Good Tools for Network Engineers – Layer 1 (Fiber and Ethernet)
Hello fellow engineers!
Having the right tools for the job is critical, and this holds true for network troubleshooting. I’ve had the chance to test a few additional tools that have worked their way into daily troubleshooting of network issues at the physical layer. I’ve included photos below and summaries about the benefit of leveraging these tools for your network deployments and troubleshooting.
Model: Fluke Micromapper
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This little continuity tester for copper is exactly what you need to troubleshoot a bad ethernet cable, or after you crimp a new cable before you connect it. It has easy to understand visual indicators and can even generate a tone if you are working on fox and hounding a cable to find it’s other end. The removable remote test end fits snugly inside the unit and it’s a very portable solution. Even after years of crimping, you’re bound to occasionally get faults and shorts, and a good tester will save you every time.
Temporary Cable Labels
Model: 3M ScotchCode Wire Marker Tape Dispenser (STD-0-9)
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This slick little tool has become my go-to “temporary labels” generator when pulling bulk Cat-5. The numbers 0-9 are available as dispensable stickers that you cut as long as you need, allowing easy application on the move. Ideally you label the pull end of the ethernet with a number (or multiple if running over 10), and label the box as well until you’re ready to cut, at which point you can move the label over to the cable. While I still suggest using a cable tester like the one above after crimping new runs… these labels can assist with maintaining sanity as you try to ensure you have the same cable at both ends when troubleshooting or documenting.
Fiber Visual Fault Locator and Power Meter
Models: AFL HiLite / SainSonic OP-600
[button color=”green” size=”small” align=”none” style=”square” target=”_blank” link=”https://www.specialized.net/afl-vfi3-hilite-visual-fault-identifier-vfl.html” ]Buy AFL HiLite from Specialized[/button] [button color=”green” size=”small” align=”none” style=”square” target=”_blank” link=”http://amzn.to/2CJQLLz” ]Buy a Fiber Power Meter on Amazon[/button]
Two critical abilities to have when working with fiber are being able to shoot a light source, and read power levels. These two tools are very portable solutions to do both, and I’ve come to rely on them heavily for any fiber work. The AFL HiLite is the smallest VFL I’ve ever seen, and allows for adapters to be screwed on to fit various fiber connections (SC, LC, etc). The power meter is literally some $40 amazon special (out of stuck at the time of this writing) that provides accurate enough readings for troubleshooting low power and dirty fiber issues. Any network engineer who works with circuits or employs a lot of fiber in production needs these tools for proper troubleshooting. There are others that are important as well, such as an OTDR and BERT Tester, but the price point on those is not one for an individual toolkit, (Think 3-5k and up)
Labeler for Cable, Patch Panels, Racks, Servers
Model: Brother P-Touch Edge E550W
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Documentation and labeling are a necessary evil in most aspects of IT, and especially in networking. My choice for a few years has been the Brother P-Touch Edge, as it is a very versatile labeling machine. From generic rack or device labeling, to wire flag style labels that you can attach to cables for easy visual identification, this labeler does it all. A bunch of nice little features add up to make a nice package, including wireless capabilities and the option to print bar codes and serialized numbers which will auto increment as more are printed. The biggest perk I’ve personally experienced with this labeler is that when it prints the labels, it puts a starter cut at the front end with a section to grab onto with one hand… allowing easy removal of the label from the backing as opposed to an endless battle to seperate the backing like other printers.
Model: Wera Kraftform Screwdriver
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While one could argue that a screw driver is a screwdriver, and that there are many more professional brands available, I would argue that this particular style proves to be very useful in the field. Instead of carrying a whole kit of bits and different drivers, this model and others like it allow you to maintain a smaller profile for carry tools while still being prepared for that odd-ball size screw that happens to be in the way of the last thing you need to fix before you can call it a day and sip on a nice scotch. The expandable head retracts making the whole profile of the driver take up about half of what it appears to in the photo to the left, and making it extremely portable.
Infrared Sensor Card
Model: Newport Model F-IRC4
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When the issue is a down connection involving fiber, or a new connection/circuit not establishing, an infrared sensor card is your best friend. Instead of busting out a power meter and finding the right attachment, you hold the infrared card in front of any fiber or port that should have a light source coming through it and you will visually see the infrared light. This is perfect for finding issues with polarity (TX/RX) where you need to roll the fiber to establish connectivity. I call it my laziest tool of the batch, but that’s not a bad thing in IT.
Make sure you also read the more generalized overview post of tools that will help troubleshoot network issues (by clicking here).