Cisco Routers for the Small Business

I’ve held jobs with small businesses and large enterprises. There are a few things that I’ve observed about small businesses that are probably true for many of them. The first would be that often wages for technical positions are lower than at the bigger shops, but so is the bar to entry. That often means employees have less experience. At the same time, in a smaller shop, people are often called upon to wear many hats. I spent about 5 years with one company where I was lead developer, the only DBA and the system administrator for all our Linux servers. Our team was small and all of us had complete access to pretty much everything. It was a great opportunity to learn. The one thing I never did get into too deeply was networking, things had to be pretty bad for them to pull me in on a problem in that area. When we needed to make changes to our Cisco routers we brought in a guy from outside. I wish Cisco Routers for the Small Business had been around then. I think we’d have been able to save quite a bit of money and I’d have learned quite a bit more about networking.

The author, Jason Neumann, is the owner of a small networking company in Anchorage, Alaska. He has quite a few years of experience in working with small businesses. His practical experience has resulted in a book that is itself extremely focused and practical. Apress calls it a guide, it could also be accurately described as an extended tutorial or another popular term with tech books recently, a cookbook. I see this as a real strength as one is not paying for a bunch of pages filled with indirectly related material. At the same time, potential readers need to understand that this is not networking book. It is a users guide for Cisco 800 series and SOHO routers. The author highly recommends having a spare one on hand to use. The instructions and examples will work on this equipment, but not on routers built by another company, or even Cisco routers built for larger environments. As I said, the focus is tight, but for people in the right environment this means on target help with little to get in the way of putting things immediately to work.

The table of contents breaks down exactly what the book covers in great detail. (That will take you to a page with a link to a pdf of the table. I have no idea why, but that’s how they do it.) The first four chapters cover the basics. The first and second chapters handle connecting and configuring including items like the LAN interface, DHCP server, WAN interface, NAT, the firewall and configuring a basic DMZ. Every chapter ends with a summary. These summaries are a nice resource as they still give the example steps that apply to each section but do so with less explanation. This means that going back to refresh on a section does not require working through the full initial explanation but just hopping back to the summary. Someone who already has some experience with networking and these routers could also use this section as a reference if they don’t need all of the supporting material.

Chapter 5 is entitled “Beyond the Basics” and as one would expect moves into things that get a little more technical. That said, I am not sure I wouldn’t have lumped chapter 5 in with the first four. Most everything in it is still important and not the kind of thing that one would want to blow off as more advanced and not necessary in a smaller environment. In fact a couple items, creating a local user, and setting up SSH are items that I would probably have liked to see in the first or second chapter. Recovering lost passwords and backing things up are also extremely important and eminently practical. Chapter 6 is a bit different as it is probably the most generic in the book. It is a tutorial on subnetting. Everything covered is related to IPv4. Chapter 7 covers routing protocols and focuses on RIP. Chapter 8 is about Variable Length Subnet Masking. Neumann explains that understanding this is necessary to gaining CCNA certification. Reading through it, I can imagine situations where it could be useful in a small business but it seems more applicable to larger environments.

I’m still no networking expert. This is much more of a practical tool on how to get the most from a specific type of hardware. But I did gain some good general knowledge in the process. I work in a larger environment now and was able to have one of our network guys look the book over. He was impressed at the depth of coverage and how thorough the instructions are. As he said, “If you just open this up and follow each step exactly it will take you through most everything you need to know.” He was also impressed with how current the book is and how much it covered in such a short amount of space.

There are 5 indices that follow the 8 chapters. They include many more samples as well as a CLI command reference. The first chapter shows how to set up Hyper Terminal on a Windows machine and all examples are given from a CLI environment. Neuman does point *nix users towards possible commands, but seems to assume that they’ll know what to do to get connected. Other than setting up Hyper Terminal the only other time examples include screen shots of a GUI are the section on logging and setting up the Kiwi syslog daemon.

So I would say, if you are someone in a small business that is using or looking to use Cisco 800 series equipment, you may really want to look at picking up this book. The person who already knows Cisco and their IOS well may find it to be a great quick reference. The IT guy who doesn’t have that experience, but has responsibility for getting things working and keeping them that way will most likely really appreciate this helpful guide. I highly recommend this well written and practical book written for hardware that is sure to be around for some time to come.

Title: Cisco Routers for the Small Business
Author: Jason C. Neumann
Publisher: Apress
Pages: 269
ISBN: 978-1-4302-1851-7
Rating: 9/10
Tagline: Securely configure Cisco’s 800 and SOHO series routers using IOS – Cisco’s powerful Internetwork Operating System.

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