Cisco Live London 2013 – preview

Introduction

It’s that time of year again, Cisco Live London 2013. Last year, I was a virgin to Cisco Live but my cherry was popped about 30 minutes in to the technical seminar on the Monday. By the end of the week, I had learnt an incredible amount of useful information, not just technically focused but also about how the event works. Things like when is best to visit the World of Solutions, how the waiting lists for sessions work and how to survive on four hours sleep a night (this latter point, to be truthful, was learnt during the 1st six months of my daughter’s life).

Up until very recently, I thought I would be joining the sessions via Cisco Live 365 online and then out of nowhere came an offer of a ticket. I got the chance to create my account only six days before the event but, after an initial fear that I would have nothing but the dregs to choose from, was happy to see that I could fill my schedule with things of interest to me.

Last year’s agenda

In short, I will be avoiding the following topics that I hit heavily last year:

  • WAN optimization. Working for an ISP, we have many customers coming in to our core network via WAN links for either Internet access, Inter-site traffic or to access hosted clouds
  • IPv6. I needed to get up to speed on this quickly for my CCNP studies. I don’t think there is going to be much movement towards adoption in the UK over the next 12 months. If I’m proved wrong and, as a company, we decide to make a move to deploy in that time, last year’s sessions will hold me in good stead regardless and I’ll be able to hit the ground running
  • WiFi. I had a WiFi deployment project coming up at this time last year so I squeezed a few related sessions in which were most useful

I also attended some routing based labs and sessions. I found that once I came back from last year’s event, my motivation to complete my CCNP (I still had the ROUTE and TSHOOT exams left) went through the roof.

This year’s agenda

With all of that in mind, I’ve broken this year’s sessions in to the following broad topics:

  • Security. Those who read my blog know that I am currently studying towards my CCNP Security. I’m booked in to a number of related sessions that cover ASAs, IPS and advanced remote access configuration. I’ve no doubt I’ll get the same motivation to get cracking with my studies upon my return
  • Data centre. I sat in on a few related sessions last year, including a monster technical seminar on the Monday that blew my mind. At that time, it was more out of interest that I attended these events. This year, we have UCS in our data centre with Nexus on it’s way so it is imperative that I turn up the heat. There are even a couple of SDN sessions in there. I’ve had so much SDN thrown at me over the last 12-18 months from various sources that I am hoping to let some of this finally crystallise in to understanding!
  • Keynotes. I found last year’s quite interesting. I’ll be keen to see how Cisco are viewing the world right now and what their vision of the future is
  • Socialising. An extremely important aspect of any event such as this. Last year, I met some great people and learnt things outside of the sessions. I ate curry and drank beer and a good time was had by all. I fully expect to top this at 2013’s event

Summary

Watch this space for some related blog posts. Last year, I was like a giddy teenager who had stolen the keys to his dad’s sports car and was blogging every night in to the wee hours. This year, rather than talk about the event in summary daily posts, I plan on putting together some more technically focused posts, which may take longer but will hopefully be of value to some readers.

If you are going, give me a shout and we’ll meet up.

Till the next time.

10 tenets of working in IT

Introduction

I published an amended version of the article below over at Packet Pushers in March 2012. In line with tenet 10 (Review), I thought that I would re-post here with some hopefully relevant amendments. Even if you read the original post last year, consider reading it again for inspiration. Please feel free to share any ideas of your own in the comments below.

This article is a summary of a larger text that sits in various parts of my brain and has been accumulated through over 10 years of working in the IT industry in a wide variety of roles and an equally diverse range of companies from the very smallest to the largest. I’ve whittled a number of concepts down to the list of 10 below. Each of these has also been listed in a briefer form, primarily to make the post hopefully more ‘punchy’.

This list should not be considered as definitive or as static. If you compare the original post to this one, you will see that some things have been removed, others added and some amended. Some of the current points would not have been relevant five or more years ago, such is the pace of change in our industry. The way I’ve listed them may leave some open to interpretation and cause further discussion and that is by design.

Regardless of whether you plan to start a career in IT, if you are a veteran or indeed have no intention in working in IT but want to do the best you can in your chosen career, this article is aimed at you. The purpose of each tenet is to give you an area of improvement that will help you out in your career and indeed in your life in general. If you are able to focus on a single tenet for the next few weeks, preferably one that strikes a personal chord, you should find that your job becomes both easier and more enjoyable. If you can find a way to make improvements in more areas, the rewards can increase exponentially.

Don’t write this article off because you find some or perhaps all of it obvious. I’ll be perfectly honest. There is no mystery here. It’s nothing more than common sense, gathered in one place. Sometimes, being poked is enough to change the inertia and get the ball rolling in the right direction.

The tenets support each other to some degree. For example, imagine you want to do some more studying but you don’t have the time. Work more on tenet 1 (Create time). Or maybe you aren’t confident about how to put what you are learning in to practice. Give tenet 3 (Socialise) a go and get more involved in the IT community. Or maybe every time you set goals, you get side tracked and fall behind. In that case, you need to work on tenet 10 (Review) and make sure you keep reviewing progress before yet another week\month\year goes by.

I have a message for those pessimists amongst you at the end of this post, but for now let’s pick up the pace and head straight to the tenets that will see you getting more done in less time and hopefully enjoying it.

1.Create time

First, acknowledge that there is not enough time to do everything. Focus on what is important. Be smart managing your Inbox. Give the 4 D’s method a go for emails: Deal with, Delete, Delegate, Defer. Never neglect family\personal time. Prioritise your workload. Don’t ignore the little jobs; they can have a habit of growing. Break the bigger jobs into manageable chunks. Learn how to delegate. Take a note of things that need to be done so they aren’t lost in the noise. Plan properly. Take regular breaks – you’ll come back refreshed. Accept when you are up to your neck in it. Ask for help when necessary. Learn when to say ‘no’. Don’t aim for perfection when ##% exceeds expectations. Determine the low hanging fruit. Automate. Orchestrate. Ignore distractions. Skip meetings you don’t need to be in. Learn how to end phone calls\conversations on your terms. Have to take an hour for lunch? – use it for studying or go to the gym. If you go to the gym, take your MP3 player with learning material on it. Repeat for the commute to work and home again. Consolidate your sources of information and set dedicated time aside to catch up. Ask yourself if you could be doing something more important right now.

2.Self-train

Don’t expect to learn things just by being sent on a training course or being told how things work. Read books. Watch videos. Create a home lab. Then use it, use it, use it! Fill in the gaps. Test the hypothesis. Ask questions, but try to find the answers yourself first. Double check the answers. Specialise. Generalise (see tenet 4 – cross pollinate). Google is your friend, but that’s just the start. Subscribe to blogs. Use your job as the best training ground you could hope for. Think outside the box. Certification is great but don’t overlook the power of experience. Learn about things that compliment your current skill set.

3.Socialise

Learn how to use Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+, etc. to your advantage. Each of these can sap your time (see tenet 1 – create time) but also be immensely useful if used correctly. Follow\friend\circle\etc. people who you find valuable. Dump those that don’t. Start blogging – this will help with tenet 2 (Self train). Give feedback on other people’s blogs. Try to give as much back as you take. Give praise where praise is due. Don’t berate unnecessarily. Be considerate. Make friends. Leave enemies in your wake, they will only try to hold you back.

