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Don't patch that cable

Why you shouldn't.

Network management is more than just observing the network with one of the many network management products and then reacting when something goes wrong. There are also proactive things you can do to make your network run better, with less downtime. This tip discusses one of those things. It sounds simple, but when faced with a long troubleshooting session, often the simple things you can do are preferable.

Who among us doesn't want to save both time and money by using what we have at hand? It's only natural when you are connecting computers to hubs, switches, or other network devices to reach for a second cable and an Ethernet patch cable connector when you don't have a cable that is the right length for the job. Although this will get you by, potentially for a long time, it's not a good idea.

There are two problems with using connected Ethernet cables. The first one is the obvious one; you've just created two more points of failure in the connection: the second wire and, much more commonly, the connector. So you've greatly increased your odds of a connection failure. Want to waste a lot of time one day while something important is going on? Chasing down damaged connections is one excellent way of keeping yourself busy with nonsense. A damaged connection (one that hasn't quite failed yet all the time) is decidedly difficult to track down.

The second problem is less obvious. Anytime you use a connector you are reducing the signal strength and both lowering your throughput and increasing your error rate. Want to slow down fast Ethernet? No problem, just use connectors. In the vast majority of cases you aren't going to notice the extra latency, but it's there as a potential bottleneck for critical times or for any connection where lots of data traffic is flowing.

Ethernet cables are cheap; your time is not. So resolve today to remove any such Ethernet connectors that you might have used. It's one of those little best practices that helps keep us out of trouble.

Barrie Sosinsky is president of consulting company Sosinsky and Associates (Medfield MA). He has written extensively on a variety of computer topics. His company specializes in custom software (database and Web related), training and technical documentation.

This was last published in July 2003

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