Cisco Live 2014 – Recap

CLUS Social Media

Cisco Live Twitterati and Social Media Rockstars

Cisco Live 2014 was a rollicking fun ride from start to finish this year.  Lots of people to see and things to do.  The social media aspect of Cisco has come full circle as well.  No longer are social folks trying to borrow chairs at lunch tables or finding spots to camp out for keynotes.  Social is integrated into everything now at all levels.  And that’s because of the people.  But I’m getting ahead of myself here.

The Places

Cisco Live seemed a bit spread out this year.  But that’s not the fault of Cisco.  It’s because Moscone wasn’t designed to handle an influx of people like this.  Who has a 25,000 attendee convention?  Cisco Live overwhelmed the place.  You couldn’t walk on the streets without seeing CLUS badges.  Mel’s Drive-In was packed every day.  Moscone was built for a day when 10,000 people was a lot.  Now it’s just too small.  Sessions spread across three buildings.  People loading for the keynote through the tunnels.  Moscone needs an upgrade before CLUS comes back again.

That being said, the location of the Social Media Hub (upgraded to the Social Media Routed Bridge on Foursqure) and the Tweetup area were spot on this year.  Right inside the doors at Moscone South.  Easy to find.  Great to hangout within.  Easy access to keynote monitors.  Except for the ever-present DJ, it was close to perfect.  Seeing how the  hub has grown really makes me proud.  Social is starting to be a bigger part of everything. And that’s because of the people.

The People

People make the event.  Plain and simple.  Cisco Live is like the biggest family reunion you’ll ever get to attend.  Catching up with old friends.  Meeting new ones.  Staying out until the wee hours of the morning discussing routing design with four people you met two hours ago.  Those are the kinds of memories you won’t forget any time soon.

This year was packed with greatness.  People that wanted to get involved.  People that helped make the event bigger than it’s ever been.  The first introduction of the Cisco Champions at Cisco Live.  The Tech Field Day roundtables.  Even walking the show floor and bumping into friends working the booths.  That shows me that the power of a single person on Twitter or on a blog is starting to have a huge impact on the perception of a brand.

One voice makes a difference.  One person can influence a group and bring about change.  Sometimes it’s small, like getting getting friends to meet up to got to lunch.  Other times it’s the CLUS Scavenger Hunt, where dozens of people competed for prizes.  Still bigger is the Sunday evening tweetup, where 150 social media rockstars showed how powerful our voices can be.  It’s important to remember that people are watching the things you say.  You can have an impact.  When you realize that, you’ll know just how powerful you can truly be.

Tom’s Take

I was talking with Amy Lewis (@CommsNinja) during the Customer Appreciation Event about how far we’ve come since Tom’s Corner just a few years ago.  In fact, we took a pic that someone remarked “made us look like proud parents”.

AmyTom

We are proud parents.  But only because our kids, namely you, have shown everyone how to make it on their own in the crazy social media world.  We’re a community now.  This isn’t a club or a clique.  This is about awesome people coming together to be a part of something greater.  That’s what gestalt means.  We’re greater than the sum of our parts.  Cisco Live is our chance to shine.  Sure, we have goofy jokes.  We give each other bats and t-shrts and tiaras.  But that’s because we want to show each and every one how important they are.

Every year we have more people at Cisco Live.  We have more and more people joining the community.  But we also have those that can’t make it back for one reason or another.  They are always missed.  But it does show everyone how the community keeps going every year.  And that’s what makes me the most proud.  That the community can and will endure.

Thanks to everyone that said “hello” during Cisco Live.  Thanks also to Cisco and their great staff for making CLUS 2014 so amazing.  We always appreciate everything you do for us.  Next year in San Diego is shaping up to be epic again.  Let’s make our voices heard once more!

The SDNicorn

SDNicorn and the CLUS Princess

SDNicorn and the CLUS Princess

Cisco Live is a conference full of characters. Larger than life people like Scott Morris (@ScottMorrisCCIE) and Terry Slattery. Even I’ve been known to indulge in the antics sometimes. Remember the tattoo? This year, I wanted to do something a little different. And with some help from Amazon I managed to come up with one the best and worst ideas I’ve ever had.

