Drowning in Features

Have you ever bought a car without all the bells and whistles? You end up with some blank buttons in your dashboard. You’re not really sure what they are for, but there’s that little voice in the back of your mind telling you that you should have bought that feature. Of course, you can drive the car for years and never need that button. Or, you can flip through the driver’s manual and see just what it is that button does on the fully loaded model you didn’t buy.

Perhaps you are a student of automobiles and wouldn’t dream of buying a new car without knowing all the possible options or features. You make sure you buy exactly what you need. Nothing more. Nothing less.

What about features that you never knew existed? My mother drove a 1994 Mazda 626 for about 7 or 8 years. It was a pretty nice car, but it had a feature that I have not seen in any other car. The center vent could oscillate back and forth between the driver and passenger seat. There was a button on the center console labeled “Swing”. Push the button, and the vents “swing” back and forth. Leave it off and the air blows in the direction you have the vents turned. Before I saw this, I had no idea such a thing existed. After I saw it, I looked for it in every car I drove or rode in. Not long after my mother bought her 626, I bought a Mazda Protegè. Sadly, I did not have the “Swing” button as an option on my car. Although I drove that car for a good 8 years or so, I never forgot about the “Swing” button letdown and felt as if my car was inferior. My mother moved on and bought a Mazda Millenia. That was the step up from the 626. The flagship car of Mazda, much like the Toyota Avalon or Chrysler 300. Sadly, the Millenia lacked the “Swing” feature in the AC vents, but it did have blue colored gauges at night on the dashboard. Now the “Swing” feature didn’t seem as cool next to the blue colored gauges and dials. One of my friends had recently bought a Volkswagen Jetta around the same time. He had blue colored gauges and dials as well. Of course, his CD changer was in the trunk or boot, and I was not a fan of that feature at all.

Now that I have exhausted my knowledge of automobiles, let me relate this to what you and I do for a living(or at least I assume you do the same thing as me). Features come and go. Some are neat and have a practical purpose. Others are just there. Eye-candy. Nothing more. Sometimes what we need is not the same as what we want. Sometimes we don’t want something until we find out it exists. Ahem, iPad anyone? Now before any Apple fan-boys or fan-girls jump down my throat, I must admit that I own one. I bought one recently and have decided that if my house were burning down and I had to choose one item to take with me in addition to my wife and kids, it would probably be my iPad. 🙂 Having said that, I was perfectly fine living with a laptop and desktop PC at home prior to the iPad’s debut. Once it was marketed to me, and I must say it was marketed rather well, I needed one. Not wanted. NEEDED.

I’m getting away from what I wanted to focus on and that was features, versus an entirely new product, but you get the point. There are a lot of neat little things out there that one vendor does over another. However, I wonder if those particular features are REALLY something we need. Do I REALLY need something like OTV? Some people will say yes. Others will say no. I would say it depends. What were you doing prior to OTV? Although my main focus is on network hardware and software, the same holds true for features in software and hardware outside of the network space. In the case of security, sometimes features can actually end up being vulnerabilities or additional entry points that you have to lock down.

So what is my point in all of this? Well, I am not going to give you answers because to be quite honest, I don’t have them. Remember, this is a blog about network therapy. A big part of therapy is simply stating the problem or concerns. Here’s what I think. If you are spending a lot of money on something, make sure you need what you are buying. Not want. Need. Yes it takes time to go through everything, but that’s what you get paid for. Don’t buy a Lamborghini if a Kia will suffice. If you need the Lamborghini, make your case and get it. Don’t settle for the Kia. If you absolutely have to settle for the lesser due to decisions made above your pay grade, then put in writing your concerns about why the Kia is not sufficient and move on. I know I said I had no answers, but I do have some suggestions. It’s better than a kick in the head, and it’s free, so take it for what it’s worth.

1. Only buy what you need or will need in the near future. You’ll want to consider future requirements as well (ie expansion, features needed down the road). It is often hard to predict the future, but do the best you can.

2. Careful consideration of how to spend company dollars will ultimately reflect good things about you or your particular group. You don’t want to be known as a money wasting group or person.

