Solve the Simple Problems

One thing I’ve found out over the past decade of writing is that some problems are easy enough to solve that we sometimes forget about them. Maybe it’s something you encounter once in a great while. Perhaps it’s something that needed a little extra thought or a novel reconfiguration of an existing solution. Something so minor that you didn’t even think to write it down. Until you run into the problem again.

The truth behind most of these simple problems is that the solutions aren’t always apparent. Sure, you might be a genius when it comes to fixing the network or the storage array. Maybe you figured out how to install some new software to do a thing in a way that wasn’t intended. But did you write any of it down for later use? Did you make sure to record what you’ve done so someone else can use it for reference?

Part of the reason why I started blogging was to have those written solutions to problems I couldn’t find a quick answer to. What it became was way more than I had originally intended. But the posts that I write that still get the most attention aren’t my long think pieces on the state of the networking industry or multiplied engineers. It’s the simple solutions to questions or problems that keep driving traffic here day after day.

Look Around

A lot of my great posts come from me asking simple questions. How does BPDUGuard work on a switch? Why does the Apple Watch not unlock my MacBook? What is up with this SFP not working? When you ask the questions you have to figure out the answers. And that’s the hard and rewarding part of the puzzle.

I challenge you to go search out a simple problem. Say it’s an issue with data not being shared between two devices. The search results will almost always turn up a few pages that have a litany of solutions that are basic troubleshooting steps. Things like:

  • Ensure the devices are connected
  • Reset the network settings
  • Unpair and repair the devices
  • Restart everything
  • Call Tech Support

You’ve probably stumbled across these before. And the sad truth is that running down that laundry list of solutions will often fix issues, which is why they keep getting boosted back into the search results. But you know what’s missing? They why of the problem. It’s not enough to just toss things at a problem in the hope that it starts working again.You have to also figure out what went wrong and why it happened.

Networking people always want to know why something went wrong because we want to make sure it doesn’t happen again. Security people are even more stringent about figuring out the why behind a problem. They want to stop a potential breach or plug a hole that needs to be dealt with. So to them a solution is just a temporary fix until you can confirm that something won’t happen again.

This is why the work that writers do is so important. We explain the why behind problems. We figure out what caused something to go off the rails and then how to fix it so it doesn’t happen again. Those are the kinds of posts that get the most attention. Because they’re specific about the fix, enlightening about the education behind the problem, and most importantly aren’t just a laundry list of fixes to throw at something until it works.


Tom’s Take

If you’re someone out there that’s looking to start writing down your solutions to problems, you need to start with the questions behind what’s going on. It’s not enough to just regurgitate the fixes and hope that one of them has some kind of magic that works. You need to investigate, understand, and explain what’s going on. Once you can do that, you will have created something that gets lots of attention and will encourage you to keep up the questions for years to come.

 

A Place for Things and Things in Their Place

This morning I was going to go for a run and I needed to find a rain jacket to keep from getting completely soaked. I knew I had one in my hiking backpack but couldn’t locate it. I searched for at least ten minutes in every spot I could think of and couldn’t find it. That is, until I looked under the brain of the pack and found it right next to the pack’s rain cover. Then I remembered that my past self had put the jacket there for safe keeping because I knew that if I ever needed to use the pack rain cover I would likely need to have my rain jacket as well. Present me wasn’t as happy to find out past me was so accommodating.

I realized after this little situation that I’ve grown accustomed to keeping my bags organized in a certain way both for ease of use and ease of inspection. Whether it’s a hiking backpack or an IT sling bag full of gadgets I’ve always tried to set things up in simple, sane manner to figure out how to find the tools I need quickly and also discover if any of them are missing.

Pocket Protection

I’ve always favored bags with lots of pocket space to keep my tools organized. Places to put things like battery packs, USB-C hubs, console cables, and even laptop power adaptors are important. And when everything has its own spot its easier to find in a pinch. You don’t often have the chance to see what you’re looking for in a dark server room or in a tight airplane seating row. Therefore, having a specified pocket for things makes it quick to search by feel.

It’s also important to locate items near their intended uses. For me, oft-used items like headphones or Lightning cables go nearest the outside for rapid access. My passport goes in a slash pocket for ease of retrieval on international trips. When I have other items that aren’t as necessary or frequently used, such as a first aid kit or an old VGA adapter for a MacBook, I put them in pockets that aren’t as likely to be used often.

