Tech Field Day 9

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It’s hard to believe that the last Tech Field Day event was held almost two years ago.  Since the, the Field Day series has branched out to cover topics like Networking, Storage, and Wireless.  The industry never stands still for long, however.  The stars aligned and the sponsors asked to bring back the granddaddy of them all.  That’s why I’m happy to announce that I’ll be attending Tech Field Day 9 from June 19-21 in Austin, TX.

There’s an all-star lineup of previous Field Day attendees with a couple of new folks sprinkled in to keep things lively:

http://techfieldday.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/05/Al-Head-2012-Small-wpcf_54x60.jpg Alastair Cooke @DemitasseNZ
Trainer, Writer, Consultant, Geek. From New Zealand.
http://techfieldday.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/08/Plankers-wpcf_60x60.jpg Bob Plankers @Plankers
A hardcore IT generalist, virtualization expert, blogger, and vocal end user of technology.
http://techfieldday.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/08/2012_Pic-wpcf_41x60.jpg Carlo Costanzo @CCostan
Carlo is a NYC based Virtualization Consultant. He writes about whatever interests him at the time @ vCloudInfo.com
http://techfieldday.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/08/wahl-headshot-200x200-wpcf_60x60.jpg Chris Wahl @ChrisWahl
The guy who is in your data center virtualizing things
http://techfieldday.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/08/Marks-wpcf_55x60.jpg Howard Marks @DeepStorageNet
Storage Analyst Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary
http://techfieldday.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/08/JohnObeto-wpcf_53x60.jpg John Obeto @JohnObeto
I like SMBs and Windows
http://techfieldday.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/03/jpw_headshot-wpcf_60x58.png Justin Warren @JPWarren
The Anablogger: Old-school, long-form analysis with an irreverent twist.
http://techfieldday.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/08/Norwood-wpcf_60x60.png Matthew Norwood @MatthewNorwood
http://techfieldday.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/08/Novak-wpcf_60x39.jpg Robert Novak @Gallifreyan
Writer, Photographer, System Administrator, Team Builder, Cat Herder, Comedian, Part-Time Shopkeeper
http://techfieldday.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/08/Adzima.jpeg Ryan Adzima @RAdzima
Ryan is an enterprise technology generalist with a tendency to always end up back in networking.
http://techfieldday.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/08/Lowe-wpcf_48x60.jpg Scott D. Lowe @OtherScottLowe
http://techfieldday.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/08/tmattke-wpcf_60x60.jpg Tony Mattke @Tonhe
network engineer / geek

The delegates are some of the best and brightest across the networking, server, and storage industries.  Which is quite fitting when you consider the sponsors that are coming your way and how the represent the new trend in converged data centers:

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In particular, Infinio is an exciting edition to the Tech Field Day series.  They will be launching during their presentation slot, so I’m sure they’re going to have a very interesting take on their topic.

Tech Field Day 9 is also a transition point for me personally.  For the first time, I’ll be attending the event as both a delegate AND a staff member.  Now that I’m a full-time employee of Foskett Services and Gestalt IT I’m going to split my time between listening to the presenters and making sure that everything is running smoothly in the background.  It’s going to be a challenge to try and keep up with everything, but I feel that I’m more than capable of making every aspect of this event outstanding.

What’s Field Day Like?

Tech Field Day is not a vacation.  This event will involve starting a day early first thing Wednesday morning and running full steam for two and a half days.  We get up early and retire late.  Wall-to-wall meetings and transportation to and from vendors fill the days.  When you consider that most of the time we’re discussing vendors and presentations on the car ride to the next building, there’s very little downtime.  We’ve been known to have late night discussions about converged storage networking and automation until well after midnight.  If that’s your idea of a “vacation” then Tech Field Day is a paradise.  I usually crawl onto a plane late Friday night mentally and physically exhausted with a head full of blog posts and ideas.  It’s not unlike the same kind of feeling you get after running a marathon.  You don’t know if you could do it again tomorrow, but you can’t wait until the next one.

Tech Field Day – Join In Now!

Everyone at home is as much a participant in Tech Field Day as the delegates on site.  At the last event we premiered the ability to watch the streaming video from the presentations on mobile devices.  This means that you can tune in from just about anywhere now.  There’s no need to stay glued to your computer screen.  If you want to tune in to our last presentations of the day from the comfort of your couch with your favorite tablet device then feel free by all means.  We’ll also have the videos from the session posted quickly afterwards on Youtube and Vimeo.  If you have to run to the store for ice cream or catch that playoff game you can always catch up with what’s going on when you get back.  Don’t forget that you can also use Twitter to ask questions and make comments about what you’re seeing and hearing.  Some of the best questions I’ve seen came from the home audience.  Use the hashtag #TFD9 during the event.  Note that I’ll be tagging the majority of my tweets that week with #TFD9, so if the chatter is getting overwhelming you can always mute or filter that tag.

Standard Tech Field Day Sponsor Disclaimer

Tech Field Day is a massive undertaking that involves the coordination of many moving parts.  It’s not unlike trying to herd cats with an aircraft carrier.  One of the most important pieces is the sponsors.  Each of the presenting companies is responsible for paying a portion of the travel and lodging costs for the delegates.  This means they have some skin in the game.  What this does NOT mean is that they get to have a say in what we do.  No Tech Field Day delegate is every forced to write about the event due to sponsor demands. If a delegate chooses to write about anything they see at Tech Field Day, there are no restrictions about what can be said.  Sometimes this does lead to negative discussion.  That is entirely up to the delegate.  Independence means no restrictions.  At times, some Tech Field Day sponsors have provided no-cost evaluation equipment to the delegates.  This is provided solely at the discretion of the sponsor and is never a requirement.  This evaluation equipment is also not a contingency of writing a review, be it positive or negative.  The delegates are in this for the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.

If you’d like to learn more about what makes Tech Field Day so special, please check out the website at http://techfieldday.com.  If you want to be a part of Tech Field Day, don’t hesitate to fill out the nomination form to become a delegate.  We’re always on the lookout for great people to become a part of the event and we’d love to have you along for the ride.

More Than I Was, Less Than I Will Become

GravatarNNFor the last ten years, I’ve been working for the same value added reseller (VAR).  It’s been a very fun ride.  I started out as a desktop repair technician.  It just seemed natural after my work on a national inbound helpdesk.  Later, I caught a couple of lucky breaks and started working on Novell servers.  That vaulted me into the system administration side of things.  Then someone decided that I need to learn about switches and routers and phone systems.  That’s how I got to the point where I am today as a network engineer.  That’s not all I do, though.

If you’re reading this, you know all about my secret identity.  If my day job at the VAR has me acting like Bruce Wayne, then my blog is where I get to be Batman.  I write about tech trends and talk about vendors.  Sometimes I say nice things.  Sometimes I don’t.  However, I love what I do.  I find myself driven to learn more about the industry for my writing than anything else.  Sometimes, my learning complements my day job.  Other times the two paths diverge, possibly to never meet up again.  It can be tough to reconcile that.  What I know is that the involvement I have in the industry thanks to my blog has opened my eyes to a much wider world beyond the walls of my office.

Enter Stephen Foskett.  I can still remember the first time he DMed on Twitter and asked if I would be interested in attending a Tech Field Day event.  I was beside myself with excitement to say the least.  When I got to Tech Field Day 5, I was amazed at the opportunity afforded to me to learn about new technology and then go back and write down what I thought about it.  I didn’t have to be nice.  I didn’t even have to write if I didn’t want to.  I had the freedom to say what I wanted.  I loved it.  Then a funny thing happened before I could even leave TFD5.  Stephen asked if I wanted to come back the next month to help him launch Wireless Field Day.  I was overjoyed.  You mean I get to come back?

So began my long history with Gestalt IT and Tech Field Day.  I’ve been to seven Tech Field Day events since TFD5 in February of 2011.  I’ve also been to a couple of roundtables and a meeting or two.  I love every aspect of what Stephen is trying to accomplish.  At times, I wished there was something more I could do.  Thankfully, Stephen was thinking the same thing.  When Network Field Day 5 came around in March of this year, I got another life-changing DM a couple of weeks prior:

We need to talk about your future.  Have you considered becoming the Dread Pirate Roberts?  I think you’d make an excellent Dread Pirate Roberts.

Just for the record, Princess Bride references in a job offer are the most awesome kind of job offers.  Stephen and I spent two hours on the first night of NFD5 talking about what he had in store.  He needed help.  I wanted to help.  He wanted someone enthusiastic to help him do what he does so that more could be done.  I was on board as soon as he said it.  I’d always half-jokingly said that if I could do any job in the world, I do Stephen Foskett’s job.  He talks to people.  He writes great posts.  He knows what the vendors want to sell and what the customers want to buy.  He has connections with the community that others would kill to have a chance to get.  And now he’s giving me a chance to become a part of it.

As of June 1, 2013, I will be taking a position with Stephen Foskett at Gestalt IT.

I’m excited about things all over again.  Sure, I won’t be typing CLI commands into a router any more.  I won’t be answering customer voice mail password reset emails.  What I will be doing is where my passion lies now.  I’m going to spend more time writing and talking to vendors.  I’m going to help Stephen with Tech Field Day events.  I’m going to be a facilitator and an instigator.  If Stephen is the Captain, then I hope to be Number One.  We’re hoping to take the idea of Tech Field Day and run with it.  You’ve already seen some of that plan with the TFD Roundtable events at the major tech conferences this year.  I want to help Stephen take this even further.

This also means that I’m going to spend more time at Tech Field Day events.  I just won’t be sitting in front of the camera for most of them.  I might spend time as a hybrid delegate/staff person on occasion, but I’ll be spending time behind the scenes making everything work like a well-oiled machine.  I’ve always tried to help out as much as I can.  Now it’s going to be my job.

