And now for something completely different…an iPad background for Network Engineers

ASA iPad Background

ASA iPad Background

I’ve never really found a lock screen for my iPad. I’ve been looking for something that has some geek humor, with a little bit of, “yes, I am a network engineer” mixed in. Finally, I decided to create something. I’m tossing it out for anyone to use.

What would you like to see as an iPad background? What IOS commands scream “Look at me every time you turn on your iPad”?

Like Swiss Cheese – The road to being certifiable – Part 2

I tested, and received my first certification in 2000. I had been in IT for only 6 months, and I passed the Windows NT Server exam, which gave me the title of Microsoft Certified Professional. I did so after spending $7000 on a 6 month MCSE course. Finishing the course, just so happened to coincide with Microsoft announcing the end of the 4.0 track, and the beginning of the 2000 track. I didn’t have enough time to pass all 6 exams, to complete my MCSE, so I spent $7100, including the exam fee to attain my MCP. Needless to say, I wasn’t happy.

Moving forward over the next 5 years, I worked in every aspect of IT. I worked as help desk support, DBA, .Net programmer, and Web Developer. Eventually, I got sick of programming, and decided to plot my return to servers and networking. It was that or walk away from IT all together.

It took me a year, but I finally found a job that would trust me with their network, and I quickly made up for lost time. I fell in love with networking, and realized that I had finally found my niche in IT. Wired, wireless, firewalls, it all just made sense to me on a level that nothing else I had ever touched had.

Since that time, I have considered getting certified multiple times. In my opinion, the Cisco certifications are the most well respected vendor certifications available, and since I was working with about 90% Cisco equipment, there was no reason for me NOT to be certified. The only problem was, there didn’t seem to be any reason for me TO be certified either.

Salary surveys and employment studies seemed to indicate that certifications didn’t equal better pay, or higher level of employment. I have always been a busy guy, and passing certifications would require me to give up a lot of personal time that could be used to pursue other interest.

I was facing a motivation crisis. Couple that with my past experience in certifications, and the fear of, dare I say it, not passing an exam (also known as failure). I had plenty of reasons NOT to take a certification exam.

This all changed a couple of months ago. I made a couple of realizations that made getting certifications important to me, not for resume building, but for me as an individual.

I had just finished having a conversation with a junior level engineer over TRILL. I had explained in detail the finer points of TRILL vs. every vendors’ competitor. I discussed how it would most likely push L3 routing back into the Core and Distribution layers and out of the Access layer. I explained IS-IS.

Then, I was asked for help to setup a static Frame Relay map. My response was “Google for it” and I walked away quickly. I could discuss complex new technologies and yet somehow, a basic CCNA level task had escaped me. There were holes in my knowledge that I couldn’t escape.

I thought about that experience over the next couple of weeks. I realized that I was suddenly surrounded by real network experts through twitter: @etherealmind, @amyengineer, @matthewnorwood, @jtie_6ee7, @networkingnerd, @ecbanks, and many more. I liked the conversations that were taking place through blogs and other avenues. I also felt like I had a dirty little secret that would one day be discovered. I didn’t know (some) basic CCNA level stuff about networking.

It didn’t matter how well I could discuss PAGP vs. LACP, OSPF vs. EIGRP, IPv6, TRILL, or any other topic. It didn’t matter that my home network included an ASA and aironet AP. I could be easily stumped (without the internet) on basic topics that I never bothered to learn and memorize.

That was when I decided it was time to begin my certification journey. I would start with ICND1, taking no shortcuts. I wouldn’t take the CCNA composite test, in-case it didn’t cover a topic in-depth enough. I would become certified, and more importantly I would fill in the gaps, and know where I stood.

I easily passed the ICND1. According to Cisco, I have at least entry level experience and knowledge (surprising, right?). I quickly scheduled the ICND2, and there is where the holes appeared. On the portions of the test I knew, I didn’t miss any, or at least not more than one. ACL’s, OSPF, STP, and IP subnetting wasn’t a problem. There were problems though, and despite a few HORRIBLY worded questions, I can only blame myself. I missed passing by 21 points out of 1000.

Needless to say, I will be retaking the exam next week. I expect to pass, and more importantly, I will have filled in a few more holes.

