Free Cisco CCNA Lab Guide

I’ve just had a look at the free Cisco CCNA Lab Guide from Neil Anderson at the Flackbox blog. The eBook contains complete configuration lab exercises and solutions that help prepare you for and pass the Cisco CCNA Routing and Switching exam (200-125). It’s also useful as a configuration reference for Cisco routers and switches even if you’re not interested in taking the exam.

The eBook contains 350 pages with 25 complete lab exercises along with solutions which cover everything on the latest 200-125 CCNA and 100-105 and 200-105 ICND exams. The lab exercises can be run completely for free on your laptop – no additional equipment is necessary.

The guide contains full instructions on how to install the software and also download links for the lab start-up files, so you can immediately get into the hands on practice that will help you learn the material and pass the exam.

Below is the list of the 25 lab exercises included in the eBook:

  • The IOS Operating System
  • The Life of a Packet
  • The Cisco Troubleshooting Methodology
  • Cisco Router and Switch Basics
  • Cisco Device Management
  • Routing Fundamentals
  • Dynamic Routing Protocols
  • Connectivity Troubleshooting
  • RIP Routing Information Protocol
  • EIGRP Enhanced Interior Gateway Routing Protocol
  • OSPF Open Shortest Path First
  • VLANs and Inter-VLAN Routing
  • DHCP Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol
  • HSRP Hot Standby Router Protocol
  • STP Spanning Tree Protocol
  • EtherChannel
  • Port Security
  • ACL Access Control Lists
  • NAT Network Address Translation
  • IPv6 Addressing
  • IPv6 Routing
  • WAN Wide Area Networks
  • BGP Border Gateway Protocol
  • Cisco Device Security
  • Network Device Management

The different lab exercises help you explore Cisco IOS operating system Command Line Interface (CLI) navigation. Each has a guided walkthrough of the IOS command line interface and exercises that will familiarise you with Cisco IOS configuration. The labs are presented in two parts – first the lab exercise and then the detailed answer key.

Neil wanted the guide to be completely free and as simple to use as possible so it uses the free software GNS3 and Packet tracer for all the exercises. GNS3 is the best software for routing labs while Packet Tracer is the best for switching labs.

The downloadable start-up files load in either GNS3 or Packet Tracer so you can get up and running with the labs immediately. But if you have your own physical lab, you can refer to the topology diagrams and use them as instructions on cabling it up.

The guide also contains troubleshooting tips that will further expand your networking knowledge. These are explained in a logical manner to give you a systematic way of troubleshooting issues as they arise.

You can download the guide for free at https://www.flackbox.com/cisco-ccna-lab-guide to take your networking skills up a notch and further your career.

Forward Thinkers, Forward Networks.

Maintenance windows. Let’s be honest, they suck. If you ask any network admin they will likely tell you the midnight maintenance windows are their least favorite part of the job. They are a necessity due to the very nature of what we do, which is build, operate and maintain large, complex networks, because any changes that are made can have far-reaching, and often unpredictable impact. Impact to production systems that we must avoid whenever possible. So, we schedule downtime and amp up our caffeine intake for an evening of changes and testing whatever we may have broken.

No matter how meticulous you are in your planning, no matter how well you know the subtle intricacies of your environment, something, somewhere is going to go wrong. Even if you are one of the lucky few to have a lab environment in which to test changes, it’s often not even close to the scale of your actual network.

But, what if you had a completely accurate, full-scale model of your network, and could test those changes without having to risk your production network? A break/fix playground that would allow you to vet any changes you needed to make, which would in turn, allow you the peace of mind of shorter, smoother maintenance windows, or perhaps (GASP!) no maintenance windows at all?

Go ahead, break it.

That’s what Forward Networks’ co-founders David Erickson and Brandon Heller want you to do within their Forward Platform, as they bring about a new product category they call Network Assurance:

“Reducing the complexity of networks while eliminating the human error, misconfiguration, and policy violations that lead to outages.”

At Network Field Day 13, only a few days after Forward Networks came out of stealth, we had the privilege of hearing, for the first time, exactly who and what Forward Networks was, and how their product would “accelerate an industry-wide transition toward networks with greater flexibility, agility, and automation, driven by a new generation of network control software.”

