How to prepare for a Cisco exam

Introduction

Having just passed my 642-902 ROUTE exam, I thought I would write a post to explain how I set out to walk out with a smile on my face and not egg. I’m not going to discuss the details of the exam itself for obvious reasons but thought I would blog about the training path I took and some general points of exam taking. As I often get asked how to prepare for a Cisco exam, this post will hopefully be useful for a wide audience.

For those that haven’t read my first couple of posts (and why is that??), I passed my CCNA via the ICND1 and ICND2 route back in early 2009. At that time I was a Microsoft systems engineer but saw the light and when I had the chance to become a networking engineer last year, I sat the CCNA exam to renew the certification. I moved in to the new role officially in November 2011 but had already begun to study towards the 642-813 Switch exam, which I passed on November 25th. It’s worth noting that I effectively scraped through this exam as far as I was concerned and I put that down to my preparation, which was not as complete as it should have been.

Videos

I used the CBTNuggets video series but, after the CCNA series by Jeremy Cioara which was simply excellent, I found the Switch series to be a disappointment and it included many references to the old BCMSN exam, which told me that the content wasn’t bang up to date. OK, fair enough, the topics might not have changed a whole lot but if you are going to resell something an as upgrade, please don’t just stick a different badge on it! I ended up losing interest and watched the INE video series instead.

Reading

I also used the official certification guide from Cisco Press but here lay another issue, this time with myself. As part of the move to networking, I felt a certain pressure to get up to speed as quickly as possible. This wasn’t a real pressure, it was something that I imagined but it meant instead of reading the book from cover to cover as I should have done, I skimmed some chapters and skipped a couple of topics. This is exactly why my score was not up to my usual self-imposed standards. It was also what made me determind to put time pressures to one side and make sure that I understood all the material before going in to the next exam.

For the 642-902 exam, I basically used the materials\methods below and I’ll briefly go in to a little more detail on how I blended all these together to give myself the best chance of passing the exam:

  1. Cisco Press exam guide book
  2. CBTNuggets video series
  3. Cisco Live
  4. Labs
  5. INE R&S workbooks
  6. INE video series
  7. Work experience
  8. Boson exams

Firstly I broke the book down in to 6 sections; EIGRP, OSPF, BGP, Redistribution, IPv6, WAN\Branch offices. Straight away, it ceased to be a 700 page book and became 6 individual topics that weren’t so daunting anymore. I gave myself deadlines to read each topic and made sure I hit them by increasing the page count per day if I skipped any days, which I made sure was a rare event. I read them pretty much in the order above, except for BGP which I left until last.

As I was covering each topic in the book, I would watch the corresponding CBTNuggets videos. The Route series is a vast improvement over the Switch videos. Jeremy uses GNS3 labs to cover the topics and the topology files he uses are available to subscribers on their website so you can ‘play along’ with Jezzer.

Filling in the gaps

I was lucky enough to get along to Cisco Live in London this year and found it to be very inspirational. The technical sessions were top notch and gave me a head start on a number of ROUTE related topics, such as IPv6 which I had previously not really ‘got’, but a 4 hour hands on lab gave me a massive boost, as did some of the related breakout sessions. The fact that, up until then I had pencilled in a date of June for sitting the exam but brought it back two months speaks volumes about the effect it had on my motivation.

With the book finished and the CBTNuggets videos wrapped up three weeks before the exam date, I knuckled down to some labbing. Again, I broke it down to the six topics and focused on these, even more so on the routing protocols and redistribution and used the INE CCIE Routing and Switching materials to give me a real sense that I was going beyond the requirements for the Route exam. I should point out that I am lucky in regard to the training materials I have access to. My company have a dedicated training budget and were happy to pay for all the books, subscriptions and the Cisco Live ticket, in addition to the exam cost.

As a form of ‘detail revision’, I also decided to go through the 19 hours or so of INE videos in the Route series and was watching a couple of videos each day whilst labbing. I found that this really helped it all sink in and gel. Whilst I could have rewatched the CBTNuggets videos, I think another trainer’s perspective is quite often useful and so it proved.

On the job training

The day to day tasks that I do as a network engineer really helped. For example, I work for an ISP that runs BGP and OSPF in our core and using this live environment to see how the various topics knit together is priceless. It’s also given me a few tasks to keep me busy over the next few weeks and months as I’ve noticed where improvements and tweaks could be made and let’s not forget the IPv6 implementation plan!