3. Careful attention to features will help you navigate the difficult waters of vendor selection. This is one of the harder things to master. If you know what you need and are relatively aware of what the major vendors are doing, product selection along with the right feature set becomes a bit easier. For example, check out this article by Greg over at etherealmind.com. If you ONLY live in the Cisco 3750 world of stackable switches, you might miss the fact that Juniper can do the same thing, but extend the logical switch over a LOT longer distances. This is but one example. There are many more like this out there. Go find them and buy them, but only if you must. 😉

Thankfully, most network hardware comes with a ton of features by default. It’s usually the higher end stuff that we talk ourselves into buying and don’t necessarily need. I’m looking at you VSS. I’m not saying there isn’t a place for it. I use it and think it is some pretty cool stuff, but I wonder if the expense is worth the benefit sometimes.

If you are a consultant, ignore everything I just said(or “wrote” if you want to nitpick). You make your living off of selling services and equipment. You are exempt. However, if you are the reason a 10 user network of office workers have dual 6513’s with Sup720’s, ACE, FWSM, and WiSM, you should be ashamed of yourself. In that case, I can simply quote Jesus: “Go and sin no more.“.

Posted in vendors | Tagged , | 3 Comments

You’re lying. Well, at least until we see the packet capture.

Maybe you’ve experienced this before. You are minding your own business without a care in the world when all of the sudden the phone rings.

You: Hello?
Them: There’s a problem and we think the network is the cause. Can you check it?
You: Check what? The network?
Them: Yes.
You: Which part? What am I looking for?
Them: Any sort of problem.
(Fast forward an hour or so later)
You: Well, I ran a packet capture on the switch port connecting to system XYZ. I see a bunch of TCP resets coming from your server.
Them: Okay. We’ll take a look.
(Fast forward another half hour or so)
Them: It looks like we found the problem. Process blah-blah-blah was failing due to a dependency on process ha-ha-ha. We reset the services and everything is working again. Thanks for your help.
You: Okay. Not a problem.
(Back to life as before)

Sound familiar? If you have been in networking for more than a couple of years, this should invoke all kinds of warm and fuzzy memories. Meals were missed. Plans were canceled. Sleep was lost. All in the name of defending the network’s honor. Oh yes. This is the part about a career in networking that is conveniently left out of the brochure you are given before signing your life over to Cisco/Juniper/Citrix/Aruba/Nortel/F5/Brocade/Alcatel/etc.

I have seen more than my fair share of these incidents. With the exception of a brief stint in consulting and about 2 years doing things in the US military that you’ll never do anywhere else, I have lived my entire IT existence in the “corporate” setting. By that I mean chained to a desk looking over logs and configurations. Slaving away on the same network for years on end. Getting to know the lay of the land in the same way one knows all the sounds an old car or house makes. In short, after you work on a certain network long enough, you can see into the guts of it like Neo can with the Matrix.

If you are like me, you have a certain affinity towards your network. Sure, it may need some help with cabling or a cleaner route table, but you work with what you have. You make changes as you can. You replace hardware as the budget allows. You care for it like a farmer does his corn fields. Is this creeping you out yet? Well it shouldn’t. There are plenty of people out there who love their networks even to the point of showing them off to the world.

Here’s the problem with being a networking engineer/administrator/architect/designer/janitor. You have to understand everyone else’s piece of the pie, but not too many people have to understand yours. Fair? No, it isn’t, but as an officer I once worked for in the military told me: “That’s a burden you have to bear.” He was right, even if I didn’t like hearing it. That is not to say that all other entities within IT or greater corporate America are completely clueless when it comes to networks. Quite the contrary. There are plenty of systems people who understand networks very well. You can give them an IP with a classless subnet mask and they don’t even bat an eye because they know exactly what you mean when you say it’s a slash 26 network. However, when it comes to “applications” people, my experience has been that they only have to know their piece of the pie and can conveniently blame the network when a problem arises. I know what you’re thinking. Did he just paint all applications people with a broad brush? Yes. Yes I did. Of course, if you happen to be an applications person, I meant everyone else. Not you. 😉