David Erickson, CEO and co-founder, spoke to how they have recognized that modern networks are complex, made up of hundreds if not thousands of devices, are often heterogeneous, and can contain millions of lines of configuration, rules, and policy. The tools we have to manage these networks are outdated (ping, traceroute, SNMP, etc.) and the time spent as a network admin going through the configuration of these devices looking for problems is overwhelming at times. As a result, a significant portion of outages in today’s networks are caused by simple human error, which has far-reaching impact to business, and brand.

This is not a simulation or emulated model of your network, but a full-scale replica, in software, that you can use to review, verify and test against, without risk to production systems. The algorithm they use claims to trace through every port in your network to determine where every possible packet could go within the network as it is presently configured. The “all packet”.

Applications

The three applications that were demonstrated for us were Search, Verify, and Predict.

Search – think “Google” for your network. Search devices and behavior within and interactive topology.

Verify – See if your network is doing what you think it should be doing. All policy is applied with some intent, is your intent being met?

Predict – When you identify the need for a change, how can you be sure the change you make will work? How do you know that change won’t break something else? Test your proposed changes against the copy of your network and see exactly what the impacts will be.

Forward Search

Brandon Heller offered an in-depth demo of these tools, beginning with Search. Looking at a visual overview of the demo network, he was able to query in very simple terms for specific traffic. In this case traffic from the Internet, to his web servers. In a split second, Search zoomed in on a subset of the network topology, showing exactly where this traffic would flow. Diving further into the results, each device would then show the rules or configuration that allowed this traffic across the device in an intuitive step-through menu that traced the specified path through the entire network, and highlighted the relevant configuration or code.

This was all done in a few seconds, on a heterogeneous topology of Juniper, Arista, and Cisco devices.

Normally, tracing the path through the network would require a network admin, with knowledge of each of those vendors, to manually test with tools like ping and traceroute, and also comb through each configuration device-by-device along the path he or she thought was the correct one, in order to verify the traffic was flowing properly.

The response time on the queries was snappy,  and Brandon explained this was due to the fact that, like a search engine, everything about the network was indexed ahead of time, making queries almost instantaneous.

Forward Verify

It’s one thing to understand how your network should behave, and another to be able to test and confirm this behavior. Forward Verify has two ways of doing this. The first is a library of predefined checks that identify common configuration errors. Things like duplex consistency, etc. that are fairly common, yet easy to miss configuration errors.

The second is with network-specific policy checks. Here once again, a simple to understand intuitive query verified that bidirectional traffic to and from the Internet could get to the web servers over via http and ssh.

When there is a failure, a link is provided which allows you to drill down into the pertinent devices and their configuration and see where your policy check is failing.

Forward Predict

When a problem is identified or a change to the network configuration is necessary, Forward Predict is the final tool in the suite, and in my opinion, the most important one, as it allows you to test a change against your modeled network to see what impact it will have. This is huge, as typically changes are planned, implemented and then tested in a production environment in a change or maintenance window.

Forward Predict, while it may not eliminate the need for proper planning and implementation, allows you to build and test configuration changes in what is essentially a fully duplicated sandbox model of your exact environment. This is going to make those change windows a lot less painful as you already know what the outcome will be, rather than troubleshooting problems that weren’t anticipated when the changes were planned.

Moving “Forward”

A common sentiment among NFD delegates during this presentation was that Forward Networks’ product did some amazing things, however we wondered if there was an opportunity here to move this product one step further and have it actually implement or make the changes to the network, after the changes have been vetted by Forward Predict.

Forward Adjust, perhaps?

Understandably, this is going to involve a lot of testing, especially in light of the fact that Forward is completely vendor-neutral and touts the ability to work with complex, mixed environments. Making changes in those types of environments adds a lot of responsibility to this platform, and with that comes risk. Risk that most engineers might be a little skeptical to entrust to a single platform.

Time will tell, and I look forward to hearing more about Forward Networks’ development over the upcoming months, and see where the Network Assurance platform takes us.

Check out the entire presentation over at Tech Field Day, including a fantastic demonstration from Behram Mistree on how Forward Verify can help mitigate and diagnose outages in complex, highly resilient networks.

