A weekend of playing with Cisco

I’ve been exhausted today, after a heavy weekend. A friend invited me to help install and configure a startup’s network, and both nights neither of us got to sleep until 0300.

The company had quite the setup: 24″ monitors, VoIP phones, a beautifully-sunlit open-plan office, Aeron chairs, the lot. Their building had network wiring already, and it was our job to get everything connected and talking to each other (or not, if you’re a VoIP phone and a PC). I’ve never configured anything quite so high-end before. We had Sawyer the 24-port gigabit ethernet switch (brawn, didn’t need to do anything fancy), Jack the 24-port fast-ethernet switch (less powerful, but needed to do clever routings) and Hurley the wireless router (wireless = the cool bit) all connecting to Kate the ultra-configurable mega-secure Cisco router (ultimately in charge, and physically under both the switches). Everyone needed internet access, and it all had to work via DHCP – all settings being supplied automatically once connected to the wall / wireless. Each component threw up problems at times, and it was quite the challenge.

As ever, the toughest problems were sometimes the fastest – denying intra-subnet communication took five minutes, despite being a major worry – while the insignificant things ate up time – the network printer Just Didn’t Respond, and took two hours to fix. At times we delved into Cisco’s formidable command-line-interface, and discovered various deficiencies in their generally ultra-swish GUI. We also ate a lot of muffins. And bon-bons.

By 0130 on Monday morning everything was wired up and talking to each other. It was quite the relief! Today we heard nothing until this evening, when a call said everything had run fine. This is pretty rare – there’s always something broken – and we’re concerned they’re using next door’s wireless.

There was a hell of a learning curve and the pressure got to us both at times, but it was great fun nevertheless. I’ve also grown quite fond of Cisco routers. You might need a degree in jargon to configure the things, but they’re seriously powerful toys.