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I'm looking for the best books/websites to learn network administration. While I have a good handle on some topics, my learning is very adhoc and I'd like something that covers all the basics from a fairly beginner level.

One of our two network admins is leaving and I've been assigned to take on his duties since we can't afford to hire anyone "in this economy". The other guy will be available to teach me but I want to have a foundation so I don't waste his time with the basics.

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10 Answers 10

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"Practice of System and Network Administration", by Limoncelli, Hogan and Chalup. More important than the technical skills (which aren't hard to learn and which change frequently anyway), this book teaches you the crucial soft skills. Every sysadmin at the company I work at has a copy on their desk.

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  • +1. Currently reading this book, and can't recommend it enough. Aug 4 '09 at 2:31
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I would start out with purchasing the Cisco CCENT books and cover the core of switching and routing. The official Cisco books are pretty good for leaning the material and will give you a solid foundation, even if you don't ever want the certifications.

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I liked the Sybex CCNA guide. Even though it is Cisco oriented it approaches the fundamentals well. Learning to think about the different layers of the stack as OSI level model approaches them is very important, as is learning the protocols. I can't stress enough how important theoretical knowledge is in networking in my opinion.

Lastly, although maybe a bit more "hard-core", TCP/IP Illustrated is a classic, and Stevens is one of the greatest authors of computer books of all time.

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Make a backup

The number one best thing you can do -- better than anything else -- is keep backups. If you do nothing else; hire a consultant to come in and audit your backups to make sure they are tight; and train you how to manage them. It shouldnt cost more than ~$400 (4*100/hr), and will be worth its weight in gold.

If you have a support contract with a vendor (Symantec Backup Exec?) you can call them for this as well. If nothing else -- be anal about what you record. Keep track of everything you do. It will help whoever you have to bring in to fix something big; or the eventual hire.

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I'm looking for the best books/websites to learn network administration.

This one (https://serverfault.com/). :)

Sort the questions by votes and start reading the questions, and then lookup things you don't understand.

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make a backup ;-)

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  • and document everything
    – xyz
    Aug 4 '09 at 11:42
  • and monitor everything
    – RickyA
    Sep 18 '13 at 14:22
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Reading is great, but make sure you supplement any learning with real experience. You have the benefit of deciding to learn at a time when virtualization is solid and free. Get the free VMware Server software running at home, and set up a virtual network.

Get trial versions of the software you use at work, and practice backing up and restoring the software.

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If you've got some spare computers at home you can try setting up, from scratch, a mini version of what you've got running at work. If you know that at work you use Windows 2003 server at work, see if they have a spare license you can borrow and try installing it and setting it up as a domain controller at home. If you use VPNs at work, try setting some up at home. You should be able to pick up some cheap managed switches for $20-$50 and create some reasonably complex networks between them.

Use sites like this to search for and ask questions as they come to you. If you want an ad-hoc basics approach to learning, trying to re-implement features at work from scratch at home is going to get you those basics and it's going to ensure they're relevant.

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I would strongly suggest taking a base level network course like Global Knowledge's ICND (Interconnecting Network Devices).

Not to soapbox for them, but I've taken several GK courses, and other than the CSSOC, I've been very happy with them. The only problem I had with the CSSOC class was that it was very very CSS centric and I run CSMs =)

If your network encompasses more than a couple of stack switches, then at the very, absolute, barest minimum, you must know, in detail:

  1. the first 4 layers of the OSI model
  2. how layer 2 works, including spanning tree and how it works
  3. if you're responsible for routing, then you must know how layer 3 and the routing protocols that your company uses (OSPF, EIGRP, RIP, etc...)
  4. broadcast domains, VLANs, trunking
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Network Warrior is a decent introduction to actual admin work. It goes through STP/VLANs/Trunking and the like, as well as routing, access lists, and all the other things you're likely to have to deal with day to day. It's worth noting that it is very cisco centric however. Similar to this but more basic, Sybex's CCNA study guide is relatively good, but again only really useful if you're working with Cisco gear.

I'd echo the recommendation to read TCP/IP Illustrated, mostly volume one and three.

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