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BOFH: Back in the saddle

Riding roughshod over the cowboys

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Application security programs and practises

Episode 30

“How are you doing?” I say cheerfully, extending my hand in greeting to the two cabling guys that the beancounters got to shift some data cabling around – without telling us. “Clint and... John isn't it?”

“Ay?” One of them says. “I'm Steve and this is Dave.”

“My mistake,” I say. “I was obviously thinking of Clint Eastwood and John Wayne – two other cowboys.”

“Cowboys?” Steve gasps unhappily. “What do you mean?”

“The job you did for the Beancounters – have to say I'm impressed. Most people would just let the network admin know that they needed to extend the VLAN to another distribution closet in the building instead of running an over-length hunk of dodgy Cat-6 point to point - but you didn't let that stop you, did you?”

I liked the joint in the middle of the cable, insulation taped to a heating pipe,” the PFY says sarcastically. “Because insulation tape holds best when it's nice and warm. And jointing Cat-6 with a punchdown block stuck to a heating pipe in the middle of a duct really is an underrated cabling technique.”

“We'd already cut the cable to length because we thought there'd be tie wires,” Dave mumbles.

“Of course you did,” I say. “And there was. Deceptively labelled 'Tie Wires' along with the destination closet number. That said though, which cable manufacturer training course was it that recommended stapling Cat-6 along a skirting board?”

“Tha...” Dave says, before the PFY interrupts.

“BT doesn't count!”

“The thing I don't get though is,” I continue. “Why you didn't run the cable between comms rooms and patch into the existing structured cabling network instead of running it to the faceplate and using our existing WARRANTIED Cat-6 cable as a pull wire? After breaking the faceplate because you didn't realise where the screws were, then losing the screws when you did?”

“We thought it might be over-length so we were trying to reduce it,” Dave murmurs.

“Yes,” the PFY says. “We TDR-ed it. At 175 meters you could probably have run it to the toilets and back, just to be on the safe side.”

“They made us do it,” Clint – I mean Steve – blurts, much to Dave's annoyance.

“Who made you do it?”

“The bloke in the office. He said they'd pay extra if we didn't go through the comms rooms.”

“Ah, so you're saying that one of the beancounters told you to link between offices on different floors – presumably so they wouldn't be subject to our patching regime?” I ask.

“I... suppose so,” Dave says, not wanting to get too involved in any office politics. Smart man.

“And the cable – it was rated for POE?”

“Which standard? 12, 24, 48 volt, 20 watts?”

“I was thinking more along the lines of 240 Volt up to 20 Amps,” the PFY says.

...One night and one small faceplate fire later...

“I don't understand it,” one of the beancounters sniffs.

“Well it was quite simple really,” the PFY lies. “It seems that a section of unapproved data cabling must have worn through some power cabling with the vibration of the aircon unit that it was cable tied to, causing a massive increase in current down the line.”

“I wasn't talking about the power thing.”

“Oh you mean the fires?”

“You said it was smoke!” he bleats. “From the wall socket.”

“We call that a fire,” the PFY says, condescendingly. “Because where there's smoke...”

“Yes, but why did you have to put an axe through my LCD monitor and my desktop machine? They can't have been on fire!”

“Can never be too careful,” the PFY says. “Fire can spread like lightning – and as we all know lightning travels at 186,000 miles per second! You should be thanking me!”

“And my iPod,” he sniffs.

“It was plugged into the desktop – no doubt charging. No telling what might have happened if the battery had exploded! And again, I was rather expecting a bit of gratitude...”

“And the server upstairs?”

“Fire's a tricky beast. I trust my supervisor's decision to hose it down until he was sure it was completely safe!”

“Yes but he hosed down every machine in the room - as well as our filing cabinets and my manager's bonsai.”

“Yes," the PFY responds. "Unfortunately though, the problem was that the cable wasn't in the structured cabling system so we couldn't use netdisco to figure out which machine might be affected. Ultimately we had to choose safety first and hose down everything."

“And this all happened in the middle of the night you say?”

“Yes, and it was lucky we were both here,” the PFY says. “Or things might have been different.”

"You'd be surprised at the number of situations we're able to resolve out of hours just by happenstance," I add, jumping into the conversation.

"Although we'll still be putting this down as a callout," the PFY adds.

"Well we won't be paying!"

"Now now," I say, defusing the situation. "You say that, but I'm sure you see the value of a few pennies expended so that my assistant and myself stop off for a quick look-around before going home after a vendor presentation. Just to make sure things are OK."

"No."

"Not even to make sure some poor bean... accountant such as yourself hasn't had a nasty accident and been trapped in the lift for hours and hours?"

"I... I'll see what I can do."

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