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1  General discussions / Book Reviews / Computer Networking First-Step on: January 25, 2005, 03:17:56 PM
In addition to my regular network engineering job, I am also a networking instructor at a local university branch campus.  As such, I am always on the lookout for good analogies I can use in the networking courses I teach.  When you explain networking to beginners, you really have to step back to the first principles ever so often, in order to make sure you have the basic in your head, as well as the complex.  For this reason, I decided to check out Computer Networking First-Step (ISBN 1-58720-101-1) from Cisco Press.  The first thing I noticed when I picked up the book was the author.  I first discovered Wendell Odom a few years ago when I was recertifying my CCNA certification.  I like how he uses examples and humor to explain concepts and has an easy, conversational style to his writing which makes it easy to read.  With a lot of technical authors, reading their books can seem like a job, but not with Odom.  I recommend everything he's written.

The book itself is substantial, at over 400 pages, and is priced quite reasonably, at just $24.95.  It's broken down into 18 chapters which can each be read in a short sitting.  Since each chapter encapsulates a single topic, you reach a feeling of accomplishment and completion at the end of each one.  This is good for people new to computer networking.  If you make the chapters too long, they can easily feel overwhelmed.  These chapters are just right.  In the intro, the book says that it is divided up into bite sized pieces for easy digestion.  I thoroughly agree with that assessment.  

The chapters are grouped together into sections covering networking basics, LANs, protocols, routing, WANs, and security.  As you can see, the book covers a lot of ground.  The thing that impressed me most was that at no point does it get overly technical.  Odom picks an analogy (networks = roads) and sticks with it throughout the entire book.  In the early chapters, it works perfectly.  In some of the later chapters, it's a stretch, but he makes it work.  I will be using the analogies from this book in teaching my beginning networking courses and would recommend it as a textbook, or at least as suggested reading for a freshman level networking course.  I am also recommending this book to spouses of computer geeks (my wife, in particular).  She's never really tried to understand what I do, saying that it's far too technical.  I think the easy-to-read style and the bite-sized information may make this the book that gets my wife into networking.  My son, who's an exceptional 2nd grader, has begun picking up this book during his reading time at night (the scary part is that he understands the material).  While I don't recommend this book to the average 2nd grader, I do think that it could be used to help teach networking to middle and high school students.  The review questions at the end of each chapter provide a good way for students to check their learning and the answers at the back of the book provide good explanations.

On my 5 ping rating scale, I give this book a rating of 5 pings.
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2  General discussions / Book Reviews / Wireless Networks First-Step on: December 21, 2004, 02:50:09 PM
I was recently tasked with creating a wireless network in our test lab.  I managed to stumble through and ended up creating a very secure wireless network.  However, throughout the process, I kept finding myself wishing I had more information on the technology.  Not knowing the vocabulary made the process harder than necessary and I ended up with a lot of "what" and "why" questions that needed to be answered.  Wireless networking is a growing market, and Cisco even recently added Enterprise Wireless Mobility to their new CCIE blueprint, so I figured I had better get it into my repertoire pronto.  To begin filling in those gaps, I picked up Wireless Networks First-Step (ISBN 1-58720-111-9) from Cisco Press.

The book itself is a bit light, at only 200 pages, and is divided into 8 short chapters.  The author, Jim Geier, attempts to introduce the material without getting overly technical.  He doesn't make this a riveting read, by any stretch, and will probably lose most CIO types by the middle of the second chapter.  The book claims to be for everyone interested in wireless networking, but I don't see it working for anyone above the "manager of engineers" level.  This is primarily due to the presence of the unavoidable chapter on radio frequencies and modulation.  I found it very interesting, but I know that the average non-technical manager is going to glaze right over and shut down.  The chapters on the individual technologies (PAN, LAN, MAN, WAN) are interesting.  I'd like to have seen a lot more material on Wireless LANs, since that is the area most engineers are going to actually deal with in their own networks.  The final chapter, covering wireless security, is probably the best in the entire book.  It answered many of the questions I had about the various security protocols I was implementing.  For instance, I knew WEP was weak, but didn‘«÷t know why precisely.  The security chapter really brought the reasoning home.

My overall feeling on this book is that it is a little light to be list priced at $29.95.  The sister books in the series are all around 400 pages for this price.  Maybe the newness of the technology makes this book so light, or perhaps the mission can be accomplished in 200 pages, but you shouldn't charge the same for half the material.  I felt that the author offered all the necessary information about wireless technologies, but virtually none about the actual implementation of those technologies.  Perhaps that is where the other 200 pages went.  I also would have like to have seen more references to other sources of information on these wireless technologies.  The aim of these first-step books should be to whet your appetite for more, and this book doesn't really do that.