4.Cross pollinate

Don’t limit your skill set. Talk to your colleagues in the next cubicle. Learn storage, Windows, Linux, scripting. Get multi-vendor skills. Do all of this to the depth to make you better at your job and less reliant on others. A good IT engineer should be able to engage with his peers with other skill sets. Get a hobby – doesn’t have to be related to your work but it lets the mind grow.

5.Be human

De-geek for customers, colleagues, management and family\friends. Understand the skills gap. Kill the acronyms. Empathise. Don’t hear – listen. Don’t look – see. Know your own flaws too. I said it in tenet 1 (Create time), but you need to be reminded here: never neglect family\personal time. If your job is more important that your family, something is broken.

6.Share

Documentation is king! Use standardised templates. Create document sets. Send links to colleagues. Update a wiki. Use version control. Knowledge is power – sharing knowledge is the real power. Pass on tips. Give praise when receiving knowledge. Don’t assume people’s skills. Drop useful links on your blog\social sites.

7.Honesty

Be honest. With yourself, your colleagues, customers, friends and family. Admit when you are wrong or when you don’t know something, but make it right and get the knowledge. Change jobs when you need to. Change careers if needs must. Ask for feedback from the people you interact with. In particular, demand an appraisal from your line manager at least once a year and have short, medium and long-term goals set. Use tenet 10 (Review) to track them.

8.Focus

Set targets and goals but be sure to enjoy the journey too. Don’t drift too far from the highway. You have to tune your body as much as your brain. Exercise often, whether it’s a sport, running, the gym, walking, etc. Make a list and use tenet 10(Review) to keep on top. Be relevant and accurate in everything you do and say.

9.Know your place

Do not get depressed with not knowing everything. Know what you don’t know; decide from that what you need to learn. Don’t get bogged down comparing your abilities to others. You’ll either spend your life kicking yourself because you can’t emulate your heroes, or you’ll justify treading water because you are at least better than the guy sat next to you. Be the best you can be. Aspire to improve. Drop things that you no longer need. Fine tune that which you do. Be an army of one.

10.Review

Set targets for all of the previous points. Track them. Improve where you can. Set goals. Achieve or change. Keep pushing yourself but take regular breaks. Don’t burn yourself out. Don’t take your foot off the gas too much. Treat your career like a prized network; monitor, be proactive, tweak, get feedback from its users, etc. Flense the blubber from your life.


Summary

Before I send you forth to slay the dragon, let me wrap things up by addressing those of you who are in medical need of addressing tenet 7 (Honesty), especially with regard to yourselves. The fact is you quite possibly don’t know who you are so allow me to draw back the curtains for a moment and let the migraine inducing light come streaming in.

I am referring to the ones who ‘know’ they don’t need to improve, who think they are already smart enough and certainly smarter than others, are experienced enough, don’t need to ask for help, believe they understand all there is to know about a topic from a Wikipedia article, keep things to themselves, see things in black and white, lie when they don’t know something, blame others when they are wrong, talk in tongues to show how clever they are, constantly make excuses, hide their mistakes, go home in the middle of a crisis and turn their phones off or just don’t care about your job (another post coming on this topic alone).

The chances are that even if you aren’t quite as stuck in your ways as the person described in the previous paragraph, you might be ready to admit that there are areas of both your personal and work life that could benefit from improvement. I certainly acknowledge that I need to practice what I preach here more often myself! Having read through this article a number of times before re-posting, I know I’ve allowed each of these tenets to be neglected on at least one occasion.

Don’t make the mistake of tarring this post with the ‘self-help crap’ brush. Be honest with yourself, swallow your pride, make these tenets your own and share them with others. You just might be surprised at the results. I got asked by several people who read the post last year if I would consider writing a more in-depth post for each tenet in turn and I think that is a good idea so watch this space.

Till the next time.

New Year’s resolutions 2013

Introduction

So another year is over and what a year 2012 was. I made the move to fully fledged network engineer and got the CCNP I had been eyeing up for a couple of years previously. Let’s not dwell on the past though (this post does that), this is a quick look at what I hope to achieve in 2013.

Certification

  1. Upgrading my Windows Server 2008 certs to MCSA2012. I was hoping to have sat this exam before Xmas but the exam centres were low on seats. It’s currently booked for 8th January
  2. I have three more exams left to achieve my CCNP Security. I am hoping to get these done by Q3 2013
  3. Guess what? That’s pretty much it. I feel like 2012 was the year of making the move from sysadmin to network engineer and part of that was getting my certs and experience up to speed. I now want to work more on the experience without having to think that attaining certification is a must. Sure, I may sit the odd exam (CCNA Data Center may take my fancy) but it’s more about rounding off the rough edges this year…and probably next year too

Blog

  1. As you can see, I’ve picked a new theme. It’s cleaner and much more basic. It’s also brighter (which helps shift the Xmas hangover) and the comments show up as I want them to. The old theme would show secondary comments in too dark a font. Please let me know what you think of the new theme…it’s not set it stone and I will take any suggestions on board
  2. More posts, but shorter. If I’m honest, I think the reason I didn’t post as often last year is because my posts were quite lengthy for the most part. That’s fine though and there will still be the odd ‘War and Peace’ post when the topic warrants it, but when I look around at other well established bloggers, most seem to be producing posts of just a few paragraphs and in some cases, just a few lines. As long as I can keep to topics people want to read about and keep the quality high, I think this is the best way forward

Knowledge

  1. In terms of networking, I want to increase my knowledge on the following topics over the next year:
    1. Cisco UCS
    2. MPLS
    3. SDN
    4. Network monitoring\troubleshooting tools
  2. I also want to invest more time in a couple of other hobbies of mine:
    1. Photography\video. This is the year I finally start taking the time to go through my collection and start deleting the crap and tagging the rest. I also want to attend a one day photography course at the local wildlife centre to get inspired
    2. Drumming. Having treated myself to a set of digital drums late last year, I am going to commit to learning how to play them properly, rather than just using them as a stress reliever (at which they excel!)
    3. Electronics. Having recently bought a couple of Raspberry Pi’s, some breadboards and fishing out my old collection of electronic components, I am looking forward to getting back in to a hobby that first inspired me as a child

Lifestyle

This one may be last but is probably the most important one. 2013 is the year I finally get my work\life balance back in order. Three years ago, I took on the team leader role at work and with that came an assumed 24\7 committment. Having stepped down from that role at the same time I moved to becoming a network engineer, there is still some work to be done in knowing when work stops and home life begins but I think that both work and home life will benefit from striking the right balance.

Summary

I hope you all have a great 2013 and hit your own targets.

Till the next time.

End of year review 2012

Introduction

Wow, what a year this has been. Both at the same time, I seem to have learned so much and yet so little. I’ve made a lot of new contacts in the world of networking both online and in that scary thing called real life. It makes sense for me to have an end of year review.

