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Ask Slashdot: Becoming a Network Administrator? 480

J. L. Tympanum writes "After many years as a star programmer, I have taken a position which involves maintaining and rebuilding the in-house network of a small company. There are maybe 100 machines, a mix of blade servers running Linux and desktop PCs running Windows of all flavors. Basically, I have to learn networking from scratch. I have been given an 'unlimited' budget to buy routers, switches, etc., to set up my own little test network as part of the learning process. So the question is: what's the right strategy here? What routers or switches or other equipment should I acquire? What books should I read? Should I take classes from Cisco, Global Knowledge, my local community college, or somewhere else?"
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Ask Slashdot: Becoming a Network Administrator?

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  • Step 1 (Score:5, Funny)

    by nuintari ( 47926 ) on Thursday May 05, 2011 @03:38PM (#36039618) Homepage

    Run, run as fast as you can, and don't look back.

    • Re:Step 1 (Score:5, Insightful)

      by RenHoek ( 101570 ) on Thursday May 05, 2011 @03:43PM (#36039716) Homepage

      1) Why does the network need rebuilding?
      2) Where the hell are they getting an unlimited budget from?
      3) Why, if they have money, would they hire somebody who never did any admin work?

      I'm not saying you won't be able to do it, I'm saying you try and figure out their motives and cover your ass with asbestos!

      • by malraid ( 592373 )

        unlimited budget? I'll solve your problem for $120K a year.... so.... when do i start?

      • 1) Why does the network need rebuilding?

        A fair question but likely for the normal reason -- it wasn't built right in the first place. Probably grew like a fungus instead of being laid like good plumbing (with a nod to the late Senator Stevens).

        2) Where the hell are they getting an unlimited budget from?

        Unlimited probably means they have no idea how much anything costs but it can't possibly be more than $10,000.

        3) Why, if they have money, would they hire somebody who never did any admin work?

        Because then

        • by h4rr4r ( 612664 )

          So you want to be calling the contractors every time a new company wants to SFTP files to you? Every time you need to allow yet another protocol out from the exec vlan?

          He needs to hire someone who knows what they are doing. Then if he still wants to learn they can teach him.

      • the request for help kind of sounds like someone's high school term paper that's due in two weeks...
    • Re:Step 1 (Score:5, Informative)

      by nuintari ( 47926 ) on Thursday May 05, 2011 @03:49PM (#36039846) Homepage

      And then, in all seriousness.

      Deploy Juniper products where you can. Commit confirmed alone will help keep you sane.

      As for learning how this stuff all glues together and works, that really depends on how you learn. I learn by trying things, and reading the manual, not from a classroom. YMMV, but I have never seen a class that did anything short of an awful job of explaining how networking works. I rely heavily on my peers and Google for ironing out issues that I cannot solve in my lab. Consider attending talks on subjects relevant to your needs, and anything that sounds even remotely interesting. Find someone more skilled than you who can explain shit in your native tongue and attempt to osmosis some talent bit by bit. Oh, and get yourself an O'Reilly Safari subscription, a nook/kindle/whatever, and start, as my friend Jeff says, consuming massive quantities of text.

      And seriously, consider running, you are in for a long, dark road of evil.

      • Personally I would go with Cisco, we had cisco and moved to juniper perimeter & dell switchs only to now be redoing our network with cisco and tbph we are glad to see the back of juniper.
    • Why is this modded funny? This is insightful. There's a reason I left network engineering and went back to the medical field.
    • I agree, God help you.
      This takes a major adjustment in your thought process'. From now on it is not your job to do things. It is your job to make sure everyone else can do their jobs.
      Secondly get a bug tracker, or job tracking software setup as soon as possible. (I use Jira [] but it is rather expensive.) If the request is not in Jira (Or whatever you chose.) then you do not do the job.

      One SA to another: Good luck!
      • "From now on it is not your job to do things. It is your job to make sure everyone else can do their jobs."

        Just an unwanted observation, but star programmers who don't "make sure everyone else can do their jobs." by using the systems and applications they developed are either not start programmers, or are working for idiots.

