The term “network engineer” might conjure images of a techie who spends most of their days with a computer and the rest of the time reading technical manuals. Network engineers, however, are much more than that. In order to succeed as a network engineer, you must be able to work independently and problem solve with minimal assistance. If you’re reading this article, you probably recognize just how crucial it is for IT professionals to know everything there is to know about networking in today’s digital age. Knowing your own system won’t cut it anymore; instead, you need an in-depth understanding of everything from hardware and security protocols to troubleshooting techniques. The network infrastructure field is one that can easily feel overwhelming if you aren’t prepared for it from the get-go. However, by taking the time to learn about these 10 essential topics before diving into system administration, you’ll be well on your way toward becoming a confident system administrator sooner rather than later!
What is Network infrastructure?
A network infrastructure is the physical hardware that connects the endpoints in a network together. This can include switches, routers, access points, cabling, and even servers. Network engineers often focus on the physical aspects of a network, whereas other IT professionals may focus on the software that runs on the network hardware. A network engineer might be responsible for planning new network infrastructures, troubleshooting problems with a network, or installing new network hardware.
What is System Administration?
System administrators are responsible for both the network and the applications that run on them. They’re often tasked with complex management tasks, including monitoring servers for performance issues, installing software updates, and responding to user complaints. Administrators are most often responsible for the day-to-day operations of an organization’s computers and endpoints, including managing user accounts, managing software on computers and servers, and monitoring performance to ensure that these resources meet the needs of the organization as a whole.
The Domain Name System (DNS) is a system that converts easy-to-remember domain names, such as www.codingthewheel.com, into IP addresses, such as 188.8.131.52. DNS is essential for all websites. Without it, you’d have a pretty big problem when you want to visit www.codingthewheel.com. Essentially, the DNS translates domain names like www.codingthewheel.com into IP addresses like 184.108.40.206. When you type in the IP address, your computer connects to the website. Without DNS, you wouldn’t be able to reach any website! Your computer needs to have a DNS server because it needs to have that server’s IP address so that it can query that server when you type in the www.codingthewheel.com.
A Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol (DHCP) server provides IP addresses to devices on a network so that they don’t need to manually configure their own IP addresses. The DHCP server will assign an IP address to a device and then assign a DHCP flag to tell the device where to go to download the rest of the configuration for the device. This feature is especially useful for setting up a network where many devices need to download DHCP-assigned addresses at once. A DHCP server’s main function, however, is actually for providing dynamic IP addresses to hosts on a network.
VLANs and Switches
A Virtual LAN (VLAN) is a network created within a network that allows for the segregation of network devices, such as servers, based on their physical location in the network. For example, they might be on different switches in the same building. This segregation helps reduce the risk of cross-contamination between devices and allows for more efficient use of network bandwidth. Switches and bridges allow you to create virtual networks between physical devices. Imagine you have four computers in a room. If they’re on different switches, they won’t be able to communicate with each other. If they’re on the same switch, they’ll only be able to communicate with computers on the same switch. For this reason, you might need to use multiple switches to communicate between various rooms. A switch is a network device that allows you to connect two or more devices together without having to run cabling between them.
VPNs and SSH
Virtual private networks (VPNs) are a method for securely connecting two remote computers across a public network, such as the internet. In order for VPNs to work, both computers need to be configured with a VPN client. A secure shell (SSH) is a method of securely connecting one computer to another without using a network. SSH is most often used for remote administration tasks, but it’s also useful for file transfers, code development, and more. A VPN will encrypt all of the traffic that is going between your computer and the internet so that no one can see it. It will create a secure connection between your computer and the internet. This way, only you and the website that you’re visiting are able to see what you’re doing on the internet, which prevents others from viewing your information.
Routers and wireless access points
A router is a network device that functions as a “middleman,” routing and forwarding network traffic between devices. A router can be located on the same network as the devices, or on a separate network. Wireless access points are devices that allow wireless devices, such as laptops or smartphones, to connect to a wired network. Most often, you’ll need a wireless router to connect your wired devices to the internet, and then you can connect your wireless devices to the router.
A firewall is a network device that monitors network traffic and protects the network by blocking or filtering certain types of traffic. Traditional firewalls are often either software or hardware devices that filter or block traffic based on rules set by the IT team. Newer firewalls are often cloud-based services that rely on AI and machine learning to protect networks and devices.
The network infrastructure field is one that can easily feel overwhelming if you aren’t prepared for it from the get-go. Network engineers focus on the physical aspects of a network, whereas system administrators are responsible for both the network and the applications that run on it. Knowing the difference between these two fields can be tricky, so it’s important to take the time to get a good understanding of what each one entails.