ICND- Is Cisco oN Drugs – The road to being certifiable – Part 1

So I have a dirty little secret that I’m going to let you in on. Until recently the only IT certification that I held was an expired MCP certification dating back to the days of NT4.0. That’s right, I wasn’t a CCanything, and didn’t really see the need. I had years of experience on my resume, and didn’t want to put myself through the emotional distress caused by chasing certifications. There was also the question in the back of my mind: “if I begin taking exams, when do I stop, ccna, ccnp, ccie?”

So for reasons that will be explained later, I decided that it was time to begin the journey to become certifiable certified. Rather than jump directly into the Route, Switch, and Tshoot exams, which I really wanted to do, I instead decided to make myself step through it one step at a time, beginning with ICND1. I spent a week going over the material, just to be certain I knew what to expect, and scheduled the exam.

I wouldn’t say that I have “test anxiety” but anytime you spend $125 on an exam there are going to be strong emotions involved. I went into the exam a little nervous, but still expecting to pass easily.

This brings me to the reason that I HATE certification exams. I was shocked throughout the exam at how many poorly worded questions there were. I felt like I was arguing semantics with someone over whether or not “yes” means “yes” always or just on the odd and even numbered days. It finally led to the question that if I had been in an argument, I would have walked away before resorting to violence.

A loose paraphrase of the question was:

Which are swapped to change a straight-through cable to a crossover cable?
1 and 2
2 and 4
1 and 3
etc.
etc.

Now, the very first answer was “1 and 2” , which I understood to mean “the orange pair that includes wires 1 & 2” so I clicked the check box and then began looking for “3 and 6” to indicate the green pair. The only problem was, there was no “3 and 6” as an answer. I re-read the question, and all of the answers, still no “3 and 6”, I re-re-read, and still no dice.

At this point, I had seen a couple of poor questions or examples, and I was about to chalk this up as “another screw up on this stupid exam” and just click a box so that I could move on. But, I couldn’t stand to be beaten by such a simple question. I re-re-re-read the question, and finally figured out what they were really asking.

The question was really asking which STRANDS, WIRES, or PINS are swapped, not which PAIRS. Why one of those simple words was not used, I cannot tell you. It would have made the 4 minutes I spent on that question less than 20 seconds. At this point I was so frustrated with the many poorly worded questions, I spent 5 minutes writing a comment on this question before I moved on.

By the end of the exam I was sure that I had passed, and when my last two questions were “complex” subnetting questions, I guessed because I didn’t feel like doing the math, and wanted to be done with the exam. I passed with a great score, and ~20 minutes left.

I don’t mind challenging questions. I like to think, and want to know that when I complete an exam I have accomplished something. At the end of the ICND1 exam,  I had figured out what Cisco was TRYING TO ASK enough times to pass. That is all that I feel I accomplished.

Making people decipher and decode poorly written questions does not vet them as a capable certification candidate.

I now know that ICND really stands for “Is Cisco oN Drugs”

Could Cisco Prime be the first step towards OpenFlow competition?

As it has been clear from my previous post, I have a love/hate relationship with Cisco. I love some of their products and I love working in IOS. There are also things that I hate: Cisco’s management platform and the lack of consistency between product lines; subnet mask vs. wildcard mask being a great example. Another thing I hate, Cisco’s management tools. CiscoWorks is a joke, and in smaller environments, where CiscoWorks would be overkill, companies are left with Cisco Network Assistant(CNA).

<RANT>
I realize that CNA is free, that Cisco doesn’t make any money on it, and that it was never meant for large enterprise. However, if there has ever been a product deserving of a “Beta” tag, I’m not sure what it is. What a piece of junk!
</RANT>

Now Cisco has released Cisco Prime. In all of the articles that I have read, the primary function is listed as “unified access across wired and wireless networks”. Clearly Cisco intends this to be a security solution. However, as you read further, things get a little more interesting. Here are the features as per a Cisco Blog post: http://bit.ly/gWBijM

Centralized Policy. Support any user on any device and provide secure access across the entire network by setting a single set of policies that can be distributed and enforced across the entire network.

Network Management. Unified management via Cisco Prime for wired and wireless networks helps increase IT efficiency, reduce IT training, and decrease time to resolve IT issues by providing a converged service-centric management platform.

Automation for Voice and Video. Ensure consistent high-quality user experience on any end-point. The latest innovations using Cisco Medianet enhancements provide automation and troubleshooting in the network to deliver application quality of experience, particularly video. Plus, organizations can reduce cost and time when resolving application choke points in the network, and scale applications to any endpoint with greater speed and efficiency.

