The networking industry is NOT stuck in the 1980′s

I recently read a blog post that Greg Ferro (@etherealmind) had posted up on Twitter, and it stirred something up inside me. Joe Howard is the Technology Market Builder at Brocade (I’m not 100% sure what this means, but sounds like sales to me), and while we’ve never met – you’ve got it all wrong, my friend.

Here is a link to the article Joe published. Give it a read before you continue further.

https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/why-network-industry-has-been-stuck-1980s-ciscos-embrace-joe-howard

I’ve been a network engineer for the majority of my career, and while not as seasoned as some of my peers who are pushing 30+ years, I am quickly approaching the 20 year mark. I first cut my teeth on Novell systems administration circa NetWare 3.12, installed (and later ripped out) ArcNet, Token Ring, and 10-Base-2 ethernet, so I’m not what you’d call a ‘millennial engineer’. Disclosure: These days I work for a Cisco partner, but I was a customer for a long number of years. I’m not in sales, and I’ve got no ulterior motives – these are my opinions as an engineer.

In the past 18 months, I’ve migrated my personal IT environment to a MacBook, an iPhone, and an iPad (away from Windows and Android OSs). Why? The usual reasons – better reliability and security, a superior user experience, near seamless interoperability, and they “just work.” I really like my Apple products. No wonder Apple has been the most important technology company, by a long shot, for several years.

I couldn’t agree more, Joe. My first attempt at making the switch to Apple was when the mini first came out (I actually returned it), but it just didn’t work for me – that is, not until the Intel processor. Add a couple years of product evolution and virtualization to the equation and I was sold and have never looked back. Now I own 3 or more of just about every device Apple has made, and I pretty much love them all. You’ve nailed it with ‘it just works’ – I’ve been referring to this as ‘the apple effect’. However I’ve got to disagree with much of what you have said in the rest of your article, and I’d like to call out some quotes, if you don’t mind, and argue a few points. No offense, but I see things a bit differently.

Ethernet and IP networking is embarrassingly complex, unreliable, arcane, and parochial. That results in very high operational costs, poor security/high vulnerability, and nothing close to five nines reliability.

I’d have to disagree entirely. In comparison to legacy technologies, Ethernet and TCP/IP networking has been some of the most reliable technology driving global communication over the past 30+ years. It’s gone through a consistent evolution (both speeds and feeds, as well as upper layer protocols), but one thing has been relatively constant – the concept of architecture. Designing enterprise-class networks for much of my career, I’ve seen the exact opposite. The networks I supported weren’t embarrassingly complex. They weren’t unreliable, in fact, they had some of the highest levels of availability I’ve ever seen. It wasn’t because I was some rockstar engineer, or because I bought the latest and greatest whiz-bang product – it was because of architecture and strategy. A solid design, based on solid fundamental principles, with a well-defined scope of operation and service-level. Did I use Cisco gear – absolutely (among others), but not because they were the 800b gorilla. I used it because they had an end to end architecture strategy to go with it, and following that design philosophy allowed me to get the most out of the equipment I was purchasing.

Cisco has no incentive (in any serious way) to innovate and make the technology inherently more automated, standardized, and easier to operate. Their market dominance is dependent on complexity.

Cisco’s market dominance isn’t dependent on complexity – it’s the result of decades of product development, and furthering of the architecture strategy I mentioned previously. The technologies we’re using today (and I’m not talking proprietary Cisco technologies, I’m talking industry-standard protocols) weren’t made up overnight; they underwent continual development over decades, sometimes stumbling and failing, but ultimately resulted in the production of many of the core networking technologies we rely on today to keep our networks running. Highly-available enterprise architectures aren’t ‘overly complex’ by the sheer nature of being big – in fact, its quite the opposite. Simplicity is often a dominating factor in the most reliable of networks. Simplicity in itself IS a strategy (I’m sure you’ve heard of the KISS approach) and I’ve found that when you use simplicity as one of the building blocks in your enterprise, you can reap the rewards from it.

Most network engineers have achieved Cisco certifications. Cisco trained engineers will be heavily biased towards Cisco products.

How is this any different from what we agreed upon in the opening of this post – we both love Apple products because they ‘just work’. We aren’t biased towards them because Apple makes them (not directly); we’re biased towards them because we’ve used them, and the experience we had was a good one – again, ‘the apple effect’. I’ve had that same experience with enterprise Cisco networking gear. I’ve also spent a lot of time ripping my hair out trying to make things work on gear made by those other manufacturers who only have that 3-4% market share.