I won’t stop doing what I’m doing here, though.  Part of what brought me to where I am is the blogging and social media activity that got me noticed in the first place.  This just means that I’m going to have more time to research and write in between all the planning.  I plan on taking full advantage of that.  You’ve seen that I’ve been trying to post twice a week so far this year.  I’m going to do my best to keep with that schedule.  I’m going to have much more time in between phone calls and planning sessions to dig into technologies that I wouldn’t otherwise have had time to look at in my old day job.

It’s going to be a busy life for a while.  Between conference season and TFD events, I’m going to be spending a lot of time catching up and getting things ready to go for all the great things that are planned already.  Plus, knowing how I am with things, I’m going to be looking for more opportunities to get more things going.  Maybe I’ll even get Voice Field Day going.  I’m looking forward to the chance to do something amazing with my time.  Something the community loves and wants to be a part of.

I recorded an episode of Who Is with Josh O’brien (@joshobrien77) where I discuss a bit about what brought me to making this change as well as some thoughts about the industry and where I fit in.  You can find it here at his website.

In closing, I want to say a special thanks to each of you out there reading this right now.  You all are the reason why I keep writing and thinking and talking.  Without you I would never have imagined that it was possible to do something with this much passion.  That would also have never led me to finding out that I could make a career out of it.  From the bottom of my heart – thank you for making me believe in myself.

Juniper and the Removal of the Human Element

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Our final presentation of Network Field Day 5 came from Juniper.  A long-time contributor to Network Field Day, Juniper has been making noise as of late in the software defined networking (SDN) space with some of their ideas.  We arrived on site for a nice hardy breakfast before settling in to hear what Juniper is bringing to the greater software networking space and how I later learned that it might be best to start phasing out the human element in the network.

First up was Jeremy Schulman (@nwkautomaniac) talking to us about Puppet integration into Junos.  Jeremy opened with a talk about his involvement in automating things.  Customers have been using infrastructure automation tools like Puppet and Chef for a while to provision servers.  This allows you to spin up a new piece of hardware and have it quickly setup with basic configuration as soon as it boots up.  Jeremy told us that reinventing the wheel when it comes to automation was unnecessary when you could just put a Puppet agent in Junos.  So that’s what he did.  As a side note here, Jeremy brings up a very good point about the future of networking.  If you don’t know how to program in a real programming language, I suggest you start now.  Most of the interfaces that I’ve seen in the last 6-9 months have a high degree of familiarity based on the old CLI interface conventions.  But these interfaces only really exist to make us old school networking guys feel safe.  Very soon, all the interfaces to these devices will be only be accessible via API – which means programming.  If you don’t know how to write something in Python or Perl or even Java, you need to begin picking it up.  For something like Python, you might consider Codecademy.  It’s free and easy to pick up and follow whenever you want.  Just a thought.

Demo time!  There’s also a great overview of Puppet on Junos over on Packet Pushers written by none other than Anthony Burke (@pandom_).  The basic idea is that you write the pertinent configuration snippets into a task that can be transformed into a workflow rather than being a CLI jockey that just spends time typing the command blindly into a Telnet or SSH session.  Because you can also parse these tasks before they are sent out via the Puppet master, you can be sure your configs are sanitized and being sent to the appropriate device(s).  That means that there are no humans in the middle of the process to type in the wrong address or type the right commands on the wrong device.  Puppet is doing its part to remove the possibility of mistakes from your base configurations.  Sure, it seems like a lot of work today to get Puppet up and running for the advantage of deploying a few switches.  But when you look at the reduction of work down the road for the ability to boot up a bare metal box and have it be configured in a matter of minutes I think the investment is worth it.  I spend a lot of time preconfiguring devices that get shipped to remote places.  If I could have that box shipped the the remote location first and then just use Puppet to bring it online, I’d have a lot more time to devote to fine tuning the process.  Which leads to greater efficiency.  Which leads to more time (and so on and so on).

Next up, we got a sneak peek at Juniper’s next generation programmable core switch.  While I didn’t catch the name at the time, it turns out that it was the new EX9200 that has been making some waves as of late.  This switch is based on custom silicon, the Juniper One ASIC, rather than the merchant silicon in QFabric.  Other than the standard speeds and feeds that you see from a core switch of this type, you can see that Juniper is going to support the kitchen sink of SDN with the EX9200.  In addition to supporting OpenFlow and Puppet automation, it will also support VXLAN and NVGRE overlays as well as other interesting things like OpenStack and VMWare plugins in the future.  Make no mistake – this platform is Juniper’s stalking horse for the future.  There’s been a lot written about the longevity of the previous platforms compared to the new MX-based EX9200.  I think that Juniper is really standing behind the idea that the future of networking lies in SDN and that a platform with support for the majority of the popular methods used to reach high levels of programmability and interoperability is critical going forward.  Where that leaves other switching platforms is the realm of speculation.  Just ask yourself this question: Are you planning on buying a non-SDN capable switch in the next refresh?  Is regular packet forward fine for you for the next 3-5 years?  That is the critical question being asked in strategy meetings and purchasing departments all over the place right now.