Practice exams

Finally, the Boson exams gave me great insight in to which areas I was still weak in. After completing an exam, I would go back to the book and read up on the weak points. The day before the exam, I did 108 questions and got 907 which made me feel more confident.

The methods used between the Switch and Route exams were worlds apart and I know which one I preferred. Putting the effort in really makes the difference and every hour you use for studying now will save you countless hours of head scratching at a later date. With one more exam to go for the CCNP, I am getting a feeling of anticipation but fully intend to apply the same regime to studying, despite the fact I hear from many sources that if you have been working in IT for any number of years, you should be able to pass the TSHOOT exam with minimal study. That doesn’t tempt me in the slightest. I want to make sure my CCNP is as solid as it can be. After all, this is the foundation for my entire networking career from now on. I have the desire to go on to the CCIE at some point, perhaps with some design certs along the way, maybe the CCIP\CCNP SP and some specialisations such as Wireless and Security.

One thing I have realised is that there is no rush for these career making skills and that is why I’ll be going back to the Switch topics and applying the same process again to them that got me here with the Route. In fact, INE have a deep dive series specifically on Layer 2 that sounds like just the ticket. On a final note, this was my 5th Cisco exam and, despite me loving the CCNA exams the first time around, was my favourite so far. Things are really starting to gel now and I have to say I have a strange attraction to BGP that I will be pursuing further…

The real exams

This last section (which I originally missed out due to being giddy about going on holiday the day after my exam!) is about the exam itself. Oh yeah…that bit!! As you progress through your studies, you should start getting a better idea of when you will be ready to sit the exam. My suggestion is to book the exam about 4-6 weeks before the date itself. This will hopefully give you a last burst of energy in the final stage – there is nothing like a target to aim for. I always try to book the exam for about one week (and usually no more than two) after finishing the books, videos and labs, giving me that 1-2 weeks for exams and final reading up.

What are my thoughts on postponing an exam? It all depends on whether you mind about having to sit some exams more than once before you nail it. If you do care (and I’ll admit I have this obsession about NOT failing an IT exam based on a failed university chapter earlier in my life), then feel free to push it back a week or more, but don’t do this more than once. If you are not bothered about a failure here and there, then stick to the original date. Either way, I think you should try to be as ready as possible, although I can see the benefits of sitting an exam when you might not be 100% ready (examples include your 1st exam when you don’t know what to expect, a renewal that has crept up on you and you must take it before a certain date).

For the exam day itself, I can offer some basic tips. Make sure you have your ID with you, book the exam for a time that suits you (e.g. if you usually feel sleepy mid afternoon, book a morning exam), make sure you know where the test centre is, where parking is etc. Leave plenty of time to get there – most centres I’ve been to have let me start early anyway. If yours doesn’t, you will at least have time to settle your nerves and maybe have a cup of tea\water\etc., (or nip to the loo…).

The exam itself should be an exercise in self-control. Make sure you read the pre-exam blurb carefully, especially if you are fairly new to exam taking. Ask for the paper and pen that you are usually allowed to take in so you can make notes. Before the exam starts proper, you should be told how long you have and how many questions are waiting for you. This is important information. Use it to determine roughly how long you have on each question. I say roughly as some questions will take seconds to answer but a simulation could take 20 minutes or more. The point is, if you have two hours to do 50 questions and you find yourself on question 10 with 30 minutes left, you’ve managed your time poorly. Rather than doing the maths on a question by question basis, I would check my time every 30 mins (in the example above) and try to ensure I was 25% further in. With that in mind, don’t be afraid to drop a question if you’ve hit a road block. In my last exam (ROUTE), I got stuck on a simulation at question 40 ish with 30 minutes left. 8 minutes later, I had done about half of the required work but was going around in circles. What did I do? I set myself a target of dumping the question with no less than 15 minutes left. At that time, I had progressed further but still not nailed it but continued to the next question regardless. As I clicked ‘END’ on my last question, I had exactly 28 seconds left on the clock. My hard decision had allowed me a chance to answer all the remaining questions.

And finally

My last bit of exam advice would be to make yourself as comfortable as you can. For me, that usually means being in the room alone as I like to talk to myself out loud, stand up and stretch my legs from time to time and even sing\hum to myself to chill out! Find what works for you, that doesn’t upset other exam takers.