I give this book a score of 3 pings on my 5 ping rating scale.  I'd give it 4 if it was $19.95.
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3  General discussions / Book Reviews / Network Security First-Step on: November 30, 2004, 03:09:33 PM
I recently read Network Security First-Step (ISBN 1-58720-099-6) as the literal first step in my self-education on network security.  I've done a little work with firewalls and ACLs, but due to some major security projects on the horizon, and also on my selfish desire to beef up my resume in that area, I've decided to dedicate some time to furthering my knowledge of network security.  The book was written by Tom Thomas, who has authored or co-authored 17 books on networking and has also worked as an instructor.  He also has a high level of experience in the industry.  This experience shows in the quality of this book, which is advertised as an easy introduction into the world of network security.  As such, it seemed like a natural place to start my security studies.  Having read the book now, I'd have to say that it definitely lives up to the advertising.  It is an introduction for the security novice, with just enough technical material to whet the appetite of even experienced networking guy like myself.  When the material does get technical, the author uses real-world examples to explain the concepts and does so to great effect, making the book understandable for network novices.  

The book itself is 400 pages and consists of 10 chapters which cover a wide variety of topics.  Chapter 1 is an introduction into the mind and tools of hackerdom.  Chapter 2 covers basic security policies and practices.  Chapter 3 is a basic overview of security technologies and their uses and benefits.  Chapters 4 through 9 go more in-depth into  the various security technologies introduced earlier (protocols, firewalls, router security, VPNs, wireless, and intrusion detection) and how they are used.  Chapter 10 discusses tools for hacking and security auditing.  I can't say enough about how valuable I found the information provided in this book.  The author sprinkles the book with URLs which not only reinforce the topic he's covering, but also allow the reader to continue researching on their own.  I now have a folder full of web bookmarks which I'm only beginning to delve into.  This book doesn't just spoon feeding information to the reader, but also sets them up for a much deeper understanding on networking, depending upon their desire to go deeper.  Another feature I like about the book is how the author laid out the advantages and limitations of each network security technology.  He also doesn't try to sell any one technology as the Panacea for network security.  Rather, he advocates a much more practical layered approach to network security.

In conclusion, I recommend this book for anyone wanting to get started in network security.  It stands as a springboard into a whole new area of study for my career.  I've already come up with a few projects that must be implemented in our network just from reading this introductory book.  In the coming months, I plan to read as many security and hacking titles as I can and use that information to better secure our network.  I can tell it's going to be a busy year.  

On my 5 ping rating scale, I give this book an emphatic 5.
!!!!!
4  General discussions / Book Reviews / CCNA ICND Exam Guide on: October 27, 2004, 07:49:56 PM
Every journey begins with a single step.  The quote is trite but is most appropriate for someone who has decided to pursue a career in Cisco networking.  In order to begin the Cisco journey, the first step real step is the CCNA exam.  Unless they are extremely fortunate and have someone (an employer or educator) to offer guidance, chances are the beginning networker will be taking this first exam on their own.  The CCNA exam certification guides from Cisco Press offer the guidance they need to take that first step.  In recent years, Cisco has made it even easier on the novice by dividing the material into two separate exams.  CCNA candidates also have the money-saving option of getting their CCNA the good old-fashioned way: as a single exam.

I chose the Cisco Press books because I‘«÷d learned that if you want to get the right material weighting for a Cisco exam, it‘«÷s best to pick your apples right off of the tree.  In my previous experience, Cisco Press books had a tendency to be somewhat dry but I quickly learned that this misconception is no longer true.  I found that the author, Wendell Odom, brings a friendly approach to the material that makes it quite readable.  His examples are handled very well and his explanations are good.  He doesn‘«÷t write in the ‘«£just-the-facts-ma‘«÷am‘«ō way that tends to be the norm in technical books, so I will definitely be looking for titles by him in the future.  

