“Do Said Skills Pay The Bills?”

“Do said skills pay the bills?” -Professor Hubert Farnsworth

That data center landscape is changing rapidly. If you’re a network admin, you’re dealing with server stuff you never thought you’d have to put up with. If you’re a server admin, there’s all this networking stuff that you can’t ignore anymore. If you’re storage-oriented, Fibre Channel is about to jump onto an Ethernet network near you, or you’ll find your storage connecting via iSCSI.

We all need additional skills.

So where do we start? I have a few suggestions.

Networking Admins

If you’re a networking admin, I’d start looking at virtualization as soon as possible. If you can get your employer to pay for it, I recommend getting the VCP certification from VMware (which requires taking a VMware class). While there are other virtualization technologies out there, VMware has about 90% of the server virtualization market and it’s a good foundation for virtualization technology in general.  The VMware training is generally excellent, and the VCP (currently VCP4) is a good certification to have in the industry.

Also, look into setting up your own home lab running the free version of ESXi, or some other virtualization technology such as Xen or Hyper-V, both which can be obtained free (I think that’s the case for Hyper-V).

Also, Linux. Learn Linux. From Juniper to Cisco’s Nexus to Arista to most of the routers and switches coming out are based on Linux (or one of the BSDs, but the skills are very transferable).  Plus, most of the virtualization technologies are based on Linux. So yeah, Linux.

Server Admins

If you’re a server admin, you really, really need to learn some networking. Specifically, Ethernet switching.  You’ll also need to learn IPv4 and IPv6, TCP behavior (like sliding windows) and the HTTP protocol.  Fortunately routing protocols isn’t something you’ll typically need to deal with, even today.

Cisco’s CCNA exam is a good start. It’s tough for a server admin (I failed my first attempt so bad I thought John Chambers was going to get a phone call), but it fills in a lot of blanks about networking.

You can play with routers using GNS3, a graphical front end for a Cisco IOS router emulator called DynaMIPs/Dynagen (you need to provide your own copy of an IOS router image).

A cohort at Firefly Communications Chris Welsh has put together an Ubuntu-based virtual machine that has GNS3 already pre-installed and ready to go and can be found on his site rednetctar.net.

Always Be Learning

Podcasts and webinars are a great way to brush up and expand skills.  A couple of months ago I found the fantastic Packet Pushers Podcast, and I’ve listened to just about every episode (and some, like the episode on Shortest Path Bridging, a multi-path Layer 2 protocol to replace Spanning Tree Protocol, several times).

Ivan Pepelnjak at ioshints.info has a great blog, very technical, and also a series of webinars you can purchase (I bought the year subscription for $199, and it’s already paid for itself in brain filling goodness).

And I’m amazed how fantastic Twitter is for keeping up with technical stuff. Starting off with myself and @etherealmind and moving from there is a great way to branch out.

If you’re comfortable in the traditional silo’d environment, prepare to be uncomfortable very soon. There’s no turning back. Time to get more skillz.

I’d love to hear any other tips, resources, sites, etc., that you would suggest for the overlord conversions.

One Response to “Do Said Skills Pay The Bills?”

  1. Jrab66 says:

    I find your blog, by error finding info in the CCNA datacenter cert, great advice by the way.

    do you recommend the datacenter cert for any sysadmin or only for cisco appliances in datacenters admins?.

    greetings from El salvador

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