Cisco Live London 2013 – part 2

Introduction

All good things come to an end and so it is with Cisco Live London 2013. Friday’s sessions were a deep dive on the Nexus 1000v and one covering cloud architectures. Both were good and provided lots of useful information that I need to get up to speed on. The fact that my ears were still ringing from last night’s Customer Appreciation Event and I’ve started to lose my voice from singing along hasn’t dampened my spirits.

Thursday

Thursday saw me attending three sessions. The first was on tuning Cisco’s IPS. If you use an IPS, check this session out. It was the best one I’ve attended this week and you could feel the presenter’s passion for his work coming through. The second session was on SDN but it didn’t work for me and I called it a day after an hour and went off to do a LISP walk in lab which gave me a taste of what it looks like in the CLI. The last session on Thursday was an advanced BGP session, explaining some of the new features that are in the pipeline. It was a bit dry but contained some useful nuggets.

Bonus

Before the CAE kicked off, I got an email from Cisco saying I’d won a £100 Amazon voucher. All that swag collecting apparently had the side effect of collecting points in an accumulator. I’ll let you know this time next year if that voucher has helped offset the email spam that I am likely to receive.

Time to party

I skipped last year’s CAE to meet up with some folks at the Fox outside the Excel centre who didn’t have a ticket and others that I had met during the week. This year, there was news that the guest performer was a British rock legend and I felt like rocking out so turned up. The food and drink were both plentiful and there was lots of entertainment put on for us such as beach volleyball, surfing, bucking bronco, some crazy limbo dude and a helter skelter.

Music initially came in the form of a Bob Marley tribute band who were awesome. Then a band I’d not heard of called the RPJ band (Rick Parfitt Junior being the front man). Not sure if they do their own material but they stuck to covers of some classic tunes such as Journey’s ‘Don’t Stop Believing’, The Killers’ ‘Mr Brightside’ and Nirvana’s ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’. I’d manoeuvred myself to the front row with my beer and enjoyed some head banging and foot stomping. The band were very entertaining.

I should have known from the warm up band who the rock icon was going to be…junior’s dad Rick Parfitt from ‘The Quo’. I’ll be honest. When he came out, I thought ‘oh dear’. A couple of strums in to one of the three chords he had brought with him however and I was rocking out. Staff came along the front with inflatable guitars to hand out and that was all I needed to have a great night. I looked across at senior at one point and he gave me a wry smile and nodded in appreciation of my air guitar. Bugger didn’t invite me on stage though. A soon as the music ended after a couple of great hours, I realised why I don’t tend to go to gigs anymore (at my age!)…persistent ringing in my ears. But it was worth it.

On the train back to the flat, I started to feel a little peckish so headed down Brick Lane for a nice hot curry washed down with a night-cap.

Summary

Cisco Live 2013 was a different beast from last year. I was doing sessions from 09:00-18:00 last year. I scaled back on them this year and spent far more time in the World of Solutions, getting to know products in more depth, both those that I knew something about and others that I didn’t previously have any knowledge on whatsoever.

The WiFi was vastly improved this year. Where I was frequently unable to connect in 2012, I suffered no such issues this time. Lunches and refreshments were spot on again. I’ve got some gym time to rack up methinks. It was great meeting up with a lot of other techies from all different fields and putting faces to Twitter handles etc. and I hope to keep in touch with them.

Thanks to everybody who helped make this such a fun and instructive event including Cisco, the exhibition staff and of course the attendees. I now have the seemingly impossible task of trying to get a spot for next year’s event in Milan. I’m going to go dark for a few days now and spend time with my family but I have some scaffolding in place for technical posts in the near future so keep your eyes peeled. The final good point for me to make about Cisco Live is the legacy effect it has on me. I’m raring to get back to studying to complete my CCNP Security, dive deeper on some data centre\virtualisation stuff and later in the year, take a long hard look at the CCIE.

Till the next time.

Cisco Live London 2013 – part 1

Introduction

As promised in my preview post, I will be delivering some technical blogs relating to what I’ve picked up at the Cisco Live London 2013 event but a few people were kind enough to get in touch and tell me that they appreciated the summary posts that I did last year too so I thought I’d do a couple, this being the first. Nothing to do with being in a jolly mood, I just like to deliver!

Up until a couple of weeks ago, I wasn’t going to Cisco Live. At that point, the generous folks at NextiraOne who had been working with our parent company, offered us a ticket which I was only too happy to snap up. I wasn’t able to get my company to stump up the extra for the technical seminar on the Monday so arrived late on Monday night in readiness for Tuesday’s fun and games.