That brings me to the title of this mini-rant/post. You can plead your case before everyone telling them that it probably isn’t the network, but they’re not going to believe you. Why? A lack of understanding or a lack of visibility into your world. You see, the network is just a big murky box to them. Maybe if they had access to some monitoring platforms they could be swayed, but unless your monitoring package can go down to the transaction level like Compuware’s Vantage product, you’re still going to have some explaining to do. However, in a way that I cannot begin to explain, people tend to believe packet captures. Don’t ask me why. I can tell you until I am blue in the face that the switches and routers on the network for the most part could care less what your payload is and you won’t believe me. You may not even understand TCP, UDP, and the rest of the acronym soup being tossed around, but for some reason, Wireshark or tcpdump results are more credible than Steven Hawking discussing time travel. If you want some good laughs around things like this, follow this guy on Twitter. He seems to deal with this on a regular basis and has some hilarious tweets to show for it.

Let me end this post with the following suggestions:

1. Get familiar with interpreting packet captures. Wireshark is the most well known packet capture utility for Windows boxes out there. There’s even a good book out there that covers everything in detail. You’ll also need to know about TCP and how it works. There are other protocols like UDP and ICMP that will be good to know, but TCP is by far the most useful protocol to know and understand when dealing with packet captures. For some good info on TCP, see here.

2. Don’t be afraid to run a packet capture early on in the troubleshooting process. I am finding that this tends to solve the problem when all other methods fail.

3. Don’t EVER, and I stress EVER, state emphatically that there is no way possible that the network is at fault. 99 times out of 100 you may be right. Get it wrong 1 time, and everyone will be gunning for you. There’s always the possibility that the network is at fault. Even when everything you know is telling you that it isn’t the network, if you don’t have a packet capture to back it up, you’re wasting your time.

4. Educate your co-workers about the network, or networking in general. Try to do this without condescension. Nobody wants to listen to Nick Burns tell them how stupid they are. The more people know, the less likely they are to hurl unsubstantiated accusations your way that you are manipulating traffic to break their application. It makes every organization a lot stronger when education is provided from the various departments. Please understand that although you and I might get excited when talking about routing protocols, not everyone else will. Oh how I wish my wife and I could have the EIGRP vs OSPF discussion, but it’s just not going to happen. Some people are not going to want to know a whole lot about the network, so try and figure out how much they really want to know and tailor the education to that level.

If nothing else, looking at a bunch of packet captures will help you appreciate what is going on behind the scenes every time you read an e-mail message or look at a website. Although other people might not appreciate it, I find that it helps my wife fall asleep faster when I talk about the various TCP flags and why they are used in data transmissions. At least she will never blame the network. 🙂

Posted in efficiency, learning | Tagged | 4 Comments

Is It Possible To Stay Vendor Neutral?

***Note: I am asking this question from a corporate IT perspective. I am not asking this from the standpoint of a vendor or reseller.

Most of what I do in the networking world revolves around one vendor’s equipment. Not all, but most. Can you guess the vendor? 😉

Do we buy most of our equipment from vendor XYZ for any of the following reasons?

1. We are comfortable with it.
2. Their products work.
3. The support is good. Documentation is abundant and detailed.
4. They have the most features.
5. Their cost is lower.
6. There is a large talent pool out there that knows their products.
7. They provide a complete end to end solution.
8. They are a financially stable company.
9. They get great reviews from all the trade magazines.
10. No other company has this particular technology/protocol/gadget.
11. They always buy us a great lunch and take us to sporting events for free. (Or some variation of this.)
12. We want one throat to choke if there are problems.

Perhaps some of these apply to you in terms of your relationship with vendor XYZ. I believe that some of those things are very valid reasons to buy from vendor XYZ. Some of them are not.

The problem, as I see it, is that SOMETIMES what we buy isn’t necessarily the BEST solution for the company. Notice that I said SOMETIMES. There are plenty of times in which we buy from vendor XYZ because it is the BEST solution for the company.

There’s a lot to be said for vendor comfort level. I, along with many others, know a decent amount about the Cisco switch and router product line. I know a LOT less about every other vendor’s switch and router product lines. Just for fun, over the past couple of weeks I have looked at other vendor’s switches and routers and tried to compare them to the Cisco line. It has been an interesting experiment to say the least. In the latest Packet Pushers podcast, Greg Ferro of etherealmind.com mentions something similar. Towards the end of the podcast he talks about how frustrating it is that other hardware vendors have the spec sheets for each model as a separate PDF. There’s no easy way to do a side by side comparison. See here for an example. I should point out that Juniper does have a “Compare Family Models” link on the main page of each product family but it is not a full blown separate page.

