|Cisco Networking Simplified|
|author||Paul Della Maggiora, Jim Doherty|
|reviewer||Michael Bennett Cohn|
|summary||Networking terminology and concepts for novices.|
This book is clearly written for two types of people: executives from a non-technical background who get flustered when speaking to network engineers, and networking novices looking for a friendly introduction to the subject before they begin serious study for, say, the CCNA.
When I first opened Cisco Networking Simplified, I was a bit put off by the intensity with which I felt the authors and illustrator were trying to convince me just how down-to-earth they are. The organization of the book is such that it's so easy to flip through, the pithy explanations so easy to digest, that one might grow quickly suspicious that here is a book designed more to make the reader feel at ease than to actually teach her anything.
But one would be wrong. CNS is a good basic reference book. It's short because it sticks to the essentials. It's weirdly-inked illustrations do make the concepts clearer. And the friendly tone never gets smarmy. On the contrary, Maggiora and Doherty anticipate a newcomer's reaction to the material well enough to know when to be terse, and when to insert whimsical asides. The unofficial eighth (political) and ninth (technical religion) layers of the OSI model and the use of ISDN to mean It Still Does Nothing are fun tidbits, well-placed, and perhaps even useful as mnemonic devices. The paragraph explaining that "routers switch and switches route," is appropriately illustrated with two people scratching their heads. That the authors make room for "Algorhyme," Radia Perlman's poem describing the Spanning Tree Algorithm (which she also wrote), shows that they know the difference between cute and distracting, and cute and relevant.
There are some problems, though. For example, the discussion of classful addresses is outdated. The class A, B, and C system is presented as the solution to a problem caused by unanticipated Internet growth. That may have once been true, but now the time when the class system was itself perceived as the next wave of that problem has already come and gone (gone, because outside isolated or masqueraded networks, class addressing has been replaced with CIDR). An executive who reads this book and then asks his engineers whether the company has been assigned a class A, B, or C address isn't going to get a lot of respect. A more serious problem is the confusing definition of the term DCE. On page 209, it's "data circuit-terminating device." On page 210, it's "data communications equipment." The first definition is more popular according to a google search, but makes less sense (where does the "E" come from?). Perhaps both definitions are somehow valid, but in a book like this, it shouldn't be the reader's job to figure out which one. And ISDN gets two detailed pages with illustrations, while the more popular (in the U.S.) DSL gets little more than a paragraph.
Also, to call this book Cisco Networking Simplified is not really accurate. A better title might have been: Cisco Presents: Networking Simplified. Cisco has no special claim to, say, IP addressing, which is discussed in some detail. Of course, to write a basic networking book without discussing IP would be silly, and Cisco makes a lot of products that deal with IP addressing. But so do a lot of other companies.
In short, I recommend this book (three of five stars), but with caveats. Technically-minded people who already have some experience in the networking field will probably be put off by the coloring book look-and-feel (but then, it wasn't written for them). Novices who are reading this book as the first step on their way to certification may find that, ironically, it provides much more information on certain subjects (voice over IP, for example) than may be sought. It's hard to imagine anyone reading this book straight through of their own volition: it's a beginner's reference. If you're confused by a topic as it's dealt with in another networking book, you can be fairly sure that if CNS covers that topic, then it contains the simplest explanation of that topic that you're likely to find.
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