A Day in the Life of an IT Pro… Wire Straits: When the Server Room Becomes Spaghetti Junction

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As an IT admin, I expect to run into trouble at some point. I expect issues to be more technical rather than physical, but as the computing world is full of cables and wires, causing havoc from infuriating and unsightly knots to genuine health and safety hazards, it’s wise to be prepared for both scenarios and the subsequent security risks.

I fell foul to the latter whilst working for one company that had me running for the hills after only four weeks. The warning signs were there from day one, and I should have said no straight away, but I thought I’d rise to the challenge, and listen to the ‘fight’ over ‘flight’ primal instinct inside me.

As I assessed the server room I noticed a rather special system organizing their cables and wires. I know this is an area we could all improve a little – or even a lot – but this was something else. A mass tangled web of something else.

This wasn’t a simple case of a few wires dangling and terminator grips straining. Or even dust bunnies mutated and large enough to be called dust dogs. No, there was real danger here, my favorite being the plethora of thick ethernet cables wrapped with duct tape, every foot resembling a gigantic python snaking across the main isle between two racks. Only trunk lines from some top-of-racks to core though; nothing to worry about…

I soon found that, on top of this, the team also had a habit of switching ports around with no form of switch port mapping tool in place. They would simply use a Sharpie pen to match cable ends and do a lot of walking around. This filled me with confidence. Not only did their cable management pose a substantial physical risk but their open ports posed an even greater security risk. Many viruses have built-in port scan utilities that are used to gain access to computers and company assets. Hackers also use port scans to probe the security of computers connected to the Internet.

Now, whilst doing this walking around, one might be inclined to ‘cut loose and get footloose’ to liven up the day somewhat – plus who doesn’t like a bit of iconic 80s theme tunes? However, the one time you really do hope people are keeping their feet in check is around the previously mentioned cable snake. Sadly, the overnight admin, a mysterious figure known only as ‘the back-up guy’, didn’t heed this and tripped over the cables on his way home, resulting in a disaster of such scale I still wake up in cold sweats about it after all this time.

I was inundated with messages and the resulting nightmare of attempting to trace wires and their corresponding ports at 3am meant the ‘flight’ took over from ‘fight’ and I bailed the next week. Lesson learnt? Just like the old saying of ‘tidy desk, tidy mind’ the same can be applied to your cables and rack, and a good port scanner application will let you take control and minimize exposure to hackers, worms and trojans.

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