As the name implies, The ICND Exam Certification Guide (ISBN: 1-58720-083-X) can be used to study for the Interconnecting Cisco Network Devices (ICND) exam (640-811).  The book itself weighs in at around 650 pages and is divided into five parts covering LAN Switching, TCP/IP, Wide Area Networks, Network Security and Final Preparation.  These sections map to the objectives of the exam which covers basic switch configuration, basic IP routing, basic access list configuration and basic remote access configuration.  This book takes each topic and explains the details regarding its implementation.  The basic configuration commands are presented, explained and then given in the form of an example.  The examples are generally pretty clear and the commands are shown in relation to the surrounding commands, so the context of the command is clear.  This book is the opposite of the INTRO book, as it covers a small amount of material to a deeper level.  There are some new topics presented, like route summarization and Link State protocols, which weren‘«÷t on the old CCNA exam.  If you are ready to recertify, but aren‘«÷t ready to move on to CCNP, then this is the book to pick up.

The CD included with the book has an excellent test bank.  I found it to be very useful in preparing for the test and working through the book.  There were a few answers that were just plain wrong, but I‘«÷ve come to expect a little inaccuracy with my test banks.  The questions are not overly easy, but they‘«÷re also not all that tricky.  They‘«÷re about the right level of difficulty for this exam.  One especially cool feature is the ‘«£Study Saver‘«ō which makes the question bank your screen saver.  Cisco has an affinity for simulation questions on their exams, so it‘«÷s good that they also included the Boson Netsim LE on the CD.  The bad news is that all the functions and labs are not unlocked unless you go through the ‘«£upgrade process‘«ō which consists of downgrading your wallet to the tune of $125, which is supposed to be a great deal compared to what they usually charge.  I didn‘«÷t want to spend a lot of time with what is essentially a simulator demo, but feel free to give it a try.  However, if the interface doesn‘«÷t really make you comfortable, try something else like the Cisco Interactive Mentor CD‘«÷s or one of the many other simulator options out there before shelling out your hard-earned money.  One option that I recommend is finding a few routers (nothing fancy) for a few hundred bucks.  Sure, they‘«÷re more expensive than buying a simulator, but they‘«÷re also more powerful and you can use them as building blocks towards having a live CCNP lab and maybe even a CCIE lab much further down the road.  In addition to the test banks and Netsim, the CD‘«÷s also include PDF versions of the books and 25 IP subnetting practice exercises.

I read this book in preparation for my CCNA recertification.  Since it is intended for someone fairly new to networking, I experienced a bit of the ‘«£duh‘«ō factor.  However, I was still able to learn a few interesting facts and reinforced a lot of what I already knew.  I used this book in tandem with its INTRO counterpart to prepare for the single CCNA exam (640-801).  I was pleased to see that, although the CCNA has been split into 2 books, the author has included a reading plan that allows you to read the 2 books in a back-and-forth order that makes it easy to use the same set of books to study for the single test version.  In closing, I found this book to be very well written and in invaluable tool in preparing for my CCNA recertification.  On my 5 ping scale, I give it 5 pings.

!!!!!
5  General discussions / Book Reviews / CCNA INTRO Exam Guide on: October 27, 2004, 07:40:27 PM
Every journey begins with a single step.  The quote is trite but is most appropriate for someone who has decided to pursue a career in Cisco networking.  In order to begin the Cisco journey, the first step real step is the CCNA exam.  Unless they are extremely fortunate and have someone (an employer or educator) to offer guidance, chances are the beginning networker will be taking this first exam on their own.  The CCNA exam certification guides from Cisco Press offer the guidance they need to take that first step.  In recent years, Cisco has made it even easier on the novice by dividing the material into two separate exams.  CCNA candidates also have the money-saving option of getting their CCNA the good old-fashioned way: as a single exam.

I chose the Cisco Press books because I‘«÷d learned that if you want to get the right material weighting for a Cisco exam, it‘«÷s best to pick your apples right off of the tree.  In my previous experience, Cisco Press books had a tendency to be somewhat dry but I quickly learned that this misconception is no longer true.  I found that the author, Wendell Odom, brings a friendly approach to the material that makes it quite readable.  His examples are handled very well and his explanations are good.  He doesn‘«÷t write in the ‘«£just-the-facts-ma‘«÷am‘«ō way that tends to be the norm in technical books, so I will definitely be looking for titles by him in the future.  

As the name implies, the CCNA INTRO Exam Certification Guide ISBN: 1-58720-094-5) covers the material required for the INTRO exam (640-821), which covers basic-yet-essential networking theory.  The book, which is about 600 pages, is divided into 6 parts:  Networking Fundamentals, Operating Cisco Devices, LAN Switching, TCP/IP, Wide-Area Networking and Final Preparation.  The book approaches this material in a very shallow way.  Without going into too much depth on most topics, it covers a very broad range of material.  If you are studying for the single CCNA exam, you can bounce back and forth between this book and the ICND book, reading the basics in this book then going to the ICND book for the nitty-gritty details.  The one exception to the rule is the topic of IP Addressing, which is covered entirely within this title.  Probably the most important topic in this book, it is very well explained and there are plenty of practice IP addressing exercises on the CD.  This book covers the material adequately for a beginner who is just learning the networking principals.

