Reviewing the PCNA Course

Me and Jon Snow both know nothing

I’m not exactly what you would call a Luddite when it comes to technology or networking. My home is set up with a moderately complicated network. Like most of you, the number of Internet devices has grown over the last few years. As kids have gotten older their devices started creeping onto our network and I had to make accommodations for those as well as securing them.

PCNA shipping box
The box PCNA gear comes in

That’s why when Control4 sent me the PCNA (Pakedge Certified Network Administrator) kit I was pretty confident I would fly through it with a good handle on what was required to design and deploy a solid home network. I, was wrong.

The class is made up of six courses; Essentials, Switches, Routers, Wireless, Remote Monitoring, Network Design. Each is basically a building block to the next but there are some side roads one must take to become PCNA-Certified.

The Essentials section was more review for me personally than new information. It is a necessary part of the overall training. As an instructor, you don’t want to jump into theory or terminology that not everyone knows or understands. Within this section, you are introduced to what a network is and what it is not. The course introduces terms such as a router, switch, and host. If you are not familiar with these terms in a network setting then the PCNA course outlines the way they are typically used when discussing networks.

The Essentials course is by far the longest. By the end, though, you have unpacked your PCNA kit and built your first network. You have also learned a bit about modems, the differences between routers and switches, and have the ability to remotely power cycle your network.

Control4 PCNA gear
Networking gear from Control4’s PCNA class

Switches cover about what you would expect. This course goes deeper into the proper deployment of switches throughout a home network. There are certainly distance limitations that would cause you to deploy more than one switch. There are also device limitations as well. Depending on the size of your switch you may need or want to have switches throughout a network.

Routers are the heart of the home network. For many of us, the router and switch are one and the same. For more robust or complex systems they are separate devices as is the case in the PCNA system. You will learn how to route traffic based on complexity, importance, and bandwidth needs. You will also learn how to configure the switch and router to handle different types of traffic. This was especially helpful for me as it was not something I had dealt with up until this course. Yes, I was aware of it but had never had hands-on experience.

The Wireless Access Point section was possibly the most enlightening for me and my own home network. This section covers WAP (wireless access point) deployment, testing of signals strength throughout the home, as well as how to adjust the power of the WAP to create as even of coverage as possible. The WAP course does lean on the technology of Pakedge WAPs but the information is applicable to any wireless design and deployment as long as you know the specifications and capabilities of the WAP you are using.

Remote Monitoring and Management takes you through the BakPak setup and design. BakPak is Pakedge’s remote system that allows dealers to access, monitor, troubleshoot, and fix some network issues for their clients. As someone who travels a bit, and being the network admin for my home network, this was very relevant. There are few things worse than getting a call from home saying the network is down and trying to walk your 10-year-old through troubleshooting. Unless it’s doing that with a client.

PCNA home network IP scheme
Example of a home network’s IP scheme

Network Design brings together everything you have learned to this point and puts it into a fictional yet practical design. You are given the specifications for a home and set about to design the home network. I had done this for my own home but having more knowledge and doing the design again was a nice aspect. Any time you can put to practical use knowledge gained from a course like this is a good thing.

I entered his process not really knowing what I was getting myself into. It’s an online course so how much can I really get out of it? Quite a wealth of knowledge, actually. Yes, it is a Pakedge course so they use Pakedge products. The course provides good networking design and deployment practices you can use regardless of whose name is on the gear. If you get the chance to take the PCNA course I would recommend you carve out a few days and learn a bit more about the network at your own home and that of your clients.

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