Review of Managing IP Networks with Cisco Routers

Managing IP Networks with Cisco Routers
Scott M. Ballew
O'Reilly & Associates

Reviewed by Nick Christenson,

December 6, 1997

Today, one can go to any well stocked technical bookstore and easily find dozens of books on just about every hot Internet topic, be it Java programming, WWW site construction, ATM, Linux, or what have you. However, practical information on Internet routing is a topic that has strangely received little attention, especially since personnel with skills in deploying and maintaining routing systems are among the most sought after in today's job market. Finally, a few books have hit the market to begin to close this gap. This book is one of these.

Unlike Chris Lewis' Cisco TCP/IP Routing Professional Reference, Scott Ballew's Managing IP Networks with Cisco Routers is not really a tutorial on configuring routers, this attempts to be more of a source of experience and wisdom in designing networks, selecting routing protocols, and then maintaining the whole system. It succeeds admirably in this regard.

The book starts with an introduction to the basics of IP networking, as one would expect. This is a good introduction and manages to cover nicely the debate over whether one should use IP addresses provided by an IP registry or ISP, or whether one should use RFC 1918 reserved addresses. For IP veterans, there's nothing new here, but that's not who it's for.

The next two chapters, covering network design, provide excellent information and advice for those who are looking to make their networks more maintainable, as well as for those who are designing a network from scratch. It's apparent that the author has considerable experience in doing this, and one would be well advised to follow his advice.

After this, Ballew covers recommendations in selecting network equipment for purchase, selecting appropriate routing protocols (focusing on interior routing protocols), and then configuring the router. The selection advice is sound, but there is nothing really exciting here. Nonetheless, a lot of folks have been thrust into the role of vendor selection could benefit from this advice. There is also good advice on which routing protocol one ought to select under various circumstances, and we're shown how to configure whichever routing protocol(s) one selects in a Cisco router. Be warned, though, that there's not enough information here to get a complete novice and their router out of the box and into service. For the complete novice, I would recommend Cisco TCP/IP Routing Professional Reference or, of course, the documentation that came with the router itself.

The next two chapters, covering the technical and non-technical sides of network management, are my favorite in the book. Under non-technical issues, we hear about the importance of defining the boundaries of one's network, developing staff skills, and establishing a help desk. Under technical issues, we cover network monitoring, troubleshooting, and change management. These last topics are especially well thought out. The issues Ballew raises on network monitoring are very well considered, and just about everyone would do well to read this before pursuing this topic too far. There's also especially good coverage of the use of a version control system for managing changes to router configuration files, a hot button of mine. If you're not doing this, you should be, and this book tells you how.

The final two chapters cover connecting to the outside world and network security. The chapter on exterior connections is decent, though not quite up to the quality of the rest of the book. Exterior routing as a whole is still an unexplored area by the literature. Ballew rightly points out that just the topic of BGP configuration issues could easily fill a book by itself. This is true, and it's a book that would be well received. The network security chapter does a good job defining the issues and a very good job of not trying to be the end-all authority on this. Instead, the basics are presented here and the reader is then referred to other good sources for the details. Surprisingly few authors do this, and it's very refreshing.

There are four appendices covering configuring interfaces, how to obtain RFCs and Internet drafts, and obtaining IP addresses. The last three, though certainly appropriate, contain pretty basic information for Internet veterans. The first is a pretty good guide to configuring network interfaces on Cisco routers, although no substitute for the documentation or a more thorough work.

Every goal the author had in writing this book seems to be well realized. It's obvious that Ballew has a lot of experience in designing and maintaining networks, and this experience shows through. A lot of wisdom about all aspects of networking and internetworking is present in this book, and every network professional would probably benefit from reading it carefully. This is probably the best single source of networking knowledge in print. Managing IP Networks with Cisco Routers isn't an introduction to Cisco's IOS, so beginners should supplement this work, but as it stands I strongly recommend it. Also, Ballew's book compliments Lewis' book nicely. Anyone thrust into the job of maintaining routers would do well to acquire both.


Managing IP Networks with Cisco Routers is a collection of excellent advice on configuring and managing IP networks. While it is not an introduction to routers, it is a collection of exceptional advice on networking practices from someone who has obviously been there. I recommend it for every network engineer or anyone else interested in these issues.