Let’s take switches for example. If I want to evaluate alternatives to the Cisco 3560 switch, how do I go about doing that? What vendors do I look at? There are easily a dozen vendors that I can look at. At what point do I draw a line in the sand and say that I am only going to look at 5 alternative vendors, or 3? Do I base the decision solely on features? Cost? Market share?

In regards to all of that, I would simply ask: “How much time do you have?”. My experience has been that doing something right takes time. If you don’t take the time to do it right, you’ll cut corners. One of the easiest corners to cut is in the vendor selection process. Just because a name is familiar doesn’t mean that it is going to be the best choice. It’s better to take the time and make the right choice than to buy what is familiar and wind up with bigger problems down the road.

Is it possible to stay vendor neutral? Yes, but it requires a lot of time and effort. Unfortunately, we don’t always have the time. I have pretty strong feelings toward certain product lines. Juniper’s SA line of SSL VPN appliances are nothing short of spectacular. HP’s Network Automation Software (CiscoWorks NCM) is an amazing product as well. There are several Cisco products that I could say the same thing about. Although I feel strongly about them, if someone were to show me a better product that was a better fit(cost,features,support), I would have no logical reason to oppose it. Business is business.

I have to be honest though. I have a certain inclination to lean towards Cisco many times during product selection. This is due to several factors that I listed at the beginning of this post. Two of the biggest reasons are the sheer amount of features their products contain as well as the generally large amount of documentation available for each product. Those two reasons don’t always hold true for all of their products, but more often than not, that is the case. Of course, for any substantial project(WAN optimization, wireless, IP telephony, firewall, network management), I would be foolish not to consider multiple vendors. For the smaller things, it just seems so easy to order a switch or two from Cisco. Is that me cutting corners? Well, as in anything, it depends. 😉

Posted in cisco, vendors | Tagged , | 5 Comments

Make Your Job Easier

****Note – While I thought about detailing the technical steps necessary for delegation on different pieces of equipment, I decided to go with the more “architectural” or “philosophical” approach in this post. Besides, there are plenty of others out there who do a far better job with graphics and CLI examples.

Recently, I took some steps to make my job a little easier. I delegated access to another group that does not normally have anything to do with the network side of the house. In this particular instance, I was able to give that group access to a Cisco ACE load balancer. Normally, giving non-network people access to equipment would be frowned upon. This is especially true for equipment in a data center that controls data flows for your most important applications. I had to consider the following:

1. Can I give them specific levels of access?
2. Will they be able to perform operations with relative ease?
3. Does it make sense to do this?

Question 1 was easy. Of course we can provide granular levels of access. It is hard to find a piece of equipment on most enterprise networks that can’t do this. Question 2 was a “most likely”, but could have been tough if everything needed to be done via CLI. Question 3 was probably the most important. Generally speaking, most technical problems can be solved given enough time and resources(ie people, money, and equipment). What many of us should ask, and some of us fail to ask, is whether or not we SHOULD do something. I for one love playing with new equipment. Build an Ethernet switch that interfaces with a toaster and I want to play with it. However, is there any use for something like that? Is there a large community of people out there that want connectivity with their toaster?

The point, is that while a lot of things are possible, not everything is necessary. Sometimes giving people access to network equipment can cause more harm than good. While I am a big fan of wanting to provide as much information to others as possible, if that information cannot be interpreted correctly, you are wasting your time. For example, I have been in environments where non-network related groups were given access to Netflow data. While that sounds great on the surface, the reality was that the data was being interpreted incorrectly. When looking at something like a 3Mbps circuit, some people would see full utilization and assume that more bandwidth was required. What they failed to take into account was that the QoS markings of the traffic indicated that a bunch of AF11(what was deemed scavenger) traffic was using the bulk of the bandwidth. Had any additional traffic come over the circuit that was tagged as AF21 or higher, it would have pushed down the AF11 traffic and gradually used more and more of the circuit until it reached the bandwidth limit that was set for that specific class of traffic. More bandwidth was not needed when the Netflow data was viewed in its entirety. Had this particular group understood QoS markings, they would have come to a different conclusion. Could we the network group have provided more in depth training on this particular product? Sure, but how long would that training have to be before the individuals understood QoS well enough to interpret traffic flows correctly? If you are a QoS fan, how long did it take you before you understood things like shaping vs policing? Or L2 vs L3 markings?

