Learning, certifications and the xISP

One of the most asked questions which comes up in the xISP world is “How do I learn this stuff?”.   Depending on who you ask this could be a lengthy answer or a simple one sentence answer.  Before we answer the question, let’s dive into why the answer is complicated.

In many enterprise environments, there is usually pretty standard deployment of networking hardware.  Typically this is from a certain vendor.  There are many factors involved. in why this is.  The first is total Cost of Ownership (TCO).  It almost always costs less to support one product than to support multiples.  Things like staff training are usually a big factor.  If you are running Cisco it’s cheaper to train and keep updated on just Cisco rather than Cisco and another vendor.

Another factor involved is economies of scale.  Buying all your gear from a certain vendor allows you to leverage buying power. Quantity discounts in other words.  You can commit to buying product over time or all at once.

So, to answer this question in simple terms.  If your network runs Mikrotik, go to a Mikrotik training course.  If you run Ubiquiti go to a Ubiquiti training class.

Now that the simple question has been answered, let’s move on to the complicated, and typically the real world answer and scenario.  Many of our xISP clients have gear from several vendors deployed.  They may have several different kinds of Wireless systems, a switch solution, a router solution, and different pieces in-between.  So where does a person start?

We recommend the following path. You can tweak this a little based on your learning style, skill level, and the gear you want to learn.

1.Start with the Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA) certification in Routing and Switching (R&S).  There are a ton of ways to study for this certification.   There are Bootcamps (not a huge fan of these for learning), iPhone and Android Apps (again these are more focused on getting the cert), online, books, and even youtube videos. Through the process of studying for this certification, you will learn many things which will carry over to any vendor.  Things like subnetting, differences between broadcast and collision domains, and even some IPV6 in the newest tracks.  During the course of studying you will learn, and then reinforce that through practice tests and such.  Don’t necessarily focus on the goal of passing the test, focus on the content of the material.  I used to work with a guy who went into every test with the goal of passing at 100%.  This meant he had to know the material. CompTIA is a side path to the Cisco CCNA.  For reasons explained later, COMPTIA Network+ doesn’t necessarily work into my plan, especially when it comes to #3. I would recommend COMPTIA if you have never taken a certification test before.

2.Once you have the CCNA under your belt, take a course in a vendor you will be working the most with.  At the end of this article, I am going to add links to some of the popular vendor certifications and then 3rd party folks who teach classes. One of the advantages of a 3rd party teacher is they are able to apply this to your real world needs. If you are running Mikrotik, take a class in that. Let the certification be a by-product of that class.

3.Once you have completed #1 and #2 under your belt go back to Cisco for their Cisco Certifed Design Associate (CCDA). This is a very crucial step those on a learning path overlook.  Think of your networking knowledge as your end goal is to be able to build a house.  Steps one and two have given you general knowledge, you can now use tools, do some basic configuration.  But you can’t build a house without knowing what is involved in designing foundations,  what materials you need to use, how to compact the soil, etc.  Network design is no different. These are not things you can read in a manual on how to use the tool.  They also are not tool specific.   Some of the things in the Cisco CCDA will be specific to Cisco, but overall it is a general learning track.  Just follow my philosophy in relationship to #1. Focus on the material.

Once you have all of this under your belt look into pulling in pieces of other knowledge. Understanding what is going on is a key to your success.  If you understand what goes on with an IP packet, learning tools like Wireshark will be easier.  As you progress let things grow organically from this point.  Adding equipment in from a Vendor? Update your knowledge or press the new vendor for training options.  Branch out into some other areas ,such as security, to add to your overall understanding.

Never stop learning! Visit our online store for links to recommend books and products.

WISP Based Traning Folks.
These companies and individuals provide WISP based training. Some of it is vendor focused. Some are not.  My advice is to ask questions. See if they are a fit for what your goals are.
-Connectivity Engineer
Butch Evans
Dennis Burgess
Rickey Frey
Steve Discher
Baltic Networks

Vendor Certification Pages

If you provide training let me know and I will add you to this list.

