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4 Years of Network Renewal
A Look Back From a Coordinator’s Point of View

May 25th, 2022 | by
A big switch with many colorful network cables

Switch after network renewal
Source: Own Illustration

Was it really four years ago that our boss announced with beaming eyes that the application for network renewal had been approved?
Expanding the data network and WLAN, and switching to a new telephone system – in all RWTH buildings. It sounded too fantastic…and yet it came true.

Over the next few days, we stood together again and again in small groups and thought about how we could manage such a huge project. And shortly after that, I was sitting in meetings with the coordinator’s cap on my head, because all of our processes and procedures had to be discussed and adjusted. A huge jolt went through the entire department “Networks”, because everyone wanted to take on this challenge and try to get involved so that we could accomplish this enormous task.

 

Our First Building Inspection

Many tangled orange power cables in a switch

Switch before network renewal
Source: Own Illustration

Then the three of us stood in front of the first building for the walk-through, eager to see what awaited us there and whether the entire processes could actually be implemented as we had imagined. Instead of offices, which had been the main topic of discussion, there were only laboratories, workshops and special rooms. Workplaces standing together? Not a chance! Everything was scattered around the room. One special case after the other – nothing with standard procedures. The euphoria gave way to disillusionment. And in the second building? The first thing that looked at me was the labeling of the end resistor of a BNC cabling. And it was still working – the network even went over several floors. Unbelievable – hadn’t we already dismantled that 20 years ago? Great, directly two special cases at the start, that started well. But these were not to be the last surprises.

 

A Different Kind of Network

In the four years I was allowed to experience some curious things. Admins sometimes have to be very inventive when developing solutions. Stacked or in walls/ceilings hidden switches with cable spider/salad are to be found again and again, just like seemingly endlessly in chain connected switches due to insufficient infrastructure. And with time, one or the other had grown. However, fist-sized holes in the walls, in order to supply the offices with data network with stretched patch cables at the window front, there one looks then already somewhat unbelievingly. Or a printer connection on the 2nd floor, where the patch cable led through a hole in the wall outside into the open air and ran diagonally on the outer wall in an empty pipe one floor below, to then go back into the building under the window and was plugged into a switch there – this was fortunately unique up to now. And it’s precisely in cases like this that I see the incentive for network renewal: How do you replace the structures that have grown up over time with current standard solutions and thus improve functionality?

Simple switches with many cables on the floor

Simple switches
Source: Own Illustration

An old BNC network of different cables from behind

Old BNC network
Source: Own Illustration

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Two patch panels in white with tangled cables on the wall behind a door

Two patch panels for office cabling
Source: Own Illustration

An old switch in front of a heater under a window with tangled cables going into the wall

Two patch panels for office cabling
Source: Own Illustration

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Experiencing Research at RWTH

A built up forest of wooden trees with toy fire engines in between on a green field

Research project
Source: Own Illustration

Also exciting during the walk-throughs is: What exactly is being done in this facility? To then marvel at strange-looking equipment in laboratories, as if from films, to see robots at work, to look at measuring and test stands, workshops and entire work halls. Sometimes I would have liked to look at this longer and more closely. We were able to marvel at elegant meeting rooms with lots of technology, while the next day we were sitting in the basement between foosball and a ping-pong table with the admin.

 

Work Trousers or Suit

As different as the networks were in the various buildings, so were my contacts in the facilities too. Once, a secretary wanted to know everything about the data network and how it works. If the professor gave her the task, then she also wanted to understand what it was all about. I also fondly remember a student who was studying computer science in the third semester and wanted to talk shop with me about the security of the Internet. And I won’t forget a veteran admin who was waiting for us right at the entrance, arms folded in front of his chest, scowling and you could literally read the words in his face: “Hands off, this is my territory! I am always surprised when professors themselves are the network contacts. Then the conversations also like to go in the direction of visions and possibilities. Despite these many different characters, I’m very pleased that I’ve been able to work super with everyone through our conversations. Regardless of who I was dealing with, everyone was fully on board and we were able to successfully master all projects. This was not to be expected at the beginning, as there have been critical voices from admins and users in the past. But this is good and shows that our work is accepted and accepted the way we do it.

Of course, we can’t fulfill all wishes. But all in all, everyone is quite satisfied. Users have to get used to some of the new features, but this usually happens very quickly. The fact that there are sometimes opinions, such as “Telephones used to work much more reliably than the new ones” or “Moving was much easier in the past than it is now” – you have to accept that. Everyone has their own point of view, and not everyone is equally interested in all aspects and possibilities of technology. Because there are also the cases where the admin tells me directly in the first conversation: “I was just waiting for you, because our network urgently needs to be revised”.

 

Exciting Experiences

Some events during walk-throughs will certainly remain in my memory for a long time. For example, the day when I first stood at our rector’s workplace, then in the chancellor’s office. You certainly don’t get to do that very often, and it was a very special moment for me.

In one office building, I asked myself: Is this a high-security area, all employees belong to security and we are about to be captured? Because there was at least one soft gun at every workstation. Okay, the department had planned a soft gun fight for the afternoon as a team building activity. Phew, lucky us, we were safe.

Or as we toured a factory floor, all of a sudden there was a loud bang followed by a loud screech. I could barely hear the alarm ringing in my ears. All I could see were red warning lights everywhere. Immediately we were led out to safety. A hose with compressed air had burst.

And then there was the story of the “golden toilet”. It’s exciting to see what’s going on at the RWTH. Does anyone know where it is and what it is all about? A little hint: it is not located in the main building.

All in all, I can look back on a wonderful four years. Exciting buildings and nice users, some of whom I am still in contact with now. And a great cooperation with my colleagues, who do the practical work that is crucial in the end, while I “only coordinate” and push them from one appointment or assignment to the next.

You can find more information about the network renewal on our blog.

Responsible for the content of this article Frank Lindner.

2 responses to “4 Years of Network Renewal
A Look Back From a Coordinator’s Point of View”

    • Gath, Dunja says:

      Guten Morgen VITO,

      vielen Dank für deinen Kommentar. Wir schicken dir liebe Grüße zurück und wünschen ein schönes Wochenende.

      Viele Grüße
      das IT Center Blog Team

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