Back to the issue at hand. Does it make sense to give another group access to the load balancer? Yes. In this case it did. The typical process for maintenance on a server getting requests via the ACE load balancer was to have the network group pull it out of the active pool. Then, another group would make whatever changes were needed. Once they were done, they would contact the network group who would place the server back into the pool. If you are having to make changes to a dozen servers, this process can take some time. Why not just give the group making changes to the server limited access to the load balancer so they can do everything themselves? Time and resources would be saved by all.

That brings me back to the second question of can we make it easy for them to make changes to the load balancer? In the case of Cisco ACE, yes. We had an instance of Application Network Manager(ANM) running in our data center to help us. While I tend to be a fan of CLI (except in the case of the Cisco ASA), not everyone else is. Sometimes a GUI is far more helpful for people who need to make changes to network gear. That’s where ANM comes in. In a matter of minutes, I was able to create a domain(which is where you define the servers and farms you are giving access to), and role(you can create your own if you don’t like the default ones) for this other group to use. Now they had access to select servers and their corresponding server farms, but not enough access to do any real damage.

After doing that, I just had to create some instructions for the 2 tasks they would need to do. First, they need to know how to remove servers from a load balanced pool. Second, they need to know how to add servers to a load balanced pool. With ANM and the specific domain/role I assigned to their group, this is a piece of cake. I took the appropriate screen shots to walk them through the process of adding and removing a server and put it in a nice concise MS Word document. There are times when I am hesitant to put a lot of pictures in instructions. Sometimes people get offended when you drop it down to an elementary school level. Thankfully this particular group LOVED pictures, so everything worked out. In about 15 minutes we ran through the instructions. Additionally, I asked if they wanted a bit more detail about the Cisco ACE load balancer in general, so we talked about what it does and where it sits in terms of its physical place in the network. Everyone seemed happy with the training, and I think they were truly excited about not having to wait on the network group anymore when they needed to make changes.

Problem solved. Everyone was happy, and I know that outside group is reaping the benefits of being able to make changes on their own. I have jumped on to conference calls several times recently and noticed that servers were being added to and removed from load balanced pools without the network group having to do anything. The group I gave access to was taking care of it.

If you have the means to delegate processes to other groups, I would recommend that you do it provided it complies with any security and administrative policies your company or IT department has. You do have those policies in place right? 😉 If it makes your job easier, makes other people’s jobs easier, and you get to impart some knowledge about the network to external groups, why not do it?

Posted in efficiency, security | Tagged , , , | Comments Off on Make Your Job Easier

How much do you REALLY know about technology X?

Think about something you know a fair amount about. It can be anything in the realm of networking. Now imagine yourself explaining it to someone. Not just anyone. Someone who has a decent grasp on it, but maybe not all of the particulars. Can you explain it to them on the fly without stammering and stuttering your way through it?

I am a Twitter addict. I use it primarily for IT related stuff. There are plenty of valuable links and comments that show up on a given day. Amazing things. Things I never thought about. Comments that come from people who’s books I have read. Comments that come from 4 and 5 time CCIE’s. Comments that come from people who’s podcasts I listen to every week driving to and from work. In short, it is almost as if you know them on some weird Internet non-stalker type level.

Today I saw and even somewhat participated in a discussion about EIGRP. That got me thinking. I like EIGRP. I think it’s neat as far as routing protocols go. It doesn’t have the whole “standards” thing going for it like OSPF or IS-IS. It doesn’t run the Internet like BGP. There aren’t very many books written about it. The CLI options are a lot smaller when compared to OSPF and BGP. The list goes on and on. The more I thought about it, the more I realized I don’t have the complete understanding of it that I wish I did.

Replace EIGRP with about 20 or 30 other networking technologies/protocols and I can make the same argument. I may know all the little acronyms or terms that go along with that technology or protocol, but can I break it down and explain it to someone who sort of understands it and just needs the finer points? Isn’t that what separates the really good engineers from the average ones?