Parantap Lahiri stepped up next to present on the Contrail acquisition.  Those of you interested in the greater SDN picture would do well to watch the whole video.  Especially if you are curious about things like VMware’s new NSX strategy, as the Contrail idea is very similar, if not a bit more advanced.  The three use cases outlined in the video are great for those not familiar with what SDN is trying to accomplish right now.  In fact, commit this diagram to memory.  You are going to see it again (I promise):

ContrailDiagram

Note that further in the video, Parantap goes over one of the features of Contrail that is going to get many people excited.  Via use of GRE tunnels, this solution can create a hybrid cloud solution to burst your traffic from the private data center into a public provider like AWS or Rackspace as needed.  That, if nothing else, is the message that you need to consider with the “traditional” vendors that are supporting SDN.  Cisco and Juniper and even VMware don’t want you to start buying whitebox servers and turning them into switches.  They don’t want a “roll your own” strategy.  What Juniper wants if for you to buy a whole bunch of EX9200s and then build a Contrail overlay system to manage it all.  Then, when the workloads get to be too great for your own little slice of private cloud you can use Contrail to tunnel into the public cloud and move those workloads until the traffic spike subsides.  Maybe you even want to keep some of those migrated workloads in the cloud permanently in order to take advantage of cheap compute and ease overall usage in your private data center.  The key is flexibility, and that’s what Contrail gives you.  That’s where the development is going to be for the time being.

The last presentation came from the Juniper Webapp Secure team.  You may recognize this product by its former moniker – Mykonos.  In fact, you may recognize this presentation from its former delivery at NFD4.  In fact, I said as much during the demo:

There’s a market for a security tool like this for lots of websites.  It gets the bad guys without really affecting the good guys.  I’m sure that Juniper is going to sell the living daylights out of it.  They’re trying their best right now based on the number of people that I’ve seen talking about it on Twitter.  The demo is engaging because it highlights the capabilities as well as injecting a bit of humor and trollishness.  However, based on what I’ve seen at NFD4 and NFD5 and what people have told me they saw when they were presented, I think the Webapp Secure demo is very scripted and fairly canned.  The above video is almost identical to the one from NFD4.  Compare:

Guys, you need to create a new Generic company and give us some more goodies in the demo.  Having a self-aware web firewall that doesn’t need human intervention to stop the attackers is a big deal.  Don’t use Stock Demo Footage to tell us about it every time.


Tom’s Take

What does the Juniper strategy look like?  The hint is in the title of this post.  Juniper is developing automation to reduce the amount of people in the network making critical decisions without good information or tools to execute.  As those people begin to be replaced by automated systems, the overall intelligence in the network increases while at the same time reducing the amount of time that it takes to take action to bring new nodes online and reconfigure on the fly to support things we thought might have been impossible even three years ago.  Through device deployment orchestration, flexible platforms supporting new protocols with programmability built in and even to new technology like overlay networking and automated security response for critical systems, Juniper is doing their best to carve out a section of the SDN landscape just for themselves.  It’s a strategy that should pay off in the long run provided there is significant investment that stays the course.

Tech Field Day Disclaimer

Juniper was a sponsor of Network Field Day 5.  As such, they were responsible for covering a portion of my travel and lodging expenses while attending Network Field Day 5.  In addition, they also provided breakfast for the delegates.  Juniper also gave the delegates a copy of Juniper Warrior, a mobile phone charger, emergency battery pack, and a battery-powered pocket speaker.  At no time did they 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.

Plexxi and the Case for Affinity

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Our last presentation from Day 2 of Network Field Day 5 came from a relatively new company – Plexxi.  I hadn’t really heard much from them before they signed up to present at NFD5.  All I really knew was that they had been attracting some very high profile talent from the Juniper ranks.  First Dan Backman (@jonahsfo) shortly after NFD4 then Mike Bushong (@mbushong) earlier this year.  One might speculate that when the talent is headed in a certain direction, it might be best to see what’s going on over there.  If only I had known the whole story up front.

Mat Mathews kicked off the presentation with a discussion about Plexxi and what they are doing to differentiate themselves in the SDN space.  It didn’t take long before their first surprise was revealed.  Our old buddy Derick Winkworth (@cloudtoad) emerged from his pond to tell us the story of why he moved from Juniper to Plexxi just the week before.  He’d kept the news of his destination pretty quiet.  I should have guessed he would end up at a cutting edge SDN-focused company like Plexxi.  It’s good to see smart people landing in places that not only make them excited but give them the opportunity to affect lots of change in the emerging market of programmable networking.

