Presentation BINGO

At some point or another, we’ve all sat down and heard a presentation from a relatively new company.  Whether it be a startup, a stealth mode developer, or just someone trying to find their marketing legs not everyone can afford to have a PR budget like Microsoft.  At some point, all of this started sounding the same to me.  With the help of my friend Joshua Williams (@JSW_EdTech), we’ve managed to figure out why this all seems to sound like we’ve heard the same story over and over.  It’s not quite like the presentation bingo game that you may be used to.  Instead of trying to cover the card, you just need to wait for the five magic phrases or indicators.

B – Business Founders – Odds are good one of the first things a really hot startup will tell you about is how awesome the founders are.  The most impressive companies you have never heard of seem to be run by really famous people that got really bored with what they were doing for their old job and ran out and started a new company.  These folks likely used to work for Cisco or Juniper or Microsoft or even EMC.  But now they’ve got something really awesome that they want to sell you or tell you.  You will probably see this by the second slide in the Company Overview.  And the odds are really good that if the founder is one of those Cult of Personality types, you’re going to hear their name brought up a few more times in the presentation.  Usually by first name, because that shows the close-knit group dynamic that they’ve got going on.

I – I’m Unique Because… – Let’s face it.  Do we really need another storage array or switch or single pane of glass management program?  Probably not.  However, that’s what’s been built to target a segment of the market that’s really untapped at this point.  The key isn’t making the product totally awesome in every way possible.  The real key is to tell you how it’s radically different than anything you’ve seen before.  Maybe it automatically configures switch ports when load characteristics increase exponentially around holiday shopping traffic.  Maybe it can do hitless snapshots while the array is online and rebuilding.  Maybe the interface has unicorns all over the login page.  The presenter is going to hit you over the head with the fact that they are different than everyone else.  That’s why they’re going to be successful.  Never mind that the login process takes five minutes and the documentation looks like it was written by a classroom full of first graders. When a big publication does a story on us, we have something different to draw everyone in.

N – Neato Tagline – Everyone has to have a tagline.  It’s the stinger that you take away and put in the back of your mind until you’ve completely forgotten about the presentation.  Then, one morning when you’re having breakfast, the tagline comes back to you out of nowhere and you suddenly realize that this is the thing you need to fix the thing that doesn’t work!  Never mind that you can’t remember what they did or how much it costs.  That tagline was awesome!  It probably rhymes or is a pun on the state of the industry.  Maybe the it’s something the founders are fond of saying at the end of every meeting to remind people what their goals are.  Chances are it’s so cool that it will generate a few hundred thousand sales.  Then the company will hire a professional marketing firm and they’ll do market research to find a tagline that resonantes with a key demographic and everything will change and there’ll be glossy marketing slicks to go with everything.  And when that fails eventually, they’ll go back to using a modified version of the old tagline to remind everyone how they’re getting back to the core of what makes them great.

G – Gartner – You knew this one was coming.  I’m picking on Gartner here because the name fits my theme, but you know that IDC and Forrester and Tolly and others are going to come up at some point.  Despite the fact that you’ve likely never heard of them, you’re going to see that the analysts know all about this company and will have already pigeonholed them into some polygon or ranked them among the best in some esoteric category that doesn’t matter to 90% of the buying population.  It’s like being in a bank.  Everyone’s a vice president…of something.  A friend of mine was VP of communications for a bank.  His department had no employees besides himself.  What’s the point of being number one if there’s no number two or three or four?  I’m pretty sure you know how I feel about analyst firms in general by now.  Just know that the presenters are all hot to tell you about how other people tell the world that they’re awesome.  And be sure to take that information with the prescribed grain of salt.

O – Our Customers Include…(NASCAR Slide) – One of my personal favorites.  Never mind that the presenter is telling you how awesome their company/widget/idea is.  Take it from the list of companies that I’m about to show you on one (or many more) slides.  But I’m going to be clever and just show you logos, since you obviously might get FedEx confused with FedEx Cleaners in Cleveland or something.  These slides are usually a jumble of graphics that look like someone has vomited a stream of GIFs and JPEGs onto a slide.  In many ways it resembles the side of a NASCAR vehicle or jumpsuit.  In fact, all it really boils down to is an attempt to sway your opinion by saying, “Hey!  These successful people use our stuff!  You should too!”  It’s as ridiculous as McDonalds putting the logo of every company in the world on their marketing material because the employees of the company eat there on occasion.  Rather than filling your presentation with slide after slide of blather and graphic, include a testimonial from a specific company.  Or better yet, have a representative of that company come tell me how awesome your stuff is.