Till the next time.

Review: the new iPad (3rd generation)

Let me start by making one thing clear. I am no Apple fanboy. There, I said it…and I mean it.

I have never bought anything from Apple before although I do have an iPhone 4 courtesy of my current employer. I’ve had an iPhone (since it was a 3GS) for about three years and it didn’t take long for me to realise that it was the best phone I had ever used, yet I still continued to resist buying an iPad. When the latest generation was due for release in March it was actually Jo, my wife who suggested we got one.

I reviewed what the upgrade brought with it and when I saw a colleague’s arrive at work and we compared it side by side with some HD video and a like for like comparison of a technical PDF, it was the clarity in particular of the latter test that convinced me that I wanted one of these. The fact that both Jo and my five year old daughter Mia could get a lot of use of out it too made the decision a no-brainer. Mia is at that age where the educational value of an iPad alone would justify it’s purchase in my opinion and the ‘always on’ appeal means that Jo can check her emails, browse the web, check a film\actor on IMDB or find out how her team are doing (Manchester United – don’t ask!) within seconds rather than having to boot her laptop up.

This post isn’t a review of the iPad as such. There are already a countless number of those available to help sway you in your decision. In fact, swaying your decision is not the purpose of this post at all. I’ve had my iPad (‘ours’ I can hear two voices cry) for just over a week now and thought it time I gave a summary report of my experience to date, from the perspective of a network engineer who is always happy to find ways of maximising his time. With that in mind, I have broken this down in to the different areas arranged by application type, that offer me real value and functionality.

Social networking

I have a Facebook account. It’s been disabled on more than one occasion and I only use it now to keep up to date with a handful of people who I unfortunately rarely get a chance to catch up with anymore. I also have a Google+ account and use that even less. The only social media site I regularly use is Twitter (and even that is dwindling recently) and I have found the Hootsuite app on the iPad makes the experience much more efficient with it’s multiple configurable columns. Adding a separate column or more to keep track of some useful hashtags is a breeze and I like that I can see what the people I follow think is important enough to retweet in one place.

Online content consolidation

I am currently playing with a couple of different apps that do similar things. Zite and Flipboard will go to a number of different online sources and, based on what you tell them are your interests, create a digital magazine. Although Flipboard is the more slick looking of the two, I like the fact that with Zite (and perhaps I am just missing the similar functionality in Flipboard), you can tell the app which articles, authors, sources and article tags you like so as it learns from your input, you should in theory get even more relevant content every time you use it. All I have to do is open it up, read and give a couple of clicks for feedback.

Productivity

For me, a tablet platform is ideal for two main areas of productivity and the iPad has a couple of apps which excel at both. Toodledo is, as the name might suggest, a to do list app which allows me to quickly enter tasks, give a breakdown of more information, set priorities, deadlines and reminders. iThoughtsHD is a mind mapping tool and it’s a bloody good one too. Within minutes of having installed it, I had created a couple of maps outlining my certification path over the next few years and a broad list of networking projects I have awaiting me at work. Using these two apps together, I can create multiple 10,000ft views of areas that need my attention (be it at work or at home) and then break those areas down in to tasks with detail and time targets. A very powerful combination.

Reading

Again, a couple of useful apps here. I have an Amazon Kindle device and having an app on the iPad that I can view all my Kindle purchases on is very useful. Even more so was picking a PDF app that had more to it than just as a reader. In the end, I opted for GoodReader which has two features that sold me. Firstly, the ability to easily sync with iTunes and arrange my PDFs in folders and secondly some very nice annotation capabilities – useful for techie publications with diagrams that I always like adding detail to.

Networking

I’ll admit that I was a little dismayed at the relatively low number of real techie apps on the iPad and by that I mean ones that are more complete toolboxes. Sure, there are lots of apps that do this or that or let you buy extra functionality ‘in app’ but many of those don’t even manage to carry themselves that well. I bought Prompt, an SSH client, for my iPhone quite a while back and because it is a universal app, that means it is designed for both iPhone and iPad and therefore was free for me to download on to the iPad, which was a relief as I originally paid 69p for it and it has gone up to £5.99 since then. I considered getting iSSH but some reviews of the latest version turned me off it. I finally managed to find one of those toolbox type apps with built in ping, traceroute, whois, etc. functionality which doesn’t have hidden costs and has some nice extras. It is called IT Tools.

