A moving experience

In a brief moment of insanity, I agreed to move the Windows NT Magazine Lab from the main office building to a new location. At first, the move seemed like a winning idea: The Lab Guys would have better offices and a better Lab environment. However, the reality of transferring 100-plus test systems and 5 full-time staff members and their equipment soon kicked me in the chest with the force of a bucking horse.

The previous inhabitants of the new Lab space hadn't used the space for a computer lab (imagine that!), so we had to contract some work on the facility before we could move in. Specifically, we had to increase the level of electrical service to the Lab, increase the amount of air conditioning, place network jacks throughout the Lab, and install an alarm system. We also had to contract some general construction work in the office area to move walls, add doors, and perform related carpentry, painting, electrical, and cabling tasks.

On the networking side, we contracted US West to install two T1 circuits to connect us to the main office. In addition, we contracted our PBX vendor to install a remote phone system in the new Lab and connect it to the phone system in the main office building over one of the T1 circuits.

Anyone who has built a home or done major remodeling knows that time lines for completion are speculative at best. Based on the variety of tasks we had to complete and our experiences with contractors and deadlines, we came up with two move-in dates. We used one for the contractors and one (a later date) for our internal planning. I'm glad we set two dates because on the day we moved, only 80 percent of the work was completed. Fortunately, the most important work (e.g., electrical, phone, and network connections) was completed on time.

Lessons Learned
Working with contractors on jobs of this scale is always a learning experience (usually a painful one). For the most part, the contractors did their jobs well. Of the learning experiences we had, two that I'll share with you were particularly interesting.

Lesson Number One: Surface-mount cable costs big bucks. When I wrote specifications for the network cable work for the Lab, I requested surface-mount cable, which is cable that runs up the wall. I requested this type of cable so that the contractor wouldn't have to run cable through the walls. However, the cost of the surface-mount channel far outweighed the cost of running cable through the wall.

Lesson Number Two: When transporting a computer lab to a new location, keep the cables attached. Our core benchmark environment consists of approximately 50 systems interconnected to keyboard/video/mouse (KVM) switches and attached to an independent LAN. The thought of disconnecting those cables (we have over 200 cables, all of them unlabeled) made me very uneasy. After we met with the mover, we figured out a way to move the equipment without disconnecting most of the cables: We'd move the computers in groups. Each group consisted of one KVM switch and the systems attached to it. We had to disconnect all the network cables, but keeping the KVM cables in place saved us countless hours of work setting up our benchmark environment.

The Bane of My Existence
During the move, we overlooked the ISDN line we had in our old enterprise Lab. So we called US West to request that the telephone company move the line to our new location. Some of you might remember my previous experiences with US West and ISDN (see "Lab Guys," February, March, April, and May 1998); sadly, my luck wasn't much better this time.

US West moved the ISDN line within 10 days of our request. However, when US West moved our line, it erroneously moved our CEO's ISDN line as well. When we asked US West to move our CEO's line back, the company complied, but, unfortunately, rendered our Lab ISDN line inoperable. We waited another 30 days for US West to get our Lab line back in service. However, 2 days later, US West disabled the phone number associated with our ISDN line. At this point, I don't know if our Lab ISDN line will ever be up and running.

Now that the move is over and our new enterprise Lab is fully operational, we can honestly say we're happy we moved. However, we're in no hurry to move again!