After you get all five of these in your presentation, you can proudly jump up and shout “BINGO!!!” and then leave.  You don’t need to know any more about the company from this point forward.  Who cares what they make?  Do you really want to know how they handle upgrades or licensing or costs?  Probably not.  You’ve already seen the important stuff.  They have awesome founders that are doing something totally unique that no one else has thought of.  They spent all their time coming up with a catchy phrase to stick in your brain and did just enough to get noticed by a few companies looking for something different to try this time around.  That, in turn, got them noticed by professionals whose job it is to tell you who you should be using and reassuring you that the products you are using are pretty cool.  After all that, you just need to write the check for whatever it is that the company is trying to sell you.  I mean, with an amazing presentation like that you shouldn’t need any more details.

New Cisco Data Center Certifications

Last week, Cisco finally plugged a huge hole in their certification offerings.  Cisco has historically required its partner community to study for specific certifications related to technologies before offering them as specialized tracks for all candidates.  It was that was for voice, wireless, and even security.  However, until last week there was no offering for data center networking.  I think this is an area in which Cisco needs to concentrate, especially when you look at their results for the first quarter of their fiscal year that were just released.  Cisco grew its data center networking business by 61% and their UCS success has vaulted them into third place in the server race easily, though some may argue they are a tight contender for second.  What Cisco needs to solidify all that growth is a program that grows data center network engineers from the ground up.

Cisco’s previous path to creating a data center network engineer involved getting a basic CCNA with no specialization and then focusing on the Data Center Networking Infrastructure certifications.  After the networking is taken care of, there is a path for UCS design and support as well.  But that requires a prospective engineer to pick up NX-OS on the fly, not having started with it in the CCNA level.  Thankfully, Cisco has now addressed that little flaw in the program.

CCNA Data Center

Cisco now has a CCNA Data Center certification that consists of non-overlapping material.  640-911Introduction to Data Center Networking DCICN is square one for new data center hopefuls.  It tests over the basics of networking much like the CCNA, but the focus is on NX-OS devices like the Nexus 7k and Nexus 5k.  It’s very much like the ICND1 exam in that is focuses on the basics and theory of general networking.  640-916 Introducing Cisco Data Center Technologies DCICT is the real meat of data center technology.  This is where the various fabric and SAN technologies are tested along with Unified Computing as well as virtualization technology like the Nexus 1000V.  Of these two tests, the DCICT is going to be the really hefty one for most candidates to chew on.  In fact, I’m almost sure that most CCNA-level engineers can go out and pass DCICN without any study beyond their CCNA knowledge.  The DCICT will likely require much more time with the study guides to get past.  Once you’ve gotten through both, you can now proudly display your CCNA: Data Center title.

CCNP Data Center

Once you’ve attained your CCNA Data Center, it’s time to delve into the topics a bit deeper.  Cisco introduced the CCNP Data Center certification track to compliment the entry level offering in the CCNA DC.  Historically, this is where the various partner-focused Data Center specializations have focused.  With the CCNP Data Center, you have to start with the Implementing Data Center Unified Computing DCUCI and Implementing Data Center Unified Fabric DCUFI exams.  Right now, you can take either version 4 or version 5 of these exams, but the version 4 exams will start expiring next year.  Once you’ve passed the implementation exams, you have a choice to make.  You can go down the path of the data center designer with Designing Cisco Data Center Unified Computing DCUCD and Designing Cisco Unifed Data Center Fabric DCUFD.  Those two exams also have a choice between version 4 and version 5, with similar expiration dates in 2013 for the version 4 exams.  If you fancy yourself more of a hands-on troubleshooter, you can opt for the Troubleshooting Cisco Unified Data Center Computing DCUCT and Troubleshooting Cisco Unified Data Center Fabric DCUFT exams.  Note that these exams don’t have a version 4 option.  There seems to have been some confusion about which exams count for what.  You must take the Implementation exams.  After that you can either take the Design exams or the Troubleshooting exams.

Tom’s Take

I’ve spent a lot of time in the last year talking about the CCIE Data Center.  One of the things that struck me about it was how focused it was in its present state on currently trained engineers.  Unless you work with Nexus and UCS every day, you won’t do well on the CCIE DC exam because there isn’t really a training program for it.  Now, with the additions of the CCNA DC and the CCNP DC, aspiring data center rock stars can get started on the road to the CCIE without needing to worry about learning IOS first.  I’m sure that Cisco will eventually retire the data center partner specializations and make the requirement for the Data Center Architecture focused around the CCNA DC and CCNP DC.  There’s no better time to jump out there and get started.  Just remember your jacket.