The last two items are what piqued my interest. Unified network management, bandwidth control and shaping for audio and video; aren’t these features discussed when OpenFlow comes up? Is it possible that Cisco has recognized the need to address OpenFlow now, before it gets a stronger foothold in the market?

If I’ve properly read between the lines, and my guesses are accurate, there are a few things to remember. IF, then:

-This product has been rushed to production. I wouldn’t touch it within the first 6-9 months, or until it’s been upgraded at least once.
-Let’s face it, some of Cisco’s best new to market products were bought, not built internally. This was built internally. Enough said.
-Prime’s feature set will explode over the next few years, to make it better compete with the full OpenFlow feature set.
-The next version of IOS, ASA, WCS, etc. will have new hooks for this software to continue it’s feature expansion. Use caution with new versions of code for any devices. New hooks in the software = new security vulnerabilities and new bugs
-We may actually see a great security/network management product from Cisco in the next couple of years!

Texas Hold’em and the IETF – Did Brocade bet against TRILL?

For the last two post, which you can find HERE and HERE, I’ve knocked Cisco around. For those who don’t know me, I should warn that I am an equal opportunity offender. With that in mind, let’s take a look at Brocade’s implementation of TRILL.

As most of you should know, TRILL uses IS-IS on Layer 2 to identify the shortest path between switches, and load balance across those paths. Since this is happening at layer 2, not layer 3, it does away with Spanning Tree, which means more bandwidth and faster fail-over using the same number of ports, fiber paths, cables, and switches.

Of course, despite the fact that we all understand the above to be true, Brocade decided to go their own way and replace IS-IS with FSPF or Fabric Shortest Path First.

If you haven’t done much work in SAN environments, you may not be familiar with FSPF. Brocade created FSPF in 1997 to answer bandwidth concerns in Fiber Channel SANS. It has since become the standard path selection protocol in Fiber Channel fabrics.

With that understanding, let me back up and rephrase. As TRILL utilizing IS-IS was being developed by the IETF, Brocade a member of the IETF, decided to implement their own version of TRILL utilizing FSPF.

Brocade along with Cisco are both offenders. They both claim to be working with the IETF, yet at the same time both have released competitors to TRILL. Are we to believe that Brocade worked to make TRILL the best possible solution at the same time that they were creating a competitor to it? What about Cisco and FabricPath?

Both companies claim that their solution “extends” TRILL with additional features.

Were those “extended” features brought up in meetings when the TRILL standard was being discussed? Did the IETF choose to ignore those suggestions? I doubt it.

Cisco, Brocade, and most like every other vendor sat at the table the same way a poker player does during a game of texas hold ’em. No one showed their cards, but everyone watched the flop, river, and turn cards, to see what they could create with their own hands to drive the other players off the table.

Make no mistake, TRILL did not benefit from Brocade, Cisco, or any other vendor’s presence on the committee. Their involvement was for their own purposes, not the benefit of customers.

Openflow, Merchant Silicon, and the end of the reign of King John.

Early this morning, I finally had an opportunity to listen to the latest episode of Packet Pushers Podcast.

In the podcast, the guys discuss Openflow and the impact it could have on the networking industry. One of the points mentioned in the podcast was that Cisco is apparently using merchant silicon in the latest 10GB Nexus switch, the 3000. I was shocked when I heard this, and had to do a little research to verify. Sure enough, it seems that Cisco’s latest Nexus switch is built on Broadcom chipsets. Wow.

Let me say that again…Wow. To recap, here is my favorite Cisco blog post regarding Cisco and merchant silicon by Douglas Gourlay, an ex-Cisco Senior Manager of Product Marketing.

http://blogs.cisco.com/datacenter/on_merchant_silicon_and_mowing_my_yard/

To quote the post:

Do major automobile manufacturers outsource engine design and development to other firms? Of course not, they design and build their engines. Do manufacturers of more consumer goods like lawn mowers outsource their engines? Absolutely, they go to specialized engine manufacturers because the core value of what they offer is either a certain price point, or the value is not tied to the engine. So the question then – is do you want to ride to work or school in a car, or on a lawnmower?

Ok, so if Cisco is using merchant silicon in their Nexus line, it seems to me that the course adjustment that Big John emailed his employees about last week wasn’t the beginning. Maybe John was trying to answer rumors that had already started within Cisco’s ranks. Change was in the air, questions were being asked, and it all had to be addressed.