Goals

Back in January, I made one of my first posts outlining what I hoped to achieve by the end of 2012 from a certification point of view. The four items listed were:

  1. CCNP ROUTE
  2. CCNP TSHOOT
  3. CCDA
  4. CCNA Specialism

Achievments

So how did those targets match up with my achievements? Well, I passed the ROUTE and TSHOOT exams to gain my CCNP which made me about as proud as when I got my 2003 MCSE:Security some years back. I set out to do the CCDA and after going through the INE video series and half of the Cisco Press book, I found the material to be very dry. Rather than pushing on, I decided to shelve the CCDA for now, quite possibly returning in the future to complete it.

I do a fair amount of my day-to-day work on Cisco ASAs so it made sense at that point to start working towards the CCNP Security. This has a prerequisite of the CCNA Security, which I attained in October, letting me tick number 4 off the list. I’ve also since passed the first of the four CCNP Security exams, SECURE and am now studying towards the FIREWALL exam.

So all in all, not too bad. I dropped the CCDA but managed another exam in its place and will return to the CCDA once I get a bit more network design experience under my belt. I think it has been very useful to post my goals for this year. I found that referring to it every now and again gave me the boost in motivation required to keep on track.

Outside of the realm of certification, I have also had the good fortune to start expanding my existing knowledge on topics such as Wireshark, NMap, Solarwinds, UCS, VSS and many others. I fully intend on casting my knowledge net much further over the next 12 months.

Blogging

As regards to my blog, I would ideally have liked to post far more often but when the priorities have been lined up, blogging hasn’t been at the top unfortunately. I am hoping to post more frequently next year, quite probably starting 2013 off with another ‘resolutions’ post to keep me right.

In the new year, I will probably be changing the theme of the site. When I added it, I thought it looked a bit different from a lot of others but after 12 months, it looks a bit dark to me and could do with brightening up a bit. Depends on me finding something I like. On top of that, I’ve just updated WordPress and the banner graphic is out of sync for some reason.

Summary

Finally, I would like to thank everybody who has spent time coming here to read my musings. I hope you found something that was of use to you or at least put a smile on your face. Please feel free to contact me at vegaskid@vegaskid.net if you have any requests for posts, suggestions for the site or simply to ask a question or touch base. I would also like to thank everybody on Twitter\LinkedIn\etc. who has helped me out\engaged with me along the way. It’s great to know there is a large community of helpful and witty people out there.

Happy holidays to you all and here’s hoping we all have a great 2013!

Till the next time.

Upgrading my home network: part 1

Introduction

In part 1 of this article, I give a little background of how my home network has previously been set up. In part 2, I go through the plan of upgrading my home network and how that plan was implemented.

Background

I’ve lived in my current house for six years. It’s an old farmhouse out in the country and my wife and I fell in love with it as soon as we saw it. I had asked the previous owner if she could get ADSL and she reported she hadn’t signed up but was under the impression it was available. Upon moving in, I signed up with an ISP who thought it should be possible, but alas upon installation of the router and filters, it wasnt to be. I had British Telecom engineers out to my house, their Higher Level Complaints team on the phone frequently but it just boiled down to me being too far from the exchange. This was rubbed in further by houses on each side only a 1/2 mile away that enjoyed ADSL Internet access. BT’s line routing policy meant I was stuck.

So I used dial up for about a year and nearly went insane due to having to take this step back to the (1st world) dark ages. Migrating 750 MS Exchange users to a new domain via Powershell over a high latency\low bandwidth dial up VPN connection is about as much fun as sticking pins in my eyes. On top of the weekend overtime I was putting in, I was also on the on-call rota for one week in six. More often than not, I’d find myself driving around to my parents who live a couple of miles away to use their broadband if I thought the job would take more than 15 minutes. RDP over dial up is appalling more often than not. When you need to RDP on to your jump box via VPN to then RDP on the customer’s jump box to then RDP on to the server in question (I love customer’s requirements), a five minute job could literally take well over an hour.

Funding

I then heard about the Scottish Government stumping up a paltry £3.5M to fund it’s Broadband Outreach programme, to bring broadband to those that were currently unable to receive it for whatever reason. Enter me and about 10 neighbours of mine. I jumped at the chance to be our ‘cluster’s’ front man and was soon dismayed to find out that the final solution would be two way satellite, provided by Avanti who at the time didn’t have a great reputation. The fact that I spent every day under contract with them wishing I had an alternative should clarify if that reputation was founded or not. Quite frankly, they were appalling. The dish was almost the size of Jodrell Bank. The modem was the size of a DVD player and it had two thick strands of coaxial cable running to it via a hole in the wall. On a good day, the latency was 750ms. On a bad day, it simply didn’t work. It cost about £45 a month for a 2Mb\s connection which thankfully, my company stumped up the lion’s share. Something had to be done.

3G alternatives

I had tried a number of different 3G mobile dongles from T-Mobile, Orange and Vodafone and all were worse than the satellite. Even walking around the house outside with my laptop made little difference. My house has 12-18″ thick walls in places so I was still willing to have something mounted outside with a lead coming back in. After about 3 years of putting up with the satellite, I decided to look at the problem again, this time reviewing 3’s website, another mobile provider who were one of the first to market with 3G in the UK. I checked their site which claimed I could get 3G at my postcode. I decided to give their PAYG package a ‘low risk’ try out. When I got the dongle home to test, I got the same lame connection. But when I walked around the house with this one, I would find some sweet spots where the latency dropped to 70ms and I could get a solid 1Mb\s up and down speed! This was massive progress, despite some of my colleagues from the big smoke advising me their home connection had just been upgraded to 100Mb\s. I did a good selection of testing, including my work VPN, YouTube, general browsing and a long lost art for me…online gaming using Call of Duty: Modern Warfare. All passed with flying colours and I signed up for a contract.

Internal network

It is worth pointing out at this stage that my internal network was crappy too. Those hefty walls are great at stopping WiFi as much as 3G signals. When I got the MiFi device (a 3G modem and WiFi AP\router in one device), it was best placed in the main bedroom, plugged in for a stronger, more consistent signal and draped over the latch on the window. Unfortunately, the TV room is downstairs and at the other side of the house i.e. pretty much as far from the MiFi as possible. I bought a WiFi extender but it simply repeated the signal on the same channel and so, whilst it made the coverage better, it didn’t seem to improve connectivity if there were a couple of devices trying to connect at the same time. Access to the MiFi was affected with packet loss due to collisions\retransmissions. I needed a more resilient solution so I took a more holistic approach to my networking needs. In part 2 of this article, I outline the design I came up with and give some installation pictures. Hopefully, some people reading this might find some nuggets of inspiration. At the very least, I hope it puts a smug smile on some of the 100Mb\s+ brigade!

Need to go now, the electrician has just turned up to power up the loft.

Till the next time.

Half year review

Introduction

In one of my earlier posts, I set out my certification goals for 2012:

http://vegaskid.net/2012/01/new-years-resolutions/

I gave myself four targets for the year which I still think is more than achievable so let’s take a look at my half year review. I am glad to say that I have ticked numbers 1 and 2 off of the list to gain my CCNP at the half way mark and still have numbers 3 and 4 well within my sights. I think design skills are important to have, even if designing networks is only a small part of your job. If you know how networks should be put together, you are better qualified to point out where improvements can be made in existing networks. This allows you to go beyond simply fixing issues as they occur and approach troubleshooting as a continual improvement process. I am currently in my 2nd week of a two week holiday but fully intend on starting my CCDA studies before month end.