Back to EIGRP though. I understand metric calculation. I understand K values. I understand several other things about EIGRP that go beyond the CCNP level and possibly approaching, maybe even exceeding, CCIE level. I am not bragging. I’ve just put in the hours from an “academic” standpoint, which translates to reading a lot of books, design guides, whitepapers, etc about EIGRP. However, I find myself struggling to come up with all of the arguments for why EIGRP is a hybrid routing protocol compared to a distance vector protocol and vice versa. There are people out there who swear it is one or the other. That should be a relatively simple thing to discern. It makes me think I really don’t understand EIGRP as well as I think I do. Granted, you can NEVER know it all about anything in the IT field, but we still have to try. We read questions on forums from people just starting out with something like EIGRP and think: “How could you not know that? Everyone knows that K1 is bandwidth and K3 is delay.” Maybe we pass by a CCNA book at the bookstore and chuckle at how trivial the description is of EIGRP. “What? You don’t even mention stub routers or how to avoid SIA conditions?” Admit it. You do it. If you don’t, then you are truly the example of a good engineer.

What to do about this? Well, I should study more. I should study and lab so much that when a CCIE walks up to me and says: “How does EIGRP do this?”, I can answer them in a fair amount of detail and even break out the whiteboard and draw it out. Or, crank out a config in a few minutes. Imagine if you knew the protocol or technology so well that you could just spew forth tons of factual information about it? Imagine if you could sit down with a blank piece of paper and fill it up on both sides with information about something like DWDM, 802.11n, PPP, or HSRP. What would that be like? Not just know from an academic standpoint, but be able to apply it to real world scenarios. There is tremendous value in that.

Just something to think about. Imagine having to teach cooking to Emeril. Or martial arts to Chuck Norris. Or basketball to Michael Jordan. Would you want to know your stuff? You betcha. Think about the things you deal with in the networking world and apply the same philosophy to it.

When I begin to understand something well enough to teach it to people that understand it as well and not have them laugh me out of the room, I will be at the level I want to be at. Impossible to do with all things network related, but definitely achievable to do with a dozen or so things. Perhaps the hardest part of it is dedicating the time to achieve that level of proficiency.

I’m going to revisit EIGRP over the next couple of weeks and try to increase my level of understanding even more. Then, I will read someone’s blog post or Twitter comment and realize how little I actually know and go back and do it all over again. Frustrating? Sure, but I will take that any day over a job where you can learn it all in a couple of months. Happy learning!

Posted in learning, routing, switching | 6 Comments

A World of Resources……

You’ll never learn it all. The more you learn, the more that holds true. However, that shouldn’t keep you from trying to learn it all. In light of that, you have to realize that some of the best resources don’t show up in a Google search. While I use Google several times a day, it is only a single tool in my trusty old geek toolbox. With that in mind, here’s some general resources along with a few route/switch ones. Possibly even a non-R/S resource or two.

1. Twitter – I was fairly skeptical about Twitter before I started using it. At first I just lurked. Now, I tend to be a bit more sociable with others on Twitter. I cannot emphasize how valuable this tool has been. Oh, and use something like Tweetdeck as opposed to the regular Twitter.com website. Need some good accounts to follow? You can start by mining my list of users that I follow. Well over 90% of them are people/companies that are focused on the networking industry.

2. RSS Feeds – Remember the days when you had to visit all 20 of your favorite websites every day? I do. Those days are gone thanks to the wonderful world of RSS feeds. I follow at least 75-100 blogs/sites and am able to get updates on them within minutes by simply pulling the latest posts/links from their RSS feeds. There are a ton of different readers out there. I have used Great News for the past 4 years or so.

Here’s a few blogs to get you started. Half of the fun of this process is finding which blogs/sites you like and everyone is different.

These are the links to the blogs themselves. The link to the RSS feeds for each site should be relatively easy to locate on the sites themselves.

Etherealmind
Packetlife
Internetwork Expert
IPExpert
IOS Hints
Aaron’s Worthless Words

There are many, many more, but the ones I listed above are some of the more frequently updated ones.

2 other good sources of blogs that you can follow via RSS can be found at Cisco’s site and Network World’s site.

