Lessons learned from a home networking odyssey

I first met Mike Azzara about 18 years ago when I began creating the concepts and overall editorial plan for a new networking magazine called Network Computing. Alas, the magazine has come and gone, and Mike’s career at CMP is also a fond memory, but we are still in touch. Over the years, I have served as his personal IT support guy, but when I moved out of state, he could no longer drag me over to his Long Island, N.Y., home and feed me in barter for networking chores. I still did some support for his home network, and it dawned on me that our correspondence would make for a dandy series of articles that details every step he made in going from four computers and two printers with no real connectivity among them to DADNET, a unified network where the computers can all “see” each other and share each other’s printers and hard drives (on a good day).

The result is the following series that is posted on DigitalLanding.com describing his plans, progress, and triumphs. And as Mike says, if he could figure out how to crimp and create his own Ethernet cables, so can you!
Here are seven lessons we distilled from the experience:

  1. You can do it: I may be guilty of beating the proverbial dead horse, but if Strom had told me a year ago that I’d be stripping and terminating cat5 Ethernet cable, I’d have told him to quit the crack. But doing so, while daunting at first, became easy after some study and practice. (Here’s a link to the page that made it possible for me to wire my home network.)
  2. Plan, plan, plan: Planning ahead and thinking through each change, especially in terms of how it will affect everything else in a home network, is crucial to disaster avoidance. I spent the first half of the summer just thinking through various network scenarios.
  3. Check/verify each change: Plan in advance how to verify that a change has worked or had the intended effect. If you make multiple changes before verification, you’ll have a harder time pinpointing a problem. For instance, when I had problems with video chat, I changed just one item–the cable modem. Then I retested the video chat and it worked, so I knew it was the old cable modem that was the bottleneck.
  4. Persevere: Getting network software settings right is essentially voodoo. But any relatively intelligent person will eventually make sense out of the gibberish that passes for instructions in this industry and get most anything to work—as long as you stick it out.
  5. Google is your friend: Whatever you’re up to, you’re not the first. Google the words you imagine in the solution to your problem, or just ask Google your question and hit return. Sometimes you have to read several articles or forum posts before you can make sense of the solution, but you’ll get there eventually. I did. (See “Persevere.”)
  6. When all else fails, check the firewall: Yes, Norton keeps us safe–by preventing communications. Some firewall settings need fiddling before your computers can get intimate over your network, particularly the “Trust” settings in your firewall.
  7. Listen to your users, I mean your family: I saved a ton of time and trouble by not rigidly adhering to the model I originally planned, and instead left things the way my kids preferred. They’re perfectly happy with their printer being a whole floor away, something my wife and I can’t fathom.

You can read the first chapter of Mike’s home networking odyssey starting here.

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