Sometimes you have to make your own pockets. I’ve used a variety of organizers and other pouches over the years to help create order from the chaos of a big open space in a bag. Some, like the Grid-It are nice because they are quick and easy to reconfigure. However, the more complicated the organization structure the more likely you are to just chuck the parts back into the void and hope they come out on the other side. I’ve started to use clear bank bags as my primary method of cable organization in my messenger bag and they seem to work much better. They keep the adapters and other odds and ends from flying around everywhere.

Where’s Waldo?

The other reason I like the idea of a specific place for everything in my bag is being able to figure out quickly that something is missing. If I always keep a screwdriver in a specific pocket and it’s not there I can assume I’ve either lent it to someone or left it somewhere I shouldn’t have. It also allows me to do a quick inventory of my bag to figure out if things are out of place between trips or truck rolls.

One example of this is Cisco rollover console cables. When I worked for a VAR I had to carry one of these things to get console access to routers more often then I would like to admit. However, I didn’t just carry one. I always carried two. I liked the idea of having a backup just in case because that’s the kind of person that I am. But I also used it as a learning experience for the techs that I trained. I would carry a spare and then ask them to borrow their console cable. Usually, the response would be a blank look or fumbling in the pockets of their backpack for a cable they knew they didn’t have. I would then explain the importance of having all the tools you needed every time you made the trip. Then I would give them my spare cable to carry around with them. I often remarked, “Now that I’ve given this to you the next time I need one or you need one we both know you’ll have it.”

It was also easy for me to check my bag and make sure I needed to replace items that had gone missing. Maybe I remembered that my other tech had my screwdriver and I needed to go retrieve it. Or perhaps I needed to put another console cable back in my bag after loaning out my first one. I even would check my secret snack compartment from time to time to make sure I replaced my granola bars and almonds that I would invade during late night cutovers without pizza or other food. After all, a functioning brain in IT is just as important as a functioning router.


Tom’s Take

My organization methods may not work best for everyone. But you need to have a method to your madness. If you don’t you won’t know if you have the right tools for the job. If you don’t know which tools you need you wont know if they’re missing. If you don’t know where they are you won’t have them when you need them. It’s all a matter of experience and methodology. Once you build your method, stick to it. Keep up with things and make sure you spend some time every once in a while going through everything just to make sure you have it when you need it. Then you can thank your past self for thinking ahead instead of cursing yourself for leaving your pack a mess.

Fast Friday- Labor Day Eve Edition

It’s a long weekend in the US thanks to Labor Day. Which is basically signaling the end of the summer months. Or maybe the end of March depending on how you look at it. The rest of the year is packed full of more virtual Zoom calls, conferences, Tech Field Day events, and all the fun you can have looking at virtual leaves turning colors.

It’s been an interesting news week for some things. And if you take out all the speculation about who is going to end up watching TikTok you are left with not much else. So I’ve been wondering out loud about a few things that I thought I would share.

  • You need a backup video conferencing platform. If Zoom isn’t crashing on you then someone is deleting WebEx VMs. Or maybe your callers can’t get the hang of the interface. Treat it like a failing demo during a presentation: if it doesn’t work in five minutes, go to plan B. Don’t leave your people waiting for something that may not happen.
  • If you work in the backbone service provider market, you need to do two things next week. First, you need to make sure all your hardware is patched. Some nasty stuff floating around that has the potential to cause memory exhaustion. That’s downtime in a nutshell. The next is that you need to go read up on BGP again and make sure you know how it propagates and what to do when it does something you’re not expecting. You can better believe the people at CenturyLink have bought lots of BGP reference books in the past few days for absolutely no reason at all.
  • Remember how most ISPs told us back at the start of this whole pandemic that they were graciously removing data caps and such to get us through our Netflix binges? Guess what? Those caps are starting to be put back in place now. Guess the start of school means the start of keeping us in check with our data usage. And the fall seasons of popular shows are coming out in a regular cadence now. Check to make sure you’re not going over your limits. And find out what it costs to do that. Don’t be afraid to block Youtube and Twitch if your kids are eating your bandwidth pool alive.
  • Lastly, stand up. Take a deep breath. Let it out. Relax your shoulders. Unclench your teeth. I’m sure you needed that. Now buckle down and get that thing done.

Tom’s Take

Make sure to stay tuned to the rest of March Part 6, otherwise known as September. More cool stuff headed your way before the equinox plunges us into eternal not-spring.