Regarding my other CCNA speciality, I have decided to go for the CCNA Security as the first step in my desire to get a highly job relevant CCNP Security at some point in 2013\14. I am also going to go back to basics in terms of routing and switching knowledge and start building up some study tools so that once I feel I am ready for the CCIE R&S, I will already have built up some momentum. By this time next year, I hope to have a fairly comprehensive flash card library and some expansive mind maps.

Summary

The reason for this brief post is mainly for my own motivation. Keeping track of your goals, changing them where required, adding new ones and ticking them off the list as you achieve them is a good way of staying motivated and keeping the momentum up. Without a review from time to time, you can find yourself drifting from your original goal with no real idea of what it is you want. I tend to review my goals much more frequently than every six months, usually every few weeks or if and when something happens which sticks a spanner in the works of some kind.

Till the next time.

I own this network

Introduction

Before I go any further, this is my first post using Blogsy on the iPad so here’s hoping it publishes as expected.

I returned to work last week after a lovely beach holiday with the family, chilling out and catching some rays. I went in to the office on Monday with the full intention of putting a couple of ongoing issues to bed and taking note of the outstanding tasks that need addressing so that I could formulate a plan of attack.

Background

Let me give you a little background to put things in perspective. I work for an ISP in the UK. I see my domain as a network engineer broken down in to four main areas. There is our core network, our access customers such as dial up, ADSL\SDSL, leased lines, MPLS etc, our hosted customers that reside in our different data centres and the management piece that encompasses all of these which includes logging, performance monitoring, security, configuration management, auditing, documentation and all that good stuff. Some of these things are missing, some are in place but all need attention to some degree at some location under my responsibility. I started at the company 4.5 years ago as a Microsoft engineer and those who have read my previous posts will know that I got my CCNA three years ago and made the fully fledged move to networking in November of 2011 so I am a relative noobie, despite hopefully being only a few weeks away from gaining a hard earned CCNP.

So back to my original tale of good intentions and their rapid evaporation. Thursday morning came around and I found that I had become increasingly annoyed over the week. Although most likely not true, it seemed that every time I logged on to a device to either make a change or troubleshoot an issue, I was finding trails of legacy config, standard practice being laughed at and very little in the way of an explanation of why certain quirks had been put in place. I’ve seen several network engineers come and go during my time with my current employer, with various skills and capabilities. The problem is that they have all left now. The current team include myself, who only really ‘looked behind the curtain’ at the end of last year and two others that have joined even more recently so I found myself from time to time playing the well known game of ‘blame the guy who has moved on’. Fair? In this case, absolutely. Helpful? Not one bit but I do believe that anybody putting a network infrastructure in place should leave enough documentation behind for another capable engineer to pick up and not only understand how that network is supposed to work but also why certain design decisions were made. I don’t think that’s a lot to ask for as a minimum. So as I drove home on Thursday evening, I found myself quietly seething about me having to pick up the crap left behind by others. This is nothing new in the world of IT though, or indeed in many other fields.

Lightbulb moment

On Friday morning, I decided that I wanted to walk our core network to get a better grasp of how it ticks. I printed off a Visio diagram (as a side note and final moan, a diagram that I created six months ago as the existing one at that time was a mess and largely incorrect). My plan was to start at the edge where our little part of the Internet joins the big boys, work my way to the core and back up to our other edge (we are multihomed) one device at a time. This could take days or even weeks to do, depending on what depth I wanted to go to.

Only five minutes in to my first router and it hit me like a thunderbolt. I wasn’t shrugging my shoulders at the configuration that lay before me. This was now my network and it was mine to improve, tweak, fix and care for. I suddenly saw what was previously a daunting task as an amazing opportunity to improve my own knowledge, understanding and confidence as well as the network itself.

Slightly giddy, I opened an Excel spreadsheet and created a new tab for each core device and a general one to cover things not specific to any one device. I took a dump of the router’s config and started going through it line by line. Anything that looked wrong or didn’t make sense didn’t get me mad. It just got noted. Anything relevant to the Visio that wasn’t already on it got pencilled in for later. I had other tasks to do that day so only managed the one device but it felt very satisfying.

Summary

I now had a much clearer vision and a drive to see it through to completion. It all changed with a flick of a switch in my head labelled ‘attitude’. The same problems exist but now I own them, even embrace them and that means this is all going to actually be fun (my twisted sense of fun anyway). This could be the greatest training programme I ever go on…and I get paid for it!

One final thing to say. The title of this post may be slightly misleading to some. Don’t get caught up in the illusion that you really do own a network that you’ve invested time in, unless of course it’s your home network. What I’m saying is, don’t become that guy that keeps details to himself in order to give himself that false sense of job security. You are a facilitator. Share the knowledge so that others can add value too.

Till the next time.

Make some time for yourself

I recently posted at Packet Pushers about 10 key areas that people who work in IT should focus on to see improvements both in their working and personal lives. This post looks at the first of those areas, time management. To match the theme, I will make this post as short as possible so you can get on with the rest of your day.

There are countless books, websites, guides, courses, etc. that give you advice on how to improve your productivity. Some of these are very good, others less so. What most of them share in common is a toolbox of techniques to improve your time management. This post offers only three such tools that I use every day. I guarantee that if you condition yourself to use them every day too, you will find yourself getting more done. For those of you who are really busy, here are the three techniques, which I discuss further below:

  1. Lists
  2. 4 Ds method
  3. Distraction avoidance

Lists

Very simple this one. Every evening before you go to bed, spend up to 10 minutes writing out a list of things you need to get done. How you break down the list is up to you e.g. one list for work, another for home. Take any of the big tasks and break them down in to smaller ones. Then prioritise them in a way that works for you e.g. tasks that must be done the next day, those that can wait till later in the week, etc.

Once you have your final list, broken down with enough detail to get you started at full speed and in order of priority, take the list to work the next day and start on the number one priority and get it completed before working on the next task on the list. Cross out each task as you complete it.

4 Ds method

This applies to any workflow that comes your way, whether it’s your helpdesk application, paper tray or email inbox. It’s a simple way to deal with anything that is going to use up some of your valuable time. The 4 Ds all do what they say on the tin. The explanations I give are from the point of view of an email that has just landed in your inbox, but you can apply, as stated above, to any incoming request for your time:

  • Deal. If this is a priority, deal with it right now. Do what is required, sign it off and move on.
  • Delegate. Send this onwards to somebody else who can deal with this. Only make a note if you need to chase it up yourself.
  • Defer. This one is critical. If you need to deal with it, but not just yet, move it to a ‘Defer’ folder and only look at this folder when you are going to deal with it. You must get out of the habit of looking at deferred items more than once before doing anything with them. That costs you a lot of time in the long run.
  • Delete. Just delete it and have done with it.

Distraction avoidance

Distractions can easily suck up hours of your working day:

  • Meetings that you should not have been in
  • Meetings that go on for two hours with a five minute ‘useful’ bit
  • Telephone calls that match the two meeting points above
  • Gossip around the coffee machine\photocopier
  • ‘Can you just take a quick look at this for me’….an hour later, you are still looking

Distractions such as those above and countless others eat in to your working day and indeed life in general. Learn how to deal with them in an assertive yet professional manner.

