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Introduction to Cisco IOS (Cisco Internetwork Operating System)

Home networks typically interconnect a wide variety of end devices including PCs, laptops, tablets, smartphones, smart TVs, Digital Living Network Alliance (DLNA) compliant network media players (such as Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3), and more.

All of these end devices are usually connected to a home router. Home routers are actually four devices in one:

Router: Forwards data packets to and and receives data packets from the Internet
Switch: Connects end devices using network cables
Wireless access point: Consists of a radio transceiver capable of connecting end devices wirelessly
Firewall appliance: Secures outgoing traffic and restricts incoming traffic

In larger business networks with significantly more devices and traffic, these devices are often incorporated as independent, standalone devices, providing dedicated service. End devices, such as PCs and laptops, are connected to network switches using wired connections. To send packets beyond the local network, network switches connect to network routers. Other infrastructure devices on a network include wireless access points and dedicated security devices, such as firewalls.

Each device is very different in hardware, use, and capability. However, in all cases, the operating system enables the hardware to function.

Operating systems are used on virtually all end-user and network devices connected to the Internet. End user devices include devices such as smartphones, tablets, PCs, and laptops. Network devices, or intermediary devices, are devices used to transport data across the network and include switches, routers, wireless access points, and firewalls. The operating system on a network device is known as the network operating system.

The Cisco Internetwork Operating System (IOS) is a generic term for the collection of network operating systems used on Cisco network devices. Cisco IOS is used for most Cisco devices regardless of the type or size of the device.

Purpose of OS

Network operating systems are in many ways similar to the operating systems of PCs. An operating system performs a number of technical functions "behind the scenes" that enable a user to

Use a mouse
View output on a monitor
Enter text commands
Select options within a dialog box
Manage hardware processes

The shell functions for switches and routers are very similar. These shell functions of the IOS on a switch or router, which take place "behind the scenes," provide the network technician with an interface. The technician can enter commands to configure, or program, the device to perform various networking functions. The IOS operational details vary on internetworking devices, depending on the purpose of the device and the features supported.

There are many distinct variations of Cisco IOS:

IOS for switches, routers, and other Cisco networking devices
IOS numbered versions for a given Cisco networking device
IOS feature sets, providing distinct packages of features and services

Just as a PC might be running Microsoft Windows 8 and a MacBook might be running OS X, a Cisco networking device runs a particular version of the Cisco IOS. The version of IOS is dependent on the type of device being used and the required features. While all devices come with a default IOS and feature set, it is possible to upgrade the IOS version or feature set to obtain additional capabilities.

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