Spare time

Of course, it’s not all work and the iPad has plently of functionality to let me chill out. Firstly, there are a host of games that can easily cost you hours of your time. For me, I went for some standard classics that include card games, chess and draughts, sudoku and of course Angry Birds! I also went for Real Racing 2 HD, which has been updated for the new iPad’s Retina display and looks gorgeous. I also have a few cracking sports apps that let me keep up to date with results and my team’s news (Manchester City of course!) in the most efficient way. I also opted for Garageband as I recently bought the dongle that allows me to connect my electric guitar so, despite being a failed musician, I can still take a shot at the dream!

Others worth mentioning

Twitter came to my rescue again when I asked about a good flash card app. It was Bob McCouch that suggested Mental Case and it quickly became evident that it would be a tool I will use throughout my career to not only help me on my certification path but to have to hand when my memory otherwise fails me. I’ve also downloaded FeeddlerRSS but haven’t had time to set it up yet. I have also bought Blogsy, which as you may have guessed is a blogging app. I should really have posted this particular review using it, but I’m still not up to speed with it yet, but it looks very capable indeed. Maybe the next post to put it to the test.

Summary

For me, the iPad is all about making the most of my time, even when that’s time wasting! I can have access to all my ideas and projects, my tasks for the next day, week and year. I can vacuum the Internet in seconds for information that is relevant. I can have all my reading materials at my finger tips. I can keep up to date with the things that matter to me, without having to sift through 90% of crap first. Now that I have a decent case to protect it, I can take it to work and use it in ways that my laptop can’t really compete with. That’s really where it’s value is for me. It’s not a laptop replacement but the hardware, interface and software filters out of lot of bloated nonsense that I have just grown accustomed to on the laptop: a minute to boot up, another to log on thanks to the daily group policy gang bang, sluggish applications that offer 90% functionality that I’ll likely never use or even learn exists for crying out loud.

It’s also pretty good at producing content, but perhaps not always on a par with a desktop\laptop equivalent. Photo editing, video editing, music creation and blogging tools are all very capable for the most part. Put all of this power in to something you can throw in a much smaller bag than the one you use for your laptop, that you can have sat next to you and accessible at the push of a button, with software that is almost always a fraction of the cost of your main workstation software and I’m already starting to ask myself how I got by for so long without it.

Let me finish by making one thing clear. I am no Apple fanboy. There, I said it…and I mean it.

Although, that may very well change…

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…

The Mask of Sorrow

The purpose of this post is to discuss the differences between a subnet mask and wildcard mask, when they are each used and what tricks you can do with them. This post does not go in to any real depth on subnetting and assumes you know how to subnet already. You probably won’t be surprised from that last sentence to learn that this post covers wildcard masks in a little more detail than their subnet cousins.

I recently saw a tweet asking about wildcard masks and if anybody had a good system for working them out. I keenly replied and, whilst my answer was correct, it turns out that it was quite limited in scope. It sparked an interesting discussion and in the end I learned something that I didn’t know, as did a couple of others, so it seemed like a good topic for a post.

Subnet masks

Let’s start with subnet masks as they are the easiest to understand and are the less ‘funky’ of the two masks being discussed here. They should also be more familiar to non-networking IT types. If you know any sysadmins who don’t know what a subnet mask is, you have my permission to flick them on the forehead very hard. Repeatedly.

Matt’s definition

A subnet mask, in conjunction with an IP address, tells you which subnet that IP address belongs to. Another way to put it is that the subnet mask tells you which part of the IP address refers to the network (or subnet) and which part refers to the host specifically within that subnet.

To give an example, I will lay out my thinking on the page step by step with descriptions of what I am doing.

