Being able to identify the basic components in your network can come in handy. Often the quickest way for your IT Partner to diagnose a problem is remotely; a solid IT Provider will have remote management tools they can employ to troubleshoot issues from their office without necessarily needing to attend site.
Remote diagnostics can require human interaction at site; we find often our clients’ nominated contacts can provide basic assistance or at least a good overview of what has happened or changes that have occurred and led to the problem. Not needing to drive to site offers a clear advantage in shortening time to resolution.
Increasing your team’s basic understanding of the various components in the network and the role those components play in the IT environment can do two things; it can help in the event that a problem needs to be diagnosed, it can also help prevent problems occurring in the first place through accidental user error (turning off the wrong piece of equipment as an example).
The Server Room
Depending on the scale of your network, you may have a dedicated server room with racks that house the network’s core equipment. There may be a dedicated room such as a storage space that’s been converted to house the equipment, without a rack. Wherever the equipment is, it should be well ventilated or air conditioned as IT equipment is temperature sensitive. Improper ventilation can in itself cause issues.
You may have one or more physical Servers in the network. A Server in most cases provides one or more of the following functions; file storage and sharing, printer sharing, application sharing, database, email and intranet. Servers provide the core functionality and are sensitive beasts. They don’t like to be turned off unexpectedly or played around with unnecessarily. These should only be logged into by (or under guidance from) your IT Technician.
An Uninterruptable Power Supply provides a limited source of power and the smarts to gracefully shutdown Server equipment in the event of an unexpected power outage. They are a critical part of the infrastructure and require periodic checks to ensure that their batteries are in good condition and able to provide a power source when needed.
The router is the device that talks to the outside world. It connects to the internet and provides the network with an internet connection by establishing a LAN (Local Area Network) and if enabled, a WAN (Wireless Access Network). Depending on the model, it can also provide a secondary or redundant internet connection, either via a different copper or ADSL connection or via 3G. A Business Grade router should be able provide basic Firewall capabilities. For very small workgroup or home type networks it can also provide basic internet sharing for the client machines on the network.
The network switch is pretty easy to identify. It’s the device in the rack or server room that all the blue (LAN) cables are plugged into. The switch is the controller of information flow in the network. The more advanced models handle internet traffic in a more sophisticated way, prioritising information flowing within the network in a way as to optimise performance.
Some networks will have a dedicated Firewall that sits between the router and the switch, to provide a richer toolset for controlling the data flowing to and from of the network and the outside. These can be provisioned either via software, or a hardware device. They’re also known as Security Devices, Unified Threat Management devices and Content Filtering devices. They are able to provide a greater level of reporting and control than a router alone, for example locking down who is able to visit what sites at what times of the day or providing a list of the sites being visited by which users.
Some systems may have what is known as an LTO Tape Drive. Some systems may have external hard drives or NAS (Network Attached Storage) Drives connected to the server. These drives are designed to provide a way of copying or “imaging” the data on the server so as to create a backup that can be restored from in the event of a disaster or accidental deletion of data. Someone onsite will typically be tasked with taking this data (either on the tape or hard drive) offsite each night to provide further indemnity against events such as fire, flood or theft.
As you can see, there are a number of devices that sit between you and the internet. With multiple points at which a problem could potentially exist, it can take a little time to diagnose exactly where the problem lies. Having a basic understanding of what’s involved in your network can help us help you diagnose and fix the issues remotely, with as quick a resolution time as possible.