        So our OP is either already used to making sure his or her stuff makes others productive, or they are being promoted necause they have a relationship with the boss.

        Either way, I'm pretty

        • Yeah double ditto. What I'm trying to figure out is how a star programmer can't know anything about networking? Every great programmer I've ever met knew a ton about hardware and networking, all the while being deadly with software. I personally think it would be very hard to be great programmer without understanding the bricks you're standing on, in significant detail.

    • Re:Step 1 (Score:5, Insightful)

      by pvera ( 250260 ) <> on Thursday May 05, 2011 @04:08PM (#36040200) Homepage Journal

      I don't understand why this is modded funny, it is the correct plan of action assuming the move was voluntary. If this is a programmer that is trying to bail out of a sinking ship and this was the only job available at equivalent pay, then it is a completely different issue.

      The biggest red flag is the "unlimited budget" that doesn't cover hiring a properly trained network admin, instead pushing him/her to learn the whole thing from scratch at the same pay.

    • Re:Step 1 (Score:5, Informative)

      by poetmatt ( 793785 ) on Thursday May 05, 2011 @04:25PM (#36040482) Journal

      Underpaid, underappreciated and overworked? Get back to work!

      Network admins, unless they are basically amazing, are in for a typically rough ride through trying to get things to work, as things perceived as small changes can have enormous impact on network stability. Then you get to things like bad password policies, bad hardware policies, bad security policies, bad corporate policy and a good portion of the time network administration is just not worth the time.

      If it were $75-90k a year maybe, but otherwise definitely not worth more stress than pretty much any job that exists today including hard sales.

      Things to do: buy enterprise grade hardware, do not ever compromise on best buy/off the shelf hardware, restrict access as much as possible (and lock down ports as much as possible), make sure all devices go through a firewall (outbound) and all inbound connections go through their own separate firewall (inbound). Make sure that all requests inbound have to be requested from internal. Make sure that as much of inbound connections as possible are over a vpn if external.

      Basics: make use of forwarding, proxies, reverse forwarding, nat. Make sure that all of your DNS addresses which are assigned to computers point to internal DNS only, and that the same applies to the servers. No server should have any DHCP or DNS assignments from the local ISP.

      Redundancy: You must have it. At all levels. Check for cable backups, keep spare parts for everything - power supplies, cables, extra routers, extra server ISO's and images, extra copies of VM's, etc. Make sure you have redundant UPS's. Do not daisy chain UPS's (or maybe you can, someone else will comment- I'm no UPS genius).. Make sure things are not physically linked in a way that when one thing fails, so cascades the rest. This means UPS's with hot swappable batteries. Make sure you have multiple switches and all servers have at least 2 NICs for both load balancing and additional fallover.

      Check for shit people don't think of - check where the servers are located, what cables are running overhead, dust situation, etc. Make sure that the cooling for the server rooms is appropriate and is set up such that if the leak plate (forgot the proper term) floods it won't drip directly on the servers. Check for maintenance schedules, physical and software, check for licensing being followed, check for PCI compliance. Check security requirements for the server room, for the pcs.

      Additional redundancy: virtualize wherever possible, hardware permitting. Offsite backups, offsite hardware backups.

      Additional: prepare for hilariously large amounts of fucker trying to deal with authentication between linux and windows. Linux is well documented and complicated. Windows is well documented and complicated.

      Keep at least 3-6 full bottles of hard alcohol on hand, a 2 week resignation notice, and a mini-fridge full of beer in addition, and depending on the state you're working in, maybe keep a gun on hand if you're licensed and it's legal.

      Oh and don't forget, being a network administrator has basically NOTHING to do with being a network administrator. It's more like managing a circus of crying babies who have no idea what the fuck they're doing.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by DuoDreamer ( 1229170 )
        This is the best description I have read regarding the Network Admin position.