The CD included with the book has an excellent test bank.  I found it to be very useful in preparing for the test and working through the book.  There were a few answers that were just plain wrong, but I‘«÷ve come to expect a little inaccuracy with my test banks.  The questions are not overly easy, but they‘«÷re also not all that tricky.  They‘«÷re about the right level of difficulty for this exam.  One especially cool feature is the ‘«£Study Saver‘«ō which makes the question bank your screen saver.  Cisco has an affinity for simulation questions on their exams, so it‘«÷s good that they also included the Boson Netsim LE on the CD.  The bad news is that all the functions and labs are not unlocked unless you go through the ‘«£upgrade process‘«ō which consists of downgrading your wallet to the tune of $125, which is supposed to be a great deal compared to what they usually charge.  I didn‘«÷t want to spend a lot of time with what is essentially a simulator demo, but feel free to give it a try.  However, if the interface doesn‘«÷t really make you comfortable, try something else like the Cisco Interactive Mentor CD‘«÷s or one of the many other simulator options out there before shelling out your hard-earned money.  One option that I recommend is finding a few routers (nothing fancy) for a few hundred bucks.  Sure, they‘«÷re more expensive than buying a simulator, but they‘«÷re also more powerful and you can use them as building blocks towards having a live CCNP lab and maybe even a CCIE lab much further down the road.  In addition to the test banks and Netsim, the CD‘«÷s also include PDF versions of the books and 25 IP subnetting practice exercises.

I read this book in preparation for my CCNA recertification.  Since the book is intended for someone fairly new to networking, I experienced a bit of the ‘«£duh‘«ō factor.  However, I was still able to learn a few interesting facts and reinforced a lot of what I already knew.  I used this book in tandem with its ICND counterpart to prepare for the single CCNA exam (640-801).  I was pleased to see that, although the CCNA has been split into 2 books, the author has included a reading plan that allows you to read the 2 books in a back-and-forth order that makes it easy to use the same set of books to study for the single test version.  In closing, I found this book to be very well written and in invaluable tool in preparing for my CCNA recertification.  On my 5 ping scale, I give it 4 pings.

!!!.!
6  General discussions / Book Reviews / CCIE Routing and Switching Exam Certification Guide on: August 18, 2004, 08:18:37 PM
I am reviewing the CCIE Routing and Switching Exam Certification Guide (ISBN 1587200538), which is the official preparation guide for the CCIE R&S exam from Cisco Press.  The book weighs in at 688 pages, which is about right for a book of its type.  The problem is that the type of book that it is doesn‘«÷t really work for an exam like the CCIE.  If we were talking about the CCNA or one of the single CCNP exams, I‘«÷d say ‘«£sure, you can get it all in one book‘«ō, but not the CCIE.  This book is a lot like reading a menu in that you get enough information to get you interested in a topic and decide if you need to learn more.  The problem, however, is that in the case of the CCIE exam, you don‘«÷t need a menu, you need a cookbook!  The actual purpose of this book, as stated in the Foreword, is that it should act as a late-stage exam preparation tool to help you assess our strengths and weaknesses and focus your study.  Basically, once you‘«÷ve gotten to that late stage, you‘«÷ve been reading for about six months and all this book does is breezes over all of the stuff that you‘«÷ve already learned.  Occasionally, you might hit something you haven‘«÷t read before and might take a moment to fill in that particular gap, but largely you feel like you‘«÷re wasting your time.  A book covering this wide a range of topics is easy to stall out on.  If you feel like you‘«÷re not getting anything out of your valuable reading time, you really have no motivation to keep going.  I personally stopped this thing halfway through, read a book on poker and then came back to it.

I think a better approach to future editions of this book might be to rewrite it as a preliminary study tool for the CCIE.  They could take each of the blueprint objectives and write a chapter which explains in detail what knowledge and experience you need to have in order to pass that objective.  Readers could use the end-of-the-chapter assessments to make a judgment call on how much studying they need to do on that objective.  Each chapter should also make suggestion of where the reader could go to get additional knowledge on the topics covered in that chapter.  See, what I was missing early on in my CCIE studies was a ‘«£test prep quarterback‘«ō to point me in the right direction.  I think this book would keep the reader‘«÷s attention better if it was recommended as the first thing to do in the test prep process, not the last.

