The first presentation of the final day of Network Field Day 4 brought us to the mothership on Tasman Drive. The Cisco Borderless team had a lineup of eleven different presenters ready to show us everything they had. For those of you not familar with the term, Borderless Networks inside Cisco essentially means “everything that isn’t data center or voice.” Yeah, that means routing and switching and security and wireless and everything else. That also meant that we got a very diverse group of people presenting to us and a lot of short twenty minute videos of their products. In a way, it’s very much like speed dating. With little time to get the point across, you tend to shed the unnecessary pleasantries and get right to the important stuff.
First up was the UCS team with new E-series servers. These are blades that are designed to slide into a ISR G2 router and provide a full-featured x86 platform. It’s a great idea in search of an application. I can still remember the AxP modules and how they were going to change my life. That never really materialized. The payoff use case that you are looking for is the second video above. Cisco is starting to push for the idea that you can contain a whole branch office in a single router and run not only the phone system and networking routing and VPN, but now a light-duty server as well. I’m not sure how many people will be looking to do that with virtualized server resources residing in the data center, but there was some discussion of using this a temporary failover type of environment to push the branch server to the edge in the event of some kind of disaster or outage. That might work better to me that running the entire branch on the router. Of course, as you can tell, the demo gremlins found Cisco as well.
The next presentation was the new darling Cloud Services Router (CSR) 1000v. This little gem got some face time on stage with John Chambers at Cisco Live this year. It’s a totally virtualized router (hence the “v”) that can move workloads into the cloud when needed. I’m really curious as to why this is included with Borderless, as this is a very data center specific play right now. I know that Cisco is pushing this device currently as a VPN concentrator or MPLS endpoint for WAN aggregation. It makes more sense from some of their diagrams to have it running inside a cloud provider network carving up user space. I’m going to keep an eye on this one to see where the development goes.
Now, we get to something fun. Cisco FlexVPN is what happens when someone finally took a look at all the different methods for configuring VPNs on the various Cisco devices and said “WTF?!?” FlexVPN utilizes IKEv2 to help speed configuration. You can watch the short video and see all the stuff that we have to deal with to configure a VPN today. Cisco finally took our complaints to heart and made things a lot more simple. Of course there are drawbacks, and with FlexVPN that means it only works with IKEv2. There’s no backwards compatibility. Of course, if you’re going to have to be migrating everything anyway, you might as well make a clean break and rebuild it right. That’s going to make things like hub-and-spoke VPN configuration a whole lot less painful in the near future. Props to Cisco for fixing a pain point for us.
Okay, so maybe a I lied just a bit. Since Cisco Unified Border Element runs on a router (even though it’s technically voice), we got a presentation about it! I was in hog heaven here. If you are looking at deploying a SIP trunk, you had better be looking at a CUBE box to handle the handoff. Don’t think, just do it. Listen to the voice of Amy Arnold (@amyengineer) and Erik Peterson (@ucgod). You need this. You just don’t know how much until you start banging your head against a wall.
More Voice!!! By this point, I was practically crying tears of joy. Two voice presentations in one day. At a networking event no less! This presentation on enhanced SRST shows how big of kludge SRST really is. I’m not a huge fan of it, but I have to configure it to be sure that the phone systems work correctly in the event of a WAN outage. It’s all still CLI and very annoying to configure and keep in sync. Thankfully, with the ESRST manager highlighted in the video above, we can keep those configurations in sync and even have it automagically pull the necessary configurations out of CUCM. This software runs on a Service Engine right now in the router, but I can’t wait to see if Cisco ports it to a virtual setup to run under a CUCMBE 6000 server or even on a UCS-E blade down the road. Anything that I can do to make SRST less painful is a welcome change.
Okay, this had to be one of the more interesting presentations I’ve been involved in at an NFD event. We got our AppNav presentation over Webex from a remote resource. I know this a hot thing to do at Cisco offices to make sure we have the most talented people giving us the most up-to-date info about a particular subject. However, I expect this when I’m in the middle of nowhere Oklahoma, not at the mothership in San Jose. The Webex cut out now and then and there were times when we had to strain to hear what was being said in the room. Looking back at the video, I marvel that the room mikes picked up as much as they did. As for AppNav itself, it’s a virtual DC version of the Wide Area Application Services (WAAS). My grasp of WAN acceleration isn’t as good as it should be, even from Infineta back at NFD3. There’s some good info in here I’m sure. I’m just going to have to go back and digest it to see where it fits into my needs.
Now it’s time for some switching talk. We got a roadmap on the Catalyst line. There are some interesting tidbits in the slides, such as a monster 9000W power supply for the 4500 to support UPoE (more on that in a minute). The 4500 is also going to get VSS support and ISSU support. Those two things alone are going to make me start considering the use of the 4500 in the core of most of my smaller networks. The fixed configuration Catalyst switches also have some nice roadmaps, including UPoE support and lots of IPv6 enhancements. As I move forward in 2013, I’m planning on doing a lot with IPv6, so knowing that I’m going to have switching support behind me is a nice comfort. Of all the updates, the most talked about one was probably the Catalyst 6500. A switch that has been rumored to be on the chopping block for many years now, the venerable Cat6K is getting more updates, including FabricPath support and 100Gig module support. I think this switch may outlast my networking career at this rate. There are lots of rumors as to why Cisco is renovating this campus core stalwart once more, but it’s clear that they are attempting to squeeze as much life out of it as they can right now. To me, the idea of stretching FabricPath down into the campus presents some very tantalizing opportunities to finally get rid of spanning tree on all but the user-facing links. Let’s hope that the Cat6k sticks around long enough to get a gold watch and a nice pension for all the work it’s given us over the years.
