Nutty network issues - a tale from the past

February 12, 2020

an acorn

My first job out of university was as a Technical Support Engineer for a HVAC (Heating, ventilation, and air conditioning) and building controls company. My remit was to support our company engineers and electricians, as well as troubleshoot client problems.

One particular client had quite a few problems. It was a major hospital at the other end of the country, and they were progressively upgrading the control systems across their site. The hospital was huge - about a kilometre across - and old. The distance between buildings on the site meant that our regular networking and management solutions wouldn't work. Luckily, we'd just started selling new control stations and software that could run over Ethernet/IP.

Of course, it wasn't that simple. While the entire site was networked, we learnt that some of the buildings being upgraded were still using a token ring network internally. We were able to source some ethernet to token ring converters, but they proved to be a bit flaky. The client's solution to this was to have one of their staff walk around to each building once a week and switch the converters off and on again.

A few months after the installation, the client called our office reporting that one of the buildings wouldn't reconnect anymore. The client had already done a fair bit of troubleshooting, including swapping the converter, and so on. Rather than try and diagnose remotely, I was sent to investigate.

Sure enough, everything seemed fine, except for the connection from the building back to the main control room for the site. After a couple of hours isolating the issue, it was almost certainly a problem with that connection, and nothing wrong between our equipment or the converter to the outgoing connection in the building, or the incoming connection at the main control room.

The client's IT came and checked the network cable for that building. Remember, the site is large, and composed of multiple closely neighbouring buildings. To save money and construction on digging trenches between some buildings, some cables were strung between them instead (in ducted conduits).

And that's when I found out that squirrels like to chew on network cables.

More nutty network issues

Funnily enough, I came across this tweet yesterday after I'd already decided to write this particular post: