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Amy Arnold
Amy Arnold Network Computing Blogger

Book Review: CCNA Data Center Study Guide

New book is good preparation for the Cisco 640-911 exam but also provides a thorough and interesting explanation of network fundamentals.

In a fortuitous set of circumstances, my copy of "CCNA Data Center--Introducing Cisco Data Center Networking Study Guide" by Todd Lammle and John Swartz arrived just days before I jetted off to Cisco Live, where I would attempt the 640-911 exam on a whim. I pre-ordered this book for two reasons: One, my current day job has me much more involved in data center issues than I have ever been; and two, I’ve heard Todd Lammle speak.

I sat in the audience of a Dallas/Fort Worth Cisco Users Group meeting months ago, listening as Lammle gave an engaging and forward-looking talk on networking. I was instantly a fan of his ideas and presentation style. I had never heard the case for IPv6 made in a more stimulating and vibrant way.

The "CCNA Data Center Study Guide" doesn’t disappoint from either a content or style perspective. Having passed the CCIE Routing and Switching written exam in March, I worried that much of the material would cover the basics and therefore be a chore to read. That’s not the case. Lammle's and Swartz’s conversational writing makes network fundamentals interesting, even thoughtful. Personally, I plan to borrow (with due credit, of course) some of their explanations of networking basics when teaching green interns.

I found the chapters on Nexus to be the most helpful because I haven’t dealt with that technology much in the last few years. However, I also enjoyed the information on routing protocols, spanning-tree basics and ACLs, even if covered on a CCNA (Cisco Certified Network Associate) level. This book makes a clear effort not to just present facts that must be memorized, but rather to present foundational concepts in such a way that future data center network engineers will be able to build on them successfully.

[Cisco recently unveiled additions to its Nexus product line. Get the details in "Cisco Announces New Nexus 770 and Fabric Architecture."]

For example, in the sections covering Layer 2 switching versus Layer 3 routing, the authors describe in non-painful detail the importance of the default gateway MAC address. They outline the switching process, the routing process and what MAC addresses will look like when the packet reaches its destination. They also explain why it matters, in a way accessible to beginners who are still trying to nail down the fundamentals. I wish I could say the same of many of the textbooks I read at the beginning of my networking career.

I’m sure the target audience for this book will have less routing and switching knowledge than I’ve accumulated over the years, and those individuals will definitely want to spend more time practicing and soaking in the details Lammle and Swartz cover.

Yes, I did pass the exam, but I am sure that the result could have been different if subnetting, hexadecimal-to-binary conversions, ACLs and the like were not old hat to me.

I highly encourage anyone looking to take the exam to review all the practice questions in the chapter reviews and to complete the hands-on exercises; it will pay off during exam time. Even if you’re not planning on taking this particular exam, this book is still a great resource if you are just getting started in the industry or know someone who is.

Amy Arnold, CCNP/DP/Voice, currently works as an engineer in the public sector with a focus on all things networking. You can follow her on Twitter at @amyengineer.



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