3. Podcasts – I have a 45 hour commute to and from work, so I have over an hour a day that I can listen to something other than music if I want to. Having said that, there is a definite lack of good quality networking podcasts. However, there are a few that I listen to quite regularly. They are: Packet Pushers, Wireless LAN Weekly, and Cisco TAC Security Podcast. Another way to find networking podcasts is to go on iTunes and just search for Cisco or Juniper under the audio podcast directory. You will find plenty of abandoned ones(mainly from Cisco), but there are still some pretty decent podcasts out there even if they haven’t released a new episode in the last year or two.

4. Videos – I am a visual learner, so I really appreciate good quality video. You can always go to YouTube and search for something specific. Many times you can find something good, but you typically have to sort through a whole bunch of unrelated/boring stuff to find the 1 or 2 videos that are beneficial. Here are the sites I like to go to for some pretty decent content:

Cisco TechWiseTV
NANOG (North American Network Operators Group)
Cisco Live Virtual – Yes, you can pay $400 to get all the sessions, but there are quite a few that are free.

5. Talk to people – Yes. I know. People suck. We all get into the IT field because we would rather converse with a machine than a human. We do this for 2 reasons. First, computers just make sense. Second, we want to have a leg up on everyone else when Skynet goes active and the machines take over. However, people CAN help you. Quite a few of them will actually go out of their way to help you. Not everyone in IT is a jerk. Odd perhaps, but not all jerks. The best thing I ever did was get involved with the local Cisco user’s group. We meet one night a month and have a technical presentation, followed by some free book giveaways. Dinner is always provided by a vendor or some other company. Free food, free books, free technical info, etc. What’s not to love? You also get to network with your peers and talk about your networks and the problems/solutions that go along with them. If you don’t know of one in your local area, check here. Your career will thank you.

6. Books – There is no way around it. You have to read. If you want to become a CCNA/CCNP/CCIE/CWNE/JNCIE/CISSP/etc you will have to do some reading. Sometimes the books are a thousand pages. Sometimes they are only 900. 🙂 If you want to rise above mediocrity and really dig in to the technologies, you have to read. For the rest of your career. I prefer physical books. Some people like e-books. Pick the format that works best for you. The benefit to the electronic format is that you can pack an entire library on your Kindle, Nook, iPad, or laptop and always have it available. I am a big fan of the Cisco Press books, but I caution you to use a variety of sources/publishers like O’Reilly, Wiley, etc. Cisco Press does not always mean 100% accurate. Plus, there are some really cool books outside of the Cisco Press world. For example, I read a book on T-1’s from O’Reilly. A complete book on T-1’s! It was awesome. I initially had plans of seeing streams of 1’s and 0’s and being able to break down the ESF format by sight alone and reassemble it by hand. After reading the book, I was closer to that goal, but due to constant ridicule from co-workers, I had to let that dream go. If you want, you can pick up that dream and run with it. You will have my utmost respect and admiration, which translates to me following you on Twitter.

I know I have missed other things I should have included. Perhaps when I remember them I will add them to this list. Perhaps the most important thing when trying to find resources to aid you in your education/certification is to think outside of the box. Or, think outside of the search engine. There are many, many resources that are not going to show up in search results. Do you use a particular company’s services or products? Go look at their website. They might have a fair amount of media and whitepapers available. Case in point. I happen to use some Riverbed appliances at work. Riverbed has some pretty decent videos describing their technology on their website. I had to poke around the site for awhile, but finally found the videos in their marketing/news portion of their website. I have found the same to be true for other vendors. XO has a pretty decent knowledge section with whitepapers and presentations surrounding their service offerings and service provider technology in general. The list goes on and on.

Whatever you do, don’t stop learning. Whether you are going for a certification or just wanting to learn in general, don’t ever quit. The more you know, the easier your job gets. The more you teach others, the easier your job gets. I always tell people that I have 2 jobs. The first one is for the company I work for. The second job is making myself stronger from a technical standpoint. Job 1 is dependent on job 2. I am not saying don’t have a life outside of work. What I am saying is that you have to put in some extra time outside of work if you ever want to do great things in the world of networking. If you don’t you will end up like this guy. Don’t be that guy!

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