VMware Certification for Cisco People

During the November 14th vBrownBag, which is an excellent weekly webinar dedicated to many interesting virtualization topics, the question was raised on Twitter about mapping the VMware certification levels to their corresponding counterparts in Cisco certification.  That caught me a bit off guard at first because certification programs among the various vendors tend to be very insular and don’t compare well to other programs.  The Novell CNE isn’t the same animal as the JNCIE.  It’s not even in the same zoo.  Still, the watermark for difficult certifications is still the CCIE for most people, due to its longevity and reputation as a tough exam.  Some were wondering how it compared to the VCDX, VMware’s premier architect exam.  So I decided to take it upon myself to write up a little guide for those out there that may be Cisco certification junkies (like me) and are looking to see how their test taking skills might carry over into the nebulous world of vKernels and port groups.  Note that I’m going to focus on the data center virtualization track of the VMware certification program, as that’s the one I’ve had the most experience with and the other tracks are relatively new at this time.

VCP

The VMware Certified Professional (VCP) is most like the CCNA from Cisco.  It’s a foundational knowledge exam designed to test a candidate’s ability to understand and configure a VMware environment consisting of the ESXi hypervisor and vCenter management server.  The questions on the VCP tend to fall into the area of “Which button do you click?” and “What is the maximum number of x?” types of questions.  These are the things you will need to know when you find yourself staring at a vCenter window and you need to program a vKernel port or turn on LACP on a set of links.  Note that according to the VCP blueprint, there aren’t any of those nasty simulation questions on the VCP, unlike the CCNA.  That means you won’t have to worry about a busted Flash simulation that doesn’t support the question mark key or other crazy restrictions.  However, the VCP does have a prerequisite that I’m none too pleased about.  In order to obtain the VCP, you must attend a VMware-authorized training course.  There’s no getting around it.  Even if you take the exam and pass, you won’t get the credential until you’ve coughed up the $3000 US for the class.  That creates a ridiculous barrier to entry for many that are starting out in the virtualization industry.  It’s difficult in some cases for candidates to pony up the cost of the exam itself.  Asking them to sell a kidney in order to go to class is crazy.  For reference, that’s two CCIE lab fees.  Just for a class.  Yes, I know that existing VCPs can recertify on the new version without going to class.  But it’s a bit heavy handed to require new candidates to go to class, especially when the material that’s taught in class is readily available from work experience and the VMware website.

VCAP-DCA

The next tier of VMware certifications is the VMware Certified Advanced Professional (VCAP).  This is actually split into two different disciplines – Data Center Administration (DCA) and Data Center Design (DCD).  The VCAP-DCA is very similar to the CCIE.  Yes, I know that’s a pretty big leap from the CCNA-like VCP.  However, the structure of the exam is unlike anything but the CCIE in Ciscoland.  The VCAP-DCA is a 4-hour live practical exam.  You are configuring a set of 30-40 tasks on real servers.  You have access to the official documentation, although just like the CCIE you need to know your stuff and be able to do it quickly or you will run out of time.  Also, just like the CCIE, you are given constraints on some things, such as “Configure this task using the CLI, not the GUI.”  When you leave the secured testing facility, you won’t know your score for up to fifteen days until the exam is graded, likely by a combination of script and live person (just like the CCIE).  David M. Davis of Trainsignal is both a CCIE and a VCAP and has an excellent blog post about his VCAP experience.  He says that while the exam format of the VCAP is very similar to the CCIE, the exam contents themselves aren’t as tricky or complicated.  That makes sense when you think about the mid-range target for this exam.  This is for those people who are the best at administering VMware infrastructure.  They know more than the VCP blueprint and want to show that they are capable of troubleshooting all the wacky things that can happen to a virtual cluster.  Note that while there is a recommended training class available for the VCAP, it isn’t required to sit the test.  Also note that the VCAP is a restricted exam, meaning you must request authorization in order to sit it.  That makes sense when you consider that it’s a 4-hour test that can only be taken at a secured Pearson VUE testing center.

VCAP-DCD

The other VMware Certified Advanced Professional (VCAP) exam is the Data Center Design (DCD) exam.  This is where the line starts to blur between people that spend their time plugging away and configurations and people that spend their time in Visio putting data centers together.  Rather than focusing on purely practical tasks like the VCAP-DCA, the VCAP-DCD instead tests the candidate’s ability to design VMware-focused data centers based on a set of conditions.  The exam consists of a grouping of multiple choice, fill-in-the-blank, and in-exam design sessions.  The latter appears to have some Visio-like design components according to those that have taken the test.  This would put the exam firmly in the territory of the CCDP or even the CCDE.  The material on the DCD may be focused on design specifically, but the exam format seems to speak more to the kind of advanced questions you might see in the higher level Cisco design exams.  Just like the DCA, there are recommended courses for the DCD (like the VMware Design Workshop), but these are not requirements.  You will receive your score as soon as you leave, since there aren’t enough live configuration items on the exam to warrant a live person grading your exam.