        When I started as an admin 5 years ago, the company didn't know to care about redundancy, or security. When I started, neither did I. I could build PCs, do some light programming, and had a knack for finding solutions with Google. In that time, I've replaced all network hardware and fixed the topology, expanded from 6 to 20 servers, added virtualization wherever possible, added battery backup to everything (many servers didn't
    • Also, to answer the question of what J. L. Tympanum should read, a good starting point: The alt.sysadmin.recovery FAQ [].

    • Re:Step 1 (Score:5, Funny)

      by bberens ( 965711 ) on Thursday May 05, 2011 @05:00PM (#36041050)
      I dunno, seems like a cake job to me. As a programmer I can assure you that the problem is never the network. Just ask the network guys, they'll be sure to tell you. Never mind the trace-route, pings, and FTP client log showing 100 byte/sec transfer speed I have provided, the single green LED graphic on the monitoring tool indicates with absolute certainty that all things on the network are working swimmingly.
      • Re:Step 1 (Score:4, Funny)

        by mjwx ( 966435 ) on Thursday May 05, 2011 @10:02PM (#36043820)

        As a programmer I can assure you that the problem is never the network.

        Damn straight,

        It's never an easy job because we keep everything working so well.

        Never mind the trace-route, pings, and FTP client log showing 100 byte/sec transfer speed I have provided

        Takes end users machine, turns off torrent clients, twitter clients, RSS feeds and streaming radio on the users machine and watches the speed increase to normal levels. Finally I hit the user with a rather large wrench for wasting my time.

        First rule of net admin, The problem is always the user.

        the single green LED graphic on the monitoring tool indicates with absolute certainty that all things on the network are working swimmingly.

        Second rule of net admin: The user lies. The user always lies.

        However Nagios does not lie. Nagios does exactly what I tell it to (that includes not running torrent clients at work)

        So when it comes down to you or Nagios, Nagios wins hands down.

  • Don't Do It!!! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by rwv ( 1636355 ) on Thursday May 05, 2011 @03:38PM (#36039620) Homepage Journal
    Administering networks is best left to wizards and warlocks.
  • Why would a star programmer want to transition to network management?
    • Just a shot in the dark, but having seen such things before: the company may have had in-house software that it replaced with a commercial product, negating their need for a programmer. If the existing programming staff has a good working relationship with management, they may give them some leeway to re-purpose them into a new position rather than let them go.

      • by umghhh ( 965931 )
        you mean there are selfless and well willing managers like that still circulating somewhere? Hmm this could change my perception of reality or even my system of beliefs.... Possibly this also means that soon we will have cure for cancer, aids & malaria as well as world peace and I get a raise?
    • by 0racle ( 667029 ) on Thursday May 05, 2011 @03:46PM (#36039784)
      It was a very dim star.
    • by mini me ( 132455 )

      Because it is sometimes fun to do different things? I, myself, love programming, but I wouldn't want it to be my only job. Life is too short to not have fun doing all sorts of different jobs.

  • by AdamInParadise ( 257888 ) on Thursday May 05, 2011 @03:41PM (#36039672) Homepage

    Why did you leave a position as a "star programmer" to move into network administration? Why restart at the bottom of the ladder?

    • Re:Why? (Score:4, Interesting)

      by billcopc ( 196330 ) <> on Thursday May 05, 2011 @04:19PM (#36040390) Homepage

      Small businesses tend to have rapidly-changing needs and few staff. If they have less development work coming in, and a pressing need to replace a sysadmin, it's perfectly sane to ask the developer if he can switch hats, given sufficient resources and support. For the employee, it keeps him in a job. For the company, it saves them from having to hire a new guy, which is neither cheap nor enjoyable, and they'd have to train the new guy anyway, which is freakin' hard when the senior sysadmin is already long gone.

      I don't think it's such a stretch, the two roles tend to complement each other quite well. A good programmer-analyst already possesses 2/3rds of the knowledge required to be a competent sysadmin. You know the shell scripts will be a work of art :) I don't know why you think it's at the bottom of the ladder, because I see it the other way around. Programmers are a dime a dozen (see China). Good sysadmins are damn hard to find, which is why I have no shortage of contracts coming in from past employers and acquaintances. Trust is a big factor, because really, the sysadmin controls access to every resource, and thus by necessity has unlimited access to all your data and equipment. Who would you trust more, some kid walking in off the street with the price tag still hanging off his jacket, or an employee you've known for years ?