Iron Chef: Certification Edition

My friend Joshua Williams (@802DotMe) texted me today with a great quote that I wanted to share with you that made me think about certifications:

You’ve probably already thought through this extensively, and maybe even written about it, but after sitting through another 8 hour practical exam yesterday I’m more convinced than ever that expert level exams from technical companies are more analogous to a gimmicky Food Network TV show than real world application of technical acumen. They don’t care so much about my skill level as they do about what kind of meal I can prepare in 30 minutes using Tialapia, grapes, and Dr. Pepper syrup with my salt shaker taken away halfway through.

I laughed because it’s true. And then I thought about it more and realized he’s way more than right. We know for a fact that companies love to increase the level of challenge in their exams from novice to expert. It’s a way to weed out the people that aren’t committed to learning about something. However, as the questions and tasks get harder it becomes much more difficult to get a good sense of how candidates are going to perform.

Boiling Water Isn’t Hard?

When you look at something like the CCNA, they’re trying to make sure you know how networks actually work. The simulations and lab exercises are pretty basic. Can you configure RIP correctly? Do you know the command to enable a switch port? There isn’t a need to get crazy with it. Using Joshua’s analogy from above, it’s not unlike a show like Worst Cooks in America, where the basics are the challenge that needs to be overcome. Not everyone is a superstar chef. Sometimes getting the building blocks right is more than half the battle.

As you move up the ladder, the learning gets harder. You dive deep into protocols and see how technologies build on each other. You need to configure BGP, but you also need to have some kind of other IGP running to distribute the routes. You need to remember that this spice goes in while the dish is cooking and this other goes on at the end so the flavor isn’t destroyed. I would liken this to a “fun” challenge cooking show, where the expert Food Network Chef faces off against someone that isn’t in the food business at a high professional level. Maybe they run a diner or are a short-order cook in a hotel restaurant. They aren’t looking to create their own signature dish. They know enough to cook what tastes good. But ask them to make hollandaise sauce or make pufferfish sashimi and they’re out.

Which brings us to the highest level of learning. The expert certification tracks. These are the crowing achievements of a career. They are the level that you have to be at to prove you know the technology inside and out. How do you test that, exactly? Microsoft had a great way of doing it back in the day with some of the mastery programs. You went to Redmond and you spent a couple of months learning the technology with the people that wrote it. It was very similar to a doctor’s internship in a hospital. You did the work with people that knew what you needed to know. They corrected you and helped you grown your knowledge. Even though you were an expert you understood what needed to be done and how to get there. At the end you took an exam to cover what you had learned and you earned your mastery.

Other certification programs don’t do that. Instead, they try to trip you up with tricky scenarios and make you make mistakes if you’re not paying attention. This is the Iron Chef round. You know your stuff, eh? Face off against this hard challenge. And by the way, here’s your curveball: You have to use this crazy extra ingredient. A show like Chopped does this a lot too. You need to make a meal using chicken, soy sauce, and candy corn. Are they testing your ability to prepare food? Or trying to figure out how creative you can be with a set of constraints that don’t make sense?

Ala Config!

The theory behind this kind of challenge is sound on paper. You never know what you’re going to walk into and what you’ll be forced to fix. I’ve had some real interesting problems that I’ve needed to solve over my career. But in every crazy case I never had to deal with the kinds of constrained setups that you get in lab-based exams. Configure this protocol, but don’t use these options. Make this connection work this way using one of these options but know that picking the wrong one will wreck your configuration in about two hours. Make trout-flavored ice cream. You name it and it’s a huge challenge for no good reason.

In theory, this is a great way to challenge your experts. In practice, it’s silly because you’re putting up barriers they will never see. Worse yet, you force them to start looking for the crazy constraints that don’t exist. One of my favorites is the overarching constraint in the CCIE lab that you are not allowed to use a static route to anything unless explicitly allowed in the question. Why? Because static routes don’t scale? Because they create administrative overhead? Or is it because a single static route fixes the problem and doesn’t require you to spend an hour tagging routes when redistribution happens? Static routes cut the Gordian Knot in the lab. So they can’t be allowed. Because that would make things too easy.


Tom’s Take

We need to move away from trivia and Iron Chef-style certifications. Instead of making our people dependent on silly tricks or restricting them from specific tools in their kit, we need to ensure their knowledge is at the right level. You would never ask a chef to cook an entire meal and not be able to use a saucepan. Why would you take away things like static routes or access lists from a network engineer’s arsenal? Instead of crafting the perfect tricky scenario to trap your candidates, spend the time instead teaching them what they need to know. Because once someone learns that trout is a horrible ice cream flavor we all win.

