One benefit of my ending up between Scott Mueller and Richi Jennings is knowing that I'm not alone in experiencing hardware problems with Ethernet ports.
I'm basically a software guy. Coming from a mainframe background, very few of us ever got to even see the hardware let alone deal with it in the trenches. When things go wrong, my first suspect is always software. Over the years software has, indeed, been the root of the vast majority of problems I've encountered.
But recently, a company I work with was having LAN problems; response time to the file server was terrible. Not only did some employees notice it during the day, but an application which does heavy I/O to the file server at off hours was running much slower than usual even though the amount of data being processed had not changed.
The problem turned out to be an Ethernet switch. Replacing the switch (a Netgear GS605) that the file server was connected to, returned the LAN speeds to normal.
According to Jennings, Ethernet ports going bad is not at all unusual. He wrote
I seem to have experienced another hardware related Ethernet problem just this past week, in my own living room.
For about four days, I was having Internet connection problems. My ISP saw nothing wrong on their end but the broadband connection was slower than dial-up. I know this for sure, as I had to switch to dial-up to get anything done.
I didn't suspect my networking hardware since the problem persisted even when computers were directly connected to the cable modem. This led the ISP to assume the modem was bad, so I replaced it. But nothing changed.
At this point, I had to assume that the problem was with the ISPs network.
The slowdown was also intermittent. It would be bad most of the day but then, at times, return to its normal speedy self. It seemed likely that my neighbords were bandwidth hogs. But, the problem first happened very late at night when 99% of the people on my block were sleeping.
Since my ISP wouldn't send someone out for 10 days, I was desperate.
Despite having experienced the slowness more than once using a computer directly connected to a freshly booted cable modem (two different modems in fact) I had nothing to lose by swapping the hardware in my living room.
Like the company mentioned previously, I too had a Netgear GS605 switch in my network.
And wouldn't you know it, the slowdown went away as soon as I removed the GS605 from my LAN.
Co-incidence? Perhaps, (I haven't done any packet sniffing) but its been a few days without the GS605 and my net connection has been fine.
Being big on Defensive Computing, both of the replaced switches had been connected to line interactive UPSs. This type of UPS is supposed to both raise the power level if its too low and trim it back if its a bit high. This, in addition to surge protection and battery backup. I'll never know why the switches went bad, but poor electricity was probably not the reason.
No more bottom of the line switches for me. And from now on, like a spare tire in the trunk, I'll have an extra one at the ready.
This story, "Old Age and Ethernet Ports" was originally published by Computerworld.