It's a series of tubes.
June 20, 2016 9:15 AM   Subscribe

How should I learn about internetworking?

I'm a technical writer at a good-sized tech company. My department deploys the physical network for our good-sized tech company's technology to run on -- hundreds of thousands of servers and related equipment in data centers all over the world.

I haven't been here for long, and before I was here, I wrote mostly for software. I want to get a better understanding of what the hell is happening in my department and why, because my audience is "people who physically install equipment" and "people who plan and configure the the equipment and make sure it continues to run properly," and in order to best write for them, I need to understand more about the concepts about which I'm writing.

I can use Wikipedia for certain concepts, but I am finding that I must be learning things out of order, because sometimes I google for a concept and can't understand enough of the explanation given for it to mean anything.

How should I learn about internetworking? What concepts should I consider first?

Should I literally go read Networking for Dummies? I've read Tubes, which was fun, but not technical. Many books are too technical and are over my head at this point in my learning. Do you know of a good 101-level book?

I'd like to go take a class, and work would even pay for that, but some of the classes I'm seeing seem to have high-level math prerequisites, and I was an English major. What keywords should I search for? What type of class would be appropriate for me? (I'm in the Boston area.)
posted by woodvine to Technology (7 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Get an O'Reilly book. For example, read the first three chapters of this one.

Routing, subnetting, DNS and the layering of the network are all absolute basics that you do need to know, or nobody will take you seriously.
posted by intermod at 10:16 AM on June 20, 2016

For textbooks, I liked the one by Kurose and the one by Tannenbaum. That was a while ago but eg. TCP/IP hasn't changed much over the decades.
posted by meijusa at 10:28 AM on June 20, 2016

Read the books, yes. But could you also tag along on a deployment? Maybe ask around for who are the techs that are best at explaining things and tag along with them as they get something up and running in the field?

As a caveat, I suspect that the majority of the people who are doing this work would hate to have someone hanging around asking questions, so you have to find the right person.
posted by Betelgeuse at 10:48 AM on June 20, 2016

It might not be exactly what you're looking for, but a lot of the concepts mentioned are explained in this (free) MOOC (massive online open course): Internet History, Technology, and Security. The next session starts July 11th.
posted by Ms. Next at 10:48 AM on June 20, 2016 [1 favorite]

I like Evi Nemeth's "Unix System Administrator's Handbook" - it gives you a strong vocabulary couched in cross-platform terms, and gives you ways to tinker with it. A good Unix or Linux box can do a passable job standing in for any given piece of network hardware, allowing you to tinker to your heart's desire.

From there, a studyguide for a basic cert from Juniper or Cisco would do you no harm.

Essentially, there are four parts to the network:

- Layer 1, which is the cables running between the boxes. This is more involved than one would think, especially once you start taking wireless, optical, POE and virtual networking into account.

- Layer 2, which is how everything cabled together talks to one another in one big, happy local network. Which can be in a number of physical locations scattered around the world. It gets very complicated when you bring in stacking, VLANs, trunking, loop protection, QoS/CoS and the weirdness that is wireless.

- Layer 3, which is how local networks talk to one another to share information. Routing, yes, in dynamic and static flavors, but also firewalls and UTM, site-to-site VPNs, load balancing and high-availability clustering.

- "Higher Up the Stack", content-based security like Web Application or Database or SIP firewalls, "network accelerators", DLP, web proxies - the mysterious bits that cares about what you are using the network for to improve performance or security.

And this is all changing abruptly now that we're either virtualizing networks or replacing traditional routers and switches with SDN (software-defined networking) appliances that identifies traffic and traffic patterns and internetworks systems programatically, or both at once.

Layer 2 and Layer 3 is where most of the attention is spent in creating and maintaining networks.
posted by Slap*Happy at 11:42 AM on June 20, 2016 [1 favorite]

Check out and see if their video courses cover what you need.
posted by Th!nk at 4:20 PM on June 20, 2016

CompTIA is an organisation that administers certifications for various skill sets. Their Network+ certification covers a lot of what you are looking for [pdf]. There are print textbooks and videos available. Basically, if you study for this exam, you will understand the basics of networking. If you elect to take the exam, you will get a certification that proves you know the material.
posted by Multicellular Exothermic at 10:03 PM on June 25, 2016

« Older We want to ride our bicycles!   |   Rambling UK journey between London + Cornwall.... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.