Thanks to Josh Williams for this great post idea!

Opening Up Remote Access with Opengear

Opengear OM2200

The Opengear OM2200

If you had told me last year at this time that remote management of devices would be a huge thing in 2020 I might have agreed but laughed quietly. We were traveling down the path of simultaneously removing hardware from our organizations and deploying IoT devices that could be managed easily from the cloud. We didn’t need to access stuff like we did in the past. Even if we did, it was easy to just SSH or console into the system from a jump box inside the corporate firewall. After all, who wants to work on something when you’re not in the office?

Um, yeah. Surprise, surprise.

Turns out 2020 is the Year of Having Our Hair Lit On Fire. Which is a catchy song someone should record. But it’s also the year where we have learned how to stand up 100% Work From Home VPN setups within a week, deploy architecture to the cloud and refactor on the fly to help employees stay productive, and institute massive change freezes in the corporate data center because no one can drive in to do a reboot if someone forgets to do commit confirmed or reload in 5.

Remote management has always been something that was nice to have. Now it’s something that you can’t live without. If you didn’t have a strategy for doing it before or you’re still working with technology that requires octal cables to work, it’s time you jumped into the 21st Century.

High Gear

Opengear is a company that has presented a lot at Tech Field Day. I remember seeing them for the first time when I was a delegate many, many years ago. As I have grown with Tech Field Day, so too have they. I’ve seen them embrace new technologies like cloud management and 4G/LTE connectivity. I’ve heard the crazy stories about fish farms and Australian emergency call boxes and even some stuff that’s too crazy to repeat. But the theme remains the same throughout it all. Opengear is trying to help admins keep their boxes running even if they can’t be there to touch them.

Flash forward to the Hair On Fire year, and Opengear is still coming right along. During the recent Tech Field Day Virtual Cisco Live Experience in June, they showed off their latest offerings for sweet, sweet hardware. Rob Waldie did a great job talking about their new line of NetOps Console servers here in this video:

Now, I know what you’re thinking. NetOps? Really? Trying to cash in on the marketing hype? I would have gone down that road if they hadn’t show off some of the cool things these new devices can do.

How about support for Docker containerized apps? Pretty sure that qualifies at NetOps, doesn’t it? Now, your remote console appliance is capable of doing things like running automation scripts and triggering complex logic when something happens. And, because containers are the way the cloud runs now, you can deploy any number of applications to the console server with ease. It’s about as close at an App Store model as you’re going to find, with some nerd knobs for good measure.

That’s not all though. The new line of console appliances also comes with an embedded trusted platform module (TPM) chip. You’ve probably seen these on laptops or other mobile devices. They do a great job of securing the integrity of the device. It’s super important to have if you’re going to deploy console servers into insecure locations. That way, no one can grab your device and do things they shouldn’t like tapping traffic or trying to do other nefarious things to compromise security.

Last but not least, there’s an option for 64GB of flash storage on the device. I like this because it means I can do creative things like back up configurations to the storage device on a regular basis just in case of an outage. If and when something happens I can just remote to the Opengear server, console to the device, and put the config back where it needs to be. Pretty handy if you have a device with a dying flash card or something that is subject to power issues on a regular basis. And with a LTE-A global cellular modem, you don’t have to worry about shipping the box to a country where it won’t work.


Tom’s Take

I realize that we’re not going to be quarantined forever. But this is a chance for us to see how much we can get done without being in the office. Remember all those budgets for fancy office chairs and the coffee service? They could go to buying Opengear console servers so we can manage devices without truck rolls. Money well spent on reducing the need for human intervention also means a healthier workforce. I trust my family to stay safe with our interactions. But if I have to show up at a customer site to reboot a box? Taking chances even under the best of circumstances. And the fewer chances we take in the short term, the healthier the long-term outlook becomes.

We may never get back to the world we had before. And we may never even find ourselves in a 100% Remote Work environment. But Opengear gives us options that we need in order to find a compromise somewhere in the middle.

If you’d like more information about Opengear’s remote access solutions, make sure you check out their website at http://Opengear.com

Disclaimer: As a staff member of Tech Field Day, I was present during Opengear’s virtual presentation. This post represents my own thoughts and opinions of their presentation. Opengear did not provide any compensation for this post, nor did they request any special consideration when writing it. The conclusions contained herein are mine alone and do not represent the views of my employer.

Is Bandwidth A Precious Resource?

During a recent episode of the Packet Pushers Podcast, Greg and Drew talked about the fact that bandwidth just keeps increasing and we live in a world where the solution to most problems is to just increase the pipeline to the data center or to the Internet. I came into networking after the heady days of ISDN lines everywhere and trying to do traffic shaping on slow frame relay links. But I also believe that we’re going to quickly find ourselves in a pickle when it comes to bandwidth.

Too Depressing

My grandparents were alive during the Great Depression. They remember what it was like to have to struggle to find food or make ends meet. That one singular experience transformed the way they lived their lives. If you have a relative or know of someone that lived through that time, you probably have noticed they have some interesting habits. They may keep lots of cash on hand stored in various places around the house. They may do things like peel labels from jelly jars and use them as cups. They may even go to great lengths to preserve as much as they can for reuse later “just in case”.

It’s not uncommon for this to happen in the IT world as well. People that have been marked by crazy circumstance develop defense mechanisms against. Maybe it’s making a second commit to a configuration to ensure it’s correct before being deployed. Maybe it’s always taking a text backup of a switchport before shutting it down in case an old bug wipes it clean. Or, as it relates to the topic above, maybe it’s a network engineer that grew up on slow ISDN circuits trying to optimize links for traffic when there is absolutely no need to do so.

People will work with what they’re familiar with. If they treat every link as slow and prone to congestion they’ll configure they QoS policies and other shaping features like they were necessary to keep a 128k link alive with a massive traffic load. Even if the link has so much bandwidth that it will never even trigger the congestion features.

Rational Exuberance

The flip side of the Great Depression grandparent is the relative that grew up during a time when everything was perfect and there was nothing to worry about. The term coined by Alan Greenspan to define this phenomenon was Irrational Exuberance, which is the idea that the stock market of 1996 was overvalued. It also has the connotation of meaning that people will believe that everything is perfectly fine and dandy when all is well right up to the point when the rug gets pulled out from underneath them.

Going back to our bandwidth example, think about a network engineer that has only ever known a world like we have today where bandwidth is plentiful and easily available. I can remember installing phone systems for a school that had gigabit fiber connectivity between sites. QoS policies were non-existent for them because they weren’t needed. When you have all the pipeline you can use you don’t worry about restraining yourself. You have a plethora of bandwidth capabilities.

However, you also have an issue with budgeting. Turns out that there’s no such thing as truly unlimited bandwidth. You’re always going to hit a cap somewhere. It could be the uplink from the server to the switch. Maybe it’s the uplink between switches on the leaf-spine fabric. It could even be the WAN circuit that connects you to the Internet and the public cloud. You’re going to hit a roadblock somewhere. And if you haven’t planned for that you’re going to be in trouble. Because you’re going to realize that you should have been planning for the day when your options ran out.

Building For Today

If you’re looking at a modern enterprise, you need to understand some truths.

  1. Bandwidth is plentiful. Until it isn’t. You can always buy bigger switches. Run more fiber. Create cross-connects to increase bandwidth between east-west traffic. But once you hit the wall of running out of switch ports or places to pull fiber you’re going to be done no matter what.
  2. No Matter How Much You Have, It Won’t Be Enough. I learned this one at IBM back in 2001. We had a T3 that ran the entire campus in Minnesota. They were starting to get constrained on bandwidth so they paid a ridiculous amount of money to have another one installed to increase the bandwidth for users. We saturated it in just a couple of months. No matter how big the circuit or how many you install, you’re eventually going to run out of room. And if you don’t plan for that you’re going to be in a world of trouble.
  3. Plan For A Rainy Day. If you read the above, you know you’re going to need to have a plan in place when the day comes that you run out of unlimited bandwidth. You need to have QoS policies ready to go. Application inspection engines can be deployed in monitor mode and ready at a moment’s notice to be enabled in hopes of restricting usage and prioritizing important traffic. Remember that QoS doesn’t magically create bandwidth from nothing. Instead, it optimizes what you have and ensures that it can be used properly by the applications that need it. So you have to know what’s critical and what can be left to best effort. That means you have to do the groundwork ahead of time so there are no surprises. You have to be vigilant too. Who would have expected last year that video conference traffic would be as important as it is today?

