6.2. Physical location

In Hamilton Building, as with many other installations, each physical network point is labelled with a number that uniquely identifies it. Common numbering schemes either relate the network point to a switch port, or to the room or building in which it is located. The latter of these schemes is the most flexible since it allows physical network points to be re-designated and patched into different switch stacks without leading to inconsistent numbering.

Detailed records need to be kept of the location of network points in order to allow the network administrator to determine, from a network point number or switch port, where in a building a computer is located. The larger and more widespread a network becomes, the more important it is that these records are kept up-to-date.

While it is possible to write a computer program that detects the logical location of a computer, this is not usually possible for the physical location. Traditionally, determining the physical location of a network point has involved someone walking from office to office making a note of the location of each point.

This task can be made a lot simpler if some form of computer assistance can be provided in order to enable the administrator to quickly record the location of the network point. Ideally this should provide the administrator with the ability to enter a network point number and get a floor plan indicating a "best guess" as to where the network point may be. The person using the system should be able to then update the guessed location by simply indicating a more accurate location on the floor plan.

The ability to provide a best guess for where a network point should be is dependent on how much information is contained in the network point's numbering scheme. If the number refers to a switch port, a best guess could be a building or the portion of a building that the particular switch serves. A numbering scheme that includes an indication of the location of a port, such as the one used in Hamilton Building, provides a more accurate best guess. As much information about the location of ports as is known should be provided beforehand in order to make the best guess as accurate as possible.

With the advent of handheld computers and wireless networking, the network administrator is presented with new tools to aid him in his never-ending quest to ensure that records of network infrastructure are kept up-to-date. A handheld computer (such as Compaq's iPAQ) provides a convenient way to display and update the location of each network point as they are located.

It would be far better, however, if a means could be provided for those people using computers to update their own records. This is the combined approach taken in Section 6.3.