs work and starting over from scratch. I’m sure that many ISPs pride themselves in quality installations, and there is an entire subreddit dedicated to outstanding cable installations!

But, according to The Verge’s interview with technicians for a popular ISP, “You’re routed with 9 to 12 calls per day, and if you take into consideration travel time, we have anywhere from 30 to 45 minutes to repair a problem. It is very tight. And if it takes longer to repair a problem, then it’s frowned upon because we spent too much time.”

If an ISP technician is expected to complete nine installs or repairs per day, chances are that they won’t be paying attention to detail. So your business-class SOHO installation experience might parallel the experiences that I’ve shared above, unless you’re paying thousands of dollars per month for a managed enterprise-class network service from your ISP, or contracting a third-party network services company.

To sum up, the single consumer- or business-class Wi-Fi router provided by your ISP may no longer be able to perform adequately under the current stay-at-home climate, and enhancing your own technical support skills will allow you preemptively make decisions that remediate issues before they arise!

Sean Sosik-Hamor is a former employee of Canonical. Working within Canonical’s IS Team Alpha Squad, Sean’s focus was end-to-end logistics, planning, implementation, and photography for corporate events, summits, conventions, data centers, facilities, equipment transport, and constructing offices and data centers.

He is currently entertaining offers for full-time positions within the photography, event, and data center fields.

Originally published at Hamor Photography Blog on August 1, 2020.

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Cyber Security Engineer, Data Center Engineer, Photographer, Event Logistics, and Event Networks

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Sean Sosik-Hamor

Sean Sosik-Hamor

Cyber Security Engineer, Data Center Engineer, Photographer, Event Logistics, and Event Networks

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