An example: I’ve said on many occasions that I am unable to make it to a meeting due to being busy on something else. When I read the meeting minutes later, I learn in less than five minutes what it took the attendees 90 minutes to find out. I try to only attend meetings where my input is necessary and even then, I can often give my input after the fact.

When you walk about the office, walk with pace. Not only do you get where you are going quicker but it makes it easier to get past that person who is always grabbing you for advice. When I make myself a brew in the kitchen, I take it straight back to my desk. I eat my lunch at my desk too.

If somebody keeps tapping you on the shoulder for help, rather than doing it for them, show them how to do it themselves, perhaps with a Wiki article or a process guide. Or send them a LMGTFY link. Or be honest and tell them that you are really busy now but if they send you the details, you will get around to it.

Of course sometimes it’s somebody senior to yourself who keeps sapping your time and if that is the case, refer them to your list of priorities for the day and ask them where their request falls on that list. It’s amazing how often they will concede that it’s not as important as first suggested.

Summary

Use each of these in conjunction with one another and really put effort in to each of them. It has been estimated that learning a new habit requires daily practice and takes about 2-3 weeks before it starts to feel natural. However, get started today and you will see results almost immediately. Let me know how you get on in the comments below or via email. I also have an upcoming post on how to make the most of your studying time that I have found not only lets me learn things quicker, but makes the topics sink in!

Finally, remember that on average, we have 450 minutes at work each day. Try to make every single one count and watch your productivity soar.

Till the next time…

Cisco Live London 2012 – It’s value to me

The dust has finally settled on Cisco Live London 2012, the vendors have moved on and the Ethernet and power leads ripped out. On the latter point, these were actually being pulled out as I walked out of the final session on the Friday. Well, they say that time is money.

On that very note, before I start to talk about the value of this event as I perceive it, let’s look at what the real costs are (and damn you WordPress image compression!):

CL12 Rates
The various rates for Cisco Live London 2012 (main conference pass)

This covers the event from Tuesday to Friday midday. Monday is a full day for those that wish to attend the technical seminars. I believe that there were 25 on offer this year and assume that they all cost the same as the one I attended at £475. All of these costs are excluding VAT. You get lunch provided on Monday through Thursday (with a packed lunch on the Friday) and there are snacks and drinks served at various times throughout the day, so you need to factor in evening meals, accommodation and travel costs in to the equation, although Cisco put on a number of parties in the evenings with food. It can all add up quickly. I was fortunate enough to get company sponsorship to attend and, as my company has a flat in the Shoreditch area of London, the costs to the company were in the region of £3000, including my expenses.

If you have to factor in a hotel which isn’t a flea pit, then suddenly you are looking at a ball park figure of £4000 for the week. Not a casual spend by any stretch of the imagination. Yet I spent not a penny of my own so my attempt to define the value of this event in terms of money might at first be pointless. Or would it? Surely I can (and I will as you’ll soon see), list what I see as the main benefits of attending this event and then summarise by saying, would I pay £4000 of my own money to attend. The problem with that is, I don’t have £4000 lying around spare so the answer would have to be no.

Let’s leave the financials out of the discussion for the moment and talk about the benefits of attending this event.

  • Meeting the vendors – the World of Solutions conference hall allowed many different vendors to set up their stall and tell me why their products were unlike anything else on the market. OK, so there will always be a biased pitch but I am fairly immune to that kind of thing (or at least know when I’m letting myself be swayed) and am happy to ask probing questions or call BS where I see it. I saw that at only a couple of stalls – the vast majority accepted their weaknesses (where they had them) and were mostly balanced. As a guide to the usefulness of having all these vendors in one place, there is a product I will be definitely looking at more closely as it offers something that I currently have to get from two separate vendors at twice the cost.
  • Technical seminars – the Monday session proved to be very informative. 4 x 2 hour sessions that maximised the useful information and minimised the fluff. It would have taken me days, if not weeks, to have accumulated that level of knowledge. For this seminar as with all the sessions I attended, to have the presentation materials to refer to whenever I choose means the fact I have a memory leak issue is seriously mitigated!
  • Breakout sessions – the wide variety of these was very impressive. They were also numbered so you could quickly determine the depth of knowledge being passed on i.e. 1### was for the introductory level sessions, 2### for intermediate, 3### as expected for the advanced levels. They ranged in length from 30 minutes to over a couple of hours. All of the presenters throughout the week were bang on the money both in terms of knowledge and presentation skills.
  • Lab sessions – these came in two flavours. Walk in labs and instructor led. With the former, you book your slot (or chance your luck and turn up), and you sit down and work your way through the chosen lab. There were several to choose from and I opted for the CCIE OSPF lab. The instructor led labs were a bit more formal, at set times with (in myIPv6 lab at least) three instructors to help with any questions. There was little instructor led learning for the group. You just worked your way through the lab and asked questions if you had any. I found this session to be extremely valuable. I have always found hands on labs the best way to learn and remember topics and four hours configuring IPv6 helped me understand a good deal about it.
  • Meeting Key Cisco staff – where else would you get the chance to speak to the CTO of Cisco Learning to get key advice on my study path and probe about, for example, what Cisco are doing to protect the CCIE programme? Or speak directly to the IOS product manager about the timelines for features and platform standardisation? Highly valuable discussions.
  • Meeting your peers – I met some great people last week. Friendly, knowledgeable, geeky, willing to share their experiences, willing to listen to mine. I use Twitter quite a lot but it has limitations. The lack of the face to face feedback, the 140 character limit that makes anything more than a passing comment a chore. Sure, there are loads of nice people on there who can help you, but there is no captive audience. Chances are that most of my followers are still asleep on the other side of the pond if I expect an answer before lunch. Facebook is dead to me. The web as a whole offers all the information I could hope for, but sitting down for lunch, or a pint…or a vindaloo perhaps and just talking about ‘stuff’ is so much more sociable and that suits my personality much more and it’s back to the feedback issue…its instantaneous.
  • Inspirational – all of the factors above, crammed in to a single week? It was a real eye opener for me and I came back, despite the very long days, feeling energised, driven to get my CCNP done and move on to bigger and better things, get a plan together for both IPv6 and more global WiFi rollouts within the company and to spread the word as to what is happening in the industry.

Perhaps this post will help you decide if you think Cisco Live is worth attending if you haven’t already. Do I think it was a worthwhile event? Surely you know the answer to that from this post alone, let alone the daily updates I posted (you have read them all haven’t you?!!). I’m already asking the question about if my company intends on sending people there next year.

Would I pay £4000 myself for such an event? If I had that kind of money to spend without it stinging, without a doubt. The fact is though that it would sting but let me make a final comparison to put things in perspective. Being a predominantly self-taught person, I’ve been on only a handful of courses in my IT career. These have usually come in at the £1000-£2000 mark, and that is just for the course i.e. only £0-£1000 cheaper than Cisco Live. If I take the extreme case and say would I pay £1000 more for Cisco Live than the best of those IT courses, then I would say there is no question. I absolutely would and I’ll be gutted if I don’t get to attend again next year, and the next, and the next…

Till the next time…

Cisco Live London 2012 Day 5

I woke up this morning with mixed feelings. On the one hand, I was very excited to get back home to see Jo and Mia, my wife and daughter. Although this week at Cisco Live London 2012 has been a phenomenal experience, I find that I really start to miss them both after a few days away. The flip side of that excitement was the genuine sadness that the Cisco Live week is over. I am very fortunate to have been here, learnt some amazing things and met some quality people. Once the dust settles a bit, I’ll post a summary of the week and explain why somebody in my position found it to be so incredible.