Furthermore, Cisco trained engineers embrace the complexity, for the obvious reason that their skills become special, valuable and well compensated.

No, actually we embrace the reliability and consistency we experience in deploying Cisco enterprise networking solutions. When something works well, and we can do it over and over again in a dozen locations without having to worry that it “won’t work this time” THAT’s what we embrace. None of us want to spend our weekends sitting on the floor of the data center troubleshooting a production-impacting issue, we all prefer technologies that ‘just work’.

In fact, I really don’t think your article is about networking technology much at all. You’re using it as a guise for calling their baby ugly, and I’m calling bullshit. People use Cisco because it works. Am I a fan-boy – ABSOLUTELY; because time and again, as a customer and as an end user, they’ve earned my loyalty – but they didn’t do that by being a marketing machine, they did it by making available to me mature, time-tested and field-tested solutions that in most situations ‘just worked’. I haven’t given them a free pass because they were the incumbent (although it did earn them a seat at the table for conversations when the time to purchase new equipment came up), and on at least a couple occasions, I walked away from some of their solutions that seemed a bit half-baked, but those occasions were few and far between in comparison to the number of successes they’ve afforded me.

Now, you do have a few points that I agree with you on.

As SDN technology matures with time and investment, resulting automation will lower OpEx, improve operations, and enable new network services and capabilities.

I see a mixed future for SDN. In the right environment, most importantly, when the right people care about the right things and really want to take things to the extreme, I think that SDN can offer a lot. It can definitely simplify deployment of end-to-end architectures (to my point above that it’s all about the architecture, not about the whiz-bang feature of the month), but only certain audiences call for that. There will be a certain subset of customers (of which I’m not ready to speculate the percentage of) that will always be better served by a ‘KISS’ style network architecture. They don’t need automation; they don’t need orchestration – what they need is something to provide basic, highly-reliable connectivity and communications.

Insist on engineers that are network professionals, not Cisco clones. A true professional is all about the protocols and technology and operational excellence, not about a specific vendor’s products.

I couldn’t agree more – true engineering is about more than a single vendor, in fact, I’m going to leave _every_ vendor out of my response to this – vendors aside, it’s the architectures and design, the underlying technologies that enable us to build the networks of today, and will enable the networks of the future. Understanding these fundamental concepts will apply to every network you build moving forward, just like many of the skills I learned back in the days of 10-Base-2 Ethernet still apply today.

Now is the time to move beyond the 1980s and start towards a modern network world. Every serious technology executive can contribute to the advancement of the state-of-the-art, and the first step is to not automatically give that next big order to Cisco.

I think I’ve sufficiently demonstrated my point above that we’re not in the 1980’s networking world, and as a manufacturer, if you want 60% market share instead of 3-4%, you’re going to have to create something, disrupt the industry, and change the world. Begging people to stop buying from the companies who have been innovative, created disruption and changed the world – well, I’m afraid that’s not going to get you very far.

Announcing the Band – Cisco Live 2016

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It’s that time of year again. The time when everybody is anxiously awaiting the upcoming Cisco Live event, and of course, wondering who the band is going to be at the CAE. Last year I had the opportunity to meet the band (Aerosmith) and had a fantastic time (Thanks!) This year, it’s my privilege to be the first to announce to you the entertainment arrangements for the CAE for Cisco Live 2016.

Cisco will be pulling out all the stops and has blocked out the entire MGM Garden Arena for this wonderful and epic event, one you won’t soon forget!

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Our artist may be all about RED, but deep down she bleeds BLUE… Cisco Blue. She’s the recipient of 10 Grammy Awards, 19 American Music Awards and 22 Billboard Music Awards. She’s also been awarded 11 Country Music Association Awards, 8 Academy of Country Music Awards, 10 People’s Choice Awards, and 25 Teen Choice Awards. She is also a seven-time winner of the Nashville Songwriters Association International Award for Songwriter/Artist of the Year. As a songwriter, she has been honored by the Songwriters Hall of Fame. She also holds five records in the Guinness World Records book. Let me be the first to introduce to you, the wonderful Taylor Swift.

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After the concert, stay tuned for more information about Cisco’s latest acquisition and re-branding, a blending of two companies that are bound to take the collaboration world by storm.
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Seriously? It’s April 1st. Everything you just read was complete bullshit. A parody. Get it? Got it? Good!

April Fools!