The SDNicorn

Why a unicorn head? It’s actually an idea I’ve had for Networking Field Day for quite a while. The Wireless Field Day folks already have their own spirit mascot: the polar bear.

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I wanted to give the networking folks their own mascot. What better animal than the unicorn? After all, when things just seem to happen for no reason, who says it isn’t because of unicorns? In addition, Amy Lewis (@CommsNinja) of Cisco is a huge unicorn fan. If you’re going to go for something, go all the way right?

The SDNicorn Rides Again

When I pulled the mask out at the Sunday evening tweetup, it got a huge round of applause. People started lining up for pictures with me. It was a bigger reception than I could have hoped for.

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I thought it would have a few laughs then I would retire the unicorn head until the next day. That’s when it took on a life of its own. I started looking for picture ideas. Rob Novak (@Gallifreyan) got a picture of me drinking an energy drink.

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It is unicorn fuel after all. The best part came when a random group of Cisco interns shooting video for an executive event asked me to put on the mask for a quick pickup shoot. That’s how you know you’ve made an impact.

The rest of the event was just as fun for me. I wore it to the CCIE party when Amy Arnold (@AmyEngineer) got a great shot of me enjoying wine.

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George Chongris (@th1nkdifferent) got a nice selfie too.

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A few people even remarked that I was a little bit scary. I took the mask down to the World of Solutions and ran into Mike Dvorkin (@Dvorkinista), where he proceeded to borrow the mask and trot around the WoS asking for hay. I was doubled over with laughter the whole time.

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I also got J. Michael Metz (@DrJMetz) to admit that Dynamic FCoE is really powered by unicorns.  Hat and all.

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The Customer Appreciation Event had to be the highlight, however. I wore the mask with the CAE hat of course. But people started borrowing it to do other things. Bob McCouch (@BobMcCouch) got a great shot of Kale Blankenship (@vCabbage) in the mask enjoying a beer.

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James Bowling (@vSential) was a highlight with his cloud-powered video too.

Tom’s Take

I admit the unicorn was a bit silly. But it was memorable. People have been tweeting about it and writing articles about it already. I plan on bringing the SDNicorn to Networking Field Day 8 this fall as well as VMworld in August. I think this idea has a bit more life left in it yet. At least I’m covering something up instead of showing off again, right?

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Software Release Models

If you remember a while back, I wrote all about the ways that software companies name releases and what they really mean.  Then I started thinking about all the ways companies release products without actually letting you get them.  You’ve heard it before: a big release announcement followed by questions about availability that never get answered.  I thought I’d take a moment to decode a few of them for you.

Early Field Trials – This thing is still broken.  We thought we fixed all the bugs but when we let someone outside the company install it they managed to screw it up.  So we gave it to three of our biggest customers and parked an engineer in their office for the next six months to iron out all the bugs.  No, you can’t buy it.  We don’t make enough money from you to justify parking one of our people in your office.  Check back next year.

New Product Hold – Buy our stuff! We released it and you can order it.  But we don’t think it’s quite ready for production.  Plus, we want to make sure you aren’t going to install it wrong and make us look bad.  So we’re going to make you ask for permission to buy something from us.  We’ll give it to you with the understanding that you can only install it on these two platforms on the second Tuesday in July.

Generally Available – We had to release it before our CEO went on stage.  You can order it, but we haven’t actually built any of them yet.  So while it’s available, it will still take another three months for it to get to you.  We hope to have all our supply chain issues sorted out just in time for it to become obsolete.

Expanded Release – We farmed the manufacturing out to some third world country to get this thing into stores.  The quality is going to be pretty dodgy until we can get our own facilities up to snuff.  Good luck on these things lasting more than three months.  In fact, we’re probably going to exclude these from any kind of warranty or support.  It’s cheaper that way.

Continuous Release – Bigger numbers are better, right?  Instead of waiting to release it, we’re just pushing every nightly build down to you.  The release number doesn’t even mean anything any more.  What’s a version?  Oh, and we’re going to break things right and left.  If you’re in the beta channel then abandon all hope now.


