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I am currently attending college and since I haven't gotten real far yet, I haven't had a chance to play around with networking equipment and experiment. I know hands on is always better but I think messing around with a Network Simulator would be cool also. Does anyone know of a good network sim that would help me learn how networking equipment works together. Thanks in advance.

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5 Answers 5

up vote 3 down vote accepted

You say "hands on is better". I would take that further and say that "simulation without hands on is bad".

You really need to get your hands dirty plugging and unplugging cables, watching lights, and generally learning about networking starting at layer-1 and working your way up. When you get to working with abstract concepts that you can't "see", like VLANs, dynamic routing protocols, etc, you'll have already developed your abstract thinking to the point that it won't matter that you can't "see" these things. In the beginning, though, I think that it's essential that you develop a physical understanding in how basic networking concepts work.

Equipment isn't overly expensive, and you might find that there are some people in your school who already have equipment and would be willing to share with you or work together with you.

Some activities need no equipment at all. You should be able to verbally describe the basic operation of an Ethernet bridge, an IP router, a dynamic routing protocol, etc. They're all based on very simplistic logic, but understanding that logic allows you to troubleshoot in situations where other, non-understanding, technicians fall flat.

A simulation w/o a good basic understanding of what's going on, physically, isn't going to make you better. You're likely going to end up being one of those people who knows a single vendor's configuration interface, doesn't understand protocols at an operational level, and ends up being useless when you fall outside your "comfort zone" and training.

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Thanks for the quick answer. I have basic networking knowledge. I took a Network+ class last semester. Although that isn't really the answer I was looking for, I understand that your probably right. –  MaxDPS Jun 26 '09 at 2:24
    
I know this is an old post and EA obviously doesnt need the points, but its great advice and is well-written. So +1. –  cop1152 Jan 9 '10 at 13:10

One of the problems you face is what do you mean by "network" and what is it you want to learn? It's not quite as simple as you might imagine. For some a network is the physical stuff, the cables and devices. For others it's more about what passes through it.

For the physical side it's hard to go past using real equipment but you do need to consider that different makes and models of equipment will give you different problems. If you can't get hold of the physical devices you might consider running a few virtual machines (if your computer is up to it) and simulate your own network. You can easily create an entire test lab on a single physical computer.

If you are more interested in network protocols and such there are any number of protocol analyzers available. Like most people I use Wireshark. Again, you can use that on a network comprised of virtual machines.

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Wow, I hadn't thought of creating virtual machines to act as a network. Ill have to look into how that works. Great idea. Thanks. –  MaxDPS Jun 26 '09 at 18:58

You might be able to find a few older switches that you could buy for cheap. I just looked at eBay and there are a variety of hp switches available for not too much money. You could get three or four managed switches and play with vlans and monitoring.

Be sure to hook the switches into a loop at some point and watch what happens...

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Im probably going to end up doing that. Thanks. What happens? Are they going to blow up? haha –  MaxDPS Jun 26 '09 at 3:41
    
If they do blow up, you get to keep the pieces! smile Seriously, though, a lot of "networking professionals" couldn't tell you what would happen. (I can, but I'm not going to spoil it for you.) Experiment, set goals, and have a good time. If you can get your mind wrapped around VLANs, for example, you'll be head and shoulders above a lot of the low-level network techs that I've run into in my life. (BTW-- you said "Network+" above. You know what the looped switches will do-- you just haven't thought about it yet. smile) –  Evan Anderson Jun 26 '09 at 4:35
    
Evan mentioned watching the lights in his answer above, and the lights do something very noticeable when you create a loop. (I did it once and lived to tell the tale...) –  Ward Jun 26 '09 at 6:35

There is a network simulator available for free: NS2

I should add that my experience was not very positive. It is not user friendly.

There is also an emulator for cisco routers that is pretty cool: dynamips

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Cisco PacketTracer is a good program for exploring and creating and understanding networks. It is not free, however it may be included on supplementary CDs when purchasing a networking textbook.

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