Okay, okay‘«™ I think I‘«÷ve dwelled on the negatives quite long enough.  There are some things I really liked about this book.  First off, since it‘«÷s widely known that CCIE candidates can never get enough practice questions, it‘«÷ll be no surprise that I liked having the practice exam on the CD.  I also liked the Scenarios at the end of each chapter.  They really made you think and try to apply what you‘«÷ve read.  I‘«÷d like to see an entire book of them.  I also found the authors style to be very readable.  Anthony Bruno took the challenge of writing a book that covers the entire CCIE blueprint and got it all into 688 pages.  That takes a very concise writing style, and he pulls it off.  

In conclusion, I‘«÷d have to say that I‘«÷d recommend this book to others, but as a preliminary guide and not as a final exam prep tool.  Someone coming in cold, or even coming off of the CCNP exams, would really benefit from this book as indoctrination into the level of study necessary to prepare for the CCIE.  I‘«÷d warn them, however, that this book isn‘«÷t meant to be used as a one-stop shop.  You really must read other books and get a lot more information off of CCO in order to prepare properly for the CCIE.

I give this book a 3 on my 5 ping rating scale.
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7  General discussions / Book Reviews / Routing TCP/IP Volume 1 on: June 10, 2004, 06:04:35 PM
I am reviewing Routing TCP/IP Volume 1 (ISBN 1578700418), part of the CCIE Professional Development Series from Cisco Press.  This book is widely regarded as part of the ‘«£Holy Trinity‘«ō of CCIE preparatory books.  In addition to CCIE prep, it is also highly valued as an essential desk reference for anyone pursuing a career as a senior-level routing engineer.  The author, Jeff Doyle, having written the two most recognized tomes on IP Routing, is a respected authority on the topic.  His writing style is very clear and not at all difficult to read, which sets him apart from a lot of the authors in the ‘«£high-end routing book‘«ō category.

The book is part of a set of two books.  TCP/IP Volume 1 contains coverage of the major interior routing protocols (RIP, IGRP, EIGRP, OSPF & ISIS) and follows it with coverage of route redistribution, filtering and mapping.  TCP/IP Volume 2 covers the BGP exterior gateway protocol and follows it with coverage of advanced IP routing issues.  As someone who‘«÷s come up through the CCNA-to-CCNP-to-CCIE-candidate path, I recognized all of the topics from the BSCI curriculum.  All this book really does is takes them to another level of depth.  I highly recommend this path of coming at the CCIE, because unless you‘«÷ve done it all and seen it all, there‘«÷s way too much information to take in during a single reading.  Reading the BSCI book first gets you familiar with all of the topics, so that you‘«÷re not overwhelmed when reading the Doyle books.

While many pan this book as being outdated since it was written in 1998, my contention is that all of the covered topics are still fair game for the CCIE qualifying written exam and the book still retains all of its original value.  There are a lot of topics which are on the test which are not in Doyle‘«÷s books, but if you look at the CCIE blueprint, the topics covered in the books map exactly to the topics in the IP Routing & IP Multicast sections of the blueprint.  You can‘«÷t treat any book as being a one stop shop for CCIE preparation.  That‘«÷s impossible.  The book would be the size of my desk.  I would actually contend that, on the next rewrite, they should break the 2 volume set into 3 volumes, one for the interior protocols, one for BGP by itself, and one for all of the advanced routing issues and multicast.  This would make the volumes a bit less daunting and also somewhat easier to carry.

But, carry-ability issues aside, this is a very good book.  It takes all of the topics to the degree of depth which you would expect for a CCIE-level book and explains things in a way that doesn‘«÷t lose the reader.  I had to work to keep the examples straight in my head, but no one said becoming a CCIE was easy.  On the downside, the book contains no disc.  This is unfortunate, because I always like to have the book on PDF.  Also, it would be nice to have the review questions and answers put into a question bank.  The book is also missing the ‘«£Do I Know This Already‘«ō section for each chapter, which is present in all of Cisco Press‘«÷ certification guides.  I realize that this is probably due to the fact that this is more of a desk reference / learning book than an official certification guide.  However, as someone who‘«÷s studying for an exam, I always like as many free practice questions as I can get.

