The second half our our visit to Cisco during day 2 of Network Field Day 3 was filled with members of the Cisco Borderless Networks team. Borderless Networks is really an umbrella term for the devices in the campus LAN such as wireless, campus switching, and the ASA firewall. It was a nice break from much of the data center focus that we had been experiencing for the past couple of presentations.
Brian Conklin kicked things off with an overview of the ASA CX next generation firewall. This was a very good overview of the product and reinforced many of the things I wrote about in my previous ASA CX blog post. Some high points from the talk with Brian include Active Directory and LDAP integration and the inner workings of how packets are switched up to the CX module from the ASA itself. As I had suspected, the CX is really a plugin module along the lines of IDS module or the CSC module. We also learned that much of the rule base for application identification came from Ironport. This isn’t really all that surprising when you think about the work that Ironport has put into fingerprinting applications. I just hope that all of the non-web based traffic will eventually be able to be identified without the need to have the AnyConnect client installed on every client machine. I think Brian did a very good job of showing off all the new bells and whistles of the new box while enduring questions from myself, Mrs. Y, and Brandon Carroll. I know that the CX is still a very new product, so I’m going to hold any formal judgement until I see the technology moved away from the niche of the 5585-X platform and down into the newer 55×5-X boxes.
Next up on our tour of the borderless network was Mark Emmerson and Tomer Hagay Nevel with Cisco Prime. Prime is a new network management and monitoring solution that Cisco is rallying behind to unify all their disparate products. Many of you out there might remember CiscoWorks. And if any of you actually used it regularly, you probably just shuddered when I mentioned that name. To say that CiscoWorks has a bit of a sullied reputation might be putting it mildly. In fact, the first time I was ever introduced to the product the person I was talking too referred to it as Cisco(Sometimes)Works. Now, with Cisco Prime, Cisco is getting back to a solution that is useful and easy to configure. Cisco Prime LAN Management Solution is focused on the Borderless Networks platforms specifically, with the ability to do things like archive configurations of devices and push out firmware updates when bugs are fixed or new features need to be implemented. As well, Cisco is standardizing on the Prime user interface for all of the GUIs in their products, so you can expect a consistent experience whether you’re using Prime LMS or the Identity Services Engine (which will be folded into Prime at a later date). The only downside to the UI right now is that there is still a reliance on Adobe Flash. While this is still a great leap forward from Java and other nasty things like ActiveX controls, I think we need to start leveraging all the capabilities in HTML5 to create scalable UIs for customers. Sure, much of the development of HTML5 UIs is driven by people that want to use them on devices that don’t or won’t support Flash (like the iPad). But don’t you think it’s a bit easier to share your UI between all the devices when it’s not dependent on a third party scripting language? After all, Aruba’s managed to do it. We wrapped up the Prime demo with a peak at the new Collaboration Manager product. I’ve never been one to use a product like this to manage my communications infrastructure. However, with some of the very cool features like hop-by-hop Telepresence call monitoring and troubleshooting, I may have to take another look at it in the future.
Our last presentation at Cisco came courtesy of Nikhil Sharma, a Technical Marketing Engineer (TME) working on the Catalyst 4500 switch as well as some other fixed configuration devices. Nikhil showed us something very interesting that’s capable now on the Supervisor 7E running IOS XE. Namely…Wireshark. As someone that spends a large amount of time running Wireshark on networks as well as someone that installs it on every device I own, having a copy of Wireshark available on the switch I’m troubleshooting is icing on the cake. The 4500 Wireshark can capture packets in either the control plane or the data plane to extend your troubleshooting options when faced with a particularly vexing issue. Once you’ve assembled your packet captures in the now-familiar PCAP format, you can TFTP or SFTP the file to another server to break it down in your viewer of choice. Another nice feature of the 4500 Wireshark is that the packet captures are automatically rate limited to protect the switch CPU from melting into a pile of slag if you end up overwhelming it with a packet tsunami. If only we could get a protection like that from a nastier command like debug ip packet detail.
The ability to run Wireshark on the switch is due in large part to IOS XE. This is a reimplementation of IOS running on top of a Linux kernel with a hardware abstraction layer. It also allows the IOS software running in the form of a system daemon to utilize one core of the dual core CPU in the Sup7E. The other core can be dedicated to running other third party software like Wireshark. I think I’m going to have to do some more investigation of IOS XE to find out what kind of capabilities and limitations are in this new system. I know it’s not Junos. It’s also not Arista’s EOS. But it’s a step forward for Cisco.
If you’d like to learn more about Cisco’s Borderless networks offerings, you can check out the Borderless Networks website at http://www.cisco.com/en/US/netsol/ns1015/index.html. You can also follow their Twitter account as @CiscoGeeks.
Borderless is a little closer to my comfort level than most of the Data Center stuff. While I do enjoy learning about FabricPath and NX-OS and VXLAN, I realize that when my journey to the fantasy land that is Tech Field Day is over, I’m going to go right back to spending my days configuring ASAs and Catalyst 4500s. With Cisco spotlighting some of the newer technologies in the portfolio for us at NFD3, I got an opportunity to really dig in deeper with the TMEs supporting the product. It also helps me avoid peppering my local Cisco account team with endless questions about the ASA CX or asking them for a demo 4500 with a Sup7E so I can Wireshark to my heart’s content. That huge sigh of relief you just heard was from a very happy group of people. Now, if I can just figure out what “Borderless” really means…
Tech Field Day Disclaimer
Cisco Data Center was a sponsor of Network Field Day 3. As such, they were responsible for covering a portion of my travel and lodging expenses while attending Network Field Day 3. In addition, they provided me a USB drive containing marketing collateral and copies of the presentation as well as a pirate eyepatch and fake pirate pistol (long story). They did not ask for, nor where they promised any kind of consideration in the writing of this review/analysis. The opinions and analysis provided within are my own and any errors or omissions are mine and mine alone.