I look forward to hearing about the real band for the Cisco Live 2016 Customer Appreciation Event (I sure hope I didn’t spoil anything, I’m pretty sure it’s NOT Taylor Swift) – I hope to see you there in beautiful sunny Las Vegas, Nevada! I’m not kidding about that one! Registration is still open, so get your ass to #CLUS !

CIPTV2 – I Passed!

I first certified as a Cisco CCNA in 2002, and the years since that time has seen me pursue and achieve a number of various Cisco certifications, including the CCVP (later CCNP Voice), and with the most recent test, I’ve successfully achieved CCNP Collaboration. In all fairness, the CCNP Voice to CCNP Collaboration involved the passing of only a single exam, CIPTV2. Since my certificate was set to expire in March, and no Cisco Press book is out yet (I always seem to need to pass a test before focused study material is available), I had to sort of learn on my own and figure out what I needed to focus on. It took me 4 attempts, but as of this past Friday, I’m now a CCNP Collaboration, having passed my exam!

I wanted to share some study advice on what I did to prepare for the exam – forward: there is NO NDA-breaking content here, just some tips and feedback based on the exam blueprint.

In looking at the Cisco Exam Blueprint, available here, Cisco breaks this exam down into several topic areas, shown below.

In each of these areas, there are some specific objectives you need to focus on

For Section 1 – VCS Control

1.1 Configure registration of devices
1.2 Explore the fundamentals of subzones
1.3 Describe zone plans for VCS
1.4 Describe and configure traversal zones
1.5 Describe the benefits and configuration of transforms and create call policies
1.6 Explore VCS searches for endpoints
1.7 Integrating LDAP
1.8 Explain DNS and SRV records and document requirements for SRV records
1.9 Describe how clustering and replication works and configure a cluster
1.10 Configure interworking with VCS
1.11 Configure H.323 (including gatekeeper) and SIP
1.12 Configure trunking

For Section 2 – Collaboration Edge (VCS Expressway)

2.1 Identify and configure the requirements when deploying a collaboration edge
2.2 Establish a relationship between C/Expressway E and CUCM
2.3 Document and produce requirements for firewall and NAT configuration
2.4 Describe and implement privacy and security controls for external devices and calls
2.5 Describe elements in a traversal call (H.460 and Assent)

For Section 3 – Configure CUCM Video Service Parameter

3.1 Configure DSCP
3.2 Configuring clusterwide parameters system QoS

For Section 4 – Describe and Implement Centralized Call Processing Redundancy

4.1 Describe device fail over
4.2 Configure call survivability
4.3 Configure Cisco Unified Survivable Remote Site Telephony operation
4.4 Verify redundancy operations

For Section 5 – Describe and Configure a Multi-site Dial Plan for Cisco Unified Communications Manager

5.1 Describe the issues with multi-site dial plans
5.2 Describe the differences between the various gateways and trunk types supported by Cisco Unified Communication Manager
5.3 Implement trunks to VCS
5.4 Describe globalized call routing based on URI dial plans and ILS
5.5 Implement a numbering plan for multi-site topologies

For Section 6 – Implement Call Control Discovery/ILS

6.1 Configure Service Advertisement Framework Forwarder
6.2 Configure Service Advertisement Framework Client Control
6.3 Configure Service Advertisement Framework Call Control Discovery
6.4 Configure URI calling
6.5 Configure ILS network
6.6 Configure Global Dial Plan Replication

For Section 7 – Implement Video Mobility Features

7.1 Configure extension mobility, and device mobility
7.2 Configure unified mobility (including video)

For Section 8 – Implement Bandwidth Management and Call Admission Control on CUCM

8.1 Configure regions
8.2 Implement transcoders and MTPs
8.3 Configure locations CAC and Enhanced CAC
8.4 Correlate events based on traces, logs, debugs and output of monitoring tools
8.5 Parse and interpret traces, logs, debugs and output of monitoring tools

The blueprint goes a long way in painting a picture of what to expect on the exam, and will be a tremendous resource as you begin preparing your study efforts. I attended a 5-day class put on by Global Knowledge, and while it covered a lot of the content, I don’t think it covered the material near deep enough, so even after 5 days of focused learning and another week of study, I was not prepared to pass this particular exam. It’s my understanding that each of the authorized training partners use the same content, so I don’t really place the blame on the training provider – but word to the wise – it’s going to take more than sitting a class to pass this exam. Keep in mind, I’ve been doing Cisco UC since Call Manager 3.x, but MANY of the topics on this exam were things I’m not using on a day-to-day basis, so I really had to buckle down and study to set myself up to pass this exam.