Tom’s Take

Bandwidth is just like any other resource. It’s not infinite. It’s not unlimited. It only appears that way because we haven’t found a way to fill up that pipe yet. For every protocol that tries to be a good steward and not waste bandwidth like OSPF, you have a newer protocol like Open/R that has never known the harsh tundra of an ISDN line. We can make the bandwidth look effectively limitless but only by virtue of putting smart limits in place early and understanding how to make things work more smoothly when the time comes. Bandwidth is precious and you can make it work for you with the right outlook.

Appreciation Society

Given how crazy everything is right now, it’s important to try and stay sane. And that’s harder than it sounds to be honest. Our mental health is being degraded by the day. Work stress, personal stress, and family stress are all contributing to a huge amount of problems for all of us. I can freely admit that I’m there myself. My mental state has been challenged as of late with a lot of things and I’m hoping that I’m going to pull myself out of this funk soon with the help of my wife @MrsNetwrkngnerd and some other things to make me happier.

One of the things that I wanted to share with you all today was one of the things I’ve been trying to be mindful about over the course of the last few months. It’s about appreciation. We show appreciation all the time for people. It’s nothing new, really. But I want you to think about the last time you said “thank you” to someone. Was it a simple exchange for a service? Was it just a reflex to some action? Kind of like saying “you’re welcome” afterwards? I’d be willing to bet that most of the people reading this blog post say those words more out of habit than anything else.

I decided I was going to change that. Instead of just mouthing an empty “thank you” for something, I decided to turn it into a statement of appreciation. As a father, I often tell my kids that they need to include statements in their apologies. Not just “I’m sorry” but “I’m sorry for hitting my brother”. Intent matters. In this case, the intent and appreciation is the opposite feeling.

So, instead of “thank you” I’ll say “Thank you for bringing me that cup.” Or maybe “Thank you for helping change that tire.” Calling out the explicit action that caused your thanks shows people that you’re being mindful of what they do. It means you’re paying attention and showing real gratitude instead of just being reflexive.

This can apply to technology as well. Instead of just a quick “Thanks” when someone completes a job, try making it specific. “Thanks for getting that routing loop figured out.” Or how about “Thanks for putting in the extra effort to get those phones deployed by the end of the day.” Do you see how each of these more specific statements are mindful of actions?

When you show people you appreciate them as much as what they do for you, you change the conversation. Appreciation is one of the most power gifts we can give other people. Validation and praise aren’t just meaningless platitudes. Show people you care may be the best connection they’ve had all day. Or all week. And all it takes is a little extra effort on your part. Take my word for it and try it yourself. For the next week, go the extra mile and explain why you’re thankful for people. You’d be surprised how far you’ll get.

Fast Friday – Mobility Field Day 5 Edition

I’ve been in the middle of Mobility Field Day 5 this week with a great group of friends and presenters. There’s a lot to unpack. I wanted to share some quick thoughts around wireless technologies and where we’re headed with it.

  • Wireless isn’t magic. We know that because it’s damned hard to build a deployment plan and figure out where to put APs. We’ve built tools that help us immensely. We’ve worked on a variety of great things that enable us to make it happen easier than it’s been before. But remember that the work still has to happen and we still have to understand it. As soon as someone says, “You don’t need to do the work, our tool just makes it happen” my defenses go up. How does the tool understand nuance? Who is double-checking it? What happens when you can’t feed it all the info it needs? Don’t assume that taking a human out of the loop is always good thing. Accrued knowledge is more important than you realize.
  • Analytics give you a good picture of what you want, but they don’t turn wrenches. All the data in the world won’t replace a keyboard. You need to understand the technology before you know why analytics look the way they do. It’s a lesson that people learn hard. Look back at things like VDI boot storms to understand why analytics can look “bad” and be totally normal.
  • I’m happy to see the enterprise embracing Wi-Fi 6E (6GHz). Sadly, it’s going to be another six months before we see enough hardware to make it viable for users. And don’t even get me started on the consumer side of the house. I expect the next iPad Pro will have a 6E radio. That’s going to be the tipping point. But even after that we’re going to spend years helping people understand what they have and why it works.

Tom’s Take

There are some exciting discussions to be had in the wireless community. I’m always thrilled to be a part of Mobility Field Day and enjoy hearing all the great tech discussed. Stay tuned to the Tech Field Day Youtube Channel for all the great content and more discussions!

Video Meetings and Learning Styles

Have you noticed that every meeting needs to be on video now? Of course, that’s a rhetorical question. It’s one of the first and most constant things that is brought up in the pandemic-influenced tech community of today. Meetings that used to be telephone-only or even wordy emails are now video chats that take half an hour or more. People complain that they are spending time and money to spruce up their office to look presentable at 720p to people that likely aren’t paying attention anyway. It’s a common complaint. But have you ever thought about why?

Listening and Looking to Learn

There are three major styles of learning that get brought up in academic courses.

  • Physical, or kinesthetic, learners learn best from touching things. They want to manipulate and feel things as they learn. They like to gesture when they talk. They also get bored quickly when things are taking too long or they have to sit still too much.
  • Visual learners learn best from seeing things. They like to look around and tend to think in pictures. They would rather see something instead of hearing someone speak.
  • Auditory learners like to hear things being spoken. They want to talk through everything and hear the words being spoken out loud. These are the kinds of people that tend to do things like repeat lists back to themselves over and over again to memorize them.

Now, if you found yourself agreeing with some of each of those things you aren’t crazy. There are some aspects of each of these that we all learn with. As much as I like getting the big picture, I often enjoy dialogue and telling stories as well as touching something to learn more about it. But at the end of the day I would consider myself a visual learner. I learn best when I can see things. I tend to get distracted when I have to listen to things a lot. You can probably figure out which learning style suits you best quickly.

Adjusting to Virtual Learning

That was the pre-pandemic world. With the advent of sheltering in place, we’re going to have to look at the way we do things now. Physical learning is out. We can’t just meet with people and invade their bubble to talk and touch and interact. So a third of learning styles are going to be severely impacted. What does that leave us with?

Well, auditory learners are going to be okay with phone calls. They learn best when they can recite information. But remember how it’s not so much about them learning best from hearing as it is from them engaging in dialogue? That’s where the auditory learning style seems to break down for people. It’s not that auditory learners get the best absorption of material from hearing it. They need to talk. They need to hear their voice and interact with the voices of others to process things. It’s not enough to just hear it spoken. Even if all they do is rephrase something you’ve told them they still have to speak.

Makes sense, right? But why video? Shouldn’t video meetings be the space of visual learners? In short, no. Because video isn’t about visual learning as a medium. Visual learning is about reading text and emails and seeing diagrams and drawing your own pictures to absorb ideas. Visual learning is about drawing out your network routing plan, not describing it to your peers. Visual learners gain little from video.

On the other hand, auditory learners gain a ton from video chats. Why? Because they can see their dialog partner and gain interaction. Video calls like Webex and Zoom aren’t for people that want to see the other side. They are for people to see and interact with their conversation. They want to be seen as much as anything else. Visual learners would get more out of the meeting notes along with some creative skills like Sketchnotes.

Learning Up The Ladder

Make sense so far? Good. Now, as yourself another critical question: who has more video meetings? Is it your team and peers? Or is it managers and executives? Here’s another thing to ponder: Who makes a better manager or executive? Someone who prefers to read or someone that prefers to talk?

I think you’ll find as you explore this idea that most people who are considered “management material” are known as people-oriented. They like to talk. They like to meet and discuss. They feel at their best when there is dialog and discussion. And who do you think feels the most left out in a world where everyone is isolated at home and can’t interact? Also, who has the power and desire to change the way meetings are held?

Managers and executives want to hear from their teams. They want to interact with them. Maybe they’re even fully auditory learners that want to dialog with people and hear them talk about status updates. That all makes sense. But because they’re not getting the interactivity part of the equation from being isolated they need to have the visual component of video chat to figure out what’s going on. I’d wager that the increase in video meetings isn’t among your team or for happy hour. Instead, I’m pretty sure it’s your manager and the executives above them that are in need of that face-to-video screen time with you.


Tom’s Take

I’m on the fence about video meetings. I don’t mind them. I don’t even really mind having a few of them. But I’m really curious as to why existing meetings that weren’t video had to be on video all of the sudden. I get that people are more in tune with interaction and auditory learning styles. I’m still more visual than anything else and the call summaries after meetings are more impactful for me than the video aspect of things. I don’t see the trend changing any time soon though. Which means I’m just going to have to spend more time in my unicorn mask!