    • Easy. He was interested in it, and could do a better job with it already than whoever they hired previously.

      I went from Heavy Equipment Operator, to Network Administrator, to General Manager of a Building Supply in exactly the same way.

      • If he has to ask how to "learn networking from scratch" he can't do a better job then the last guy, and certainly shouldn't be the one they hire to fix an existing mess.

        That sounds harsh but if you don't already know TCP/IP and the basic services on top of it, you're not the one to rebuild a network. Take over maintainence of an already running network sure, get a few years of seeing a working system and how it was setup then maybe.

        Seriously good network admins got their knowledge over decades, by making mi

    • by gangien ( 151940 )

      Is there any software companies out there that don't have a lineup of rockstar programmers? lol

      The amount of arrogance in software development is amusing to me.

  • Step #1 (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday May 05, 2011 @03:41PM (#36039678)

    Hire a professional :)

  • by characterZer0 ( 138196 ) on Thursday May 05, 2011 @03:41PM (#36039680)

    1) Use your unlimited budget to hire a network administrator.
    2) Go golfing.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday May 05, 2011 @03:42PM (#36039684)

    I have this job now and my girlfriend tells me I wake up almost nightly screaming. I can't help but think they're connected.

  • Replace everything immediately, blame upper management, and start looking for a new programming job.
  • by roman_mir ( 125474 ) on Thursday May 05, 2011 @03:44PM (#36039730) Homepage Journal

    All you need is the cloud.

    What you do is get a cloud. Just connect all your machines and networks and cables to the cloud and you will be aaaaalright.

  • HP Procurve (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward

    Seriously. Stay away from Cisco Gear. Overpriced over complex over hyped. Look at the HP procurve line of switches. They have very good L3 L2+ switches that handle routing for small to large networks. Take the HP networking Fundamentals In Person Class. It is one week long and provides good hands on training. Their gear has a lifetime warranty and FREE Tech support during normal business hours. Did I also mention that Software Updats are FREE. No annual maintenance. Seriously look at HP Procurve.

  • Ignore Cisco (Score:3, Interesting)

    by nbannerman ( 974715 ) on Thursday May 05, 2011 @03:49PM (#36039834)
    Forget Cisco. Phone your local HP Gold Partner - get them to put you in touch with the local HP Business Team. They'll give you free courses and training, and that is the end of that. For 100 networked devices, HP kit will do the job. I don't get the obsession with Cisco - I'm running 8 networks on 10 sites that are all HP, serving nearly 10,000 students and 1200 staff, and we've never regretted bypassing Cisco altogether.
    • by morcego ( 260031 )

      I second this recommendation. For small networks, HP is much better (simpler even) than Cisco. I wouldn't bother with Cisco (except routers) for anything less than 500 computers. And even at 500 I would still not be sure.

  • by Bobfrankly1 ( 1043848 ) on Thursday May 05, 2011 @03:51PM (#36039878)
    ...don't take any lessons from anyone employed by Sony.
  • Did you hear that? (Score:5, Informative)

    by DomNF15 ( 1529309 ) on Thursday May 05, 2011 @03:52PM (#36039908)
    It's the can of worms popping open... You don't necessarily have to "buy" physical routers, switches, etc. These days, you can simulate pretty much any network setup you want via software and see how things work out: [] Also, asking "us" what hardware you should buy is like asking someone what kind of computer you should buy, the question is too general and the answer will depend largely on the business/security needs of the company. Tannenbaum wrote a very good book about TCP/IP networking which you may want to read: [] Aside from that, you should look into the basic requirements for network administration/security and make sure you understand and know how to apply them, the topics listed here could be a good starting point: []
    • FYI, that link is for an older edition of "Computer Networks". The fifth edition was published last year. For those interested, search Amazon for ISBN 0132126958.