Tom’s Take

I bet you all have some funny ones as well.  Leave them in the comments!

Overlay Transport and Delivery

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The difference between overlay networks and underlay networks still causes issues with engineers everywhere.  I keep trying to find a visualization that boils everything down to the basics that everyone can understand.  Thanks to the magic of online ordering, I think I’ve finally found it.

Candygram for Mongo

Everyone on the planet has ordered something from Amazon (I hope).  It’s a very easy experience.  You click a few buttons, type in a credit card number, and a few days later a box of awesome shows up on your doorstep.  No fuss, no muss.  Things you want show up with no effort on your part.

Amazon is the world’s most well-known overlay network.  When you place an order, a point-to-point connection is created between you and Amazon.  Your item is tagged for delivery to your location.  It’s addressed properly and finds its way to you almost by magic.  You don’t have to worry about your location.  You can have things shipped to a home, a business, or a hotel lobby halfway across the country.  The magic of an overlay is that the packets are going to get delivered to the right spot no matter what.  You don’t need to worry about the addressing.

That’s not to say there isn’t some issue with the delivery.  With Amazon, you can pay for expedited delivery.  Amazon Prime members can get two-day shipping for a flat fee.  In overlays, your packets can take random paths depending on how the point-to-point connection is built.  You can pay to have a direct path provided the underlay cooperates with your wishes.  But unless a full mesh exists, your packet delivery is going to be at the mercy of the most optimized path.

Mongo Only Pawn In Game Of Life

Amazon only works because of the network of transports that live below it.  When you place an order, your package could be delivered any number of ways.  UPS, FedEx, DHL, and even the US Postal Service can be the final carrier for your package.  It’s all a matter of who can get your package there the fastest and the cheapest.  In many ways, the transport network is the underlay of physical shipping.

Routes are optimized for best forwarding.  So are UPS trucks.  Network conditions matter a lot to both packets and packages.  FedEx trucks stuck in traffic jams at rush hour don’t do much good.  Packets that traverse slow data center interconnects during heavy traffic volumes risk slow packet delivery.  And if the road conditions or cables are substandard?  The whole thing can fall apart in an instant.

Underlays are the foundation that higher order services are built on.  Amazon doesn’t care about roads.  But if their shipping times get drastically increased due to deteriorating roadways you can bet their going to get to the bottom of it.  Likewise, overlay networks don’t directly interact with the underlay but if packet delivery is impacted people are going to take a long hard look at what’s going on down below.

Tom’s Take

I love Amazon.  It beats shopping in big box stores and overpaying for things I use frequently.  But I realize that the infrastructure in place to support the behemoth that is Amazon is impressive.  Amazon only works because the transport system in place is optimized to the fullest.  UPS has a computer system that eliminates left turns from driver routes.  This saves fuel even if it means the routes are a bit longer.

Network overlays work the same way.  They have to rely on an optimized underlay or the whole system crashes in on itself.  Instead of worrying about the complexity of introducing an overlay on top of things, we need to work on optimizing the underlay to perform as quickly as possible.  When the underlay is optimized, the whole thing works better.

Who Wants A Free Puppy?

Years ago, my wife was out on a shopping trip. She called me excitedly to tell me about a blonde shih-tzu puppy she found and just had to have. As she talked, I thought about all the things that this puppy would need to thrive. Regular walks, food, and love are paramount on the list. I told her to use her best judgement rather than flat out saying “no”. Which is also how I came to be a dog owner. Today, I’ve learned there is a lot more to puppies (and dogs) than walks and feeding. There is puppy-proofing your house. And cleaning up after accidents. And teaching the kids that puppies should be treated gently.

An article from Martin Glassborow last week made me start thinking about our puppy again. Scott McNealy is famous for having told the community that “Open Source is free like a puppy.” back in 2005. While this was a dig at the community in regards to the investment that open source takes, I think Scott was right on the mark. I also think Martin’s recent article illustrates some of the issues that management and stakeholders don’t see with comunity projects.