  1. Let’s take a random example: 192.168.42.79/26 (using slash notation)
  2. I’ll convert this to dotted notation: 192.168.42.79 255.255.255.192
  3. Now to convert to binary: 11000000.10101000.00101010.01001111 11111111.11111111.11111111.11000000
  4. Now I’ll put the subnet mask under the IP address. This makes the next step, doing a binary AND operation, easier to visualise:
    11000000.10101000.00101010.01001111 <IP address
    11111111.11111111.11111111.11000000 <subnet mask
    11000000.10101000.00101010.01000000 <binary AND operation
  5. This is still a /26 remember so we can now convert this AND result back to a decimal number which represents the network or subnet that the original IP address (192.168.42.79) belongs to: 192.168.42.64/26
  6. As you should know from your subnetting studies, the range of this subnet will be from 192.168.42.64-192.168.42.127

From the steps above, the first three all have the goal of getting the IP address and mask converted to binary. Why? Well, in the example above, its to show how the binary AND operation works. When the maths becomes more comprehensible, you should find that working this out in decimal and eventually in your head is second nature. The result of the binary AND gives you the network ID or subnet number that the host belongs to. That is what the subnet mask does, it masks the IP address in such a way to reveal the subnet. The subnet mask should always be a consecutive collection of 1’s, followed by all 0’s if any are required (i.e. anything other than 255.255.255.255)

So where is a subnet mask used? The table at the end of this post gives examples (not a definitive list by any means) of where both masks are to be found. One thing to note is that the subnet mask isn’t sent out in the IP header with the IP address. There is no need for the destination host to know what subnet the source host belongs to so no need to send it. The destination only needs to know whether the source is on its own subnet or another one so it knows whether to communicate directly or via its own next hop gateway. Again, it calculates this by doing a binary AND to compare the network part of the source and destination. If they match, they must be on the same subnet.

Right, I’ve drifted closer to where I said I wouldn’t than I would have liked i.e. in to  a subnetting discussion. The key part of this post is the next topic.

Wildcard masks

I should perhaps make a feeble attempt to defend my ignorance on Twitter here, as stated at the start of this post, and say that I am currently working towards my CCNP and at no point during my studies to date had I seen wildcard masks used as anything other than an inverse subnet mask but in fact I’ve just heard Jeremy Cioara make a passing reference to them in one of his redistibution videos in the CBTNuggets Route series. Always new things to learn! Before I explain what I mean by inverse subnet mask, let me give my quick definition of a wildcard mask.

Matt’s definition

A wildcard mask, in conjunction with an IP address, lets you specify which bits of the IP address you are interested in and which you aren’t.

First, let’s see what a wildcard mask looks like:

139.46.221.40 0.0.0.255

What just happened there? That looks different from a subnet mask. Yes it does…because it is. Before I do some magical conversion to binary again to clarify, keep in mind that with a wildcard mask, the following rules apply:

For a binary 0, match
For a binary 1, ignore

Or put another way:

For a binary 0 in the mask, we care what the corresponding bit in the IP address is
For a binary 1 in the mask, we don’t care what the corresponding bit in the IP address is

Now read my definition again to see what the 0.0.0.255 mask above might be trying to achieve. Still a bit unclear? Then let’s break it down.

  1. Let’s convert the IP address\wildcard mask pair above to binary:
    10001011.00101110.11011101.00101000 00000000.00000000.00000000.11111111
  2. Put the wildcard mask under the IP address to see how the masking is in effect
    10001011.00101110.11011101.00101000
    00000000.00000000.00000000.11111111
  3. Remember the basic rules to remember above? Applied to this example, that means that we are only interested in the first three octets of the IP address and we can ignore the last octet. (0=match, 1=ignore)
  4. That means that this wildcard mask will apply to any IP addresses that have 139.46.221.x in the address, where x in the last octet could be 0-255 (because the mask doesn’t care). We are ignoring the last octet as dictated by the mask
  5. Remember before I used the term inverse subnet mask? When wildcard masks contain a contiguous series of 0’s only (0.0.0.0) or a contiguous series of 0’s followed by a contiguous series of 1’s, this is exactly how a wildcard mask works. In this example, the wildcard mask of 0.0.0.255 would match any IP addresses in the subnet defined by the following IP address\subnet mask pair: 139.46.221.0 255.255.255.0
  6. Before I get to the groovy part of wildcard masks, an easy to remember calculation for working out the equivalent wildcard mask (inverse mask) from a subnet mask is to subtract the subnet mask from 255.255.255.255, octet by octet as below:
    255.255.255.255 <all 255’s
    255.255.255.0
    <subtract the subnet mask
    0.0.0.255 <the result is the wildcard mask, an inverse of the subnet mask

I used a mask for this example that not only falls on the octet boundary but also is all 0’s followed by all 1’s to keep things simple but it gets more interesting when we take things further. Yes, just like a subnet mask a wildcard mask does not need to fall on an octet boundary but whereas a subnet mask has a contiguous series of 1’s followed by a contiguous series of 0’s, a wildcard mask can be pretty much anything you want and this is where the fun begins.