 

 

Netool – Pocket Sized Network Tester and Analyzer

As network engineers/analysts/administrators, we’re always looking to add to our list of tools. Whether these are pieces of software, tidbits of script, or physical tools, anything that helps us in the performance of our day to day work is something we tend to hang on to and use again and again. More often than not these tools are manifested out of a need to make a specific task more efficient, or less mundane, especially if you don’t have a junior analyst around to give all that work to.

One such task is identifying or tracing a switch port. In a perfect world, all of the network drops in a building would have accurate labels that never fade or fall off, that correspond precisely to the switch and port that they connect to, and cables that never get arbitrarily moved between ports, and of course accurate port descriptions on the switches themselves. In this world, there’s no need for any kind of tool to trace a cable or drop, is there?

Sadly that perfect world rarely exists. Even in new construction the natural entropy of networks ensures that wall jack labels, punch panels, and switch ports all become muddled, and more often than not one or more of those pieces is incorrect. This leads to a need to verify and ensure the information you have is accurate, and the need for another tool.

Now, cable tracing isn’t new, and tools for tracing cables have been around for a very long time. Often these come in the form of a probe and tone set, where one device is connected to the cable and it sends a tone along the wires, which can then be traced with a probe that listens for this tone. One simply waves the magic wand around all of your cables and wait for the one that provides tone, that must be the right cable! Well, not so fast, as crosstalk sometimes causes that tone to carry to several other cables in a bundle, and that tone you hear might not be the “real” one. That aside, it’s a tedious, manual practice, and can waste a lot of time if you have to repeat the task with several ports.

Companies like Fluke Networks have, over the years, developed some very nice tools for cable testing and verification. Many of these can be fairly expensive however, and perhaps outside the budget of an independant network consultant or other IT professional.

netool-logo

Enter Netool. This Indiegogo campaign touts the “World’s smallest network analyzer, testing and mapping tool”. When I came across this product on my Twitter feed I was very interested in learning more. This tiny tool will connect to and analyze a data port or cable, and provide switch and network information to your smartphone. It can provide information gleaned from protocols such as CDP (Cisco Discovery Protocol) and LLDP (Link Layer Discovery Protocol) which can provide switch port, VLAN, switch host name and IP information. It will test for DHCP services and display a leased IP as well as default gateway.

Check our their campaign video:

According to the list of campaign perks, one of these will cost $160 USD + shipping, or a special early bird price of $130 USD + shipping. There is also currently a Beta Tester perk that will get one of these in your hands before anyone else for only $99 USD + shipping.

Compare this to a Fluke Networks Linksprinter 100 at $215.99 USD (as listed on CDW) this seems like a great deal. As far as I can tell the only features the Netool lacks in comparison to the entry-level Linksprinter would be PoE detection, and perhaps some support for additional protocols such as EDP (Extreme Discovery Protocol) or BDP (Brocade Discovery Protocol). All of these that perhaps could come via a software update in the future.

I would encourage any of you in the market for a lightweight, hand-held, network testing and port mapping tool to check out the Netool web site, and consider a contribution to their Indiegogo campaign if this device is something you could see being part of your toolkit.

Hyperscale Networking for the Masses

In my career I’ve typically been responsible for plumbing together networks for branch, campus, and (very) small enterprise networks that had datacenters that were defined by single-digit rack numbers. So, when I’m reading or watching news about datacenter networking I often have a difficult time putting this into perspective, especially when the topic is focused on warehouse and football field sized datacenters. This might explain why I have not spent a lot of time working with or learning about Software Defined Networking, because it seems to me that SDN is a solution to a problem of scale, and scale isn’t something I’ve had to deal with.

As networks grow, management of configuration and policy eventually becomes ungainly and increasingly difficult to keep consistent. Having to log into 100, 200, even 1000 devices to make a change is cumbersome, and so we as networkers seek to automate this process in some way. There have been applications and tools developed over the years that leverage existing management protocols like SNMP and others to provide a single-pane view to managing changes to your network, but once again these don’t scale to the size and scope that we’re talking about with SDN.