Marten Terpstra jumped in next to talk about the gory details of what Plexxi is doing.  In a nutshell, this all boils down to affinity.  Based on a study done by Microsoft in 2009, Plexxi noticed that there are a lot of relationships between applications running in a data center.  Once you’ve identified these relationships, you can start doing things with them.  You can create policies that provide for consistent communications between applications.  You can isolate applications from one another.  You can even ensure which applications get preferential treatment during a network argument.  Now do you see the SDN applications?  Plexxi took the approach that there is more data to be gathered by the applications in the network.  When they looked for it, sure enough it was there.  Now, armed with more information, they could start crafting a response.  What they came up with was the Plexxi Switch.  This is a pretty standard 32-port 10GigE switch with 4 QSFP ports..  Their differentiator is the 40GigE uplinks to the other Plexxi Switches.  Those are used to create a physical ring topology that allows the whole conglomeration to work together to create what looked to me like a virtual mesh network.  Once connected in such a manner, the affinities between the applications running at the edges of the network can now begin to be built.

Plexxi has a controller that sits above the bits and bytes and starts constructing the policy-based affinities to allow traffic to go where it needs to go.  It can also set things up so that things don’t go where they’re not supposed to be, as in the example Simon McCormack gives in the above video.  Even if the machine is moved to a different host in the network via vMotion or Live Migration, the Plexxi controller and network are smart enough to figure out that those hosts went somewhere different and that the policy providing for an isolated forwarding path needs to be reimplemented.  That’s one of the nice things about programmatic networking.  The higher-order networking controllers and functions figure out what needs to change in the network and implements the changes either automatically or with a minimum of human effort.  This ensures that the servers don’t come in and muck up the works with things like Dynamic Resource Scheduler (DRS) moves or other unforeseen disasters.  Think about the number of times you’ve seen a VM with an anti-affinity rule that keeps it from being evacuated from a host because there is some sort of dedicated link for compliance or security reasons.  With Plexxi, that can all be done automagically.  Derick even showed off some interesting possibilities around using Python to extend the capabilities of the CLI at the end of the video.

If you’d like to learn more about Plexxi, you can check them out at http://www.plexxi.com.  You can also follow them on Twitter as @PlexxiInc


Tom’s Take

Plexxi has a much different feel than many of the SDN products I’ve seen so far.  That’s probably because they aren’t trying to extend an existing infrastructure with programmability.  Instead, they’ve taken a singular focus around affinity and managed to tun it into something that looks to have some very fascinating applications in today’s data centers.  If you’re going to succeed in the SDN-centric world of today, you either need to be front of the race as it is being run today, like Cisco and Juniper, or you need to have a novel approach to the problem.  Plexxi really is looking at this whole thing from the top down.  As I mentioned to a few people afterwards, this feels like someone reimplemented QFabric with a significant amount of flow-based intelligence.  That has some implications for higher order handling that can’t be addressed by a simple fabric forwarding engine.  I will stay tuned to Plexxi down the road.  If nothing else, just for the crazy sock pictures.

Tech Field Day Disclaimer

Plexxi was a sponsor of Network Field Day 5.  As such, they were responsible for covering a portion of my travel and lodging expenses while attending Network Field Day 5.  In addition, they also gave the delegates a Nerf dart gun and provided us with after hours refreshments.  At no time did they 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.

Additional Coverage of Plexxi and Network Field Day 5

Smart Optical Switching – Your Plexxible Friend – John Herbert

Plexxi Control – Anthony Burke

Brocade Defined Networking

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Brocade stepped up to the plate once again to present to the assembled delegates at Network Field Day 5.  I’ve been constantly impressed with what they bring each time they come to the party.  Sometimes it’s a fun demo.  Other times its a great discussion around OpenFlow.  With two hours to spend, I wanted to see how Brocade would steer this conversation.  I could guarantee that it would involve elements of software defined networking (SDN), as Brocade has quietly been assembling a platoon on SDN-focused luminaries.  What I came away with surprised even me.

Mike Schiff takes up the reigns from Lisa Caywood for the title of Mercifully Short Introductions.  I’m glad that Brocade assumes that we just need a short overview for both ourselves and the people watching online.  At this point, if you are unsure of who Brocade is you won’t get a feel for it in eight short minutes.

Curt Beckman started off with fifteen minutes of discussion about where the Open Networking Foundation (ONF) is concentrating on development.  Because Curt is the chairman of the ONF, we kind of unloaded on him a bit about how the ONF should really be called the “Open-to-those-with-$30,000-to-spare Networking Foundation”.  That barrier to entry really makes it difficult for non-vendors to have any say in the matters of OpenFlow.  Indeed, the entry fee was put in place specifically to deter those not materially interested in creating OpenFlow based products from discussing the protocol.  Instead, you have the same incumbent vendors that make non-OpenFlow devices today steering the future of the standard.  Unlike the IETF,  you can’t just sign up for the mailing list or show up to the meetings and say your peace.  You have to have buy in, both literally and figuratively.  I proposed the hare-brained idea of creating a Kickstarter project to raise the necessary $30,000 for the purpose of putting a representative of “the people” in the ONF.  In discussions that I’ve had before with IETF folks they all told me you tend to see the same thing over and over again.  Real people don’t sit on committees.  The IETF is full of academics that argue of the purity of an OAM design and have never actually implemented something like that in reality.  Conversely, the ONF is now filled with deep pocketed people that are more concerned with how they can use OpenFlow to sell a few more switches rather than now best to implement the protocol in reality.  If you’d like to donate to an ONF Kickstarter project, just let me know and I’ll fire it up.  Be warned – I’m planning on putting Greg Ferro (@etherealmind) and Brent Salisbury (@networkstatic) on the board.  I figure that should solve all my OpenFlow problems.