The resources I found most useful in preparing for this exam include the following

Cisco Unified Communications System 9.x SRND
Unified Communications Mobile and Remote Access via Cisco VCS
Cisco VCS Basic Configuration (Single VCS Control) Deployment Guide
Cisco VCS Basic Configuration (Control with Expressway) Deployment Guide
Cisco Unified RTMT Administration Guide

The information contained in these documents will go a long way towards helping you in your study efforts.

I also used the following Cisco Press book, from the previous version of this exam
Implementing Cisco Unified Communications Manager, Part 2 (CIPT2) Foundation Learning Guide: (CCNP Voice CIPT2 642-457), 2nd Edition

I’ll warn you – this was not an easy exam for me, and even though it took me several tries, I did it, and so can you! Don’t take shortcuts, you’re going to need focused study time, and you’re going to need to set up each of these systems to learn the in’s and out’s of them. My advice – set them up, install them, make them work, it’s going to help you a LOT more than just reading a study guide.

Now that my CCNP Voice has been converted to CCNP Collaboration, I’ve begun the process of going after my CCIE Collaboration Written exam, I’m a glutton for punishment, I suppose. I hope the information in this post has been informational to you, and I wish you the best as you prepare for your CIPTV2 exam! You can do it!

Cisco IOS SRST – Minimum Required Configuration

I’ve spent a few hours this evening getting back to basics, and taking the time to review what I’m going to call ‘Minimum Require Configuration’ for SRST – both SIP and SCCP.

SCCP SRST Minimum Required Configuration

call-manager-fallback
ip source-address 10.10.210.28 port 2000
max-ephones 10
max-dn 10

SIP SRST Minimum Required Configuration

voice service voip
sip
registrar-server expires max 600 min 60

voice register global
max-dn 10
max-pool 5

voice register pool 1
id network 10.10.210.0 mask 255.255.255.0

With the configuration shown, both SIP and SCCP devices can failover to the Cisco 28xx ISR that I’m using for testing. There are lots of other nerd knobs you can tweak if you want, but this is all that’s required to get endpoints to register.

Kicking the Tires on the opengear Resilience Gateway

I’ve been meaning to do this review for some time now, but life tends to get in the way. With the new year behind us, my first resolution was to tie up some loose ends, and this review is one of those! I’ve been playing with the opengear Resilience Gateway for a few months now, and I’ve got to say – I’m impressed. opengear has managed to squeeze a lot of functionality into a tiny little box, and they’re doing it for a very low price. I’m kind of getting ahead of myself, so lets talk about the device.

The opengear Reisliance Gateway is a combination terminal server, Celular Internet Gateway, and physical location monitor (think contact closures) which could be tied to things like door alarms, temperature sensors, water detectors, etc. Form-factor wise, its just a bit larger (but not much) than those old 5-port steel NetGear switches that I loved so much back in the day. Ultra portable.

I’m a little torn on my thoughts about the overall user interface. On one hand, configuration was kind of clunky often confusing, but on the other hand, they DO expose the full linux operating system to you through the serial interface, so you’ve got some killer-awesome flexibility for what you can make this device do – Personally, I’m willing to call that a fair tradeoff.

Cellular connectivity (or at least signal strength) was hit or miss. One minute I’d show full strength, and then nothing. Full strength again, and then nothing, however most of the time the connection appeared to stay up, so maybe its just an indicated signal strength issue. I’m not sure whether to blame the device, or blame my carrier (although my cell phone doesn’t exhibit the same behavior) so you’ll want to do a little testing of your own as far as this goes. I was using AT&T during my evaluation of the unit.

Setting the unit up to behave as ‘just another internet connection’ using IP Passthrough took a little doing (the configuration likes to lock down DHCP to the first MAC-address the unit sees, after that it’s a game of changing it in the config if you want to connect a different device (I was going back and forth between a router and a laptop) but it does work. Using this approach, and appropriate modifications to your local network, it’s possible to leverage the Cisco IP SLA feature set to detect WAN failures, and swing over connectivity to the opengear device, allowing you basic internet connectivity in the event of WAN failure. I’m sure it’s possible to even extend this to offer up some advanced VPN automation, but I didn’t take things that far in my testing.

The terminal server / console server features were easy enough to configure, and one really cool feature I liked was the ability to use a Web Console to interact with the connected device, above and beyond simple serial to IP redirection. This would be very convenient as far as remote device support goes.