Time for an example. Let’s say you have multiple physical sites and you assign a subnet to each of those for management IPs i.e. source IPs that can access your networking kit throughout your company. You assign the following /24 network to each site:

10.x.10.0/24

where x represents the site number. You have three sites so you create the following config on every device:

[sourcecode language=”plain”]
ip access-list standard DeviceManagement
permit 10.1.10.0 0.0.0.255
permit 10.2.10.0 0.0.0.255
permit 10.3.10.0 0.0.0.255
line vty 0 4
access-class DeviceManagement in
[/sourcecode]

To clarify the config, we have an ACL that says the management range of IPs on sites 1-3 can telnet on to the devices configured as above. That’s all well and good but what if we have 20 sites, 100 sites or even more? What if the number of sites is only three now but will grow by one site a week? These scenarios highlight two key problems. Firstly, with each new site, the ACL gets bigger; an extra line for each site. Secondly, you need a process to update the ACL on every device every single time a new site comes online. Even with a configuration management tool, this isn’t ideal. With the power of a well crafted wildcard mask and just as importantly a carefully designed IP addressing scheme, we can instead use a one line ACL:

[sourcecode language=”plain”]
ip access-list standard DeviceManagement
permit 10.0.10.0 0.255.0.255
line vty 0 4
access-class DeviceManagement in
[/sourcecode]

You should be able to see, without a conversion to binary, that the single permit statement is saying that as long as the source IP matches:

10.x.10.x

then permit access i.e. we don’t care about the 2nd or 4th octets, just that the 1st and 3rd octets must match ’10’. This answers both our previous key problems. The single line ACL matches our three sites ranges and as long as we use the same addressing scheme for each new site, the existing ACL will match any new site, at least up to 255.

OK, I hope this isn’t making your ears bleed and if you’ve made it this far, I have one more example that shows another cool use of wildcard masks. This example is actually the one that Marko Milivojevic (@icemarkom) slapped me with on Twitter when I gave my inverse mask answer and it’s a cracker for showing the power of the wildcard mask. Marko posed the question, how would you use a wildcard mask to select all of the odd-numbered /24 subnets of the following range:

132.41.32.0/21

  1. Let’s convert to binary: 10000100.00101001.00100000.00000000
  2. The bold and underlined 0’s represent the subnet bits, the three bits I can use from the original /21 to create my /24 subnets. With three bits, I can create 8 subnets:
    000,001,010,011,100,101,110,111
  3. The only bit set in the 3rd octet is the 6th, giving a base value of 32. It should be obvious that to create a mask that targets only the odd-numbered /24 subnets, the first bit should be fixed at a value of 1.
  4. This means from the eight subnets in point 2, the ones that match this requirement are:
    001,011,101,111
  5. So for the 3rd octet, the only bits we care about would be 00100xx1. We don’t care what the values of the two ‘x’ bits are, but the other values must be as listed
  6. So we now know the network address: 132.41.33.0
  7. To calculate the mask, we need to ask ourselves which bits we care about and must match, and which we don’t. For the 1st two octets, the values must match 132 and 41 and for a /24, the last octet must match 0. Point 5 above tells us which points we can ignore in the 3rd octet, so using the wildcard rules I stated at the start of the wildcard mask section (0=match, 1=ignore), I can come up with the following IP address\wildcard mask pair:
    132.41.33.0 0.0.6.0
  8. Putting this in binary form, with the mask underneath the IP address should show this more clearly:
    10000100.00101001.00100001.00000000
    00000000.00000000.00000110.00000000
  9. The mask is effectively saying ‘I dont care what the bits of the subnet are (bits 1-3 of octet 3) as long as the 1st bit is 1’

Sometimes, listing things in a logical order like above helps enormously, other times it just muddies the waters. Read over the post again to determine what the purpose of the wildcard mask is first, then look at the two examples above to get a feel of how they can be applied. Try looking online for further examples of powerful wildcard masks to see if they can perhaps answer a problem you have. Hopefully this post will have at least given you a clear definition of a subnet mask and wildcard mask, how to calculate and use them and where you can find them. If you have any questions, feel free to leave a comment below.