The long presentation of this hour was all about OpenFlow and hybrid switching.  I’ve seen some of the aspects of this in my day job.  One of the ISPs in my area is trying to bring a 100G circuit into the state for Internet2 SDN-enabled links.  The demo that I saw in their office was pretty spiffy.  You could slice off any section of the network and automatically build a path between two nodes with a few simple clicks.  Brocade expanded my horizons of where these super fast circuits were being deployed with discussions of QUILT and GENI as well as talking about projects across the ocean in Australia and Japan.  I also loved the discussions around “phasing” SDN into your existing network.  Brocade realizes that no one is going to drop everything they currently have and put up an full SDN network all at once.  Instead, most people are going to put in a few SDN-enabled devices and move some flows to them at first both as a test and as a way to begin new architecture.  Just like remodeling a house, you have to start somewhere and shore up a few areas before you can really being to change the way everything is laid out.  That is where the network will eventually lead to being fully software defined down the road.  Just realize that it will take time to get there.

Next up was a short update from Vyatta.  They couldn’t really go into a lot of detail about what they were doing, as they were still busy getting digested by Brocade after being acquired.  I don’t have a lot to say about them specifically, but there is one thing I thought about as I mulled over their presentation.  I’m not sure how much Vyatta plays into the greater SDN story when you think about things like full API programmability, orchestration, and even OpenFlow.  Rather than being SDN, I think products like Vyatta and even Cisco’s Nexus 1000v should instead be called NDS – Networking Done (by) Software.  If you’re doing Network Function Virtualization (NFV), how much of that is really software definition versus doing your old stuff in a new way?  I’ve got some more, deeper thoughts on this subject down the road.  I just wanted to put something out there about making sure that what you’re doing really is SDN instead of NDS, which is a really difficult moving target to hit because the definition of what SDN really does changes from day to day.

Up next is David Meyer talking about Macro Trends in Networking.  Ho-ly crap.  This is by far my favorite video from NFD5.  I can say that with comfort because I’ve watched it five times already.  David Meyer is a lot like Victor Shtrom from Ruckus at WFD2.  He broke my brain after this presentation.  He’s just a guy with some ideas that he wants to talk about.  Except those ideas are radical and cut right to the core of things going on in the industry today.  Let me try to form some thoughts out of the video above, which I highly recommend you watch in its entirety with no distractions.  Also, have a pen and paper handy – it helps.

David is talking about networks from a systems analysis perspective.  As we add controls and rules and interaction to a fragile system, we increase the robustness of that system.  Past a certain point, though, all those extra features end up harming the system.  While we can cut down on rules and oversight, ultimately we can’t create a truly robust system until we can remove a large portion of the human element.  That’s what SDN is trying to do.  By allowing humans to interact with the rules and not the network itself you can increase the survivability of the system.  When we talk about complex systems, we really talk about increasing their robustness while at the same time adding features and flexibility.  That’s where things like SDN come into the discussion in the networking system.  SDN allows us to constrain the fragility of a system by creating a rigid framework to reduce the complexity.  That’s the “bow tie” diagram about halfway in.  We have lots of rules and very little interaction from agents that can cause fragility.  When the outputs come out of SDN, the are flexible and unconstrained again but very unlikely to contribute to fragility in the system.  That’s just one of the things I took away from this presentation.  There are several more that I’d love to discuss down the road once I’ve finished cooking them in my brain.  For now, just know that I plan on watching this presentation several more times in the coming weeks.  There’s so much good stuff in such a short time frame.  I wish I could have two hours with David Meyer to just chat about all this crazy goodness.

If you’d like to learn more about Brocade, you can check out their website at http://www.brocade.com.  You can also follow them on Twitter as @BRCDcomm


Tom’s Take

Brocade gets it.  They’ve consistently been running in the front of the pack in the whole SDN race.  They understand things like OpenFlow.  They see where the applications are and how to implement them in their products.  They engage with the builders of what will eventually become the new SDN world.  The discussions that we have with Curt Beckman and David Meyer show that there are some deep thinkers that are genuinely invested in the future of SDN and not just looking to productize it.  Mark my words – Brocade is poised to leverage their prowess in SDN to move up the ladder when it comes to market share in the networking world.  I’m not saying this lightly either.  There’s an adage attributed to Wayne Gretskey – “Don’t skate where the puck is.  Skate where the puck is going.”  I think Brocade is one of the few networking companies that’s figured out where the puck is going.

Tech Field Day Disclaimer

Brocade was a sponsor of Network Field Day 5.  As such, they were responsible for covering a portion of my travel and lodging expenses while attending Network Field Day 5.  In addition, Brocade provided a USB drive of marketing material and two notepads styled after RFC 2460.  At no time did they 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.