OK, back to the task in hand – what happened on day 5. The last day is a half day and the World of Solutions section closed yesterday afternoon so I was keen to make the most of the morning and had booked in to two sessions. Funnily enough, these were the original two sessions that I had signed up for when I first got my online account. Pretty much every other session had been swapped about before I finally settled on them.

The first session was on OTV. Max Ardica did a great job of covering the topic considering the 90 minute time frame, although it is one of the more easy to understand concepts. OTV is effectively a Layer 2 extension feature, which used in conjunction with LISP, for example, has some real potential. This is a relatively new feature that is maturing at a steady rate. Overlay Transport Virtualisation creates a tunnel or multiple tunnels over a Layer 3 IP network and allows Layer 2 communication across it. Assuming you have the bandwidth for it, it means you can VMotion across geographical locations and using this in conjunction with LISP will allow your external access to find the services in the new location with minimal outage (when I say outage, I am talking about a single packet drop, so outage is not really the right word).

Despite the Cisco Live party last night and it being the last day both this and the last session of the week were full up, which surprised both presenters!

The last session was on the evolution of IOS. This turned out to be more interesting that it might at first sound! First of all, Cisco are committing to making the whole numbering and release fiasco more standardised across all platforms. On that note, there is a strong desire internally to standardise the CLI platforms themselves but it’s not going to happen in the next 18 months. What will happen before then is a more frequent release of SM (standard maintenance) versions with regular EM (extended maintenance) releases. This harks back to the good old days but since 12.4\12.2 on the routing and switching platforms, the numbering system seemed to be set to reach infinity and releases were not nearly as common as they used to be. The presenter (whose name was not on the slide and whose face doesn’t match the name on the Cisco Live website for the session) was the first to admit that there are still a lot more improvements to be made.

Mystery man
Do you know this man?

The subject of licencing of course reared its head and after reviewing customer feedback, the current model is being overhauled to a ‘Right to Use’ system, effectively based on trust. You use, you buy, but you can install an IOS for evaluation purposes and doing a ‘show licence’ will reveal which licences are under evaluation and which have effectively entered the ‘be honest’ phase.

The IOS is moving to a more modular system, where each feature is available in a release and you turn on what you need. In addition, there was talk of feature virtualisation so that, for example, a firewall feature would run in its own computing process separately from OSPF, so that if one caused issues, it would not crash the entire system. Playing in to the modular approach, a role based access method could mean that your firewall guys could log on and only see the firewall process CLI, your routing guys the related processes etc. Perhaps too much granularity for anyone other than the really large shops but I can think of a few good use cases at my current role.

Another feature coming down the line, which I thought was very cool and also long overdue, is the ability to have a Wireshark process running on a switch\router that could packet sniff without having to put a separate device inline. 1984 made easy, 28 years later.

As a late snippet of something I learned yesterday in one of my IPv6 sessions, OSPFv3 will be supporting IPv4, hopefully from next year. Its improved convergence alone makes this good news, but nobody will be running IPv4 by the end of 2013 anyway, right?

Well, I’m at the airport now with five hours to kill thanks to a cancelled flight and intend on catching up with a load of stuff, so…

Can't wait
Till the next time…

Cisco Live London 2012 Day 4

As much as yesterday at Cisco Live London 2012 was about the WAN for me, today was all about IPv6. Well, beer and curry and IPv6 too. At the start of the week, today was going to be about learning more about UCS. Following on from the excellent seminar on Monday, and my colleague’s recommendation of the IPv6 intructor led lab (that he attended yesterday), I decided UCS should take the back seat so I turned up 15 minutes early to be first in the waiting line – this session had been fully booked. Thankfully, not everybody booked in turned up by 08:57, which is when they start letting the people on the waiting list in.

Bam!! Four hours of labbing, with three excellent instructors on hand to answer any questions. There were seven main labs, with four optional ones. I made sure that I fully understood everything I was doing before moving on to the next part and was glad to have made it through five of the seven main labs in the four hours. Missing the last two did not concern me as the lab is available for download and the topology will be easily created in GNS3. As I tweeted later in the day, I will be setting up IPv6 at my home in the coming days and seeing what IPv6 only resources I can access on the Internet. The best way to understand IPv6 is to get stuck in and see what it does. I could feel my trepidation fading away with each successful confirmation that I’d configured it correctly.

The afternoon brought two IPv6 breakout sessions, the first delivered by Cisco IT about how they implemented IPv6 in their own business presented by Khalid Jawaid, the second a session on planning, deploying and things to consider presented by the very capable Yenu Gobena. Although the Cisco IT session was good, the second one was far more informative for me and rounded off my IPv6 day nicely…

…just in time for Net Beers. Yep, last night of Cisco Live is party night but instead of heading straight to the main event, myself with @ghostinthenet and @ccie5851 (Jody Lemoine and Ron Fullar respectively) met up with @xanthein (Jon Still) who unfortunately hadn’t been able to make it to Cisco Live. A good night was had by all and it wasn’t long before Jody was outnerding us all with his knowledge of Sci-Fi & fantasy, history and many other things too. He also won the ‘Matt’s favourite T-shirt of the week’ competition:

Geek T-shirt
You shall not pass!!

At about 21:00, I was feeling rather peckish so Jody and I said our farewells to Jon and headed to the Cisco Live party. The setup was pretty cool, although most of the food had already been taken by that point so when Jody said he felt like a curry, I told him I knew a place! So off to Brick Lane in Shoreditch again for a chilli masala and a vindaloo for Jody (at a different place from Monday, not quite as nice but very pleasant). And so another post midnight day came to an end, I thought I’d keep today’s post a bit briefer.

Two sessions tomorrow to take me up to lunch time, then it’s back up north of the border. Will give an overview of those as soon as I get the chance and a summary of the week as a whole. Also, in light of today’s sessions, I’ve changed the tagline of the blog from “The 127.0.0.1 of networking”. It’s all about progress!!

Till the next time…

Cisco Live London 2012 Day 3

Day 3 at Cisco Live London 2012 and yes, it’s true. I have whored myself today with no shame nor remorse, but more on that later. The day started off so well too!! Today, the primary theme for me was simply WAN. Optimisation, high availability, security and best design. Both sessions were delivered by Adam Groudan, a man who touts himself as Cisco’s WAN evangelist and it was soon clear why. It’s always nice to sit and listen to somebody who really knows their shit, especially when you yourself might not! If I was to give you two topics to go away and read up on, it would be DMVPN and Performance Routing (PfR). Am looking forward to trying this stuff out on the lab.Then came the first whoring of the day. A tweet I sent out on Monday:

Just put my hand to head and found brain tissue leaking out of ears. Thanks @CiscoLiveEurope! That was some technical seminar #CLEUR

This caught the attention of some of the guys in the social lounge and they asked if they could do a quick video interview on how I was finding the event and if they could use both the video and the tweet in their marketing material. Sure I said, as long as my Twitter handle is included! I have just started blogging after all and knowing that there might be more people reading it keeps the motivation going…..no…..please dont go!!

