Documentation is the driest form of communication there is. Whether it be router release notes or stereo instructions I never seem to be able to find a way to read more than a paragraph before tossing things aside. You’d think by now that someone would come up with a better way to educate without driving someone to drinking.
O’Reilly Media has always done a good job of creating technical content that didn’t make me pass out from boredom. They’ve figured out how to strike a balance between what needs to be said and the more effective and entertaining way to say it. Once I started reading the books with the funny animals on the covers I started learning a lot more about the things I was working on. One book in particular caught my eye – Network Warrior by Gary Donahue. Billed as “everything you need to know that wasn’t on the CCNA,” it is a great introduction to more advanced topics that are encountered in day-to-day network operations like spanning tree or the Catalyst series of switches. Network Warrior is heavily influenced by Cisco equipment. While the concepts are pretty straight forward the bias does lean toward the building on Tasman Drive. Thankfully, O’Reilly enlisted an author to bring the Warrior series to Sunnyvale as well:
Peter Southwick was enlisted to write a Warrior book from the perspective of Juniper engineer. I picked up a copy of this book the last time I was at Juniper’s headquarters and have spent the past few weeks digesting the info inside.
Documentation is boring. It’s a dry description of how to do everything. How-to guides are a bit better written, but they still have to cover the basics. I am a much bigger fan of the cookbook, which is a how-to that takes basic building blocks and turns them into a recipe that accomplishes something. That’s what Juniper Networks Warrior is really about. It’s a cookbook with some context. Each of the vignettes tells a story about a specific deployment or project. By providing a back story to everything you get a feel for how real implementations tend to flow back and forth between planning and execution. Also, the solutions provided really do a great job of cutting past the boring rote documentation and into things you’ll use more than once. Couple that with the vignettes being based on something other than technology-focused chapters and it becomes apparent that this is a very holistic view for technology implementation.
What Didn’t Work
There were a couple of things that didn’t work well in the narrative to me. The first was the “tribe” theme. Southwick continually refers to the teams that he worked with in his projects as “tribes.” While I understand that this does fit somewhat with the whole idea behind the Warrior books, it felt a bit out of place. Especially since Donahue didn’t use it in either Network Warrior or Arista Warrior (another entry in the series). I really did try to look past it and not imagine groups of network engineers carrying spears and slings around the data center, but it was mentioned so often in place of “team” or “group” that it became jarring after a while.
The other piece that bothered me a bit was in Chapter 3: Data Center Security Design. The author went out of the way to mention that the solution that his “tribe” came up with was in direct competition with a competing one that utilized Cisco gear. He also mentioned that the Juniper solution was going to displace the Cisco solution to a certain degree. I get that. Vendor displacement happens all the time in the VAR world. What bothered me was the few occasional mentions of a competitor’s gear with words like “forced” or casting something in a negative light simply due to the sticker on the front. I’ve covered that before in my negative marketing post. Why I bring it up here is because it wasn’t present in either Network or Arista Warrior, even though the latter is a vendor-sponsored manual like this one. In particular, an anecdote in the Arista chapter on VRRP mentions that Cisco wanted to shut down the RFC for VRRP due to similarity with HSRP. No negativity, no poking with a sharp stick. Just a statement of fact and the readers are left to draw their own conclusions.
I realize the books of this nature often require input from the technical resources of a vendor. I also realize that sometimes the regard that these books are held in sometimes looks to be a very appealing platform to launch marketing campaigns or to use a factually based volume to mention some opinion-based verbiage. I sincerely hope that future volumes tone down the rhetoric just a bit for the sake of providing a good reference volume. Engineers will keep going back to a book if it gives them a healthy dose of the information they need to do their jobs. They won’t go back nearly as often to a book that spends too much time discussing the pros and cons of a particular vendor’s solution. I’d rather see pages of facts and configs that get the job done.
The copy of Juniper Networks Warrior that I reviewed was provided to me by Juniper Networks. I received it as part of a group of items during Network Field Day 5. At no time did Juniper ask for nor were they promised any consideration in the writing of this review. All of the analysis and conclusions contained herein are mine and mine alone.