All in all, my experience with the opengear Resilience Gateway was a positive one. I did need to call technical support on more than one occasion, and they were very quick to engage, and able to resolve my issues each time. I can see this device making itself home in any of the datacenters I support in the future. Thanks to opengear for supplying me with a demo unit for purposes of performing this evaluation, and thanks for not getting on my back about ‘are you done yet?’ – I really wanted to give this device a fair shake, and you’ve allowed me to do that, even though it took a little bit longer than I had originally anticipated.

A different way to tell people they’re wrong

For those of you who know me personally, you’ll know that I’m very analytical, and when presented with a question, I’m very quick to respond, often immediately. Many times, people are asking me a question or challenging me with a statement about something technical that they think is broken. My first reaction / my nature is such that I respond with ‘no, you’re wrong, here’s why’. In my mind, I’m just providing an analytical response, but I think that to some people, it comes across poorly, and is more confrontational than it is helpful.

In reflecting on this, I think that there’s a better approach for responding to these challenges – here’s what I’m going to work on. When somebody tells me ‘X is broken’, and I know (for whatever reason) that they’re wrong, rather than responding ‘No, it’s not.’ I think I’m going to try something different. I’m going to respond ‘That’s interesting. Tell me why you think it’s broken.’, and let them explain. Following that, rather than saying ‘No, It doesn’t work that way.’ I think I’m going to reply ‘If you consider how X works, (insert appropriate explanation here) , you may reconsider that conclusion.

I’m conveying the same information to the person asking the question, but I think it can come across as more education and less confrontation. There’s no reason to raise defenses just because we’re disagreeing on something. Just some food for thought on becoming a better communicator. The best lessons come from within, right?

My love/hate relationship with HBO Now.

A couple of months ago, I discovered the HBO Now streaming service.  I don’t subscribe to cable TV, most of my television comes from streaming service such as Netflix, and I visit the Redbox for new releases.  I decided to give the HBO Now streaming service a try, as there was a TV series I wanted to watch (i can’t remember which one it was). So i signed up, and then realized I couldn’t stream it on any of my devices (I don’t have an Apple TV).  So I was a little bummed, but a few weeks later, they announced support for Chromecast, and all was good.  I’ve found a ton of really cool shows and movies that I’ve never seen – so I can’t complain thus far about content.

So here’s my gripe.

I’ve been using my iPhone primarily to launch streaming videos to the Chromecast, and holy cow – the user interface on this thing sucks!   The streaming quality is fantastic, so no complaints there, but the user interface is so horrible, i cant even stand to use it.  First off, there’s no good way for me to simply press ‘next’ on one or more TV series that I may be watching – I’m constantly having to go up to the search dialog, find the show (again), choose the season (again), and find an episode (again).  This could be done much more seamlessly.  Second, the Chromecast support is really half baked thus far.  If i start playing a video on my iPhone , and I’m in landscape mode, there’s a button (or what seems to want to be a button, and practically screams ‘click me) to stream to the Chromecast… but that button doesn’t seem to actually do anything.  If I stop playback, take the phone into portrait mode and use THAT Chromecast button, that works.  WTF?

This is pretty trivial stuff guys, you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to design a usable UI (Netflix mastered it, and it puts what you’ve done to shame).  Scrap this thing, go back to the drawing board, and try again.  As good as your content may be, another month or two of having to deal with this unusable UI, and I’m cancelling my subscription.  You’re HBO for crying out loud, not some no-name tech start-up streaming media online; act like it.

Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.

We’ve all seen the Wizard of Oz, and I’m sure we all remember the story of ‘ the man behind the curtain’. Over the past few weeks I’ve been reflecting on some of the evolution we have seen in how companies interact with their customers using social media, and saw a parallel.

The first social networks drew their audiences from the individual users. It wasn’t long before we started to see companies jump on the bandwagon and start creating their own social media presences. These presences were mostly ‘anonymous’ since you didn’t really know who was behind the scenes, aside from the fact that the account had an official-looking name that was seemingly tied to the company. Responses by these accounts were hit or miss, and it was more like chucking feedback over the wall, and you really had no idea if anybody was even there to catch it.

Lately, I’ve seen a shift away from ‘corporate accounts’ towards ‘personal accounts’ managed by people who just happen to work for a company. One of the cool side effects that this has created is that it’s opened the doors to actual relationship building with real people – something you could never do with an anonymous corporate account. To all of the companies who are empowering your employees to step up, speak out, and represent, you’re getting it right, keep it up! This style of interaction really works, and it’s changing the way we collaborate and communicate. Remember folks, social is about relationships, and people form those relationships. It’s the man BEHIND the curtain that matters.