I give Routing TCP/IP Volume 1 a 5 on my 5 ping rating scale and look forward to reading Volume 2.  
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8  General discussions / Book Reviews / Troubleshooting Remote Access Networks on: April 16, 2004, 05:55:17 PM
I am reviewing Troubleshooting Remote Access Networks (ISBN 1587050765), part of the CCIE Professional Development Series from Cisco Press.  This book weighs in at 800 pages, but the font size and subject matter make it feel like well over 1000.  Normally, I try to average 50 pages of technical reading a day, but I had trouble getting anywhere close to that.  The book is divided into 5 sections.  Section 1 covers remote access fundamentals, while sections 2-5 cover Dial, ISDN, Frame Relay, and VPN technologies, respectively.  The book is authored by Plamen Nedeltchev, an engineer who worked for Cisco during the development of much of their remote access technology.  The problem with this is that it‘«÷s like discussing photographs with the guy that worked in R&D at Canon.  He knows his stuff, but you‘«÷d better watch out, lest you be drowned with terminology.

The author does a decent job of explaining the technical concepts, but he has a tendency to get wordy.  Maybe I‘«÷m having a bad month for cognitive focus, but I find myself ‘«£phasing out‘«ō while reading this book.  If I really concentrate, I can follow the author for a chapter, but trying to hammer out day after day of concentration on this book is really hard.  I‘«÷d recommend it as a troubleshooting guide or as a desk reference, but as straight ahead CCIE study material, it‘«÷s too cumbersome.  Read a chapter of this book, then go read a section of another CCIE book, then come back here for a few more chapters.  That might make this thing easier to take.  The book states that the reader should have at least CCNA level skills to read this book.  I have to disagree and say that the reader must have passed the BCRAN exam for the CCNP before reading this book.  The book is intended to teach troubleshooting, so you‘«÷d better know the basics of the technologies and their implementation prior to reading this book.  Also, if you‘«÷re not in the mood for TLA & FLA‘«÷s (Three and Four Letter Acronyms), then you‘«÷d better get in the mood before tackling this book.

All of this may make it sound like I don‘«÷t like this book.  That‘«÷s not true.  When I‘«÷m in the right mindset, which is to say that the room is right, and the noise level is right, and I have the right level of caffeine, then I can read a section of this book and learn a LOT about the material that he‘«÷s trying to convey (he IS an expert, after all).  On that note, I have to say that I especially enjoyed the section on VPN technologies, as my personal experience and studies are quite light on the subject up to this point.  It really piqued my interest in the subject.  So much so that I think one of my next reads will be the Cisco Secure VPN Guide.

I‘«÷m reading this book as part of my studies for the CCIE written exam.  I‘«÷m not sure if I needed this much information prior to the written exam.  I‘«÷m sure I probably could have gotten by with a re-scan of the BCRAN book, but I‘«÷m also sure that I will be coming back to this book again and again during my preparations for the lab exam.

On my 5 ping rating scale, I give it a 3.
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9  Cisco / CCIE / Which CCIE track? on: March 31, 2004, 02:13:45 PM
As a CCNA without a lot of experience with Cisco gear, any CCIE track is out of the question for about 3-4 years.  If you can make it happen faster than that, major kudo's to you.

A professional level certification, coupled with progressively growing hands-on experience, would go a long ways towards preparing you to think about the CCIE.

Which professional level track you pursue really does depend upon what technologies you will be working with on a daily basis.  CCNP is the most recognized of the professional level certifications and prepares you for the CCIE R&S track.  CCIP is the internet provider track and begins prep for the CCIE Service Provider track.  CCSP is the security cert and begins your preparations for the CCIE Security track.

Trust me... unless you have thousands of disposable dollars to waste on failed lab exams and practice labs and courses, you really don't want to think about the CCIE until you've worked with Cisco gear DAILY for several years.
10  General discussions / Book Reviews / Cisco LAN Switching on: March 17, 2004, 08:03:47 PM
I am reviewing Cisco LAN Switching (ISBN 1578700949), part of the CCIE Professional Development Series from Cisco Press.  The book weighs in at around 900 pages and is divided into 6 sections covering topics related to understanding and implementing advanced Cisco switched networks.  The authors are Kennedy Clark and Kevin Hamilton, who have worked as Cisco trainers in the past and now work as consultants.  I like it when authors have taught courses in addition to having dealt with the hands-on aspects of their subjects.  It lends balance to their writing, allowing them the technical acumen to relate to engineers while being able to put the concepts into understandable terms.  Clark and Hamilton are good writers and were able to make the book as enjoyable to read as a 900-page technical book can be.  The authors haven‘«÷t written any other Cisco books, but I‘«÷d like to see them do more in the future.  

