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Monday, June 30, 2014

Adsense.... I Did It

So I got approved for Google AdSense. I really wavered for quite a while on whether I should burden my dear readers with ads, but I've been writing on here for a couple of years now and I figured I might as well get something out of this aside from the great feeling that I'm helping my fellow sysadmins.

So, click on some ads, and help me buy some lab gear if you are so inclined. I'm still going to post whether it makes me money or not.

Adventures in My Lab

I just wanted to post (brag, heh) about the lab setup that I've created. I have VMware workstation set up and I've created an internal (Host Only) network containing pretty much every Microsoft OS since DOS 6.22 in it. I'm tempted to get my old SpitFire BBS (I'm a packrat) set up, which I ran on a 2400 baud modem at night back in junior high, but I don't have the slightest clue on how I would simulate modem communication, and frankly I have better things to do. Booting into Windows for Workgroups 3.11 was definitely a trip! I've also go Windows 95, 96, ME, 2000, 2003, 2008R2 (with MS SQL), and 2012 R2 for kicks. All of them are networked except for the DOS 6.22 VM. Also, I have a Kali Linux VM set up so that I can look into the security pen-testing world, which mainly consists of NMap, Wireshark, and MetaSploit at this point. I was a little sad when I ran Armitage (which is a graphical front-end for MetaSploit noobs like me) against my ancient Windows 3.11 and 95 boxes and it didn't come back with any detected exploits, but I am assuming that MetaSploit probably doesn't contain modules for antique OSes out of the box. I was so expecting to see the Ping of Death available for my entertainment!

I set up a Linux Mint 17 VM in bridged mode that I've been using as much as possible for my day-to-day computer use, in order to get used to using Linux for normal tasks. Dropbox helps me keep a running list of handy commands for reference that I can access from any of my other boxes. My plans are to get this machine on my work domain so that I can start playing with Samba and learn how to use Linux as a file server. I'm following the LPIC-1 curriculum now that I've wrapped up a great YouTube series by TutoriaLinux on the generalities of Linux. I am definitely getting more comfortable using the terminal and I now better understand the uses of the various folders in the Linux filesystem. Looks like I'll be spending a lot of time in /etc (configuration files) and /var (logs) going forward.

On the Cisco front, I've acquired a copy of Cisco Packet Tracer, which is an amazing learning tool. I've managed to use the clients, switches, and routers within it to create a functional Cisco network and have gotten used to at least some of the commands used to provision Cisco devices. I'm now able to bring ports up and down and configure some of the basic security and connectivity options like console and enable passwords, timeouts, and telnet channels. So far so good. I've also acquired GNS3, which uses Dynamips to boot actual Cisco IOS images to do simulations, but at this point in my education (about a third of the way through the CBT Nuggets CCENT course) it's pretty advanced and I'm holding off until I know what I'm doing a little more.

My strategy is to use the CCENT curriculum as a vehicle to expand my understanding of network functionality. My next step depends on my employer. We currently use an ASA, so a CCNA: Security seems like a worthwhile pursuit, especially given my interest in network security. We're shopping for a VoIP solution, and if we go with a Cisco implementation, then I'll head down the CCNA: Voice path instead.  I feel like branching out into Voice would be more useful to my career and add a new area of expertise where there was once only a hatred of phones and telephony in general. If for some reason neither of those pan out, or look like they won't serve my current employer well, then I'll just continue on with the CCNA: Routing and Switching as a fallback.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Starting my Journey - Bonus: Resetting Cisco Routers/Switches to Factory

I've been eagerly watching the CBT Nuggets CCENT training videos, and so far I'm loving it. TCP/IP networking is like fricking magic! It's complicated, but it makes a lot of sense. I have been looking at Wireshark captures and already found some interesting things occuring on the network. Did you know that if Dropbox is installed on a computer, it sends out ARP broadcasts every 30 seconds looking for other DropBox installations? It's called "Dropbox LAN Sync Discovery Protocol".

In other fun news, in VMware Workstation I successfully go Windows 3.11 for Workgroups, Windows 95, and Windows 98 talking to each other over TCP. Just because. :)

After some more introspection, I have decided that it's very good that I'm getting into networking with the CCENT. I might even go farther than that. When you get right down to it, IT is all about the DATA. Up to this point (and I don't see this changing soon - I'm just branching out), I have dealt mainly with presenting the data to the employees. Email, file shares, whatever. But I got to thinking: what are the core things that need to be done with data? Data needs to be:

  • Copied (backed up)
  • Secured (ensure CIA: confidentiality, integrity, accessibility)
  • Transmitted (Networking)
  • Converted into information (Monitoring, reporting, database mining)
  • Stored (SANs, DAS, etc)

I figure, the closer I get to the core functions of the DATA, the better my job prospects will be, in my opinion.

Work had some old Cisco gear laying around that I can use, so I now have at my disposal:

1 Cisco Catalyst 3550 switch
1 Cisco 2600 router with 2x WIC 1DSU-T1 cards (ports look like cat5/6 - do they take something special or can I plug an ethernet cable in there?)
2 Cisco 1841 routers each with 1 WIC 1DSU-T1 V2 card.

