PCNA Course 1 - Essentials: Build Your First Network

Taking the First Session of Pakedge's Certified Network Administrator Online Training Program
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The Pakedge Certified Network Administrator (PCNA) training is designed to help integrators gain a more complete understanding of networking basics, design, and configuration, and by combining both physical network devices and online certification content, class participants will learn to design, install, and manage small to medium-sized wired and wireless IP networks.

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Course 1 - Let's Get One Thing Straight - control4

The first class starts off with this simple mission statement: “Let’s get one thing straight. Most people think their network sucks. Pakedge created PCNA to help us to make networks that DON’T suck.”

The overall series of classes is designed to help you design, install, configure, and manage networks that just work, and within the first five minutes of the first class, you will have built a network using the Pakedge hardware that was sent when you registered for the training. This includes an RK-1 router, SX-8P managed POE switch, WK-1 wireless access point, P2/P2E Power Distribution Unit, and the necessary Cat-6 cabling. 

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Much of this first class will seem basic and remedial to many experienced techs, but it is by no means a cakewalk. In fact, there are several sections that cover less-familiar ground and include information that is quite technical, no matter how many networks you have configured. The last section of the near 2.5-hour class is especially fast and furious, and I STRONGLY ADVISE you to take notes on this section to prepare for the 20-question test that follows the first lesson. Not to “shame” my business partner, but he attended the week-long CEDIA advanced networking course over a year ago, and I had him take Pakedge’s end-of-course exam cold (without viewing the training), and he failed. I also failed on my first attempt (but nailed a 100% on the second try.)

The class is presented with a variety of videos, animations, and slides. The animation style is reminiscent of whiteboard drawings, with each section accompanied by a running commentary explaining what you are learning in that section.

The first thing I learned was that the center of your network is the switch, NOT the router. This has to do with the way network layers work (which you’ll learn about at the end of course one) and that the switch is what connects all devices on a local network together — receiving processing and forwarding data. The router actually allows computers on the local area network (LAN) and on different networks — the Wide Area Network (WAN) — to communicate. See that? You’re already learning!

There are several interactive activities throughout the class where you’ll place the networking components where they should go in a system, look up network settings on your computer, and learn where to find advanced settings like DNS serving in the Pakedge router. For the technician that’s really green to networking, the class does a nice job of showing you where and how to find this information — even breaking down Mac OS X versus Windows. I honestly had no idea how to find this information on a Mac as I never use them.

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Course 1 - Let's Review - control4

The majority of the first class concerns itself with the four biggies of networking: IP addresses, Subnet Mask, Default Gateway, and DNS Server. The overview gives you a good understanding of exactly what is happening on the network inside your home and how data gets in and out of your local network. You learn how Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol (DHCP) works and what it does and how to configure a router to increase the IP address range to accommodate devices.

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You learn how binary numbers work, how to calculate the binary value of an IP address, and why the IP address is 32 bits and divided into four 8-bit octets. This becomes important when learning about subnet masking, which helps devices determine if they are on the same network.

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Course 1 - Subnet Mask Slider - control4

While the basic subnet of can support up to 254 devices (or “hosts”) on a network, this might not be enough for a large project. The course explains how subnet masking determines the maximum number of IP addresses on a network, why is a valid subnet but is not, and how it can be used to increase the size of a network, allowing up to 65,534 devices on a local network!

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The final section of the first class discusses the Open Systems Interconnection (OSI) Reference Model, which explains the seven layers that computers use to communicate over the network. This section piles on information fast and furious, all of it totally new to me, and definitely rewards notetaking! You’ll learn how MAC addresses work and how they facilitate communication between devices on the network, about Address Resolution Protocol, application layer data, software ports, headers and trailers, encapsulation, etc.

The class concludes with a 20-question quiz that requires a passing score of 80 percent to move on. Fortunately, you can retake the test — and go through the class — as often as you need to, or jump to specific sections for review.

Now, it’s on to Course 2!