    • I second this. GNS3 rocks, though you'll need to find the Cisco IOS firmware. Typically you can find these with some google searching for a specific IOS firmware name. You also might want to checkout PEMU [] for PIX emulation. Unfortunately it hogs up the CPU so you'll want to use a CPU limiter on it, but it works really well. Settings up network bridges, particularly in Windows through loopback adapters, can be a bit challenging, but I was able to take an old multi-cpu Dell 2560 with a decent amount of R

  • Run... (Score:4, Informative)

    by dakkon1024 ( 691790 ) on Thursday May 05, 2011 @03:54PM (#36039954)
    I am a 12 year veteran of the field. My official title is Sr. Technical Engineer. I work for a small (15 person) consulting firm. I’m being completely straight w/ you. Start looking for a programming job. This is the end of my advice.
    If you need to fake it for a while, setup w/ a well-respected school in your area for your CCNA. If you have no budget concerns schools w/ equipment stacks and solid instruction will beat out any other option.
    But seriously, you’re making a bad career move, this isn’t meant to be funny.
    • by Kagato ( 116051 )

      My perception is Network Admin jobs are undercut significantly by offshore and H1B resources. It's tough, has lots of late nights and in the end, once the hardware is in you can be replaced by someone in an office on the other side of the world and some low-wage wiring/data center techs do the local bit. There are some high end router guys who really know switching both on the traditional networking and telephony like SS7 Switching that I think can name their own price, but they are the exception, not the

  • Dead simple installations, multitude of configuration options to do most everything. Still lets you get down and dirty if you need to.

    • SonicWall, the same company that shipped expensive "small business" routers that were worse than a Linksys WRT54G, and then had the nerve to charge for more than 5 internal IP addresses on top of that.

      • I didn't know about their past.

        We're running a TZ210 in our small shop of less than 50 workstations and a few servers without issue. Maybe I don't have a problem because of the simple setup we're running?

        BTW, their support is pretty good from personal experience. Although the support guy did keep bugging me with questions after he helped me with a custom config...

  • by Sir_Sri ( 199544 ) on Thursday May 05, 2011 @03:56PM (#36039994)

    Seriously. If you're learning networking from scratch you are not prepared to be in charge of a network with 100 computers. If you screw it up, you could mess things up for days. Start at the bottom and work your way up, or hire someone who knows wtf they're doing, you could contract in someone (there are always going to be consultants who do network around). Bring one of them in, have them go over some of it with you.

    The 'go read a CCNA book' advice isn't far off. But if you're already in charge CCNA is at least one step down from where you want to be.

    I reiterate: use your money to hire someone else. Either hire them to actually do the job and become network manager, or hire a consultant in (be prepared to see this person regularly for a year or so) to come in and help you get things going. Make sure you have people on staff who actually know what they're doing, and can tell you when you're being an idiot.

    Going from programming to network administrator may as well be going to predator drone pilot. You use computers and networks, and familiarity with computer skills is great, but they are very, if not completely different skills. And while you're at it you need to learn to be a manager, because most programmers don't learn about budgets, HR practices, setting security and devices on the network policy and all that but from the sounds of it you have to decide how to spend money.

  • by mehrotra.akash ( 1539473 ) on Thursday May 05, 2011 @03:57PM (#36040012)

    Configure static IP's on all the machines
    Take a 100 port hub or build it yourself
    connect all machines to it

    Enjoy :)

    • by Kjella ( 173770 )

      Ye gods, no. If you're going for that variety, at least use DHCP and reserve IPs at the switch. Anyway, 100 people... if they're all in one location, I'd say three managed 48-port switches in a rack and you're done. The rest is cabling and learning to use the software. Also I'd keep a fourth switch has a hot spare, today losing the network is just as bad as losing electricity.

  • by imlepid ( 214300 ) <`moc.dipelmi' `ta' `diaknikk'> on Thursday May 05, 2011 @04:01PM (#36040084)

    what's the right strategy here?

    Proceed with caution. Make sure you enjoy networking and that its challenges interest you. Networking is very different from programming and also different from desktop support.