VCDX

The current king of the mountain for VMware certifications is the VMware Certified Design Expert (VCDX).  This the VMware’s premier architecture certification.  It’s also one of the most rigorous.  A lot of people compare this to the CCIE as the showcase cert for a given industry, but based on what I’ve seen the two certifications only mirror each other in number of attempts per candidate.  The VCDX is actually more akin to the Cisco Certified Architect (CCAr) or Microsoft Certified Master certification.  That’s because rather than have a lab of gear to configure, you have to create a total solution around a given problem and demonstrate your knowledge to a council of people live and in person.  It’s not a inexpensive, either in terms of time or cost.  You have to pay a $300 fee to even have your application submitted.  This is pretty similar to the CCIE written exam.  However, even if you submit the proposal, there’s no guarantee you’ll make it to the defense.  Your application has to be scrutinized and there has to be a reasonable chance of you defending it.  If you’re submission isn’t up to snuff, you get recycled to the back of the pile with a pat on the head and a “try again later” note.  If you do make the cut, you have to fly out to a pre-determined location to defend.  Unlike Cisco’s policy of having a lab in many different locations all over the world, the defense locations tend to move around.  You may defend at VMWorld in San Francisco and have to try again in Brussels or even Tokyo.  It all really depends on timing.  Once you get in the room for your defense, you have to present your proposal to the council as well as field questions about it.  You’ll probably have to end up whiteboarding at some point to prove you know what you’re talking about.  And this council doesn’t accept simple answers.  If they ask you why you did something, you’d better have a good answer.  And “Because it’s best practice” doesn’t cut it either.  You need to show an in-depth knowledge of all facets of not only the VMware pieces of the solution, but third party pieces as well.  You need to think about all the things that you would put into a successful implementation, from environmental impacts to fault tolerance. Implementation plans and training schedules could also come up.  The idea is that you are working your way through a complete solution that shows you are a true architect, not just a mouse-clicker in the trenches.  That’s why I tend to look at the VCDX as above the CCIE.  It’s more about strategic thinking instead of brilliant tactical maneuvers.  Read up on my CCAr post from earlier this year to get an idea of what Cisco’s looking for in their architects.  That’s what VMware is looking for too.


That’s VMware certification in a nutshell.  It doesn’t map one-to-one to the existing Cisco certification lineup, but I would argue that’s due more to the VMware emphasis on practical experience versus book learning.  Even the VCAP-DCD, which would appear to be a best practices exam, has a component of live drag-and-drop design in a simlet.  I would argue that if Cisco had to do it all over again, their certification program would look a lot like the VMware version.  I talked earlier this year about wanting to do the VCAP in some form this year.  I don’t think I’m going to get there.  But knowing what I know now about the program and where I need to focus my studies based on what I’m doing today, I think that the VCAP is a very realistic goal for 2013.  The VCDX may be a bit out of my league for the time being, but who knows?  I said the same thing about the CCIE many years ago.

Cisco To Buy Meraki?

If you’re in the tech industry, it never seems like there’s any downtime. That was the case today all thanks to my friend Greg Ferro (@etherealmind). I was having breakfast when this suddenly scrolled up on my Twitter feed:

After I finished spitting out my coffee, I started searching for confirmation or indication to the contrary. Stephen Foskett (@SFoskett) provided it a few minutes later by finding the following link:

http://blogs.cisco.com/news/cisco-announces-intent-to-acquire-meraki/

EDIT: As noted in the comments below, Brandon Bennett (@brandonrbennett) found a copy of the page in Google’s Webcache. The company in the linked page says “Madras”, but the rest of the info is all about Meraki. I’m thinking Madras is just a placeholder.

For the moment, I’m going to assume that this is a legitimate link that is really going to point to something soon. I’m not going to assume Cisco has a habit of creating “Cisco announces intent to acquire X Company” pages out of habit, like this famous Dana Carvey SNL video. In that case, the biggest question now becomes…

Why Meraki?

I’ll admit, I was shaking my head for a bit on this one. Cisco doesn’t buy companies because of hardware technology. They’ve got R&D labs that can replicate pretty much anything under the sun given enough time. Cisco instead usually purchases for innovative software platforms. They originally bought Airespace for the controller architecture and managment software that originally became WCS. The silicon isn’t as important, since Cisco makes their own.

Meraki doesn’t really make anything innovative from a hardware front. Their APs use reference architecture. Their switch and firewall offerings are also pretty standard fare with basic 10/100/1000 connectivity and are likely based on Broadcom reference designs as well. What exactly draws in a large buyer like Cisco? What is unique among all those products?