Taken to the extreme, SDN and Open Networking have allowed companies like Facebook and Google to actually define and design their own data center infrastructure, using merchant silicon. The argument here being that Moore’s Law is coming to an end. Commodity hardware is catching up to or has caught up to custom built silicon and the premium that many were willing to pay for these custom ASICs is no longer required in order to stay on the cutting edge of data networking.

Amin Vahdat, Fellow and Technical Lead for Networking at Google spoke about this at the Open Networking Summit earlier this year, and contributed to a paper on Google’s Datacenter Network for Sigcomm ’15. In both presentations, Amin outlines how Google has, over the course of the last 7-8 years, achieved 1.3 Pbps of bisection bandwidth in their current datacenters with their home-grown Jupiter platform. I would encourage you to check out both the video and the paper to learn more.

ONS 2015 Keynote – Amin Vahdat
Jupiter Rising: A Decade of Clos Topologies and Centralized Control in Google’s Datacenter Network

This application of SDN is dramatic. Few organizations have the ability, or need, to develop their own SDN solution for their own use. So how can this same scale-out model be applied to these other, smaller datacenters?

Recently I was invited to attend Networking Field Day 10 in San Jose, and we had an opportunity to visit Big Switch Networks. Rob Sherwood, CTO for Big Switch, spoke about some of the same principals around SDN, citing the Facebook and Google examples, and explained that there was “a tacit assertion that the incumbent vendors, the products that they build do not work for companies at this scale.”

Their solution? Big Cloud Fabric, designed to offer hyperscale-style networking to any enterprise. It is designed around the same three principals seen in Google’s infrastructure:

1) Merchant Silicon
2) Centralized Control
3) Clos Topology

Operating on 1U white-box/bare-metal switches running Switch Light OS, the leaf-spine topology is managed through the Big Cloud Fabric Controller. Several deployment options exist including integration with Openstack and VMware, and based on the current Broadcom chip being used, can scale out to up to 16 racks of compute resources per controller pair. Even if you only have half a dozen racks today, BCF provides scalability, and economy.

You can watch Rob’s presentation on BCF here:

One of the other things Big Switch Networks has done is launch Big Switch Labs, which provides an opportunity to test drive their products and for those of us who don’t work in large(ish) datacenters, a venue for getting your hands on a true SDN product in a lab environment. It’s a great way to gain insight into some of the problems SDN is aimed at solving and provides a fantastic demonstration of some of the capabilities and scalability that the Big Switch Fabric can offer.

BSLabs

If you’re just getting your feet wet with SDN, and/or Open Networking and want a brain-melting crash course on how it operates and scales in some of the world’s largest, most powerful datacenters, give Big Switch Labs a test drive. Big Cloud Fabric provides datacenter management and control modeled around the same principals as other massive hyperscale fabrics, but designed to be “within reach” for today’s enterprise customers and their own datacenter workloads.

Updated Study Plans

It’s been a while since I’ve sat down and really mapped out where my studies are going. The last several months have been rather crazy, with some family issues, having a new baby (not me, my wife), and changing jobs. As things settle down I am going to re-focus on completing my CCNP, and continue along the VCP-NV track, while also planning to upgrade my current VCP5-DCV to the VCP6-DCV.

CCNP R&S Progress-O-Meter:

SWITCH – 4/6/2013

TSHOOT – 1/24/2015

ROUTE – In progress…(again)

On Pretentiousness

At the 2015 Cisco Live Welcome Keynote, I was fortunate enough to tag along with some other Cisco Champions and Social Media folks who were provided advance seating to the event. This gave us an opportunity to see some of the behind-the-scenes last-minute preparation that goes into the presentation and experience the production from a different perspective than we would traditionally experience as members of the general audience.

During this time a number of us were using Twitter and Periscope to share the experience and provide sounds and images from within the room using the #CLUS hashtag. One such photo included a panoramic view of the stage from the perspective of our seating area, which gave a great view of the stage and the entire production area.

This photo received a response that began a very unfortunate exchange on Twitter:

“Is this what pretentiousness looks like?”

The exchange degraded into vulgar personal attacks and references to genitalia and the person who initiated with the comment above has since deleted their Twitter account. Not surprising, considering how far south this conversation went.