I‘«÷m ready to get serious about my CCIE studies, and the first stop on that journey is Cisco LAN Switching.  This book is on every CCIE reading list I‘«÷ve seen and is generally regarded as a ‘«£must have‘«ō.  I was prepared for some pretty heavy reading and was pleasantly surprised and pleased with this book.  This isn‘«÷t a book that‘«÷s just for CCIE candidates, but rather it should be part of every Cisco professional‘«÷s library.

I‘«÷ll take you through each of the 6 sections.

Part I ‘«Ű Foundational Issues
The first 5 chapters of the book take the reader from the very basics of switched networking, providing a fair amount of the history and theory necessary to understand the rest of the book.  Even CCNA candidates should read this section, as it explains the basic elements of switching much better than any other book.  The thing that surprised me was the authors‘«÷ sense of humor, which is surprisingly refreshing in a book of this size.

Part II ‘«Ű Spanning Tree
Ah, spanning tree.  There‘«÷s nothing more exciting than reading about spanning tree.  This book gets it all in within 2 chapters, again providing expert explanations laced with a sense of humor.  The reader is taken from the very basics through very advanced spanning tree configurations.  I would have like to have seen coverage of rapid spanning tree, but hopefully it‘«÷s in the works for a future edition.

Part III ‘«Ű Trunking
These 3 chapters, covering Ethernet trunking, LANE, and ATM, are sure to leave you a little numb.  Since I‘«÷ve never used ATM or LANE and have no frame of reference, the material was skim-able at best.  Since LANE is no longer represented on the CCIE exam, you can get away with skimming some chapters for vocabulary words.

Part IV ‘«Ű Advanced Features
This section covers Layer 3 switching, VTP and multicast services.  A lot of this stuff is rehashed from BCMSN, but it‘«÷s well explained here.  There is a lot of good information on MLS and VTP, but I found that some of the gory multicast details were better explained in the BCMSN book.  Chances are good, however, that most CCIE candidate readers are CCNP‘«÷s and have read that book as well.  By this point in the book, the sense of humor has pretty well evaporated.

Part V ‘«Ű Real-World Campus Design and Implementation
This section looks at a variety of network designs and the pro‘«÷s and con‘«÷s of each.  These chapters bring together a lot of the ideas expressed throughout the book and put them into real-world situations.  A lot of this is boring, but there are some tidbits and tips you can pick up along the way.

Part VI ‘«Ű Catalyst 6000 Technology
I was greatly anticipating the coverage of Catalyst 6500‘«÷s, since there is so little published work available for this platform, which I use extensively.  They only gave me 34 pages (this was obviously an add-on to the original edition of the book), but I‘«÷ll take what I can get.  There was a lot of good information in this section, which I‘«÷d like to see expanded in a later edition.  

Conclusions
This book is widely regarded as part of the ‘«£Holy Trinity‘«ō of CCIE preparation books, standing alongside Routing TCP/IP Vols I & II by Jeff Doyle as the essential books to read when preparing for the CCIE written exam.  This is for good reason.  It provides an explanation of a majority of the pertinent switching technologies and also serves as an ample design and implementation guide.  My only real critique is that some switching technologies from the CCIE blueprint are conspicuously missing.  Hopefully, this will be corrected in an updated edition.  Still, I recommend this book, not only for CCIE candidates, but also as an essential book for anyone serious about a career in networking.  On my 5 ping rating scale, I give it a 5.

