So I’ve posted a nice little challenge on the Facebook page where I asked everyone to name items that every network engineer should have in their laptop bag.
Everyone can think of the most obvious items such as a laptop, console cable, power cable, Ethernet cable, etc… But this blog is going to focus on some of the items that are very handy to have especially when you’re working for a consultant as every site you work at may be different.
So with no further adieu, lets jump right in shall we?
First and most obvious of the must have items is a console cable however lets think about this for one second. The typical blue console cable you get packed with Cisco gear fresh from the factor (Yellow now) is only about 3 ft long and can often times put you in a crunch especially when you have to work in a cold isle or hot isle of a data center. I learned my lesson early on that it is best to have a Cisco DB9 Female to RJ45 Jack Console Adapter
and thus make your own console cable (mine is pink) so that you can make it up to 30ft long. The console cable you’ll need to make for this terminal adapter is just a rollover.
Why is mine pink? Because no other manly network engineer is manly enough to steal it lol and I can always identify which cable is mine. Seriously who uses pink cat5/6 in a data center any ways?
Next obvious choice would also be a Cisco DB25 to RJ45 Jack Adapter adapter for old legacy hardware. While legacy hardware is slowly going away I still encounter it from time to time and not having one of these can easily kill your change window as finding one in a data center is damn near impossible.
The obvious requirement for more newer laptops is a Plug and Play USB to Serial DB9 Adapter as newer laptops do not have serial ports on them anymore. You’ll want to get a Plug-n-Play version as fumbling around for the drivers can often times cause you time and in some situations you do not have internet access until you setup the router and you cannot setup the router until you can console into it… I’ve had this happen a few times sadly.
When it comes to needing an additional Ethernet port doing stuff like recovering Lightweight Access Points, the USB 2.0 Plug and Play Ethernet Adapter – TU2-ET100 can become a life saver. Again try to stick with plug and play if possible so if someone ask to use it, they don’t need the drivers.
Also an IDEAL RJ45/RJ12 Crimp Tool is a must have when it comes to fixing cables with broken RJ45 ends as well as the random need to make basic telephone cables (if you’re also involved in voice). It’s good practice to keep at least several RJ45 and RJ11/RJ12 ends in your bag at all times.
Nice things to have
Okay so enough with the must haves… Lets take a look at the cool stuff that is nice to have that people see and think “man i wish i had one of those…”
One of the things I have in my bad is a Bushnell 65-Lumen Multi-Color LED Hat Light. I have this attached to a “Network Junkie” baseball cap that I can easily put on when needed and have light wherever I aim it with my head and still have my hands free to do whatever. This of course is a hunting LED light however it is nice because it just takes a single AAA battery. Keep a few spare in the bag for this and that wireless mouse 😉
Everyone has screw drivers in their bag however it’s nice to safe a little space with a Stanley All-in-One Screwdriver. This is exactly the screw driver I carry in my bag. Simple and fits most large and small Cisco screws 🙂
There are however other specialty tools that may be needed from time to time but carry these at your own discretion.
One of the tools that I’ve recently encountered which was included with the purchase of a Nexus blade was an SFP Removal tool which can be used in hard to get spots such as SFP’s near the eject levers of blades. I cannot find this guy for sale anywhere on the internet but if I do I’ll update this blog with a link.
If you find yourself making alot of CAT5/6 Cables than a Linkmaster UTP/STP Cable Tester can save you some time and frustration. I personally have this in my bag as well.
If you deal with cabling alot and have to trace out random cables with no labels than a Fluke Networks Pro3000 Tone Generator and Probe Kit is a handy tool to have in your bag.
There are several common FRU items that are very nice to have on hand so that if you were on call and dispatched to a site, having these in your bag can be a huge time saver. These items includes SFP’s such as GLT-T, GLC-SX-MMD and GLC-LH-SMD. These guys can commonly be obtained through your network department. It is a good idea to carry a pair of each of these guys if possible. I have a small box which has a pair of each of them in my bag. 10Gig optics are becoming more and more common, if you can have those in your bag as spares, those too can be extremely nice to have on hand when your in a bind.
When it comes to keeping spare optical SFP’s it is also nice to keep a few spare fiber patch cables in your bag. The type needed would depend on your working environment however LC-LC, LC-SC are common in most newer environments. Single-Mode (Yellow) and Multi-Mode OM4 (Aqua).
One thing that I’ve noticed that is becoming more and more popular are WiFi hotspots provided by your cell phone provider. These of course can be prepaid however they typically have a monthly reoccurring cost which can provide you internet access if you’re in a 3G/4G area. Keep in mind these guys typically do not work inside metal buildings or basements.
Items that Most Engineers Don’t Think Of…
So there are a few items that engineers typically never think of keeping in their bag but after years of experience I’ve made a nice little list to share with you guys.
First up is the Fluke 1AC-A1-II VoltAlert Non-Contact Voltage Tester
Why is this nice to have? Well lets say you want to check to see if a power line is live without plugging something in, you have the ability to just turn this little stick on and place it next to the power cable and if it lights up than it means the circuit is live.
This little guy can also be used during emergency situations such as all devices in the rack on a specific PDU has failed. The PDU appears to be dead however how do you determine if the problem is the PDU or if its the breaker “quickly” without calling an electrician? Just get this out and wave it next to the incoming power cable. If it lights up than the PDU is dead, if it does not than check the breaker.
Next up is the IEC C14 to NEMA 5-15R – 1 feet cable which allows for you to plug your laptop into a C13 receptacle which is found on most common PDU’s. Keep in mind most Data Center PDU’s are typically 220v so make sure your laptop power adapter can handle 100v-240v. Best way to tell is to check the label on the adapter, if it does not support up to 220v and you try to do this than it may catch on fire due to lack of insulation around the transformer in the power adapter. Be warned about this!
Have you ever dropped your last screw in a place where you cannot get your hands into? The Telescoping Magnetic Pick-Up Tool has prevented a lot of frustration and cursing for me.
Ironically most people do not have a Deluxe Cage Nut Insertion/Extraction Tool in their bag, they typically resort to using a flat head screw driver which can lead to some nasty cuts on your fingers and hands. Sadly I worked with a guy who had an accident and needed 9 stitches in a finger because he used a screw driver and slipped.
Dial up has long since faded into the distant past however I have encountered several companies in the past few years that use dial up out of band management to administer devices in remote places where broadband is unavailable. There is also a huge cost savings factor at play if only SSH is needed. I’ve noticed that this type of deployment is somewhat popular in Mexico as well as the great planes states such as Montana, Wyoming, Kansas, etc… So with that in mind, most new laptops do not have 56k modems anymore and you may find yourself needing a USRobotics USR5637 56K USB Modem
Last item on the list that most engineers forget to have is a beer… After a hard days work it’s nice to come home and sit by the pool and have an ice cold beer and relax and decompress 😉
If there are any tools you have in your bag that I may have missed let us know by posting a comment below!