Some Clarity

For those who missed it, essentially we (those who had been granted advance access to the keynote) were accused of “showing off” to the rest of Twitter. This accusation came from a former member of the Cisco Champions team, and someone who I had personally been following very early on since joining Twitter, and who had been, at least until this incident, a respected member of the social media community.

I can’t speak to the motivation behind the comments made, but I can say with certainty that nothing we were sharing with the rest of the community was or has ever been meant as bragging, or showing off. As part of the Cisco Champions team, or any other Social Media group, the intent is to share and provide insight to the community as a whole. It serves to involve as many people as possible in an inclusive manner, not as an exclusive, pretentious group.

Evidence of this is clear in that the group of people gathering and socializing at the Twitter Lounge and Social Media Hub over the years has grown exponentially. And let’s face it, many of us in this industry are fairly introverted, and if there were some underlying sense of cliquishness or exclusivity, we wouldn’t be welcoming new faces to the events year after year.

Ultimately whether you are a member of Cisco Champions, VMware vExpert, Microsoft MVP, EMC Elect or any other similar group, the goal is engagement rather than exclusion. These ladies and gentlemen are purposed to participate and grow additional engagement with the community at large.

Now, this is a definite give and take relationship and there is some work involved – as a member of one of these groups you are going to spend some of your personal time engaged and involved in the community whether it is through blogging, webinars, podcasts, etc. and the reward or benefit from this is perhaps some exclusive access whether it’s VIP seating at an event, or a sneak-preview of a new product release or product updates.

Let’s call these what they are, perks. It’s a fair trade for the effort involved in creating content, but it is not there to cause any kind of divide in the community, but rather to highlight the benefits of becoming more involved.

Final Thoughts

If you can’t say something nice…

Electronic communication, whether it be email, text, Twitter, etc. all tend to distance the creator from their audience. It’s well-known on the Internet that many people have a strong sense of anonymity and thus the “keyboard warriors” are born, those who feel they can say whatever they want to whomever they want without fear of repercussion or reprisal.

Sometimes this feeling carries over to a medium in which you aren’t entirely anonymous, and whatever you say is going to be a part of your online resume or footprint, and could have lasting effects in the long-term.

I believe the source of these comments understands this, and this is at least part of the reason these comments were removed and ultimately their Twitter account was deleted.

It’s also evidence that they don’t have the integrity to stand by their comments.

For those of us who continue to participate in events like Cisco Live as members of the larger Social Media community, I believe we will continue to share and engage those around us by sharing content and insight. If you see something that makes you stop and say “I’d like to be part of that” then by all means, join us.

Looking for the next opportunity!

As some of you already know, I’ve recently become a free agent and have begun the search for my next great job. I’ve learned a lot about the “brave new world” of job hunting over the last couple of weeks, and to be honest it’s been a bit scary.

I’ve only had two employers over the past 18 years, and in both cases I was laid off due to staff reductions. I jokingly told my wife that someday I’d like to experience what it is like to actually quit a job, rather than having a job quit me. After leaving my role as a Sr. Business Manager with Convergys (a large contact center organization) in June of 2007, it had been 10 years since I had applied for and interviewed for a job, and I found the idea of re-writing my resume and hitting the pavement to find a new career rather daunting. In October that same year I was contacted by someone I had worked with previously who was now working in the HR department of a public school division. She explained their IT department needed some temporary help for about 3 months, and although my role when we worked together had been in Operations, she knew I had technical skills, and wanted to know if I was interested. I accepted, thinking the work would pay some bills in the short-term while I continued to tweak my resume and find full-time employment. Instead, I re-kindled my passion for hands-on technical work, and ended up accepting a permanent position in January 2008, and worked there until April of this year.

That was my first taste of social networking and finding a job.

8 years later it seems leveraging the power of social media and professional networks is the absolute best way to find that new role. The general consensus seems to be that sending your resume out electronically to a bunch of automated HR systems, or submitting your CV and cover letter through a web form is not going to get you that position you wanted. It is frightening to read articles on the subject of modern recruiting explaining how automated software scans and scores your resume and rejects it before a real human being ever reads it. How prevalent that actually is I don’t know, but I do know that when I send a resume via email, I often envision it being packed away in a warehouse and forgotten like the Ark of The Covenant in Raiders of the Lost Ark.