Causing A Network Ruckus

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The second presentation of day 2 of Network Field Day was from Ruckus wireless. Yes, a wireless company at a non-wireless Field Day event. I had known for a while that Ruckus wanted to present at Network Field Day and I was excited to see what they would bring. My previous experience with Ruckus was very enlightening. I wanted to see how they would do outside the comfort zone of a wireless event. Add in the fact that most networks are now becoming converged from the perspective of offering both wired and wireless access and you can see the appeal of being the only wireless company on the slate.

We started off with a talk from GT Hill (@GTHill). GT is one of those guys that started out very technical before jumping into the dark side of marketing. I think his presentation should be required viewing for those that think they may want to talk to any Tech Field Day group. GT had a lot of energy that he poured into his talk.  I especially loved how he took a few minutes at the beginning to ask the delegates about their familiarity with wireless.  That’s not something you typically see from a vertical-focused field day like NFD, but it does get back to the cross discipline aspect that makes the greater Tech Field Day events so great.  Once GT had an idea of what we all knew he kept each and every one of the delegates engaged as he discussed why wireless was so hard to do compared to the “simplicity” of wired networking. Being a fan of explaining technical subjects with easy-to-understand examples, I loved GT using archery as a way to explain the relative difficulty of 802.11 broadcasts in 802.11n and 802.11ac.

The second part of the discussion from Sandip Patel about 802.11ac was great. I didn’t get a chance to hear the presentations from the other wireless vendors at Wireless Field Day 3 & 4. Picking up all the new information regarding things like channel bandwidth and multi-user spatial streams was very nice for me.  There’s a lot of new technology being poured into 802.11ac right now.  There’s also a lot that’s being prepped for the future as well.  While I knew that 160 MHz channels were going to be necessary to get the full bandwidth rates out of 802.11ac, I was unaware that you could have two 80 MHz channels simultaneously working together to provide that.  You learn something awesome at every Field Day event.  I think 802.11ac is going to push a lot of lesser vendors out of the market before all is said and done.  The huge leap forward for throughput comes with a great cost insofar as making sure that your wireless radios work correctly while at the same time accommodating noise and interference.  Companies like Cisco and Aruba are going to come out okay just by virtue of being so large.  Aerohive should come out fine as well.  I think Ruckus has taken a unique approach with their antenna technology.  That shows in these presentations, as Ruckus will be the first to tell you that their superior transmitting technology means that the signal will be cleaner between client and AP.  I want to see a real 802.11ac from every wireless company put together in a room with various noise producers to see what happens.  Maybe something for Wireless Field Day 5?

After we shut off the cameras, we got to take tour of the Ruckus testing facilities.  Since Ruckus had moved buildings since Wireless Field Day 2 it was a brand new room.  There was a lot more room than the previous testing area that we’d seen before.  They still had a lot of the same strange containers and rooms designed to subject access point radios to the strangest RF environments imaginable.  In the new building, there was just a lot more elbow room to walk around along with more tables to spread out and get down to the nuts and bolts of testing.

If you’d like to learn more about Ruckus Wireless and their solutions, you can check them out at http://www.ruckuswireless.com.  You can also follow them on Twitter as @ruckuswireless.


Tom’s Take

While the Ruckus presentation was geared more toward people who weren’t that familiar with the wireless space, I loved it nonetheless.  GT Hill related to a group of non-wireless people in the best way I could imagine.  Sandip brought a lot of info about 802.11ac to the table now that the vendors are starting to ramp up towards putting out enterprise APs.  Ruckus wanted to show everyone that wireless is an important part of the conversation when it comes to the larger networking story.  While we spend a lot of time at NFD talking about SDN or data centers or other lofty things, it’s important to remember that our tweets and discussion and even our video coverage is coming over a wireless network of some kind.  Going to a vendor without some form of wireless access is a demerit in their case.  I’ve always made a point of paying attention once I see that something is everywhere I go.  Thankfully, Ruckus made the right kind of noise to make the delegates sit up and pay attention.

Tech Field Day Disclaimer

Ruckus was a sponsor of Network Field Day 5.  As such, they were responsible for covering a portion of my travel and lodging expenses while attending Network Field Day 5.  In addition, Ruckus provided me with lunch at their offices.  They also provided a custom nameplate and a gift package containing a wireless access point and controller.  At no time did they 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.

Additional Network Field Day 5 Coverage

Terry Slattery – Network Field Day 5: Ruckus Wireless

Pete Welcher – Network Field Day 5: Ruckus Wireless Comments

Pete Welcher – Testing WLAN and Network Management Products

Solarwinds – The Right Tool For A New Job

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The first presentation of Networking Field Day 5 day 2 was from our old friends at Solarwinds.  We heard from them before at NFD3, but the nice thing about Solarwinds is that they’ve always got new tools coming out.  I’ve also served as a Thwack Ambassador on their forums and been featured as an IT Spotlight Blogger.  I wanted to see what Solarwinds would bring to the table at NFD5.