The table below contains a few, non-exhaustive, examples of where subnet masks (S) and wildcard masks (W) are used on networking kit (Cisco specifically)

Type Where and description
S On a NIC, physical interface, SVI. Wherever an IP address is assigned
S On an ASA, ACLs use subnet masks rather than wildcard masks
W In IOS, ACLs use wildcard masks
W In RIP, EIGRP, OSPF, as part of the network statement
S In BGP as part of the network statement
S Most summarisation type commands e.g. area range command in OSPF
 S Static routes in IOS and on ASAs

Finally, I’d like to thank Marko and Bob McCouch (@bobmccouch) for bringing me up to speed on wildcard masks beyond the inverse mask, especially Bob who went further and gave this post a quick once over and also provided one of the examples for me to work with. I find the help of the networking community very motivational and it’s the primary reason why I decided to start blogging myself to hopefully give something back.

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 matches 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…

New Year’s resolutions 2012

Just before the end of January hits us, I thought it would be a good idea to put my 2012 study wish list down in writing in the form of New Year’s resolutions. This will not only be a valuable checklist for me, but will provide motivation as the year moves on and putting it on my website will drive me on further.

I want to do the numbered items in that order. I’m being sensible this year as I want to make sure my CCNP reflects a good knowledge and not just good exam skills, especially with me only moving over to networking officially last year.

2013 should be even more exciting, but I’ll not be setting those goals in stone until nearer the time. I already have a good idea of what I want to do next year but I’ll be more focused if I keep that open and get my head down for the list below.

  1. CCNP ROUTE – having already passed the SWITCH exam at the tail end of 2011, I’ve already started studying for the ROUTE exam and have just about got EIGRP and OSPF out of the way. I’m hoping an IPv6 class I’m taking at Cisco Live London next week will help me in that area and that leaves BGP and route redistribution for when I return. However, I’m not in any rush and have a date for the exam of May time pencilled in
  2. CCNP TSHOOT – I want to give myself three months from passing ROUTE to have a go at this exam. Again, that’s plenty of time but I really want to make sure my CCNP is solid. After all, it’s just another step on the journey…one that never ends
  3. CCDA – no set time for this one other than just wanting it by the end of the year. I think design skills are critical for any IT engineer, but in particular in the field of networking. As well as giving you an understanding of why the pieces of the puzzle do, or perhaps do not work together when troubleshooting existing networks, it is a skill required of network architects
  4. CCNA specialism – not sure which one. I like the idea of doing the Wireless and I love the whole topic of IT security. Either way, I intend on getting both of them, but only have my sights set on one for 2012. With a new wireless deployment coming up at one of our offices, I think I may let that sway my decision for now

Till the next time.

The path to…glory?

I brushed over this on my initial post but I am going to flesh it out here, primarily to keep me motivated on the way.

Decision made and I’m 100% committed to the networking track so enough of the Microsoft certifications. I may very well upgrade my server certs when the next version comes out but that doesn’t appeal to me at the moment. I am set on becoming as good a network engineer in a way that is focused and in depth and use that as a strong foundation to build upon. Microsoft has given me a great career to date working for a number of wide and varied companies but when I passed my CCNA back in February 2009, I knew I was hooked.

I first wrote this post with a list of all the certs I have in mind for the next 1-5 years but it ended up sounding like a exam junkie’s wet dream, when my goal is knowledge, not just a certificate. Personally, I find the latter a useful measure of the former but I’ve worked with many people in IT who thought that the paper certificate was worth more than the knowledge required to get it and understand it. I refuse to be that person and want to be proud of my skills, with certificates that reflect that as an added bonus. There have been some great blog posts recently in the networking community around the value of certification and I may write one myself in the future to give my thoughts in more depth.

