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Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Treating IT as damage and routing around

After Project Darkness happened, power over Ethernet switches were sort of a touchy topic at that company. It was assumed that anyone who requested such a thing was up to no good, and was trying to stage a repeat performance. What's more, it was seen as routing around the IT people who needed to control every aspect of their network. It wasn't quite as politically charged as putting up huge umbrellas inside the building over our desks, but it came close.

I discovered this particular taboo when my new team was given a space of its own off the support floor. Initially, we had been spread out in a bunch of cubes on the quasi-feed-lot floor under the evil lights. This new space got us away from there and into a strange octagonal room which had been set up for conferences. We were to use it temporarily until the downstairs was built out and other people moved down there, at which point we would return to the floor.

The support floor had evil lights, but it also had adequate Ethernet ports. This conference room was never intended for eight people to be in there at the same time, each with a separate phone, so it did not. We had a grand total of two ports for our VoIP phones -- one on either end of the room -- and had to share. The other six of us were disconnected. We couldn't just use a normal switch because our phones didn't have their own AC adapters. They had to get their "juice" off their network connections.

While not having a phone seemed nice initially, there were other things which were difficult to accomplish at that company without a phone. It became obvious that we needed more ports, so we put in an official request with IT. They refused to change anything because "it's just temporary". Even though "temporary" for us meant several months, they used it as a convenient excuse. Great.

So, we asked them if we could have a power over Ethernet switch that we could put in there which would at least let us rig our own ports for our phones. That was also rejected. They didn't do that sort of thing. Also, we weren't supposed to have such devices -- here's the taboo coming up again.

We were expected to just sit there and swap ports around every time someone needed to make a call, and then also miss calls because we were unplugged when someone tried to contact us. It was insane.

I decided I wasn't having this, and just went out to a web site which sells networking stuff and ordered a suitable switch. It was a monster device with 16 ports, of which 8 were powered. I made sure it had enough juice to run all of our phones at the same time, and had them deliver it to my house.

A couple of days later, I got a shipping confirmation: it had been delivered. I ran home and grabbed it off my porch, then also grabbed my box of category 5 cable, my crimpers, and a bag of RJ45s (well, 8P8C, but whatever), then headed back to work. It was showtime.

Back in the office, my teammates just watched as I walked in with a pile of nerd gear and proceeded to unbox and set up the switch on my desk. Then I made a bunch of custom lengths of cable and offered each one to them. They plugged in, did the usual login stuff to get their extension "live" again, and that was that. We secured the wiring and went on with life.

Several months later, we moved out of that room as planned. We all took up new spaces on the support floor, so I undid my switch and wires and packed it into the file cabinet at my new desk. That's when we got a most unusual phone call from the IT people.

It seemed that some new team was now in that conference room, and they had a lack of phone ports. Apparently, we had managed to overcome that limitation somehow, and so we must have had a switch. Since we weren't in there any more, was there any possibility that we might give the switch to the IT people so this other (non-technical) team might have phones?

I hope it does not surprise any of my readers that I said "no".

IT: We won't solve your problems. We won't (officially) let you solve your own problems, either. When you do it yourself, we'll hit you up for the stuff you bought with your own money. Then we'll give it to someone else.

I still have that switch.