!!!!!
11  Cisco / CCNP / Looking into CCNP on: March 03, 2004, 07:45:21 PM
You can't go wrong with the Cisco Press books.  Most of the certification guide authors are Global Knowledge instructors.  GK and Cisco work together to write the GK books.  The GK books are what they use to write the Cisco exam question bank.  Think about it... do you want to spend 50 bucks reading from a third party, or from the 2 entities that create the tests?
12  Cisco / CCNP / Passed CIT ( 642-831 ) on: March 03, 2004, 07:37:12 PM
I thought the CIT Certification Guide was a joke as far as the price... it's only 300 pages and they're asking 50 bucks US for it.  I guess that's the standard price for a tech book, but it was such a fluffy book.  As far as the material inside, it was just what the author said it was... just enough to take the test.  Since they've offloaded troubleshooting specifics onto each of the other 642 level exams, all that's left to really cover with the CIT exam is the Cisco approved troubleshooting methodology.  It was good enough to allow me to score an 893 with only 1 week's preparation, so I guess that's all you could ask for.
13  General discussions / Book Reviews / Cisco Catalyst QOS on: February 16, 2004, 04:44:17 PM
Vital Statistics:
I am reviewing Cisco Catalyst QOS: Quality of Service in Campus Networks (ISBN: 1-58705-120-6).  The book is 400 pages in length and is divided into 2 sections, Fundamental QOS Concepts and Advanced QOS Concepts.  It includes coverage of QOS functionality on 2900, 3500, 4000 & 6500 series Cisco Catalyst Switches.  The book states that it is intended for network engineers who work with Catalysts and seek a deeper understanding of QOS.  Add CCNP level switch understanding to that list, at the very least.  The book‘«÷s authors are Mike Flannagan, Richard Froom, and Kevin Turek, all CCIE-level engineers who work directly for Cisco in Research Triangle Park.  Notice the presence of ‘«£authors‘«ō, ‘«£engineers‘«ō and ‘«£research‘«ō in one sentence‘«™ a fearful combination to say the least.  Buckle up, kids, it‘«÷s gonna be a bumpy ride.

My Reading Experience:
I set out to read this book as an attempt to get an understanding of QOS for my CCIE studies.  Oops, Rich didn‘«÷t read the fine print.  This book isn‘«÷t really so much a book about QOS concepts in general as it is an implementation guide for utilizing QOS on a Catalyst network.  Works out okay for me, though, because my company runs 4000 and 6500 series Catalysts and the information will prove quite useful as we roll out QOS.  For my CCIE studies, however, I will still need to pick up a book that is somewhat more general, like maybe the Cisco DQOS Exam Certification Guide or Cisco IOS 12.0 Quality of Service.  Luckily for me, the book spends the first 2 chapters teaching the underlying QOS concepts for the features that are discussed in the remainder of the book.  After the first 2 chapters, the Fundamentals section is finished up with a 2-chapter overview of the QOS support on the various Catalyst platforms.  

Part 2 of the book presents QOS implementation on the various Catalyst platforms.  I believe the intention of the authors was for the reader to only read the specific chapters in part 2 that pertained to the specific equipment they‘«÷d be using.  I say this because the chapters repeat a lot of the same information.  From the standpoint of this being an implementation guide, it‘«÷s good that each chapter stands on its own and you don‘«÷t have to read the entire book to get an understanding of QOS as it applies to your particular Catalyst platform.  

The thing that makes this book unique, and the thing which I liked most about it, is the in-depth coverage of the Catalyst 6500 series.  There is a chapter dedicated to 6500 by itself, which shows both hybrid and native commands for all the QOS functions.  There is also a chapter that focuses on the 6500 MSFC and Flexwan modules.  The last time I checked, there was exactly one book that I knew of that had any info about the 6500, Cisco LAN Switching (CCIE Professional Development series).  Since my network uses 6509‘«÷s with MSFC2 and FlexWAN cards, I found those chapters to be extremely useful and will be using them to implement QOS.  

If I seem wishy-washy about this title, it‘«÷s because I am.  My recommendation depends upon what you want to accomplish.  If you want to learn QOS concepts, I‘«÷d recommend reading something else, like the Cisco DQOS Exam Certification Guide.  If you‘«÷re actually implementing QOS in a Catalyst network, I‘«÷d recommend this book.  The writing is just a little too dry and the examples are a little too abstract.  I would have liked to have seen more real-world examples in plain English.  Using my 5-ping rating scale, I‘«÷ll give Cisco Catalyst QOS three pings ‘«Ű two for the beginning of the book, and one for the 6500 coverage.

!!..!
14  Cisco / CCNP / advice on: February 09, 2004, 01:47:16 PM
In preparing for my CCNP, I used several Cisco Interactive Mentor discs, mostly the Link State and BGP discs.  I hadn't dealt with OSPF or BGP in work life, so the CIM's gave me a lot of good hands-on practice with the necessary IOS commands.  The narrative is a little slow, but if you can forgive that, the CIM CD's work well for visual, tactile and auditory learners.  They're no longer supported by Cisco, so you may need to work to find them, but I found them to be excellent.
15  Cisco / CCIE / CCIE R&S Lab on: February 09, 2004, 01:39:08 PM
See what I'm doing to prepare for the CCIE... http://www.livejournal.com/users/richhillkc
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