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What's Living in Gabe's Closet?
July 1st, 2014
Intrigued by Gabe's frequent mentions of his Network Closet, Erik asks some tough questions. Why put the closet in the basement? Why all the extra ventilation? What happens when you run out of red printer ink? The answers may disturb and frighten you.
Erik digs into the history of Gabe’s networking closet. How did he decide to build his own, and why? When this podcast was newly re-launched, we discussed how to wire a house for ethernet. This topic has come up periodically, but now it’s time to learn a little bit more about the center of Gabe’s wired house.
|“I have a wife”|
And Gabe’s wife doesn’t like nerdy hardware out sitting around. Weird double entendres aside, Gabe has always tried to isolate his networked and nerdy equipment. When you put a lot of running electronics in one place, however, they produce a lot of heat. For that reason, he thinks you should install vents at the top and bottom of your network closet if feasible. It may also make sense to add a temperature sensor too, but beware. Home automation can be a slippery slope.
|“Like quiet and awesome mode?”|
Having a network closet also means you can put your noisy devices in the one room and it will still be quiet enough that you can record a podcast.
The network closet is likely the center of nerd necessities. For Gabe, his closet contains:
- 8-bay 1813+ Synology with seven drives
- Mac Mini
- 24 port Network Switch
- Network-based Printer Scanner
- Toolbox and Cables
- 3 UPS
|“The Dobermans bring it up”|
Nobody touches Gabe’s Network Toolbox.
One of the primary uses for my network closet is to gather together all of my networking and computer tools in one place. No one goes in there to look for tools so I’m all but guaranteed to find what I’m looking for when I need it.
I love this little red toolbox. It’s all metal and built solid. The cantilever design keeps every compartment visible while it’s open but closes up to a compact little carry along.
My favorite tool is a simple multi-bit screwdriver by Channellock. This little driver is solidly made and has a variety of reasonably useful bits.
If you need to pull cables between floors and through walls, it can be a real pain to get it started. The Wet Noodle is a nice little find but kind of expensive for what it does. However, after you save yourself hours of pointless cursing at a hole in your ceiling, you’ll be happy to spend a hundred times what this item costs.
Here’s a rundown of various other tools I’ve hidden away:
- Wire crimpers and cutters
- Wire Strippers
- Punch down
- Ratcheting crimper for RJ45 plugs
- Network cable tester
- Aviation Shears
- A good quality but inexpensive knife
- Diagonal Snips
- Needle Nose pliers (get several sizes)
You can get a kit full of reasonably good quality tools for making network cables and connectors.
Boy am I a sucker for a good flashlight. I have some nice flashlights that can cook a turkey, but the one I use the most around the house is my Joby tripod light. It has flexible legs and magnet feet. It also takes standard batteries so I’m pretty much always ready to go with it. I upgraded to the more powerful 125 Lumen model from my trusty 65 Lumen model that my toddler now loves.
Gabe’s network closet was actually planned, so he has the benefit of having it on an independent power circuit, and it stays pretty cool naturally, since it’s partially underground. He also used slatted doors on the room to maximize the benefits of cooler air but has not noticed a noise penalty yet. Your mileage may vary.
|“I kept them to menace the other drives”|
The internal closet setup may require less premeditation, but is no less important.
Get some simple but durable shelving. You’ll always put way more stuff on the top shelf than you expect, so anchor it to the wall. My network closet isn’t pretty on the inside so I don’t have high standards for how the shelving looks. There’s reasonable good plastic shelving at most hardware stores. I worried about WiFi interference with a large metal shelf and plastic is pretty easy to drill holes in. I’d also recommend open shelving without sides or backs. It’s easier to run cables around them.
A line puller is the best and worst thing I’ve used. When it works, you’ll do a little fist pump. When it gets caught on something you’ll fist pump the wall. There’s really not a lot of choice if you need to fish for a line over more than a couple of feet.
Green pull line comes in very handy. Every line you pull through your walls should have a pull line tied to the front of it. It means you always have an easy way of pulling another line down the same path. Trust me. It’s sanity saving advice.
Get yourself to Monoprice for bulk Ethernet cables and connectors. It’s the “teach a man to fish” model. If you learn how to make Ethernet cables, you will never be without an Ethernet cable when you need one the most.
But for short runs, just buy a few different colors and always keep one free. I have three hanging on a peg board all of the time. And remember, a crossover cable is something entirely different. You will be pissed the first time you need one and only have patch cables.
We covered a lot of the power supply and backup UPS stuff in a previous episode of Technical Difficulties. Nothing has changed. I keep a couple of good quality UPS in my network closet. Each one is plugged into a different circuit. Yes, I have two circuits in my network closet. One powers only the router and network switch and inside light. The other carries everything else. It seems like overkill until you have a power converter on a laptop go bad and throw the breaker on one circuit once a day. It’s not a big interruption to lose access to a printer and various backup drives. Losing the network connection for the entire house would have been very frustrating.
Of course the UPS will keep you going for a while but that’s only if you notice the beeping.
I also really like this Auto-rewind extension cord with surge suppressor. It’s a bit expensive but it’s also a high quality extension cord with a carrier. It’s easy to quickly deploy and cleanup afterward. One push of a button retracts the entire 50 feet cord. There are a couple different models but the 16G version was just fine for my needs.
Lastly, there are the cables and all of the tech they enable.
I didn’t set out to collect cables. In fact, I make it a personal policy to throw away extra cables whenever I get new cables. But I do try to keep one of every kind of cable. Here’s a quick list of what’s hanging in my closet:
- Flat 25 ft. HDMI
- Mini DVI to VGA
- Display Port to DVI
- Various USB cables (you don’t need a link for these. They’re everywhere)
- Firewire DV
- Firewire adapter
I have a color printer/scanner combo. I really just wanted a basic WiFi enabled color printer but I’ve actually found myself using the flatbed scanner more than I thought. Of course the ink is stupidly expensive but it’s rarely used unless it’s dire.
My Synology drive is my love affair. I can’t say enough good things about this beast. It’s more than a backup device. It’s a simple to manage server with a ton of easy to install features. So great.
I keep a lot of extra disks around. Most are old 1-2 TB disks from previous backups and hardware. I switched to the Red drives over a year ago based on recommendations on Twitter and not one has failed. They’re not as fast as the Black drives, but for backups, I don’t really care about fast. I care about reliable.
I’ve used a couple of different pluggable connectors for backups. I’ve had good luck with a USB3 dock since it’s the most commonly compatible.
I’ve recently added a dual-bay Thrunderbolt drive dock to my desktop, for realtime backups.
A 32 GB USB flash drive is pretty handy and stays in my network closet.
One way to drive home the strange ink value proposition is to make it pain to print by locating your printers in the network closet.
Gabe may have taken the “pain” part of that sentiment too literally.
|“Turns out the printer head clogs with blood. Tried that.”|
So what about Erik? He needs a network closet, but his office is on one end of his house and doesn’t have one. Long cable runs aren’t a real problem for Ethernet, but it can be nice to co-locate your network closet and your primary workspace if possible. Maybe if he moves sometime soon…
Well, that’s it for this week. If you have anything that you’d like to add to or correct in the show notes you can find me on Twitter @potatowire, or feel free to send an email to me at potatowire dot com.