Trying to make sense of a small school's network w/gigabit Centurylink fiber

May 10, 2018
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WARNING - verbose mode is my only mode. Apologies in advance

Hello all,

In exchange for tuition, I've been doing de-facto IT department work for my kids' school. Basic stuff like desktop support, upgrading CPUs and installing SSDs, running hard lines to the classrooms, and reconfiguring their Ubiquiti APs so they're not all on full power, beating each other up. So far so good.

But now, I'm kinda stumped. I did some Speedtest.net tests today, from both wired and WLAN machines, and got 8mbps down, 6mbps up. Pretty shoddy for gigabit fiber, even if all the other nodes were streaming Youtube, which they definitely were not.

So in trying to figure out where the bottleneck is, I finally took a hard look at their gear. In the office rack, it looks pretty sensible - Zyxel USG 50, a Cisco 24-port gigabit switch, and a patch panel. There's a WAN1 and WAN2 port on the USG, which is great since they own two static IP addresses, but only one is being used. The LAN1 port feeds the Switch which feeds the network. All sensible so far.

The cable feeding the WAN1 port is, oddly, an old CAT5 cable, while everything else in the rack seems to be CAT6. It's like they spent all this money on the rack when they upgraded from DSL to fiber, but kept the same janky old cable running to wherever the modem used to be.

And that's where it gets strange. Following the CAT5 cable (which provides throughput for every machine in the building) it terminates at a Juniper SRX240. This is obviously a rather nice bit of kit, and well capable of handling every task the USG50 downstairs could do, and more. Only three of the 24 ports are in use - the one to the rack, one into a morass of cables affixed to the wall, and the third into an AdTran 900e Business VOIP gateway. The AdTran 900e can also handle all the network security tasks the Juniper and the Zyxel can.

So... what the hell. I see why they need the AdTran, because it provides the interface to the big mass of old-school telephone wiring. But they only have three POTS connections in the building, one for a fax and two for an ancient two-line desk phone. And apparently someone sold them the Juniper for the modem features, but $2200 is kinda steep for a modem when they're not using any of the other features. And to top it off, these two machines are in a small room that gets almost no airflow, in Las Vegas. AND they're bolted to the wall, one flat against the other, constantly feeding each other heat.

Help me out here, smart people. I haven't called Clink yet to see if the crawling speeds are on their end, but even if they ARE having issues, it seems to me that this network design is less than optimal. I'd like to move the Juniper downstairs to replace the Cisco switch AND the Zyxel USG, but that puts it 50' away from the feed from Clink, and I'd still have to run another cable back up to the AdTran to keep the VOIP happening. And I don't even begin to know how to utilize the 2nd static IP address - does that help in any way with load balancing or improving bandwidth to the outside world? Or does that not matter, since we've only got the one physical line coming into the building.

Should I sell the Juniper, buy a cheap modem, maybe some fans? Should I sell both the AdTran and the Juniper, buy a cheap modem, and get them to buy modern phones? I just hate all the excess and overlap, and I get the feeling they got taken to the cleaners by some salesdouche in order to keep a 30-year-old phone system functional.

Any advice appreciated.
 

Ralston18

Titan
Moderator
My thoughts:

1) Sketch it all out on a large sheet of paper and label everything. Always helps to see the big picture overall.

2) Make the simple changes/fixes first but only one at a time. E.g., separate the two machines on the wall to improve cooling. Even if the overall result is not going to be optimal.

3) Replace the 50' CAT 5 cable run with a pair of CAT 6 cables (if I am correctly following things) but leave (for now) the existing cables intact and in place. Then you can "experiment" and test - one thing at a time to determine if overall upload and download speeds can be improved.

4) Keep looking for other connections and wires - there may be other connections not readily apparent.

5) Find the specifications and manuals for all the equipment. Compare the current installations and configurations with the manual's guidelines. Overall, I have the sense that the original installer may not have been up to par on such things. Or was just sloppy and/or lazy.

The overall idea is to determine if network performance can be improved "in place". Once you are sure that your overhaul plan is viable, that everything works, then you can relocate and establish a more professional setup.

You always want to be in a position that if things go wrong you know exactly the last thing you did and how to "undo" it. Then regroup accordingly.

Very likely you may find a few more surprises along the way.....

Go slow, be methodical, document, photograph, do whatever you can do to keep track of things as you clean up the mess.

 
May 10, 2018
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Thanks, sirrah. That was a bunch of solid advice. I'm going to start with a physical diagram, since a logical one seems pretty illogical at this point.

I'll re-ask the questions about what gear to pawn once I've taken steps as you've outlined.

 

Ralston18

Titan
Moderator
You are welcome.

And will add an afterthought:

Take a close look at the patch panel and any wall jacks. Especially the punch downs.

If the punch downs were not done properly then connectivity and performance will suffer.

Google "How to properly punch down Ethernet cables" to find some tutorials and videos.

You may find yourself repairing terminations and re-terminating cables. An Ethernet cable tester may serve you well with checking the wiring and connections. And what wires go where.....
 

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