Decisions…decisions

I have a few decisions to make. The first and foremost seems to be deciding what I want to do next. In 1997 I began doing technical support in a call center and fast-forward 10 years later I had relocated twice, and been promoted through various roles within that same organization with experience in training, client services, project management, and operations management. I had managed multi-million dollar budgets, with staff and operations spanning multiple cities in Canada and the US. I had developed my business skills, and although each of the projects I had worked on over the years were technical in nature, I had not really been hands-on with technology in some time. I knew I wanted to get back to that.

As a Systems Analyst with my most recent employer, a K-12 public school division, I had been able to spend the last 7+ years “doing IT” again. I’ve focused on networking and virtualization, and even knocked out a few certifications. The technology is what I am truly passionate about and being in a position to learn something new every day was fantastic. While it wasn’t a large infrastructure, I’ve had exposure and developed skills and experience with Cisco, HP, Dell, Microsoft, VMware, NetApp, Fortinet, and a number of other technologies. It was truly a great experience to work in a small IT shop and have access into a little bit of everything.

Somewhat parallel to this I decided to combine my business knowledge and my IT skills and started my own business 2 years ago offering managed IT services to small businesses that can’t afford their own dedicated IT staff. I’m able to partner with them and understand both the key issues that drive their business, while assisting them meet any technology needs they have. The possibility of growing the business is there, but with a family, and my wife presently on maternity leave, there is something to be said for the comfort and security of full-time employment. Mainly the steady income and benefits.

I could perhaps work for a vendor, doing pre-sales or post-sales support, and really get to know one particular technology. I could work for a reseller, which might provide exposure to a larger variety of products. Or, I could join another IT team, but if I did it would have to be a significantly larger organization. I want to experience work in a real data center, no more 2 rack switch closets with a portable AC unit that serve as one.

My “dream job” would probably be working somewhere with responsibility for a decent-sized VMware cluster, maybe on Cisco UCS or another converged/hyper-converged platform, and management of the underlying L2/L3 network infrastructure.

Wherever I go, I want to be able to make a real contribution and continue to develop myself as an IT professional. I want to ask dumb questions and learn from others and I want to be part of a great team.

Ongoing Learning

In my previous role there was some opportunity for on-the-job learning, but very little time or budget was set aside for real professional development. The reality is, in a public education environment, budgets seem to dwindle year after year and there is constant juggling between departments as to where the dollars are needed the most. Funding someone to take a $3000 course at Global Knowledge was out of the question.

That being said, I believe ongoing learning is critical, and found ways on my own to learn, play with, study and prepare for certifications. I’ve developed a fairly decent home lab, without raising too many red flags with my wife in terms of our household budget, and have been able to prepare for and pass a number of certifications over the last several years.

I’m in the process of wrapping up my CCNP R&S with one exam left (ROUTE), and completed the VCP5-DCV in December. I’ll likely focus on learning more about VMware’s NSX product and perhaps look at writing the VCP6-NV exam along with upgrading my VCP5-DCV to the VCP6 version.

Long term, I plan to dedicate myself to the challenge of the CCIE.

Success stories

I’ve read and been inspired by a couple of other folks in the industry who have used social media as a platform or jumping-off point to find their new career, and although I certainly don’t have the same sphere of influence these people have, I’m going to try to do the same. Hat tip to Keith Townsend for sharing his story over at VirtualizedGeek.com and also to Sean Thulin whose journey is told on his blog at Thulin’ Around and congratulations to both of them on their new roles.

Now, do I expect my dream job to simply fall into my lap? Of course not. I’ll be engaged in some of the more traditional methods of searching online and reaching out directly to a handful of contacts who may know of some unlisted positions. First of all however, I’ll need to tweak my resume to fool those pesky HR screening tools!

So, if you or someone you know are aware of an opportunity for a skilled, loyal (2 jobs in 18 years!) networking and virtualization professional, or simply would like to learn a little bit more about me, feel free to reach me here, or on Twitter or LinkedIn. I’d love to hear from you!

Otherwise feel free to share, retweet, or carrier pigeon this article and help me cast the net as far and wide as possible.