By James Hanback
We live in a hurry-up world.
There's the person behind you in traffic who leans on the horn if your brake lights don't go dark during the nanosecond that the traffic light is transitioning from red to green. There's the one behind you in the self-checkout lane who does the heavy sigh and eye roll bit because you must take the time to dislodge your rewards card from your wallet so you can start scanning your groceries (you knew you should have installed that rewards card app on your smart phone). Oh, and then there's the person who blows past you at the speed of light on a single-lane stretch of highway only to find you puttering up behind them at the next clogged intersection. You no doubt chuckle quietly to yourself as you await the go signal on such an occasion because you know that you've covered the same amount of distance and arrived at a simultaneous point with the speed demon, but at a lower fuel cost.
Perhaps a heavy volume of blame for harried modern life can be placed squarely on technology's metaphorical shoulders. You might therefore assume that the ideal personality for a troubleshooting role in your organization would be the very people who are most heavily influenced by that increased pace—the speedsters—because they won't dally. They'll get in there, make the quick fix, and before you know it you'll be on with your day. You'd also probably be right so long as the speedster immediately knows what the problem is that needs to be fixed. On a Smurf's birthday, that's the case. Most times, the speedster is probably shooting in the dark because the problem sounds similar to a problem he or she has encountered before.
Fortunately, the methodical and efficiency-minded among us are not entirely extinct. For network administrators in particular, a less haphazard and more methodical approach to isolating and solving problems is the most effective means of fixing whatever ails your own little segment of the series of tubes. Contrary to what the non-techies may believe about those gifted with the magic of technical knowledge, there are actual documented troubleshooting processes that are intended to mitigate the all-too-human penchant for wild guesses and belief in the ability to tap into mystical stores of secret knowledge. One general purpose troubleshooting method cited by Cisco is based on the scientific method and consists of the following steps:
The above steps can be used for troubleshooting networks or for troubleshooting individual systems. However, there are network-specific troubleshooting techniques that can be used to aid you in logically and methodically isolating problems. In fact, a simple understanding of the Open Systems Interconnection (OSI) network model can go a long way toward solving network problems because there are at least three logical network troubleshooting techniques that are based on that model.
For example, if a user in your company's sales force reports that they can no longer access the Internet, you might begin the troubleshooting process at Layer 1, or the Physical layer, by verifying that the user's network cable is good and that the network interface card (NIC) is working properly. You could then move up the OSI model to the Data Link layer, the Network layer, the Transport layer, and so on until the problem is isolated. This troubleshooting technique is known as the Bottom Up technique.
The opposite of the Bottom Up technique is the Top Down technique, which, as the name implies, begins at Layer 7, or the Application layer, of the OSI model and works toward the Physical layer. Using the Top Down technique, you might begin by verifying that the user's browser is functioning normally by using it to access a Web server that is located inside the local area network (LAN). If a Web page loaded successfully from the internal server, you would have eliminated an Application layer problem.
Of course, there are other logical, methodical ways of troubleshooting networks. The aforementioned are simply some common ones. The main thing you should remember as a network administrator is to be mindful and efficient, but not rushed. Don't leap without looking. Just because a current problem looks like a problem you saw once before does not necessarily mean that it has the same cause, and trying to use a previous problem's fix on a new problem could cause more trouble than it fixes.
So although the pace of modern life might sometimes make you feel like Brooks from The Shawshank Redemption, it's worth remembering that there is a place for the methodical minded among us, even among technology. Using the methods described above, you might not be able to solve problems in record time, but you're more likely to solve them effectively and less likely to create new problems along the way.
George Shuttleworth Photo: Paolo Camera
Hope. Which way? Photo: bixentro