The Silver (Peak) Lining For HPE and Cloud

You no doubt saw the news this week that HPE announced that they’re buying Silver Peak for just shy of $1 billion dollars. It’s a good exit for Silver Peak and should provide some great benefits for both companies. There was a bit of interesting discussion around where this fits in the bigger picture for HPE, Aruba, and the cloud. I figured I’d throw my hat in the ring and take a turn discussing it.

Counting Your Chickens

First and foremost, let’s discuss where this acquisition is headed. HPE announced it and they’re the ones holding the purse strings. But the acquisition post was courtesy of Keerti Melkote, who runs the Aruba, a Hewlett Packard Enterprise Company (Aruba) side of the house. Why is that? It’s because HPE “reverse acquired” Aruba and sent all their networking expertise and hardware down to the Arubans to get things done.

I would venture to say that Aruba’s acquisition was the best decision HPE could have made. It gave them immediate expertise in an area they sorely needed help. It gave Aruba a platform to build on and innovate from. And it ultimately allowed HPE to shore up their campus networking story while trying to figure out how they wanted to extend into the data center.

Aruba was one of the last major networking players to announce a strategy based on SD-WAN. We’ve seen a lot of major acquisitions on that front, including Cisco buying Viptela, VMware buying VeloCloud, Palo Alto Networks buying CloudGenix, and Oracle buying Talari. That last one is going to be important later in this story. Aruba didn’t go out and buy their own SD-WAN solution. Instead, they developed it in-house leveraging the expertise they had with ClearPass. Instead of calling it SD-WAN and focusing on connecting islands together, they used the term SD-Branch to denote the connectivity was more about the users in the branch and not the office itself.

I know that SD-Branch isn’t a term that’s en vogue with most analysts. But it’s important to realize that Aruba was trying to say more about the users than anything else. Hardware was an afterthought in this solution. It wasn’t about an edge gateway, although Aruba had those. It wasn’t about connectivity, even though Aruba could help on that front too. Instead, it was about pushing policy down to the edge and sorting out connectivity for devices. That’s the focus that Aruba had for many years with their wireless roots. It only made sense to leverage the tools to get where they wanted to be on the SD-Whatever front.

Coming Home To Roost

The world of SD-WAN isn’t the same as the branch any longer, though. Now, SD-WAN drives cloud on-ramp and edge security. Ironically enough, the drive to include Secure Access Service Edge (SASE) in SD-WAN is way more in line with the original concept of SD-Branch as defined by Aruba a couple of years ago. But you have to have a more well-rounded solution that includes cloud.

Why do you need to worry about the cloud? If you still have to ask that question in 2020 you’re not gonna make it in IT much longer. The cloud operationalizes a lot of things in IT that we have just accepted for years. The way that we do workloads and provisioning has changed on-site as well. If you don’t believe me then listen to HPE. Their biggest focus coming out of HPE Discover this year has been highlighting GreenLake, their on-premises IT-as-a-Service offering. It’s designed to give you cloud-like performance in your data center with cloud-like billing options. And, as marketed, the ability to move workloads back and forth between on-site and in-cloud as needed.

Hopefully, you’re starting to see why Silver Peak was such an important pickup for HPE now. SD-Branch is focused on devices but not services. It’s not designed to provide cloud on-ramp. HPE and Aruba need a solution that gives you the ability to accelerate user adoption of software-as-a-service no matter where it lives, be it in GreenLake or AWS or Azure. Essentially, HPE and Aruba needed Talari for their cloud offerings. And that’s what they’re going to get with Silver Peak.

Silver Peak has focused on cloud intelligence to accelerate SaaS for a few years now. They also have a multi-cloud networking solution. Multi-cloud is the way that you get people working between two different clouds, like AWS and GreenLake for example.

When you tie in Silver Peak’s DC-focused SD-WAN solution with Aruba’s existing SD-Branch capabilities, you see how holistic a solution you have now. And because it’s all based on software you don’t have to worry about clunky integration. It can run side-by-side for now and in the next revision of Aruba Central integration with the new Edge Services Platform (ESP), it’s all going to be seamless to use however you want to use.


Tom’s Take

I think Silver Peak is a good pickup for HPE and Aruba. Just remember that when you hear HPE and networking in the same sentence, you need to think about Aruba. Ultimately, the integration of Silver Peak into Aruba’s SD-Branch solution is going to benefit everyone from users to cloud to software and back again. And it’s going to help position Aruba as a major player in the SD-WAN market. Which is a silver lining on any cloud.