What would cause such a shift in Cisco? Is it possible that Cisco already realizes that being faster is no longer relevant in an age of Openflow, TRILL, IPV6, etc. etc.? There is no doubt that Cisco has felt the pressure from HP, Juniper, and other vendors. In fact, my current role is in a company that made that jump from Cisco to HP and Juniper when Cisco tried to sell Nexus 7K’s when 4507’s  or 6509’s would have been the better solution. Cisco didn’t just lose a customer here, Cisco made enemies. (I get scowls when I mention Cisco.)

Is it possible that Cisco realizes that the days of huge profit margins on every device it sells are coming to a close? Is it possible that maybe, just maybe, Cisco realizes that it’s not the only game in town?

For years, people bought Cisco for the additional features that Cisco offered. PAGP, ISL, EIGRP, LWAPP were all answers to problems that no one else had addressed. They were good answers at the time, and all led the industry standards by a couple of years. Now, the alternatives 802.1Q, LACP, OSPF, and CAPWAP have replaced those proprietary Cisco protocols. Looking at the environment now, I don’t see any areas where Cisco has a unique answer. Either the networking community has a solution (Openflow, TRILL), or each vendor has their own unique solution to the same problem (Qfabric, Unified Fabric).

Let’s look ahead 3 years. If an engineer has the option of buying products from Cisco which cost a lot more, and must be managed individually, or buying products from a range of vendors that all must compete in a cost effective manner, and all of which support unified management through Openflow, and all of which have the same features, which would he choose?

Two closing thoughts:

Apple is trying to teach the tech world a lesson: specs alone doesn’t make a better product. For Cisco to compete, they have to focus on features that answer real world problems, not imaginary scenarios. IPv6 and TRILL vs. Who really uses an ASA for deep packet inspection on a regular basis?

Cisco is a very big ship, and it will take a long time to turn. Watching from the shore, we have only begun to realize that it is turning, and have no idea where the new heading points.

Cisco is SCARED! Why Cisco won’t release an emulator.

Greg Ferro posted on his blog another plea to Cisco to play nice and give network engineers tools for testing, verifying, and learning new technology. If you’ve missed the recent debate on the matter, it’s OK. Crawl back under that rock, you won’t miss a thing.

I generally read Greg’s posts while nodding my head like some sick bobble headed doll, with an occasional grunt in agreement. However today, my head stopped bobbing when I realized something…

Cisco is AFRAID of the virtual switch/router.

Let that sink in for a minute.

I know what you’re thinking. “They don’t have anything to be afraid of. That’s crazy talk.”  I’m sure that people said the same about Dell and HP when ESX was first announced. “They don’t have anything to worry about. No data center could ever virtualize all of their servers. That’s just crazy.” Only, it did happen. Right now I am sitting just a few hundred feet from 100 servers that would be over 500 servers if it wasn’t for vmWare. Think of the lost revenue to Dell and HP.

But, you say, “what about the Nexus 1000v”. What about it? Cisco had already lost sales because all of those virtual servers didn’t need individual switchports. That was Cisco’s way of getting some of that revenue back. It wasn’t about extending network engineer’s control into the virtual environment. It was about lost port revenue.

Imagine with me for a moment. What would happen if you could virtualize the Edge and Core layers of your network all onto a single HA cluster. (Maybe a couple of Dell or HP servers.)

Firewalls, Check
Routing, Check
IDS, Check
VPN, Check

Where is the need for 10GB, 40GB, 100GB, TRILL, or Fabric Path? What about all of the other technologies that Cisco will sell us over the next 10 years, forcing us to replace existing hardware?

Outside of the HA cluster, you would need a couple of switches for Distribution, and you would need your normal Access layer switches, but how many components of the network would be cut? Not only routers, firewalls, and switches, but adapters, redundant power supplies, wireless controllers.

It’s already been done. Look at Cisco Call Manager. A router, switch, and server that do the work of racks and racks of PBX equipment.

“But, I just want them to release it so that I can test.”

Cisco has three choices: 1. Stick fingers in their ears and hum loudly. (Current tactic) 2. Release a good virtual network platform, and wait for everyone to ask, “wait…why can’t we virtualize this for real?” 3. Release a crippled, barely working virtual platform, and then get derided for their poor product.

No matter how Cisco looks at it, they lose.

Suddenly I am asking myself. After IPv6, what is the next big thing to happen in networking? Could virtualization change networking the way it changed servers?