It had been a very long weekend.

On Friday, the CIO of Brendan’s company announced that something big was in order and details would be revealed Monday morning. Questions quietly circled around the office for the rest of that day. Were people getting laid off? Was a customer unhappy and withholding payment? Was the software division being sold to East Kerblekistan?

…and many of these unanswered questions transmuted into rumors.

Come Monday morning, the staff shuffled into the company’s largest conference room to hear the news. Andy, the CIO, showed up fifteen minutes late as usual. He had reached CIO status not by being punctual, smart, knowledgeable, or even particularly effective. Instead, his sharp dress, smooth tongue, and slick presentations got the job done. He had a bright can-do attitude, knew all the right buzzwords (and could occasionally string them together into something resembling a sentence), and anyone without a technical background (most importantly the CEO and the Board of Directors) saw him as a technical genius.

WLAN PCI Card cleaned

Today Andy was positively beaming. This was far above and beyond his normal self-important pomp and arrogance. From his wide smile and ecstatic mood, Brendan half-expected him to whip out a Nobel Prize, or Turing Award, or Oscar, and self-congratulate in front of the entire IT staff.

“Employees of Initech! I am proud to announce that we are finally moving into the 21st century!” Andy began. “I’ve spent the past several months in research and negotiations, and because of my hard work Initech has just been awarded a half million dollar federal grant to update our network to wireless technology! This will completely reinvigorate and synergize the company, and is a fundamental key to our plan for winning several high-dollar federal contracts for the fiscal year of 2005. Our commitment to technology is vital to our core business principles, and this upgrade will prove to prospective clients that we are serious about advancing the state of modern technology. When they tour this office and experience our brand-new wireless network, they will have no choice but to choose Initech for all of their needs!”

At that point, Brendan sighed in relief and mentally checked out as Andy kept talking for the next 45 minutes about how great this network upgrade would be for business.

Not long after, Andy announced a new Network Upgrade Task Force, which he would be personally overseeing, to plan and execute the upgrade. Brendan was tagged as a vital part of the team, with tasks right on the critical path.

Initech already had a reliable wired network, and nobody was complaining about the lack of wireless access. Brendan tried to question why the network upgrade was even needed, but Carl, the team leader and one of the company’s domain administrators, pulled him aside and politely told him that questioning the CIO’s plans would be a career-ending error.

Over the next several weeks the team of twelve developed a plan. They started simple, trying to provide wireless access to the few areas where it would make sense, but soon Andy interfered, demanding wireless access in the places that didn’t make sense. The plan became more and more complicated, resulting in dozens of wasted man-hours spent drawing up new hypothetical network diagrams. Eventually, it was decreed that Initech’s entire building, all 14 floors, would be covered by the new 802.11g-compliant wireless network. A wireless access point was to be installed in each room, and each workstation would be assigned a USB external Wi-Fi adapter. Each office room had between 5 and 30 workstations, depending on the team and duties.

Outside of one of the planning meetings, Brendan pulled aside a few of his teammates. “We’re going to have over a thousand PCs all join the same wireless network? And have almost 150 wireless access points all within the same building? This is NOT going to work!”

Carl shook his head in agreement. “We can’t fight Andy on this, remember what happened to Al and Gerald last year?” Brendan recalled: unemployment happened. “We just need to do the best we can. Andy’s set his mind on it, but if we can survive the beginning, we can quietly improve things once he moves on to The Next Great Project.”

The project plan was completed and the other executives rubber-stamped it. On a Friday six weeks later, the Network Upgrade Task Force waited for the regular office staff to leave. They had until Monday morning to get everything set up.

By noon on Sunday, every WAP had been installed and configured, Ethernet switches from each office were removed and placed in storage, and every desktop workstation had a shiny new USB adapter connected. Andy decided that full-scale testing was unnecessary, but he did allow them to connect a few random systems to the new wireless network for testing. The new network technically worked. With only a few PCs on at once typical throughput had dropped from 100 megabit to only 15 or 20, but they had wireless! Andy ordered the team to write a memo of instructions on how to join a PC to the network, and one was printed and distributed to each workstation in the building except for the few they’d set up themselves. The CIO declared the project a success and ordered pizza for the team in celebration.

Monday did not go well for anyone on the upgrade team. Brendan personally spent nearly 16 hours that day connecting hundreds of workstations to the wireless network because the users were unable to follow the instructions correctly. As additional workstations were brought online, the network slowed to a crawl. Initech’s internal web sites and applications became unusable for most users, and throughput tests consistently returned kilobit rates which were barely double-digit, if they succeeded at all.

Andy was absolutely furious and stormed through the building, red-faced, bellowing at the members of the upgrade team as they fought to connect workstations to the network. “What the hell is wrong with you people? This stuff was all working when we left yesterday! It was working! Find out what you did wrong and fix it! We HAVE to get the network working, contracts worth millions of dollars are on the line! Do you hear me?!” He stormed off, and the team managed to slip away to a distant conference room.

“Alright, what are we going to do?” Carl said.

“Can we go back to the old wired network and not tell Andy? Pretend we’re using wireless?” Brendan asked.

Carl shook his head. “He may be an idiot, but he’s watching us too closely. We’ll all be gone if he finds out we aren’t actually using WiFi.”

“There’s just too many wireless devices too close to each other,” responded Brendan. “I walked around the office with my personal laptop and a WiFi monitor. All the access points are channel-hopping like mad trying to find a clear channel. I can’t even connect unless I’m within a couple feet of an access point.”

Alex, a quiet engineer from the hardware division, spoke up. “It works if you’re close to an access point?” Brendan nodded. “So what if we can get everyone that close?” Puzzled glances were exchanged. “Remember Project Sapphire from two years ago?” he added. “That government project Andy bought all the equipment for and then we didn’t win the contract? We still have several pallets full of USB extension cables from that!”

The idea was crazy, but they decided to test it in a couple offices. They strung up USB extensions and relocated each workstation’s external WiFi adapter, situating them all within a foot or so of the nearest access point. And by golly it worked! Throughput was only a few megabits, but the connection was generally reliable!

As they finished the first round of testing, Andy showed up, ready to chew the team out for not fixing the network yet. Carl explained that they had a possible workaround and his anger mellowed a bit. “As long as it’s working by tomorrow.” He huffed and stormed out.

By eight o’clock the next morning, every single WiFi adapter in the building had been relocated. Bandwidth was limited to 2 - 3 Mbps due to contention, but at least network timeouts were rare. Despite the unsightly mess of WiFi adapters piled around each access point, Andy was pleased. “See, this is why I picked you guys, I knew you’d make it work! This is the kind of ingenuity that makes Initech the best in the industry! Good work! Get us through today, and you can all have tomorrow off.”

By the end of the day, the team finished configuring the last remaining workstations and corrected a few relatively minor issues. The network was drastically slower than it used to be, but was “fast enough” for most of the staff. At the next full-staff quarterly meeting, Andy gave a forty-minute presentation about the resounding success and ROI of the network “upgrade”.

Brendan rolled his eyes and decided to update his résumé in case he got involved in whatever Andy’s next scheme would be.

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