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.