Open software today takes care and feeding. Only instead of a single OS on a server in the back of the data center, it’s all about new networking paradigms (OpenFlow) or cloud platform plays (OpenStack). This means there are many more moving parts. Engineers and programmers get it. But go to the stakeholders and try to explain what that means. The decision makers love the price of open software. They are ambivalent to the benefits to the community. However, the cost of open projects is usually much higher than the price. People have to invest to see benefits.

TNSTAAFL

At the recent SolidFire Summit, two cloud providers were talking about their software. One was hooked in to the OpenStack community. He talked about having an entire team dedicating to pulling nightly builds and validating them. They hacked their own improvements and pushed them back upstream for the good of the community. He seemed love what he was talking about. The provider next to him was just a little bit larger. When asked what his platform was he answered “CloudStack”. When I asked why, he didn’t hesitate. “They have support options. I can have them fix all my issues.”

Open projects appeal to the hobbiest in all of us. It’s exciting to build something from the ground up. It’s a labor of love in many cases. Labors of love don’t work well for some enterprises though. And that’s the part that most decision makers need to know. Support for this awesome new thing may not alwasy be immediate or complete. To bring this back to the puppy metaphor, you have to have patience as your puppy grows up and learns not to chew on slippers.

The reward for all this attention? A loving pet in the case of the puppy. In the case of open software, you have a workable framework all your own that is customized to your needs and very much a part of your DNA. Supported by your staff and hopefull loved as much or more than any other solution. Just like dog owners that look forward to walking the dog or playing catch at the dog part, your IT organization should look forward to the new and exciting challenges that can be solved with the investment of time.


Tom’s Take

Nothing is free. You either pay for it with money or with time. Free puppies require the latter, just as free software projects do. If the stakeholders in the company look at it as an investment of time and energy then you have the right frame of mind from the outset. If everything isn’t clear up front, you will find yourself needing to defend all the time you’ve spent on your no-cost project. Hopefully your stakeholders are dog people so they understand that the payoff isn’t in the price, but the experience.

Opening the Future

I’ve been a huge proponent of open source and open development for years.  I may not be as vocal about it as some of my peers, but I’ve always had my eye on things coming out of the open community.  As networking and virtualization slowly open their processes to these open development styles, I can’t help but think about how important this will be for the future.

Eyes Looking Forward

If Heartbleed taught me anything in the past couple of weeks, it’s that the future of software has to be open.  Finding a vulnerability in a software program that doesn’t have source access or an open community build around it is impossible.  Look at how quickly the OpenSSL developers were able to patch their bug once it was found.  Now, compare that process to the recently-announced zero day bug in Internet Explorer.  While the OpenSSL issue was much bigger in terms of exposure, the IE bug is bigger in terms of user base.

Open development isn’t just about having multiple sets of eyes looking at code.  It’s about modularizing functionality to prevent issues from impacting multiple systems.  Look at what OpenStack is doing with their plugin system.  Networking is a different plug in from block storage.  Virtual machine management isn’t the same as object storage.  The plugin idea was created to allow very smart teams to work on these pieces independently of each other.  The side effect is that a bug in one of these plugins is automatically firewalled away from the rest of the system.

Open development means that the best eyes in the world are looking at what you are doing and making sure you’re doing it right.  They may not catch every bug right away but they are looking.  I would argue that even the most stringent code checking procedures at a closed development organization would still have the same error rate as an open project.  Of course, those same procedures and closed processes would mean we would never know if there was an issue until after it was fixed.

Code of the People

Open development doesn’t necessarily mean socialism, though.  Look at all the successful commercial projects that were built using OpenSSL.  They charged for the IP built on a project that provide secure communication.  There’s no reason other commercial companies can’t do the same.  Plenty of service providers are charging for services offered on top of OpenStack.  Even Windows uses BSD code in parts of its networking stack.

