Cisco Live London 2012 Day 2

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

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

Demonstration Rig – a lot of kit

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

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

As if by magic

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Enterprise WLAN presenter
Sujit Ghosh – WiFi guru

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

WTF?
Words cannot describe…

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

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

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

Till the next time…

Cisco Live London 2012 Day 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Matt’s takeaways

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

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

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

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

Till the next time.

Cisco Live London 2012 coverage

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

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

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

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…

😉