Following on from that, it was off for the 2nd and final keynote speech of the week, presented by Cisco Futurist Dave Evans with guest Richard Noble, the holder of the land speed record until 1997. Dave presented a very intriging 10 things to look out for in the next 10 years. I unfortunately had to bomb out at number 8 for a meeting with Cisco Scotland so will watch the keynote on Cisco Live Virtual. If you like tech and progress, I strongly suggest you do too…it was very interesting and Richard’s part juts showed what an amazing field engineering is. The Bloodhound car (picture posted in last blog at the end) is at the pinnacle of technological progress. The thing that really blew my mind was the fact that this car uses a Cosworth F1 engine….it’s job is to pump the fuel required for the jet engine!! An F1 engine required effectively as a pump for a bigger engine. If I recall correctly, that car throws out something like 70000bhp. I will be watching the television coverage when the new record attempt is made, hopefully next year.

Lunch today was provided at the Crown Plaza hotel courtesy of the Cisco Scotland team for attendees from a Scottish company. Hell, it was a free bit of tasty lunch so I didn’t want to tell them I am actually English in case they barred me. Of course, there is no such thing as a free lunch but the 30 minute marketing pitch on their UCS offerings was actually quite informative.

The afternoon brought the 2nd WAN session mentioned above and then I attended a useful 30 minute session on the value of certifcation and how it can help your career. This was presented by David Mallory, the CTO for Cisco Learning and we had a good 15 minute chat after the session on the value of different study methods and materials, how to approach the CCIE lab and what to expect and what Cisco are doing to keep the very high standard of their different tracks and levels of certifcation. Where else could you get that kind of high value information in such a condensed time?

And now, for some more whoring news. Before Dave Evans began his keynote speech this morning, Darren Cambell came on to take part in an Xbox 360 Kinnect competition with some of the attendees who had somehow managed to find the time to play a Cisco Live game. In the early afternoon, Darren was doing a meet and greet at the social lounge and with him being from Manchester too, I thought I’d go and have a chat. Now, for those that dont know me, I’m not shy in the slightest so charged up to him and asked for a photo opportunity which he willingly supplied. Please note the Gold medal around my neck that he picked up at Athens 2004 for the 4x100m relay. He’s only 3 months younger than me but still looks like he’s in his 20’s. Makes you sick really! Joking aside, he’s a really nice bloke.

Nice bloke
Fastest man at Cisco Live for sure

Another whoring alert just in, I recently tweeted Jimmy Ray Purser of Cisco fame asking for a photo to which he replied in the affirmative. So when I turned a corner in the World of Solutions and saw both him and Robb Boyd having their photos taken, I introduced myself and asked him to uphold his end of the bargain, despite me offering him nothing in return! They were in the middle of a photo shoot themselves but dropped everything straight away and Jimmy had a good chat with me about things in a completely relaxed way before I stopped annoying them any further.

Network rock stars
Thanks Robb for the monkey face!

The final ‘this whoring news just in’ was when, at the morning’s WAN session, Adam had about 10 little boxes of magnetic Visio style network icons to hand out to people who asked the best question. Of course, as soon as he said that hands were popping up all over the place. When my question, which deserved a box for being the most retarded of the week, didnt get such recognition, I ended up approaching him at the end of the session, noticed a spare box on his desk and told him that I was trying to get my daughter in to network design and that the box would allow her to do this over her cornflakes in the morning. Box…in the bag. Thanks Adam. She is only four at the moment, I should add, but I’ll be showing her, using the icons, how one might design a redundant WAN solution!

OK, I am seriously goosed but they are handing out free beer so I’m off for the night. Planning on being sensible…ish tonight so I can give it my all for the last full day, then on Friday, its off to the Cisco store for some much coveted books.

Till the next time…

Cisco Live London 2012 Day 2

Day 2 at Cisco Live London 2012 began with the immediate realisation that lots of attendees didn’t come to yesterday’s technical seminars. It was absolutely heaving with wall to wall nerds and geeks with the dweebs sitting in the corner.

The first session of the day was the week’s first keynote speech, given by the CTO of Cisco Padmasree Warrior. There was a big show with performers waving some light wand things about that generated different flags of the world on them and lots of loud music before an introduction by some bloke that I should probably know. Whilst Padmasree’s talk wasn’t anything revelational (by that I mean it was pretty much all known or expected), it was good to hear a fairly complete set of Cisco’s strategies reeled off in an hour session. There was a technical demonstration on the rather expensive looking kit below:

Demonstration Rig – a lot of kit

Apologies for the low quality pic but the lighting was being all funky. It is basically a UCS system sitting on top of an EMC VNX storage device with 6500 Catalyst switches and some ‘lower quality’ non-Cisco switches. It was a video conferencing demo but the cheese factor was turned up to 10 when the distinction was made between the Cisco super duper switches and the meh ones by showing a jittery video call being placed, the ethernet cable being taken out of the crap switch and in to a 3750 when the video was just perfect. I wonder how many other techie guys in the audience were like me and just wanted to console on to the crappy switch and check the config out!!

Another demonstration was carried out that was more impressive. The photo below doesn’t really do it justice but it was a video suite that acts like a greenscreen (but without being green, a more business like grey was acceptable) and allows you to put in an active backdrop e.g. perhaps a studio with a TV screen with active content such as a video or presentation). They then ‘teleported’ one of the female UK 5K atheletes on to the screen next to them from another video suite so they appeared side by side. I say you cant beat just picking up the bloody phone but I was impressed by the technology nonetheless. The ‘real people’ can be seen on the far right, missing the athelete who appears on the screen.

As if by magic

After the keynote speech, I then had a couple of hours to browse around the various vendor stalls as I had cancelled a session late last night on an introduction to UCS which I felt was a duplicate of what I had learned in yesterday’s technical seminar. I will cover the entire ‘World of Solutions’ floor this week but today, there were two stalls that I thought I would talk to you about, and unfortunately do not have any photos so you will need to go to their websites for more information.

The first was a company called SevOne, (www.sevone.com) who provide a network performance management tool in the form of pretty much an all in one appliance, each model sized for a certain number of objects (ports\interfaces etc.). You pick the polling period and the first 30 days of data are stored (along with the bastardised Gentoo distro OS) on fast SSD drives. Data from 30 days to 12 months are stored on normal spinning disks but the key difference from, say Solarwinds Orion, which I am more familiar with, is the device does not roll up any of the data, so in 10 months time, you can view the data as it was polled, not a hourly summary for example. Another good selling point was that buying the device buys you a high level of support too so if you need to update the software, they will do it remotely for you, they will help keep your database healthy etc. Finally, the fact that it has Netflow capabilities built in meant that you can use it out of the box. A nice touch to the one on one demo I got was a zoom in on a particular network spike, a button click brought up the Netflow data and the culprit flow was visible immediately. Quite a nice all in one solution from my first glance.