Tuesday

As regulars to Cisco Live will know, Tuesday morning is keynote time. This is available for viewing online if you want to see the full event but the key announcement seemed to be the Catalyst 3850. This is effectively a souped up 3750 with built in Wireless LAN controller. The stacking technology has been seriously improved, both in terms of physical connections and throughput. I was told that pricing is comparable to the 3750, before you take any WLC licensing in to account. A pair of these switches at the core of the office network that I upgraded last year with a 3750 stack and a 2504 WLC would have done the trick. What was a little strange was that the news of the 3850 was of no surprise to most attendees. Even Cisco’s website had been showing tantalizing clues in the run up to this week. It’s been harder recently to work out what is leaked information (e.g. ACE deprecation) and what is clever use of bloggers, social media and the web to get the rumour mill buzzing.

I had three technical sessions on Tuesday, a UCS deep dive, Remote Access using Clientless VPN and Advanced AnyConnect Deployment and Troubleshooting with ASA. All three were very good and have given me lots of food for thought. I am currently studying towards my CCNP Security so the VPN sessions were a natural fit as was the UCS deep dive in light of my company recently installing our first UCS domain. I plan on doing a post on each of these, perhaps with at least one having a demonstration video. Yikes…that could go horribly wrong for me!

After seeing Greg Ferro’s invitation on his website to meet at the Fox for network beers, I decided to wind him up a bit by having a T-shirt printed at one of the World of Solution vendor stalls. I think he’s finally changing his opinion on the platform…

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It was a good turn out and there was lots of nerdy discussion and everybody picked up a few more online followers. Had it been later in the week, I’m sure it could have degraded in to a drunken mess but three hours later and most people sensibly called it a day.

Wednesday

Wednesday’s schedule got turned completely on it’s head. I changed my first session for the one in the adjoining room based on a gut feeling. It was about data centre and virtualisation management and included a fair bit about various programmability options. Being a lightweight these days, I was still feeling a little sensitive from the night before but it was a good session.

The second keynote of the week falls on the Wednesday but I had decided that, after only paying lip service to the World of Solutions last year (or should I say pen, cup, mouse mat and yo-yo service), I would give every booth a quick visit at least and stop off to ask some searching questions of those who offered something that tipped my interest. That’s not to say that I didn’t pick up yet another bountiful booty as I went. Mia had sent me down with a mission to pick up a load of rubbish and bless her, that’s what she’ll be getting. She won’t want for a pen for the next 10 years and should we ever have a power cut, I have enough torches to make any IPv6 analogy relating to grains of sand seem insignificant.

The afternoon was thrown up in the air too. I was booked in for an advanced firewalls session but found most of the content was quite dry and was beyond what I needed to know. With that in mind, I cut my losses half way through and used the remaining time before my  final session down in the walk in labs, playing about with EEM and Tcl scripts. Looking through the lab ‘menu’, I’ll be popping back in tomorrow for a couple of other labs.

I had planned on going to an SDN for Service Providers session at 16:30, but after bumping in to a couple of people I had met the night before and attending a vendor demonstration, I ended up missing it, buying some books from the book store and calling it a day at just after 17:15.

The Scottish Cisco team always invite Scottish based company attendees to a night out during Cisco Live and after having a good laugh and some great food last year, I was keen to attend again. As many fellow engineers have stated before me, the social networking at Cisco Live is as important, if not more so, than the sessions. Whereas last year, I had to trek half way across London to get to the restaurant, this time I had less than a five minute walk from the company flat. Being Scottish and being on Cisco’s moolah, these guys know how to have a good time. The Scottish networking community is quite small so even in my relatively short time in the world of Cisco, I’ve met the Cisco guys on a number of occasions and they are all a good bunch, despite Paul Quinn turning up having borrowed one of Noel Edmond’s shirts.

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There were others from Scottish Government and Scottish Power too. Apologies to the others not mentioned. A good time was had by all and the food was ‘right tasty’.

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Summary

I got back to the flat in time for Match of the Day and headed to bed to try and get a good night’s sleep in advance of my last full day, and the Customer Appreciation Event tomorrow evening. Last year I opted out of this in favour of heading to the pub with Jody Lemoine (@ghostinthenet), Ron Fuller (@ccie5851), Jon Still (@xanthein) and J Metz(@drjmetz) and then later a curry with Jody, who is sorely missed this year. Tomorrow, I plan on hitting the party and consuming several thousand calories.

Till the next time.

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.

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 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…