Cisco’s Got Its Head In The Clouds

The single thing that is similar across the whole Meraki line is the software. I talked a bit about it in my Wireless Field Day 2 post on Meraki. Their single management platform allows them to manage switches, firewalls, and wireless in one single application. You can see all the critical information that your switches are pumping out and program them accordingly. The demo I saw at WFD2 was isolating a hungry user downloading too much data with a combination of user identification and pushing an ACL down to that user limiting their bandwidth for certain kinds of traffic without totally locking that person out of the network. That’s the kind of thing that Cisco is looking for.

With the announcement of onePK, Cisco really wants to show off what they can do when they start plugging APIs into their switches and routers. But simply opening an API doesn’t do anything. You’ve got to have some kind of software program to collect data from the API and then push instructions back down to it to accomplish a goal. And if you can decentralize that control to somewhere in the cloud, you’ve got a recipe for the marketing people to salivate over. For now, I thought that would be some kind of application borne out of the Cisco Prime family.

If the Meraki acquisition comes to fruition, Meraki’s platform will likely be rebranded as a member of the Cisco Prime family and used for this purpose. It will likely be positioned initially towards the SMB and medium enterprise customers. In fact, I’ve got three or four use cases for this management software on Cisco hardware today with my customers. This would do a great job of replacing some of the terrible management platforms I’ve seen in the past, like Cisco Configuration Assisstant (CCA) and the unmentioned product Cisco was pitching as a hands-off way to manage sub 50-node networks. By allowing the Meraki management software to capture data from Cisco devices, you can have a proven portal to manage your switches and APs. Add in the ability to manage other SMB devices, such as a UC 500 or a small 800-series router and you’ve got a smooth package you can sell to your customers for a yearly fee. Ah ha! Recurring, cloud based income! That’s just icing on the cake.

EDIT: 6:48 CST – Confirmed by a Cisco press release and as well by Techcrunch and CRN.


Tom’s Take

Ruckus just had their IPO. It was time for a shake up in the upstart wireless market. Meraki was the target that most people had in mind. I’d been asked by several traditional networking vendors recently who I thought was going to be the next wireless company to be acquired, and every time my money landed on Meraki. They have a good software platform that helps them manage inexpensive devices. All their engineering goes into the software. By moving away from pure wireless products, they’ve raised their profile with their competitors. I never seriously expected Meraki to dethrone Cisco or Brocade with their switch offerings. Instead, I saw the Meraki switches and firewalls as an add-on offering to compliment their wireless deployments. You could have a whole small office running Meraki wireless, wired, and security deployments. Getting the ability to manage all those devices easily from one web-based application must have appealed to someone at Cisco M&A. I remember from my last visit to the Meraki offices that their name is an untranslatable word from Greek that means “to do something with intense passion.” It also can mean “to have a place at the table.” It does appear that Meraki found a place at a very big table indeed.

My First VMUG

If you’re a person that is using VMware or interested in starting, you should be a member of the VMware User Group (VMUG).  This organization is focused on providing a local group that talks about all manner of virtualization-related topics.  It can be a learning resource for you to pick up new techniques or technologies.  It can also serve as a sounding board for those that want to discuss in-depth design challenges or project ideas.  The various regional VMUGs have quite a following, with many quarterly meetings encompassing a full day of breakout sessions and keynote addresses.

I signed up for the Oklahoma City VMUG about six months ago shortly after confirmation that I had been selected as vExpert for 2012.  I wanted to gauge interest in VMware locally and hopefully get some ideas about where people were taking it outside my own experiences.  I work mostly with primary education institutions in my day job, and many of them are just now starting to realize the advantages of virtualizing their systems.  In fact, my previous virtualization primer was directed at this group of individuals.  However, I know there are many more organizations that are making effective use of this technology and I hoped that many of them would be involved in the VMUG.

What I found after I joined was a bit disjointed.  There didn’t seem to be a lot of activity on the discussion boards.  I couldn’t really find the leadership group that was in charge of meetings and such.  As it turned out, there hadn’t even been a VMUG meeting for almost two years.  There were a lot of people that wanted to be involved in some capacity, but no real direction.  Thankfully, that changed at VMWorld this year thanks to Joey Ware.  Joey is an admin at the University of Oklahoma Heath Sciences Center.  He jumped in the driver’s seat and started planning a new meeting to allow everyone to circle back up and catch up with what had been going on recently.