So, what methods do I use for training then? For each exam, where feasible and relevant, I approach training as below:

Books – either the specific exam guide book or one that covers the main topics. Cisco Press books have come a long way since I first started reading them, although they still need to tighten up their proofreading, but having the topics laid out in a logical order is very useful. I find using books on the networking track much more useful than when I studied for Microsoft, where videos and hands on worked more for me

Video training – either CBTNuggets, but recently my preference is for INE. I am lucky that my company pays for subscriptions to both and also all my other training materials e.g. books, exams
As I go through the various video topics, I fill in the gaps and supplement my knowledge with books and the web. I am trying to get myself more acquainted in particular with Cisco’s Doc CD site, which is a must for CCIE lab candidates

Labs – with all the topics in my head, I head on to my INE based lab. This is part physical, part virtual and I will cover this in a later posting. As I am going through the video training, I often fire up GNS3 or, to a lesser extent, Packet Tracer on my laptop to walk along with the trainer and see similar output. I find this helps me remember commands when I come to doing the labs ‘proper’

Of course, to supplement all of this training, I am a network engineer by day (and sometimes by night!) and live environments provide some great challenges and help broaden my overall knowledge. I use the above methods for all my IT training with even more emphasis on the labs for the Cisco stuff, but outside of the ‘official’ studying, there is still the day to day knowledge to keep up to date.

I am on Twitter as vegaskid1973 (hoping to get this changed to lose the numbers!) and follow a number of high quality networking feeds. Come and follow me, but be aware its a mixed bag you’ll get from me! I also read different blogs and websites to try and keep my working knowledge up to date as much as time can permit. In general, I find that it all sinks in if I focus on a particular topic e.g. STP, OSPF, BGP and cover the videos, blogs, books, labs before moving on to the next topic,rather than going through an entire book, then video series, then labs, etc. Prior to doing the exam, its the hours of labs that I find most useful.

The last point I should make is based on work\life balance. Although networking for me is a hobby as much as being work (and I know how fortunate I am to be in that position), the time comes to put the books\laptop down and spend time with my wife and daughter who both keep me on my toes. I’m not sure if either of them know how much time I will need to put in to this but its all made easier by the fact I enjoy it so much. What is important is that you don’t let that side of things suffer.

I’ll post a quickie on my home lab setup and then I should be ready for some proper blogging! Till the next time.

Welcome to my blog

Welcome

Welcome and thanks for at least coming this far! I’ve considered running a blog since the word was invented. I’ve had numerous sites over the years but they all went through a dozen changes and not one involved interesting content to be perfectly honest. I’ve been holding off on getting the ball rolling but with my first visit to Cisco Live coming up in a few weeks, thought that now is as good a time as any.

Initially I looked at Blogspot, liked the look of a couple of blogs and thought I’d write a small number of hopefully useful posts, outlining my rise in the world of the network engineer, in particular working with Cisco kit. But two posts in, I thought to myself, why not get the domain name I’ve always wanted and host the blog there instead, which is where we are today.

To give a bit of background as to who I am and where I’ve been, I’ve worked in IT full time since 2002 as a Microsoft engineer, attaining an MCSE 2003:Security, MCITP:Server and Enterprise Administrator and specialising in Exchange 2007\2010 in that time. In 2008, I started studying for the CCNA certification to broaden my horizons and six months later, having taken the ICND1\ICND2 path, was the proud owner of a CCENT and CCNA. I carried on specialising in Microsoft technologies, in particular Exchange and put my CCNA skills to use with basic configuration\troubleshooting on our internal network and on some of our customer’s infrastructures.

A few months ago, I was aware that my CCNA was going to expire (Feb 2012) and it was at that point that I was in the fortunate position of suggesting to my line manager a move to being a full time network engineer, which both he and the company supported…result! Within six weeks, I’d resat my CCNA as I wanted to reaffirm my foundational skills before moving on to the next step, the CCNP. I’m originally from Manchester but with family ties in Scotland. For the last four years I’ve worked for an ISP\hosting company in the North East. The initial aim of this blog was to document my journey through the valley of Cisco certification, but I soon realised that I would be restricting my content. So in short, this will be a technology blog with a heavy emphasis on networking.

Although my plans may change in terms of the order of things, I intend on gaining my CCNP in the next 9 months (have already passed my SWITCH exam), spending the following 12-18 months looking to gain some design certs (CCDA\CCDP), perhaps CCNA Security or Wireless or perhaps even a currently job relevant CCIP. No more than three years from now, I hope to be in a ‘comfortable’ position to take on the CCIE R&S written exam and lab.

If somebody ends up finding it useful, then all the better. In fact, if somebody ends up finding it at all, I’ll be happy. As a final note, please feel free to contact me at (vegaskid at vegaskid dot net) if you have any suggestions or questions and do make yourself at home. Till the next time…

😉