    What routers or switches or other equipment should I acquire?

    I have extensive experience with HP Procurve equipment and I have been satisfied with their stuff. (In the network I manage we have about 120 HP switches.) They are pretty reasonable in price and have a lifetime warranty on their switches and routers (I just got a replacement for a part for something that was manufactured 10 years ago, no hassle). Cisco is good if you like features, have a large network, and enjoy spending money. I would avoid Netgear switches (unless you need a small desktop switch (e.g. GS108) to provide more ports) as I have heard bad things but I have no first-hand experience. Expect to pay around $1000-1800 for a good 48-port Gigabit switch.

    What books should I read? Should I take classes from Cisco, Global Knowledge, my local community college, or somewhere else?

    I would look to achieve a "CCNA level" knowledge. For a network of about 100 devices you won't need much more. You can do that by simply reading a book (e.g. the CCNA prep by Lammle or Cisco Press), self-study (e.g. books alone or with video) then trying to pass the test, or taking a classroom course with Cisco or GlobalKnowledge. The material covered in CCNA is useful even if you use Procurve devices (although vocab will be different, such as "vlan trunking" (Cisco) vs. "vlan tagging" (Procurve, IEEE 802.1Q))

    Background: I managed a network at a scientific research center (1000+ end user devices and a couple hundred servers). Its a mix of Cisco (core) and Procurve (edge). I have been working in networking full time for 2 years (I was in the poster's shoes not long ago) and with computers for about 5 years in a professional setting.

  • I'm a Network Administrator. With 100 computers, you have a nice small network to test already. First, you have an unlimited budget. Take advantage of that ASAP. Give it a couple years, and you'll be saying, "Budget? Don't I get a budget?"

    Get setup with some nice Cisco Gigabit. Probably just 1 or 2 routers, maybe 5 or 6 24/48 port switches. Next, get a HANDLE on your network. Either go corporate, or go free. Look into Spiceworks, Hyperic, OpenNMS, Zenoss, etc (spiceworks actually has a nice communit

  • by Animats ( 122034 ) on Thursday May 05, 2011 @04:03PM (#36040116) Homepage

    "After many years as a star programmer, I have taken a position which involves maintaining and rebuilding the in-house network of a small company.

    Learn how to do it, get it done, then work hard on getting a better job. Being an administrator for a small network is a miserable job.

  • Basics (Score:3, Informative)

    by g00head ( 1433713 ) on Thursday May 05, 2011 @04:03PM (#36040120)
    Assuming you didn't leave out VoIP or Video Conf equipment:

    1. As above, take a CCNA course or find the materials. That will give you a good basis.

    2. Read everything you can in regards to VLANs and how they work/best practices/management by hardware OS

    3. Read everything you can about switch port management (i.e., access port vs. trunk port, again relies heavily on the chosen hardware OS)

    4. Choose your hardware: If money is no object, Cisco is reliable but more upfront and much more for yearly support. HP ProCurve is a very good economical option.

    a. Either way, use two stacked Layer 3 switches for core routing with Layer 2 switches for access layer.

    b. For Cisco products, I'd recommend a pair of stacked 3750X's, with 2960 for access layer switches.

    c. Save yourself pain later - have each access switch trunk to the core stack with an aggregated trunk, one port to each half of the core stack. (if half your core stack goes down, most of your network stays up. If one line/port of the trunk goes down, whole network stays up but speed may be affected depending upon bandwidth used)

    5. Use one VLAN for infrastructure (i.e., switches, servers, printers, appliances), use one VLAN for workstations, use one VLAN for wireless if necessary.

    a. Avoid using VTP, even if it seems like a good idea to you

    b. Do all routing between VLANs on the core stack, access switch trunks should carry all VLANs however

    c. Test the hell out of your config in a lab if you have time, lot less pressure telling them that the project is delayed by testing than telling them all work is delayed because you can't find the problem on the prod network

    d. Thank god you get a test network

    4. Once everything's built, configured, and running well - BACK ALL OF THE CONFIGS UP, and repeat whenever a config change is made.