When I arrived at the meeting on Nov. 12th, I wasn’t really sure what to expect.  I know that organizations like the New England VMUG and the UK VMUG are rather large.  I didn’t know if the OKC VMUG was going to attract a crowd or a basketball team.  Imagine my surprise when there were upwards of 50 people in the room!  There were university administrators, energy company architects, and corporate developers.  There were VMware employees and even an EMC vSpecialist.  After a welcome back introduction, we got a nice overview of the new things in vSphere 5.1.  Much of this was review for me, having been tuned in during the launch at VMWorld this year and reading great blog articles released thereafter (check out the massive archive here courtesy of Eric Seibert).  It was great to see so many people looking at moving to vSphere 5.1.  Of course, I couldn’t let the whole briefing go without injecting a bit of commentary about one of my least-liked features, VMware Storage Appliance (VSA).  VSA, to me at least, is a half-baked idea designed to give cost conscious customers access to advanced VMware features without buying a SAN or even take the time to roll their own NAS from a Linux distro.  It really feels like something someone threw together right before a code freeze deadline and got it on the checklist of Cool Things You Can Do In vSphere.  If you are at all seriously considering using VSA, save your time and money and just buy a SAN.  Now, during the VMUG session, there were several people that mentioned that VSA does have a place, but purely as a last ditch option.  I’d tend to agree with this assessment, but again save your resources and get something useful.

We got a good discussion about vCenter Operations Manager (vCOps) from Sean O’Dell (@CloudyChance).  VMware is really pusing vCOps in 5.1 as a way to increase your productivity and reduce the chance for human error in your configuration.  They are really trying to push it by making the Foundation edition free in vSphere 5.1.  The Foundation edition helps you get started with some of the alert capabilities and health monitoring pieces that many admins would find useful.  Once you find that you like what vCOps is telling you and you want to start using the more advanced features to start managing your environment, you’re ready to move up to the Standard edition, which does cost around $125/VM in packs of 25.  If you’re managing that many VMs today without some kind of automation, you should really look at investing in vCOps.  I promise that it’s going to end up saving you more than 25 hours worth of work over the course of a year, which will more than pay for itself in the long run.


Tom’s Take

My first VMUG was well worth it.  I was really happy that there were that many people in my area that want to learn more about VMware and want to talk to people that work with it.  Just when I think that I’m the only one trying to do awesome things with virtualization, my peers go out and show me that I don’t really live in a vacuum.  I really hope that Joey can keep the OKC VMUG going far into the future and keep spreading the word about virtualization to anyone that will listen.  Who knows?  Maybe I’ll get brave enough to give a presentation sometime soon.

If you are interested in joining your local VMUG, head over to http://www.vmug.com/l/pw/rs and sign up.  It’s totally free and open to anyone.  For those reading my post that are in the Oklahoma City area, the link to the OKC VMUG workspace is here.  We’re going to try to have quarterly meetings, so I look forward to seeing more new faces after the first of the year.

My Virtualization Primer

When I gave my cloud presentation earlier this year, I did indeed have about 10% of my audience walk out on my presentation by the end. I couldn’t really figure out why either. I thought that an overview of the cloud was a great topic to bring up among people that might not otherwise know much about it. Through repeated viewings of my presentation, I think I realize when I lost most everyone. I should have stopped after my cloud section and spent the rest of the time clarifying everything. Instead, I barrelled through the next section on virtualization with wild abandon, as if I was giving this presentation to a group of people that were already doing it. Instead, I should have split the two and focused on presenting virtualization in its own session.

When I got the chance to present again at the fall edition of this conference, I jumped at the chance. Here was my opportunity to erase my mistake and spend more time on the “how” of things. Coupled with my selection as a vExpert, I figured it was about time for me to evangelize all the great things about virtualization. If you are at all familiar with virtualization, this is going to be a pretty boring presentation to watch. Here’s a link to my slide deck (PDF Warning):

Here’s the video to go along with it:

Not my worst presentation. I felt it came off rather conversationally this time instead of a lecture. We did have some good discussion before the video started rolling that I wish I had captured. One of the things that really took me by surprise was the lack of questions. I don’t know if that’s because people are just being generally polite or if they’re worried about the quality of their question. I’m used to being in presentations at Tech Field Day where the delegates aren’t afraid to voice their opinions about things. I’m beginning to wonder if that is the exception to the rule. Even at other presentations that I’ve been to locally, the audience seems to be on the quiet side for the most part. I’ve even considered doing a TFD-style presentation of about two or three slides and the rest becomes a big discussion. I know I’d get a lot out of that, but I’m not sure my audience would appreciate it as much.

I’ve also noticed that I do need to start being careful when I’m in other presentations. In one that I attended two days after this video was made, I had to strongly resist the urge to correct a presenter on something. An audience member asked a question about BYOD security posture and classification and the answer that was received wasn’t what I would have wanted to get. I decided that discretion was the better part of valor and kept my mouth shut. What about you? If the presenter is saying something totally wrong or has missed the point entirely, would you say something?