Homeland Security US-Cert e-mail on Network infrastructure

A few days ago Homeland Security published an e-mail on threats to network devices and securing them.  Rather than cut and paste I exported the e-mail to a PDF. Some good best practices in here.

TA16250A The Increasing Threat to Network Infrastructure Devices and Recommended Mitigations

Ubiquiti EdgeSwitch 16XG First look

So today UPS dropped off a brand new EdgeSwitch 16XG.  I won’t bore you with all the cool stats.  You can read the official product literature here.  This is just a first look.  Future posts will dive into configuration, testing, and other such things.  For those wanting the cliff notes version of what this switch is about:

  • (12) SFP+ Ports
  • (4) 10G RJ45 Ports
  • (1) RJ45 Serial Console Port
  • Non-Blocking Throughput: 160 Gbps
  • Switching Capacity: 320 Gbps
  • Forwarding Rate: 238.10 Mpps
  • (12) 1/10 Gbps SFP+ Ethernet Ports
  • (4) 1/10 Gbps RJ45 Ethernet Ports
  • Rack Mountable with Rack-Mount Brackets (Included)
  • DC Input Option (Redundant or Stand-Alone)

UBNT EdgeSwitch 16XG

UBNT is following a natural trend in the switch world.  As more and more networks are looking at 1Gig being their minimum, the switches are reflecting this.  Gone are the days of 10/100 ports. Now are going toward 1/10 gig ports, even on copper. 10/100/1000 switches still have their place, but usually not on switches with 10 gig ports.


Accessories included with the 16XG

Out of the box the switch isn’t anything sexy.  I feel like it should have a shiny UBNT logo somewhere.

UBNT EdgeSwitch 16XG

I like the fact that none of the ports are shared ports.  You can use all 16 ports. It always annoys me when I buy a switch and can’t use all the ports because they are shared on the bus.

An interesting feature on this switch is a redundant DC input option.  This can be anything from 16-25volts and be able to support 56watts. This results in a minimum of a 2.2 Amp power supply.   This is assuming a full load on the switch as well. For the WISP market this could be a very handy option.  You could install the switch where it is drawing from AC power but in the event of AC outage it will switch to a DC source.  One of my questions to UBNT is if you can run it off total DC.

UBNT Redundant Power

DC Input Jack

Now on to some nitpicky design things.  None of these really affect the performance of the switch, just are annoyances.

-The console port not being on the front. In today’s dense rack environments we are putting patch panels and Transfer switches in the backs of the rack.  If we have to get to the back of the front mounted devices then anything other than power becomes an annoyance. This is not an issue if you install every new switch with a console cable back to a console server like we do, but even that doesn’t always happen.

Ubnt 16XG Back

-The SFP cages should stick out just a tad from the front.  During inserting and re-inserting SFPs I actually pushed the cage back a little.  This resulted in some of the SFPs not clicking in correctly.  The little tabs holding the top of the SFP cages aren’t sturdy enough to hold some repeated clicking in and out.

EdgeSwitch 16XG SFP

After seeing this I was prompted to open the switch and see what is under the hood.

Inside of EdgeSwitcvh 16XG

I think this will be a hugely popular switch for anybody looking to do 10Gig. At a $600 approximate price these are, by far, the most cost effective 10 Gig switch out there.  Many manufacturers have tacked on one or two, sometimes 4 SFP+ ports, but if you need to go beyond that you are talking 4 digit pricing.  This is something we have struggled with MidWest-IX. It usually leads to us buying something on the used market that has the port density we need.

There you have it for a first look at this switch. More articles to follow that include:
-Interoperability Testing
-Configuration tasks
-Questions I and you, the reader, have for UBNT

Quanta LB4M insides

Just some geek Pr0n for you on a Friday afternoon. The insides of a Quanta LB4M switch. This is a great switch if you are needing a couple of 10 gig ports.