An Ideal IT Internetworking Professional
The differences between networking and internetworking can be blurry, but they usually represent a distinctly different area of technical focus and expertise nevertheless. Networking requires a system and network administrator to focus on local networks and how they enable servers to do their jobs, usually at the department or server room level.
Internetworking, on the other hand, deals with the connections among multiple networks; the internetworking professional focuses on wireless networking as well as wide-area networking hardware, tools, and technologies. This is not only a higher-end, more complex sub-area within networking but also where enterprise level backbones, switches, routers, and datacenters come into play. High-end storage area networks (which may use 10 Gb Ethernet with TCP/IP or any of various Fiber Channel implementations for high-end storage access and networking as well) come into play here as well.
An ideal internetworking professional must be thoroughly familiar and comfortable with a long laundry list of core topics and technologies, including:
- High-end networking: A thorough understanding of the sometimes esoteric and expensive high-speed cabling, NICs (including TCP/IP Offload Engines, or TOE, devices of various kinds), routers, switches, and network appliances of all kinds (WAN optimization, content delivery systems, XML engines, etc.). Familiarity with security elements is also important (firewalls, gateways, specialty appliances for email, malware, content filtering, URL filtering, and so forth). Knows how to install, configure, upgrade, maintain and troubleshoot all networking and internetworking elements in use.
- Networking management and operations: Understands how to specify, procure, install, configure, maintain, and troubleshoot emote network services for access to service providers, private networks, VPNs, and other internetwork connections. Also understands technologies from POTS to ATM to accommodate legacy internetworking needs, as well as Carrier Ethernet, metropolitan area networks (MANs), and high-end internetworking technologies such as MPLS. Able to manage ISPs and communications providers, including specification, procurement, installation, configuration, maintenance, updates, and troubleshooting. Has basic knowledge of voice and video over IP, with many positions requiring detailed, hands-on, implementation, maintenance, and troubleshooting skills.
- Internetwork infrastructure management: Understands key internetworking services, including directory and name services, DNS (and possibly WINS), and DHCP, and how these services interact with routers, switches, and other key infrastructure elements. Also knows how to work with element management tools, as well as management consoles and dashboards in use in an enterprise environment, as well as similar tools required to monitor and manage services and links that cross outside interior network boundaries.
- Infrastructure routing and peering: Thorough knowledge of interior and exterior routing protocols such as BGP and EGP, IS-IS, OSPF, and the various forms of RIP. Has a firm understanding of multi-casting, streaming media, and quality of service (service level agreement) issues and technologies, both inside interior networks and in managing complex services across interior/exterior boundaries.
- Internetwork security and integrity: Understands network security and integrity principles, including authentication, security hardware, Kerberos, PKI, and intrusion detection and prevention (IDS/IPS) systems, plus related specialty security appliances of various kinds (spam, malware, content filtering, VPN tunneling). Knows how to specify, procure, install, configure, maintain, upgrade, and troubleshoot related hardware and software elements.
- User services and support: Works with end users and IT professionals to provide appropriate network services, technical training, technical support, capacity planning, deployment support, and needs analysis to make that applications and services delivered meet user and organizational requirements.
In addition to the various general internetworking areas mentioned above, internetworking experts are increasingly involved in work that involves one or more of the following specialty elements:
- Datacenter technology: An increasing number of internetworking experts are being called upon to help or drive design, implementation, management, and operation of enterprise datacenters (or to work with out-of-house providers to outsource such things). This includes high-end server clustering or computer grids, along with high-speed backbone networks and ultra-high-bandwidth Internet connections (especially when redundant or mirrored datacenters are set up to provide failover and hot standby capabilities). At the equipment level, it’s essential to understand everything from server blades to heating/cooling/energy conservation techniques to high-capacity equipment racks and more.
- Storage technology: Datacenters in particular[md]but enterprise operations in general[md]are gluttons for storage. Thorough working knowledge of network attached storage (NAS) and storage area networks (SAN) is essential for anyone with a focus on high-end and high-speed networking, high-volume computing, and datacenter operations. This is another area where exotic and expensive, mostly optical networking media and technologies come into play (10 GbE, Fiber Channel, and so on).
- Voice and Video over IP: Increasingly, organizations are turning to TCP/IP to ferry video, voice, and streaming media traffic as well as more conventional data traffic across their networks. Internetwork experts must be able to integrate such traffic streams into their more usual mix, and design, build, and maintain networks able to handle such loads and deliver on appropriate service levels.
- Cloud computing: Outsourced datacenters or highly distributed services and applications all call for computing to find its way into clouds of distributed servers and services that enterprises and organizations can use for their own computing needs. They may also seek to repackage and resell services to their customers. Internetworking experts generally lead the charge into this emerging area of high-end computing and networking.
In general, internetworking experts will benefit from a combination of technical academic training, supplemented with top-flight technical certifications. This generally means a master’s degree in computer science, computer engineering, MIS, or some other area with a focus on networking and internetworking. On top of a solid academic platform, interested IT professionals can follow vendor certification paths to gain top-level credentials like the Cisco Certified Internetwork Expert or CCIE. (Note: alternative credentials are available from major switch/router vendors such as Juniper, F5, HP, and so forth, as well as from companies such as Nortel/Avaya or Lucent/Alcatel.)
In the world of internetworking, the CCIE remains the gold standard by which all other certifications must be judged. It’s no coincidence that in addition to the core switching and routing component of this certification, the CCIE now comes with specializations that include voice, security, service provider and service provider operations, storage, and wireless networking technologies. CCIE is the capstone of the certification ladder for IT professionals interested in networking; this career path ensures interesting work, high pay, and life on the cutting edge of tools and technologies.