Book Review: Cisco Routers for the Desperate, 2nd Edition

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Here's a book you're going to love if you're anything like me. If you're a busy systems administrator who just happens to have responsibility for a number of Cisco routers and switches, you probably find that the low maintenance Cisco devices rarely need your attention. When they do, you may have to scramble to remember the basics of Cisco troubleshooting and management. You are also likely to find yourself scrambling at the same time that some significant portion of your user population is screaming that the network is broken.

Cisco Routers for the Desperate, 2nd Edition, by Michael W. Lucas and published by No Starch Press is the perfect book for someone who needs to the learn essential Cisco skills in a hurry. It's fairly short (125 pages including the index and about ten pages longer if you count the front matter), but densely packed with what you need to know to stay on top of your Cisco devices.

The book focusses entirely on the command line because, after all, that's the one interface that's going to be available no matter what. It gets off the ground by explaining modes (e.g., exec, enable) and how to get command hints by typing a ? (e.g., show ?). It then moves into basic configuration and troubleshooting. And, from there, it delves into some vital topics dealing with security and performance.

The 10 chapters of the book are:

1) Befriending the Command Line
2) Router Configuration
3) Router Interfaces
4) Wide Area Network Connections
5) Troubleshooting Routers
6) IOS Changes
7) Redundancy with BGP and HSRP
8) Cisco Switches
9) Logins, Authentication, and Remote Access
10) Cisco Network Services

These chapters detail how to properly configure and maintain Cisco routers, do circuit troubleshooting, correctly set up router and network connections, determine the cause of a failure or slowdown -- including determining whether it's your problem or your ISP's, keeping your network safe from attack, installing private networks between offices, implementing network redundancy, reducing downtime using BGP and HSRP, updating routers and switches and adding new hardware to your existing network.

This is the book to sit down and read when you have some spare time and then keep handy for those times when you need to be reminded how to make a change on your Cisco devices or track down a problem when the heat is on. You'll gain a good understanding of the Cisco environment, become comfortable with the myriad of available commands and prepare yourself to move in deftly and confidently when one of your Cisco devices needs attention.

For me, reading this book was like having one of the guys in my company who lives and breathes Cisco sitting down with me for a day and explaining everything I need to know to handle problems or issues likely to come my way. There may be many additional things I could potentially learn about my Cisco switches, but likely few I'm likely to encounter in my environment.

The subtitle, "Router and Switch Management the Easy Way", really fits. You can spend weeks plowing through volumes of Cisco manuals or you can get 99% of what you need to know in one short, easy to digest, text. Wow, this is an incredibly useful book.

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