Tom’s Take

In the end, most of it comes down to practice. When you assemble your slide deck and practice it a couple of times, you should feel good about the material. Don’t be one of those presenters that gets caught off guard by your own slide transitions. Don’t laugh, it happened in a different presentation. For me, the key going forward is going to be to reduce the slides and spend more time on the conversation. I’ve already decided that my content for 2013 is going to focus around IPv6. People have been coming to me asking about my original IPv6 presentation from 2011, and due to the final exhaustion of IPv4 from RIPE and ARIN, I think it’s time to revisit that one with a focus on real-world experience. That does mean that I’m going to have a lot of my plate in the next few months, but when I am done I’m going to have a lot of good anecdotes to tell.

Juniper – Land of Unicorns and Broccoli

The final Network Field Day 4 (NFD4) presentation was from Juniper. Juniper has been a big supporter of Tech Field Day so getting to see some of their newest technology and advances was just another step in the the wonderful partnership. We arrived Friday afternoon to a very delicious lunch before settling in for the four hour session.

We were introduced to one of our own, Derick Winkworth (@cloudtoad). Derick was a delegate and NFD2 and has recently come to Juniper as the PM of Automation. It’s always nice to see someone from Tech Field Day in front of us for the vendor. Some have said that the vendors are stealing away members of the Field Day community, but I see it more as the vendors realizing the unique opportunity to bring someone on board the “gets it.” However, I couldn’t let Derick off the hook quite that easily. At Cisco Live, Derick proved his love for Dave Ward of Cisco by jumping up during Dave’s OnePK panel and throwing a pair of men’s briefs at him with “I <3 Dave” written on the back. Lots of laughs were had by all, and Dave seemed appreciative of his gift. Once I learned the Derick was presenting first for NFD4, I hatched my own fan boy plot. When Derick walked up front to face the NFD delegates as “the enemy,” I too proved my love for the Cloud Toad by jumping up and tossing him a pair of underwear as well. These were adorned with “I <3 @cloudtoad” to show Derick that he too has groupies out there.

Derick then proceeded to give us a small overview of the decision he made to join Juniper and the things that he wanted to improve to make everyone’s life a bit better. I can tell the Derick is genuinely pumped about his job and really wants to make a difference. If someone is that excited about going to work every day, it really doesn’t matter if it’s for a vendor or a VAR or even a garbageman. I only wish that half the people I work with had the same passion for their jobs as Derick.

Our first presentation was a bit of a surprise. We got a first hand look at storage from Simon Gordon. Yes, Juniper shook things up by making their first peek all about hard drives. Okay, so maybe it was more about showing how technologies like QFabric can help accelerate data transfers back and forth across your network. The two storage people in the room seemed fascinated by the peek into how Juniper handled these kinds of things. I was a bit lost with all the terminology and tried to keep up as best I could, but that’s what the recorded video archive is for, right?  It’s no surprise that Juniper is pitching QFabric as a solution for the converged data center, just like their competitors are pitching their own fabric solutions.  It just reminds me that I need to spend some more time studying these fabric systems.  Also, you can see here where the demo gremlins bit the Juniper folks.  It seemed to happen to everyone this time around.  The discussion, especially from Colin McNamara (@colinmcnamara) did a great job of filling the time where the demo gremlins were having their fun.

The second presentation was over Virtual Chassis, Juniper’s method of stacking switches together to unify control planes and create managment simplicity. The idea is to take a group of switches and interconnect the backplanes to create high throughput while maintaining the ability to program them quickly. The technology is kind of interesting, especially when you extend it toward something like QFabric to create a miniature version of the large fabric deployment. However, here is where I get to the bad guy a bit… Juniper, while this technology is quite compelling, the presentation fell a bit flat. I know that Tech Field Day has a reputation for chewing up presenters. I know that some sponsors are afraid that if they don’t have someone technical in front of the group that bedlam and chaos will erupt. That being said, make sure that the presenter is engaging as well as technical. I have nothing but respect for the presenter and I’m sure he’s doing amazing things with the technology. I just don’t think he felt all the comfortable in front of our group talking about it. I know how nervous you can be during a presentation. Little things like demo failures can throw you off your game. But in the end, a bad presentation can be saved by a good presenter. A good presentation can take a hit from a less-than-ideal presenter.  Virtual chassis is a huge talking point for me.  Not only because it’s the way that the majority of my customers will interconnect their devices.  Not because it’s a non-proprietary connector way to interconnect switches.  It’s because Virtual Chassis is the foundation for some exciting things (that may or may not be public knowledge) around fabrics that I can’t wait to see.

