Notes From the Field: Tips for Technology Troubleshooting

By: Mike Welling
June 16, 2016

When I’m not training to stay ahead of the latest trends in technology, I’m out in the field problem solving. As a consulting engineer on a lot of projects, I’m seen as the expert, but somedays I don't know what problem I'll be addressing next. One day I’m working on a backup solution and the next I’m working on switches, routers and wireless connection.

Along the way, I’ve developed some methods for troubleshooting problems and bottlenecks in a client’s network that have worked pretty well for me. I put these down as “lessons learned” and I thought it might benefit you if I pass them on...

1. Measure Twice

It’s an old carpenter’s saying, “measure twice, cut once,” and when you run into technology issues, it’s easy to rush to a diagnosis. But that doesn’t always give you the best results. For example, we had a project to help a school with its' network. Part of my job involves walking through the halls and checking all the closets where the switches are kept. I did that, but nothing made sense. So I did another walk-through, checking each closet again ...

2. Don't Give Up on Finding the Solution

... It was after my "measure twice" and checking the switch closets again that I discovered the network engineer from their previous supplier had done some creative cabling, daisy-chaining the switches together rather than putting them in a hub-and-spoke configuration. That was why they were having performance issues with their network.

Sometimes you go in to help them solve one problem only to discover a deeper problem they didn’t know they had. In one company, we were going to upgrade their software, but it was going to take a couple of steps to get them up to the current server software. When I dug into their servers, however, I found a bunch of unlicensed servers and software. In other words, their network was out of compliance to the tune of about $67,000 of missing Microsoft licenses.

This is not an easy conversation to have - to tell a client they are $67,000 in the hole before anything has even started. Fortunately, I came up with a solution using data center licensing.

3. Understand the Hats Your I.T. Department Wears

Often, the troubleshooting I do comes from networks set up by someone else. In some cases, it’s the company’s IT folks who may be responsible for the situation - but we can't pass blame to them. IT departments deserve all the credit and all the patience I can muster, because I know the demands on their time and their skills. Since I work with the latest technology and on cutting edge projects all the time, it’s easy for me to stay current on the solutions available. Most in-house IT professionals, however, do PC support, application support, server support and they rarely get to work on any projects using the latest technology. I understand that; they wear a lot of hats, and sometimes the technology issues are simply something they haven't seen before.

4. Never Stop Learning

Staying current on computer technology, as you might guess, is a big part of my job. Not everyone can make room in their schedule for extensive training, so I recommend reading everything you can get your hands on - trade magazines, blogs, online articles and information from multiple vendors. All of these can help you keep learning, which is key to troubleshooting future technology issues.

For example, I am currently reading and learning all I can about hyper converged networks. If you are like me, the constantly changing landscape of network technologies is a challenge, but it’s a good and exciting challenge. It keeps me on my toes and it keeps delivering new solutions to real problems. I can then go out into the field to make those solutions work for my clients.

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Topics: Business IT Services