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Some see things as they are, and ask "Why?"   I dream things that never were, and ask "Why Not".  
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Friday, January 27, 2012

Networking on the Cheap

As everyone knows, we're all on a budget.  Most of our money trees have withered, and getting replacements hasn't been easy.

However, we still have things to do.  Sometimes we need to set up test environments or other things - yet both personal and corporate budgets stand in our way.

Here some tricks I have found, (and use!), that help me do the networking tasks I need without breaking the bank.

  • Make your own cables:

    This may seem like one of those "DOH!" statements, but you'd be surprised at how many of us don't have the tools, or parts, to make network cables ourselves.  Sure, a box of Cat 5e or Cat 6 cable isn't cheap, and the tools to crimp the ends on aren't free either - but after you have made five or so cables, the box and tools have already paid for themselves.

    Another nice feature:  You can make the cables any size you need, shorter or longer, without being stuck with the stock sizes.  And!  If one of your store-bought cables breaks, you can fix it, good-as-new, without having to buy another one.

  • Make your own labels.  Another "Doh!", but this is not so obvious sometimes.

    What I do is take a page of Avery address labels - the three across by ten down type - and use them for wiring labels.  If I need a big label, I use the entire address label, folding it around the cable so it leaves a big tab.  Smaller labels can be made by cutting the address labels in half.

    Prior to actually attaching the label to the wire in question I label the ends using a thin sharpie, or other thin, but dark, pen.

    They are easy to see, they stay stuck in place, and they're easy to remove when you need to re-label something.

  • Use Velcro "plant tie" tape as cable ties.

    This is a thin green fabric tape that has Velcro on both sides so that the bottom of one piece sticks to the top of another.  This plant tie tape can be had at virtually ANY store with a "garden" department, like Home Depot, Lowes, WalMart, etc.  A roll of this stuff usually goes for right around $4 or $5.
  • Go to the drugstore, and buy a box of "Alcohol Prep Swabs".

    These are the little square alcohol soaked pieces the doctor uses to wipe your arm before giving you a shot.  They come pre-packaged in little foil wrappers, are soaked in alcohol, and make great little wipes for cleaning gunk off of things - like cables, keyboards, or other stuff that accumulates crud.  They are dirt-cheap and are handy as you-know-where.

    NOTE:  Do NOT use these wipes for cleaning off things like your monitor screen, your cell-phone or smart-phone, your eBook, etc., as it will fog - and ruin - the plastic covering the display.

  • Scrounge the "Referb" section of local computer stores.

    I love to lurk the "Refurbished" section on Micro Center's web-site, as they often have really outrageous deals, depending on what you need.  I have bought a number of "refurbished" computers from them, often for pennies on the dollar, and I have never been disappointed.

  • Find a computer, or amateur radio fair.

    Though they are getting increasingly scarce, they still exist.

    I have made a habit of visiting the Trenton Computer Festival for the last few years, and I have scored really expensive pieces of equipment for almost nothing.

    A couple of years ago, I scored a Dell PowerEdge 2850 rack mounted server with fancy RAID, onboard monitoring, and so on - for right around $100.  (eBay has them for several thousand apiece.)  Last year, I could have scored an even more modern HP rack mounted server for right around the same price.

  • Go "Dumpster-Diving".

    Sometimes the company you work for decides to throw out stuff they don't need anymore.  If you can get the trunk of your car between them and the dumpster, you can score really fantastic stuff for free!

    Likewise, especially in this economy, other companies go belly-up.  If you are paying attention, you might find an excellent opportunity to grab stuff that they're throwing away.

    I've picked up some great stuff that way - two 24-port 10/100 managed switches, computers, hard drives, hardware, and even a 19" wide 7' tall aluminum rack for my stuff - with shelves! - by being in the right place at the right time.

The point I am trying to make here is this:  If you are inventive and pay attention, you can build up a pretty impressive QA / Networking lab for pennies.

What say ye?

Jim (JR)

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