I managed to hunt down instructions on how to reset them and have done the needful. Here are the instructions I collated and tested (as much for my reference as yours!):

Resetting the Cisco 1841 and 2600 routers to factory:

  1. Make sure router is powered off
  2. Connect console cable, and bring up putty in the correct COM port
  3. Boot router
  4. Send the break command (right-click on the window bar and choose special command->break)
  5. type confreg 0x2142
  6. type reset
  7. Once the router reboots (say no to initial config dialog), enter enable mode, then type reload
  8. Once the router reboots (say no to initial config dialog), enable, and conf t
  9. type config-register 0x2102
  10. type exit to get back to enable mode
  11. type write memory
  12. type reload

Resetting the Cisco Catalyst 3550 to factory:

  1. Connect the console cable to the switch and start your terminal program (HyperTerminal/Secure CRT). Console port settings are 9600,8,N,1
  2. Hold the MODE button (on the front of the switch) while you power on the switch.
  3. Hold the MODE button for a few seconds until you the System light stop flashing.
  4. At this point, the switch should be in ROMmon mode. 
  5. From ROMmon mode, type: flash_initStep 
  6. From ROMmon mode, type: delete flash:config.textStep 
  7. From ROMmon mode, type: boot

Monday, June 16, 2014

Getting a little too..... comfortable.....

After two years this month at my post, I've finally got this environment running as well as I possibly can. I've got a reliable SAN behind a solid VMware cluster, and I've got the environment automated and monitored to the nth degree. Time to sit down and rest on my laurels, right? WRONG.

Now is the time to look around and see what I can learn to either make my environment better, or to make me a better sysadmin.

I'm learning Linux, but that's going to be an ongoing thing that's going to take lots of gradual doing for me to get comfortable with. I have a dedicated Kali Linux laptop that I use every opportunity I have to step outside of the Windows world. I am also doing security stuff (hence using Kali Linux) as I can, but again that's a long, slow slog; not something you pick up a book and learn all of over the course of a couple of months.

I'm finally in the process of learning to write T-SQL statements and turn a big pile of data into information that my department can use to make better decisions. I've wanted to learn T-SQL for the longest time, but could never get interested enough in the data to write my own questions, which is how I learn best. Sales and marketing data never piqued my interest, but give me some helpdesk and inventory data, and I'm MOTIVATED! We run Spiceworks, and it dumps a ton of data into a SQLite database. I discovered that I can use the SQLite Database Browser to mount an offline copy of the Spiceworks database and start working with the data. My biggest challenge right now is understanding JOIN statements. This is giving me a headache. This is the last hurdle I need to clear before I can write a Powershell script to start pulling out some nice monthly helpdesk reports for my manager.

Besides these, I'm going to start some more structured learning. For a little while there, I had come to the conclusion that I wasn't going to play the certification game anymore. I have real projects and a decade now of real experience under my belt, so why bother? After analyzing things, I changed my mind. I want to learn x, y, and z. Why NOT go through a structured curriculum and seize the reward at the other side of the journey? I'd almost be a fool not to get certified after learning the subject material. With that in mind.....

One of my weaknesses has always been networking, and I want a better understanding of it. Not only am I the network admin's backup, but it will come in handy if I decide to move my SAN/VMware backend to 10Gb ethernet. I'd like to start working on some VMware certifications down the road, and this is definitely my weakest subject. I got my Network+ and went through a Cisco CCNA course like, 8 years ago, but the knowledge has faded over time. Also, I don't fully understand VLANs, and that bothers me. CCENT here I come!

I'm not sure if I'll continue on the CCNA track because we don't run Cisco gear, but I'm finding that CCENT is a thorough gauge for understanding the fundamentals of networking, and the subject matter is quite in-depth. I just completed CBT modules on Layer 2 communication via ARP and the TCP 3-way handshake; fascinating stuff! We have an ASA, so maybe the CCNA Security track is viable. I get 3 years to figure it out before my CCENT expires, so I'll mull it over.

Following up on that cert, which I hope to complete in a couple of months, I might as well upgrade my MCITP: Server 2008 Enterprise Administrator cert to the 2012 versions. I have deployed a couple of 2012 servers so far, so I might as well. It took too much work to get my MCSE:Security on 2003, and then upgrade it to 2008, for me to let it whither on the vine....

After I complete those, I'll step back and see what's what. VMware looks enticing; I've already taken two of their classes, so I figure I might as well get the paper to back them up. I've had my eye on a SQL administration (not dev) cert for a while now, and have learned a lot about backups, database structure, and maintenance in the past year. Veeam has a new certification program that also look interesting to me.

A couple of other subjects that look interesting to me are Project Management and Storage. I see CompTIA has entry level certs for both of those. I don't really need to get heavily involved, so these look like low-hanging fruit after I brush up on the basics of these subjects.

I want to learn how to use a couple of apps that have intrigued me for a long time, but that I just never had time to learn: Wireshark (which will actually help me along quite nicely with my CCENT) and Windows Remote Desktop Services. Frankly, I'm not too jazzed about Windows RDS. I've managed Terminal Servers in the past, and I loathe them. That said, 2012 looks like it might have made the RDS situation a little easier to use, so I'll probably look into it. I might even be able to help my employer save some money on software licensing. I'm looking at you, Adobe Acrobat. Fifteen people need to sporadically use your software, and only the professional version will suffice, of course. Maybe an RDS server is the answer....

As you can see, I'm really excited about a lot of different technologies right now. I'll write when I can. :)