Our next discussion was around security and using Cisco TrustSec to do things a little differently that we’re used to. By now, I think everyone has talked your ear off about BYOD. Even I’ve done it a couple of times. It’s a real issue for people in the dark security caves because our traditional methods of access lists and so forth don’t work the same way when you’ve got employees bringing their own laptops or asking you to give them access to data from tablets or phones. What this has morphed into is a need to do more role-based authorization. That’s what TrustSec means to me. Of course, a lot of previous attempts to do this, like NAC, haven’t really hit the mark or have been so convoluted that it was almost impossible to get them working correctly. Today, Cisco has rolled all the functionality of NAC and ACS into the Identity Services Engine (ISE). I’ve had a very brief encounter with ISE, so I know it has a lot of potential. I want to see how Cisco will incorporate it into the bigger TrustSec picture to make everything work across my various platforms.
Time to turn up the juice. Cisco brought out Universal Power over Ethernet (UPoE), which is their solution to pump up to 60 watts of power across a standard Ethernet cable to power…well, whatever it is that eats 60w of power. Cisco’s doing this by taking 802.3at PoE+, which can pump 30w down the cable, and pushing an additional 30w of power down the other unused pairs. Interestingly, Cisco talked to the people behind the ISO and EIA/TIA standards and found that when you have a bunch of unstructured cables running about around 50 watts (which is the 60w number above minus cable loss), you get a temperature in the cable bundle about 8-10 degrees above the ambient room temperature. In reality, this means that 60w is the max amount of power you’re likely to ever get out of a Cat5e cable unless you chill it or have some kind of new material that can reduce the heating effect. Cisco seems to be targeting UPoE to drive things like monitors, thin client desktops, and even those crazy command center touch pads that you see littered across the floor of a trading house or stock exchange. This last item really makes me believe that UPoE is going to be positioned in the same vein as the ultra-low latency Nexus 3548 – financial markets. Thin clients and command center touch panels are likely to be the kind of mission-critical devices these companies are willing to pay big buck to power. With the above-mentioned 9000w PS for the Catalyst 4500, you can see why we’re going to soon need to put a nuclear reactor in to drive these things.
Cisco Smart Operations dropped by to talk to us about Cisco Smart Install. This is the feature that I tend to turn off when I see it by the telltale sign of “Error opening tftp://255.255.255.255/network-config.” The Smart Operations team is doing its best to create an environment where an IT department that doesn’t have the headcount to send technicians to deploy remote site switches can leverage software tools to have those devices auto-provision themselves. You can also configure them to automatically configure things like Smartport roles, which has never really been one of my favorite switch features. Overall, I can appreciate where Cisco is wanting to go with this technology. But, as a CLI jockey, I’m still a bit jaded when it comes to having part of my job replaced by a TFTP script.
The final Cisco NFD4 presentation was about application visibility and control. This is a lot of the intelligence that is built into the Cisco Prime monitoring software that was demoed for us back at NFD3. If you can identify the particular fingerprints of a given application, such as Telepresence, you can better determine when those fingerprints are out of whack. I’m also excited because fingerprinting apps is going to be a huge part of security in the near future, as evidenced by Palo Alto’s app-based firewall and the others like Sonicwall and Watchguard that have followed along. Even the Cisco ASA-CX is starting to come around to the idea of stopping apps and not protocols.
If you’d like to learn more about Cisco Borderless Networks, check them out at http://www.cisco.com/en/US/netsol/ns1015/index.html. You can see an archive of the presentations and associated data sheets at http://blogs.cisco.com/borderless/networking-field-day-4-at-cisco-nfd4/. You should also follow the Cisco Borderless team on Twitter as @CiscoEnterprise and @CiscoGeeks.
There you have it. Lots of presenters. Hours of video. A couple of thousand words from me on all of it. It’s almost exhausting to see that much information in a short span of time. Some of the things that Cisco did with this presentation were great. There were technologies that only needed a bit of time. There were others that we could have spent an hour or more on. I think that the next NFD presenters that want to try something along these lines should setup the first three hours with rapid fire presentations and reserve the last hour for us to call back to earlier presenters and hit them with additional questions. That way, we don’t run out of time and we get to talk about the things that interest us the most. Bravo overall to the Cisco Borderless team for breaking out of the mold and trying something new to keep the NFD delegates hooked in.
Tech Field Day Disclaimer
Cisco was a sponsor of Network Field Day 4. As such, they were responsible for covering a portion of my travel and lodging expenses while attending Network Field Day 4. In addition, they provided me with an 8GB USB drive with marketing collateral and data sheets. They did not ask for, nor where they promised any kind of consideration in the writing of this review. The opinions and analysis provided within are my own and any errors or omissions are mine and mine alone.