    Good luck, and you'd really better love troubleshooting problems with very little info to go on...

  • What to learn: Learn networking fundamentals very well before touching anything.

    What to buy: The cheapest thing that does the job and meets the requirements. Ignore anyone in sales or any geeks with axes to grind.

    Caveat: Be very very carefull in gathering requirements.
    • by smash ( 1351 )
      Be very careful in meeting requirements. You shitty home grade un managed gigabit switch is not suitable for pushing gigabit to office desktops for example. Leave home user grade shot at home. Not all "gigabit" switching hardware is equal. Pay attention to backplane bandwidth. If it's not listed in the product specs, there is probably a reason for that (i.e. It's shit :-P)
  • I do not understand why people underrate networking as if becoming a network admin can be done just with a " 'unlimited' budget to buy routers, switches, etc., to set up my own little test network as part of the learning process".

    Seriously. Have you asked yourself for example, who's going to do the troubleshooting? Yourself?

    Think about a network admin that asks here what computer, software and books need to buy to become a "star programmer". What would you answer?

  • Hire consultants. Buy juniper. Point finger if it breaks. If you have no experience, getting dropped in the deep end is a recipe for failure. Read up as much as you can to get an overview of the concepts involved but leave implementation details to someone who knows what they are doing. Then learn by example. Maintaining an existing well set up network will keep your hands full enough for a while.
  • by canadiangoose ( 606308 ) <> on Thursday May 05, 2011 @04:13PM (#36040288)
    Dear Slashdot,

    I'd like to become an expert in a field in which I have no experience.

    It takes many years for most of the folks working in this field to gain the knowledge required to be effective, but I am very, very smart. So much smarter than most people, infact, that it shouldn't take me more than a month or two to get a firm gasp on things.

    There's just one small problem that is preventing me from teaching myself everything that I need to know to be able to do my job well. See, I'm not smart enough to know how to even begin to teach myself anything about this field. I'm sure if someone could just point me in the right direction, I'm quite sure that I'll be able to make sense of things.

    Also, which vendors provide "easy" buttons on their gear?

    Please advise.


  • I did pretty much exactly this, starting in 2004. It looks like you have the opportunity to make this fun for yourself. Show some initiative and try something new. Off-hand, my advice would be:

    1. Keep it simple, stupid. For a network that small, consumer-grade routers in combination with a few medium-grade switches will do fine.
    2. Screw the cloud; host everything yourself. You don't want confidential company data on computers managed by strangers.
    3. If non-Windows desktops are acceptable, I've had great success wit
  • $100K for me, $100K for you and we pay the H-1B guy from India $20K to run the thing.
  • Here's what to do. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Stargoat ( 658863 ) * <> on Thursday May 05, 2011 @04:18PM (#36040376) Journal

    I'm buried so far down here, I'm sure no one will read this. But here is what you need to do.

    1. Before you begin, attend a Cisco / Global Knowledge CCNA bootcamp. You may not leave able to program routers like a master, but you'll learn how networks work.

    2. Visit every PC, Server, Router, Switch. Put eyes on everything. Create a master spreadsheet. Document model numbers, IP addresses. Create Visio documentation of the way your network is set up. Document everything. You need a good deal of cabinets to store it all.

    3. Decide what is the most deficient part of the network, fix it with the simplest solution. If you're using hubs, buy switches. If the routers need to be rebooted constantly, buy new routers. Above all, keep it simple. If possible, stay away from V-Lans, encryption software, Linux, or anything else complicated. Do this every year.

    4. Buy one third of the total number of PCs of the network plus ten percent. Buy only one model. Create a central image with Acronis and modify that image as necessary. Deploy these models. Repeat for the next three years.

    5. Outsource security. That way, when it breaks you can blame someone. At the same time, make sure you can monitor security to prevent breakage.

    6. If possible, outsource your main application. You don't want to support the product that everyone in the institution depends on. You need to keep the network up, not software.

    7. At the end of year one, bring in a network assessment. Tell the assessor what he needs to find before he arrives. Use that the next year to justify your new purchases.