Open development doesn’t mean you can’t make money.  It just means you can’t hold your methods hostage.  If someone can find a better way to do something with your project, they will.  Developers are worried that someone will “steal” code and rewrite a clone of your project.  While that might be true of a mobile app or simple game, it’s far more likely that an open developer will contribute code back to your project rather than just copying it.  You do take risk by opening yourself up to the world, but the benefits of that risk far outweigh any issues you might run into by closing your code base.


Tom’s Take

It may seem odd for me to be talking about development models.  But as networking moves toward a background that requires more knowledge about programming it will become increasingly important for a new generation of engineers to be comfortable with programming.  It’s too late for guys like me to jump on the coding bandwagon.  But at the same time, we need to ensure that the future generation doesn’t try to create new networking wonders only to lock the code away somewhere and never let it be improved.  There are enough apps in the app stores of the world that will never be updated past a certain revision because the developer ran out of time or patience with their coding.  Instead, why not train developers that the code they write should allow for contribution and teamwork to continue.  An open future in networking means not repeating the mistakes of the past.  That alone will make the outcome wonderful.

SDN and Elephants

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There is a parable about six blind men that try to describe an elephant based on touch alone.  One feels the tail and thinks the elephant is a rope.  One feels the trunk and thinks it’s a tree branch.  Another feels the leg and thinks it is a pillar.  Eventually, the men realize they have to discuss what they have learned to get the bigger picture of what an elephant truly is.  As you have likely guessed, there is a lot here that applies to SDN as well.

Point of View

Your experience with IT is going to dictate your view on SDN.  If you are a DevOps person, you are going to see all the programmability aspects of SDN as important.  If you are a network administrator, you are going to latch on to the automation and orchestration pieces as a way to alleviate the busy work of your day.  If you are a person that likes to have a big picture of your network, you will gravitate to the controller-based aspects of protocols like OpenFlow and ACI.

However, if you concentrate on the parts of SDN that is most familiar, you will miss out on the bigger picture.  Just as an elephant is more than just a trunk or a tail, SDN is more than the individual pieces.  Programmable interfaces and orchestration hooks are means to an end.  The goal is to take all the pieces and make them into something greater.  That takes vision.

The Best Policy

I like what’s going on both with Cisco’s ACI and the OpenStack Congress project.  They’ve moved past the individual parts of SDN and instead are working on creating a new framework to apply those parts. Who cares how orchestration works in a vacuum?  Now, if that orchestration allows a switch to be auto-provisioned on boot, that’s something.  APIs are a part of a bigger push to program networks.  The APIs themselves aren’t the important part.  It’s the interface that interacts with the API that’s crucial.  Congress and ACI are that interface.

Policy is something we all understand.  Think for a moment about quality of service (QoS). Most of the time engineers don’t know LLQ from CBWFQ or PQ.  But if you describe what you want to do, you get it quickly.  If you want a queue that guarantees a certain amount of bandwidth but has a cap you know which implementation you need to use.  With policies, you don’t need to know even that.  You can create the policy that says to reserve a certain amount of bandwidth but not to go past a hard limit.  But you don’t need to know if that’s LLQ or some other form of queuing.  You also don’t need to worry about implementing it on specific hardware or via a specific vendor.

Policies are agnostic.  So long as the API has the right descriptors you can program a Cisco switch just as easily as a Juniper router.  The policy will do all the work.  You just have to figure out the policy.  To tie it back to the elephant example, you find someone with the vision to recognize the individual pieces of the elephant and make them into something greater than a rope and pillar.  You then realize that the elephant isn’t quite like what you were thinking, but instead has applications above and beyond what you could envision before you saw the whole picture.


Tom’s Take

As far as I’m concerned, vendors that are still carrying on about individual aspects of SDN are just trying to distract from a failure to have vision.  VMware and Cisco know where that vision needs to be.  That’s why policy is the coin of the realm.  Congress is the entry point for the League of Non-Aligned Vendors.  If you want to fight the bigger powers, you need to back the solution to your problems.  If Congress could program Brocade, Arista, and HP switches effortlessly then many small-to-medium enterprise shops would rush to put those devices into production.  That would force the superpowers to take a look at Congress and interface with it.  That’s how you build a better elephant – by making sure all the pieces work together.