Up next was Kyle Adams with Mykonos. They are a new acquistion by Juniper in the security arena. They have developed a software platform that provides a solution to the problem of web application security. Mykonos acts like a reverse proxy in front of your web servers. When it’s installed, it intercepts all of the traffic traveling to your Internet-facing servers and injects a bit of forbidden fruit to catch hackers. Things like fake debug codes, hidden text fields, and even phantom configuration files. Mykonos calls these “tar pits” and they are designed to fool the bad guys into a trail of red herrings. Becauase all of the tar pit data is generated on the fly and injected into the HTTP session, no modification of the existing servers is necessary. That is the piece that had eluded my understanding up until this point. I always thought Mykonos integrated into your infrastructure and sprayed fake data all over your web servers in the hope of catching people trying to footprint your network. Realizing now that it does this instead from the network level, it interesting to see the approaches that Mykonos can take. The tar pit data is practically invisible to the end user. Only those that are snooping for less-than-honorable intentions may even notice it. But once they take the bait and start digging a bit deeper, that’s when Mykonos has them. The software then creates a “super cookie” on the system as a method of identifying the attacker. These super coookes are suprisingly resilient, using combinations of Java and Flash and other stuff to stay persistent even if the original cookie is deleted. Services like Hulu and Netflix use them to better identify customers. Mykonos uses them to tie attacker sessions together and collect data. There are some privacy concerns naturally, but that is a discussion for a different day. Once Mykonos has tagged you, that’s when the countermeasures can start getting implemented.

I loved watching this in demo form. Mykonos randomly selects a response based on threat level and deploys it in an effort to prevent the attacker from compromising things. Using methods such as escalting network latency back to the attacker or creating fake .htacess files with convincingly encrypted usernames and passwords, Mykonos sets the hook to reel in the big fish. While the attacker is churning through data and trying to compromise what he thinks is a legitimate security hole, Mykonos is collecting data the whole time to later identify the user. That way, they can either be blocked from accessing your site or perhaps even prosecuted if desired. I loved the peek at Mykonos. I can see why Christofer Hoff (@beaker) was so excited to bring them on board. This refreshing approach to web application firewalls is just crazy enough to work well. As I said on the video, Mykonos is the ultimate way to troll attackers.

The final presentation at Juniper once again starred Derick Winkworth along with Dan Backman. Dan had presented over workflow automation at NFD2. Today, they wanted to talk about the same topic from a slightly different perspective. Derick took the helm this time and started off with a hilarious description of the land of milk and honey and unicorns, which according to him was representitive of what happens when you can have a comfortable level of workflow automation. It’s also where the title of this post came from.  As you can tell from the video, this was the best part of having a former delegate presenting to us.  He knew just how to keep us in stitches with all his whiteboarding and descriptions.  After I was done almost spitting my refreshments all over my laptop, he moved on to his only “slide”, which was actually a Visio diagram. I suppose this means that Derick has entered the Hall Of Slideless TFD Presenters. His approach to workflow automation actually got me a bit excited. He talked less about scripting commands or automating configuration tasks and instead talked about all the disparate systems out there and how the lack of communication between them can cause the silo effect present in many organizations to amplify.  I like Derick’s approach to using Junos to pull information in from various different sources to help expedite things like troubleshooting or process execution.  Leveraging other utilities like curl helps standardize the whole shooing match without reinventing the wheel.  If I can use the same utilities that I’ve always used, all my existing knowledge doesn’t become invalidated or replaced.  That really speaks to me.  Don’t make me unlearn everything.  Give me the ability to take your product and use additional tools to do amazing things.  That, to me, is the essence of SDN.

If you’d like to learn more about the various Juniper products listed above, be sure to visit their website at http://www.juniper.net.  You can also follow their main Twitter account as @JuniperNetworks.


Tom’s Take

Juniper’s doing some neat things from what they showed us at NFD4.  They appear to be focusing on fabric technology, both from the QFabric converged networking overview and even the Virtual Chassis discussion.  Of course, protecting things is of the utmost importance, so Mykonos can prevent the bad guys from getting the goods in a very novel way.  Uniting all of this is Junos, the single OS that has all kinds of capabilities around SDN and now OpenFlow 1.3.  Sure, the demo gremlins hit them a couple of times, but they were able to keep the conversation going for the most part and present some really compelling use cases for their plans.  The key for Juniper is to get the word out about all their technology and quit putting up walls that try and “hide” the inner workings of things.  Geeks really like seeing all the parts and pieces work.  Geeks feel a lot more comfortable knowing the ins and outs of a process.  That will end up winning more converts in the long run than anything else.

Tech Field Day Disclaimer

Juniper was a sponsor of Network Field Day 4.  As such, they were responsible for covering a portion of my travel and lodging expenses while attending Network Field Day 4.  In addition, Juniper provided me with a hooded sweatshirt with the Juniper logo and some “I Wish This Ran Junos” stickers. They did not ask for, nor where they promised any kind of consideration in the writing of this review.  The opinions and analysis provided within are my own and any errors or omissions are mine and mine alone.