The second stall that I was impressed by were selling smartboards. I believe they may have been called Smartboard but my memory is failing me! The simplicity at which these things operate was what first occured to me. They were very intuitive and the guys hosting the booth knew it as they stood back and just let people play about with them. The collaboration possibilities stood out a mile as you can link multiple smartboards across physical locations for a true brain storming session. There is an iPad app that would allow users of those devices to consume the content as well as add to it. The devices are Powerpoint aware meaning you can open a presentation, add scribbles and notes etc and save the presentation in it’s amended state.

It was actually at this stall when the nice Canadian chap (another attendee) I had been speaking to looked at my name badge, then at his phone and said “are you Vegaskid?”. It turned out it was @ghostinthenet, Jody Lemoine. It seemed slightly surreal to me to have been ousted in such a manner, especially as I had replied to a tweet of his not more than an hour earlier. It’s always nice to put a face to a name and we had lunch and a good chat. There was mention of net beers which I believe is a tradition at such events so looking forward to a couple of those!

I won’t dwell on these points too much but a couple of disappointments today were the WiFi and the fact that one of my sessions on fast routing convergence was over subscribed. The WiFi issue ran on all day but the event organisers are reporting that it should all be fixed for tomorrow so fingers crossed. The over subscription issue was a little annoying, but thankfully it wasnt on my ‘must go to’ session list so I didnt let it annoy me too much.

Later on, I also bumped in to Ron Fuller (@ccie5851) at the Nexus stand and introduced myself. It’s quite interesting how keen and good network engineers can be at the other kind of networking. We are quite the social animal!

I had a two hour session in the afternoon based on enterprise WLANs, which whilst not deep dive enough for me, considering my recently acquired project to implement a two controller, eight AP solution, it gave me enough to get on with it with a little more confidence. Below is a picture of the presenter who was very comfortable with his subject matter.

Enterprise WLAN presenter
Sujit Ghosh – WiFi guru

That took me to 17:45, when the drinkypoos started. So what did I do? I grabbed a beer and a glass of wine and headed over to the walk in labs and decided to take on the CCIE OSPF lab. Not for the first time today, I found myself in a surreal situation with people getting merry all around me and these guys playing music just outside the lab area. Whilst good fun, I did find their musical talents a little stilted….oh dear, back to the day job Matt!

WTF?
Words cannot describe…

I realised about two questions from the end of my lab that I hadnt rang my wife and daughter to see how they were so did so before my iPhone battery gave up the ghost. Having got about 75% of the way through the topic of OSPF for my ROUTE exam, I found the CCIE lab at quite a good level to keep me on my toes. I think I’ll maybe pop in for another one before the week is out.

Finally, the car attempting to break the world land speed record (at 1000mph apparently) was on display. Wouldn’t want to reverse park it!

OK, it’s now already Wednesday and I am goosed so that’s it for now.

Till the next time…

Cisco Live London 2012 Day 1

First of all, WOW. The vibe at Cisco Live London 2012 is quite amazing. A two minute walk from the Princes Regent DLR stop takes you in to the Excel exhibition centre and the registration process was over in another two minutes and the first souvenir of the week, the obligatory CL backpack, was in hand.

Need to look for a new laptop to fit…
Vendor stalls at the back, Meet the Engineer pods in white

The technical seminar I had signed up for was the ‘catchy’ sounding ‘TECVIR-2002 Enabling the Cloud: Data Center Virtualization – Applications, Compute, Networking and Best Practices’.

The three presenters over the day, which stretched to nine hours, were Carlos Pereira, Santiago Freitas and Ray O’Hanlon. Each had their own style but all were very capable speakers\presenters which kept me engaged for the individual parts which ran up to two hours each. Carlos in particular was a natural and the demonstrations given by Santiago were nothing short of breathtaking.

From the left: Santiago Freitas, Carlos Pereira and Ray O’Hanlon

I did think if nine hours was enough to cover the broad range of topics in any real depth but these guys have done this before and the fluff was kept to a minimum, at least for the first half of the day. Any attempt for me to judge the quality in the afternoon would be futile as I was just trying to understand as much as I could, despite the fact I have the slides to refer back to.

Fabricpath, UCS, OTV, LISP, FCoE, VXLAN all got good representation and of course how they relate to ‘the cloud’. I am thoroughly relieved to know that my idea of what cloud is matched fairly well to Cisco’s.  Note that this post is a general overview of the day. If you want to learn about the specifcs of these technologies, there are already plenty of online resources which do a better job than I could at this stage…my head is still, at 22:30 filing whatever it can remember away. Where it was evident that the topics could have been turned up further on the nerd meter to 12, references were made to the specific technical sessions later in the week with a suggestion to attend. Despite having swapped my schedule about several times in the preceding weeks, I think tonight will see yet another juggle!

What I liked today was that nobody’s knowledge level was taken for granted. The presenters were very good at sensing the tone when something being discussed needed more depth…probably the furrowed brows around the room. It was also amusing that some people were using today as a ‘how do I fix this issue in my production network’  session.

Matt’s takeaways

Firstly, I still struggle to see what questions a lot of the new technologies are trying to answer. For example, take OTV, please (OK, old joke). After discussing the innards of this technology, a quick poll around the room to count the number of people who were extending their layer 2 domain across physical sites caused one slightly shaky hand to raise. And it seemed that nobody was going to return to the office next week to implement it.

Secondly, as Bob Dylan said, the times are a changin’. Networking is undergoing a huge metamorphosis, unlike anything I’ve seen in my years in IT. Love it or loath it, cloud is here to stay and it’s going to take a whole new skillset just to understand it, let alone plan, design, implement and operate. The current standard of logging on to 50 TOR switches to configure individually could very well be coming to an end as the control plane is centralised. Add a super smart management platform on top and productivity has the potential to go through the roof. That’s once the questions are properly defined and the right answers agreed upon. That’s not even talking about the questions that are only relevant to you.

Finally, Cisco Intelligent Automation for Cloud (CIAC) looks like it has the potential to put a few people out of work, to say the least. The demonstration of LISP and OTV working together was very impressive, with a VMotion between data centres causing only a single ping packet to drop but what really stood out for me was the self-service portal demonstration which showed a brand new ESX host being deployed as production ready in less than 30 minutes with just a few clicks. In addition, a VM was deployed to another host with correct network settings (both at the VM and network ‘pod’ level) and security settings applied. It looked like a lot of work to set up, but a dream to run.

I’m goosed and have another 3.5 days to get through. Luckily, the rest of the week’s sessions are shorter. Here’s to learning new things.

Till the next time.

Cisco Live London 2012 coverage

Cisco Live London 2012 starts next week and myself and a colleague of mine have been fortunate enough to be sent there at the expense of our company. There have already been the odd ‘oh, off on a jolly’ comments from some workmates but jealousy and joking aside, next week will be as far from being a jolly as I could imagine.

My schedule can testify to that alone. I have also been allowed to go to a technical seminar on the Monday which runs for 9 hours. Each day thereafter is crammed full of keynote speeches and breakout sessions and the small gaps inbetween will be used to shoehorn as many stall visits as possible to see what is out there. Add in a couple of evening networking events and I imagine I’ll be sleeping for a week afterwards.

I am also hoping to get some blog posts up about my experience so watch this space. Till the next time…