    8. Make sure you stay friends with the president / CEO. When it is necessary to reorganize the server, etc, it will be necessary to have his good will.

    9. Be prepared to work like a sunuvabitch for two years. Take your spouse / GF out when you can.

    10. Don't let them make you program again. You're a network admin. You cannot support your old programming team.

    • The above advice is the best of the lot, in my opinion as a network architect. But you will want to ignore items 4, 5, and 6, since they are not about network design or operations. Instead see item 10. Unless you're agreeing to wear multiple hats, it's not your job to do system administration or application project management. But the rest of the advice is good.

      Network engineering can be quite satisfying, not in the creative way of software engineering but in a more deliberative, methodical way. For
  • Man I would be learning everything I could get my hands on/enrolled in. Having said that, don't over do it. A good network is a simple network and don't forget that everything will be running on it so if it breaks everything breaks.

    They guy above who said to contact an HP Gold Partner has the right idea but do the work yourself that way you learn it instead of just contracting it out. From the sounds of it it's not like you're going to be buying insane networking gear that supports OC-19whatever so stick
  • Get comfortable with Wireshark. And read all the Laura Chappell you can find. She's my go to for network errors, diagnosis, and everything that goes on the wire. Just be thankful you don't have to learn Token-Ring. No one will let you alone for a moment without pointing out to you how much it sucks.

  • Many are not so lucky.

    My advice is this: do not trust the vendors. Do not trust the documentation. Do not trust that there even will be documentation to mistrust.

    I don't care if you are buying the top shelf gear from the leading vendor, do not assume that gear will be competent.

    Figure out what features you need, and if you need a feature, test it, and test it thoroughly on live hardware. Test all possible scenarios you can conjure. You'll learn how to use the feature better than if you merely read the m

  • As with many, I question the "star programmer" bit but that angle not withstanding. Take you're budget and hire a consultant. Position yourself as supervisor to this group. Mean while if you really are a "star programmer" go look for another job.
  • Since you have an unlimited budget, get certification from Microsoft and Cisco. You might actually learn something, and it makes you more valuable at performance review time (valuable to your current company as well as potential new employers).

    I'm curious--and jealous--as to how the OP landed this gig with no experience.

  • Talk to your manager/director/ceo....whoever. Try and understand what it is they require of their network, what are your real deliverables on this project? What problems are they trying to solve. Find out what your budget really is because unlimited sounds a little vague. Get a project plan together and determine what is you actually need to do. Hire some expertise to help you with the technical aspects of the project. Throw away your books, you need to manage the project and that means hiring the rig
  • There doesn’t seem to be many serious responses here. My recommendations

    Find a consultant who 1) knows his/her stuff, 2) you trust, and 3) is willing to sit with you and explain what they are doing, why they are doing it, and review your work when you make changes (preferably before the changes are made). You don’t want to be learning from someone who is wrong and you will need someone to fall back on when things get really hairy (and they will, I promise). You also need to set expectations w

  • You learn server administration and networking by doing, in particular, solving problems. You learn architecture by knowing what was done wrong in the past, and not doing it that way.

    Use your unlimited budget to bring in a contractor who has a ton of experience in the field. Learn everything that you can from them while they are available. And make sure everything gets documented.

  • by hawguy ( 1600213 ) on Thursday May 05, 2011 @06:00PM (#36041802)

    Dear Slashdot,

    After many years as an expert carpenter, I've found a need at my current employer for a plumber. I've made extensive use of plumbing in the past both for input and output and know I can handle the work. Many of the concepts are the same between carpentry and plumbing (i.e. cutting things and joining things), so I only need to brush up on the mechanics of how to do it. The pipes in our current building are all old and leaky, so we want to replace them. I have been given an 'unlimited' budget for pipes, tools, etc to set up a small toilet in the basement and after that I plan to replace all of our plumbing. What tools and materials should I acquire? What books should I read? Should I take classes?

"So why don't you make like a tree, and get outta here." -- Biff in "Back to the Future"