The geeks from Solarwinds started out with a quick overview of the tool portfolio.  One thing to take note of: most of the tools that you use a standalone products are actually integrated into the larger Orion platform.  Solarwinds makes some of them available as free downloads for trials or point solutions.  You can get all of them together in one big toolbox, provided you have the horsepower to run it all.  It tend to lean more toward the “right tool, right job” mentality rather than getting the whole box.  For every IP SLA monitor crescent wrench I use regularly, there are a multitude of metric socket sets and emergency break tools that I may never even touch.  That’s why it’s great when Solarwinds makes their software available to all for only the investment of a registration.

You’ll also notice in the video around 20 minutes in, I mention something about Solarwinds and SDN.  Colin McNamara (@colinmacnamara) chided me a bit about “SDN washing” of their technology.  Colin does have a point about overuse of SDN to describe everything under the sun.  Sanjay Castelino even made a post to the effect that what Solarwinds is doing isn’t SDN.  In a sense, he’s right.  These tools aren’t network programmability or overlay networking or even automation.  To me though, a part of what Solarwinds is doing falls under the SDN spectrum in that they can program different devices from a single interface.  Sure, it’s not the sexy sports car idea of network slicing and service instantiation that others are looking at.  Even the ability to quickly configure devices and pull pertinent info from them is better than some of what we’ve got going on right now.  This software allows you to define parameters and configuration in your network.  That’s SDN of some flavor to me.  Maybe not mocha SDN with sprinkles but something a bit different.

This led to a bit of a derailment of the conversation.  The delegates seized on the Solarwinds development model of “giving the customers what they want.”  I’d heard this many times before, so it wasn’t necessarily new to me.  What’s key to me in that message is that you’re going to have a lot of content customers.  Not necessarily happy, but content.  The key difference to me comes from the model.  If you give the customers what they want, they will be pacified.  All their desires are met and the can do their jobs.  However, if you can break outside of the demand-based model and show them something they never knew they needed, you have a real chance to make them deliriously happy.  Think about something like the iPad.  Did we know we needed it before it was released?  Not likely.  Now think about how many people have jumped at the chance to own a tablet device.  If those companies had simply been giving their customers what they asked for think about the market that would have been missed.  I’m not saying that Solarwinds is doing a bad job by any means.  I just think they need to get a geek in the house working on crazy stuff that will make people say “holy cow!!!”

Solarwinds talked to us about their newest network monitoring pieces.  They’ve got some very interesting tools, including Network Performance Monitor.  There was also some discussion around their IP Address Managment (IPAM) tool, which is what I wrote about during my Thwack Ambassadorship.  Thankfully, we had Terry Slattery in the room.  Terry loves the network monitoring discussions, having founded Netcordia and release NetMRI for that purpose before it was purchased by Infoblox.  Terry has seen a lot, and he’s not afraid to tell you what he thinks.  When we discussed the features of User Device Tracker (UDT), he asked if it can do a time-based report on unused switch ports.  When the answer wasn’t clear, he told the geeks, “If you can’t do that, you need to write that down.” We all had a couple of good jokes at their expense, but that fact is that when Terry tells you something is important, especially when it comes to network monitoring the chances are it’s really important.

Solarwinds is also getting into the API game with SWIS – Solarwinds Information Service.  This SOAP interface (soon to be REST) gives you the ability to write programs to pull data from the network and insert/update the same in many devices.  See what I’m talking about with SDN and the ability to pull info from the network and push it back again?  I think Solarwinds really needs to focus their efforts in this area and drive some more programmability from their tools rather than the old methods of just hiding CLI command pushes and things of that nature.  By allowing users to code to an API, you’ve just abstracted all of the icky parts of the backend away and focused the conversation where it needs to be – on getting problems solved.

If you’d like to learn more about Solarwinds, be sure to check them out at http://www.solarwinds.com.  You can also follow them on Twitter as @solarwinds.  Be sure to check out their dicussion forums at http://thwack.solarwinds.com.


Tom’s Take

Solarwinds has awesome tools.  They’re going to have awesome tools in the future.  But they’ve hit on some pieces of the puzzle that are going to do much more than that.  Beyond giving us a toolbox with fancy handles and shiny stickers, they’ve started to do what a lot of other people have done and give us designs for what we should build with the tools they’ve given us.  By expanding into that area of allowing us to program to APIs and put the pieces into a bigger context, they have the ability to transcend being a point product vendor releasing neat toys.  When you can be a meaningful discussion point in any monitoring and management meeting without being dismissed as just a niche player, that’s handy indeed.

Tech Field Day Disclaimer

Solarwinds was a sponsor of Network Field Day 5.  As such, they were responsible for covering a portion of my travel and lodging expenses while attending Network Field Day 5.  In addition, Solarwinds provided me with breakfast at the hotel.  They also gave the delegates a t-shirt and a messenger bag, along with all the stickers and buttons we could fit into our carry ons.  At no time did they 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.