Partly Cloudy – A Hallmark Presentation

One of the joys of working for an education-focused VAR is that I get to give technical presentations.  More often than not, I try to get a presentation slot at the Oklahoma Technology Association annual conference.  I did one last year over IPv6 to a packed house…of six people.  This year, I jumped at the chance to grab a slot and talk about something new and different.

The Cloud.

Yes, I figured it was about time to teach the people in education about some of the basics behind cloud.  When the call for presentations came out, I registered almost immediately.  This year, I had 12 months worth of analysis and experience at Tech Field Day to drive me in my presentation preparations.  The first think I knew I needed to do was come up with a catchy title.  People get numbed to the descriptive, SEO-friendly titles that get put on conference agendas.  As you can tell from the titles of my blog posts, I want something that’s going to pop.  I decided to sort of theme my presentation after a weather report.   Therefore, calling it “Partly Cloudy” seemed like a no-brainer.  I added “Forecast For Your Technology Future” as a subtitle to ensure that people didn’t think I was talking strictly about meteorology.  I spent a bit of time laying out slides and putting some thoughts down.  I hate when people read their bullet points from a slide deck, so I use mine more as discussion points.  They serve as a way to keep me on track and help focus me on what I want to say to my audience.  I also decided to do something fun for the audience.  I shamelessly stole this idea from Cisco Press author Tim Szigeti.  Tim wrote a very good guide to QoS and when he gives a presentation at Cisco Live, he gives away a copy of said book to the first person to ask a question during his presentation.  I loved the idea and wanted to do something similar.  However, I’m not an author.  I wracked my brain trying to come up with a good idea.  That was where I came up with the idea of using an umbrella as a prop.  You’ll see why in just a minute.

When I got to the room to do my presentation, I was astonished.  There were almost 90 people in the audience!  I got a little jittery from realizing how many people were there, especially the ones I didn’t know.  I got everything setup and started my video camera so I could go back after the fact and not only post about it on my blog, but have a reference for what I did right and what I could have done better.  Here’s me:

If you’d like to follow along with my slide deck, you can download the PDF HERE.

Compared to last year, I desperately wanted to avoid using the word “so” as much as I did.  I practiced a lot to try and leave it out as a pause word or a joining word.  If you’ve ever talked to me in real life, you can understand how hard that is for me.  Unfortunately, I think I jumped on the word “hallmark” and used it a little more than I should.  Not sure why I did that to be honest.  But as far as things go, it could have been much worse.  One thing that did unnerve me a little was the fact that people started walking out of my presentation about about ten minutes.  Having left a few presentations early in my lifetime, I started thinking in the back of my mind what could be causing people to leave.  Was I boring?  Was the subject matter too elementary?  Did people just hate the sound of my voice?  All in all, about twenty people left before the end, although to be honest if my company hadn’t been giving away a gift card, it might have been higher than that.  I caught up with several of the early departures during the conference and asked them why they decided to bail.  Their response was almost universal and caught me a little off guard – “You were just talking way over our heads.”  I had never even considered that approach.  I’d spent so much time making sure my content touched on many areas of the cloud that I forgot most of my audience doesn’t talk to Christofer Hoff (@Beaker) about cloud regularly.  My audience consisted of people that found out about cloud technology from a Microsoft commercial or on their new iPhone.  These people don’t care about instantiation of vCloud Director instances or vApp deployments.  They’re still amazed they can put a contact on their iPhone and have it show up on their iPad.  That was my failing.  I never want to be the guy that talks down to an audience.  In this case, however, I think I needed to take a step back and ensure my audience was on the same ground I was on when it came to talking about the cloud.  Lesson learned.

There were a number of other little things that bugged me.  I didn’t like standing behind a lectern since I’m usually an animated presenter.  However, the room design forced me to have a microphone.  I was forced to insert a couple of things into my slides.  I’ll let you guess where those were.  Overall though, I was complimented by several audience members and I had lots of people come up to me afterwards and ask me questions about cloud-based software and virtualization.  I think I’m going to do another one of these at the Fall OTA conference focused on something like virtual desktop infrastructure.  This time I’ll have demos.  And fewer weather-related jokes.

Feedback from my readers is always welcome.  I value each opinion about my presentation and I always strive to get better at them.  I doubt I’ll ever be the most effective public speaker out there, but I want to avoid boring most people to death.

VMware vSphere: What’s New [5.0] – Review

As I spend a lot of my time in training and learning about new technologies, I thought it might be a good idea to start reviewing the classes that I attend to help my readers figure out how to get the best out of their training dollars.  Recently, I had the opportunity to attend the 2-day VMware vSphere: What’s New [5.0] class.

If you are thinking about becoming a VMware Certified Professional (VCP), you’re going to need to go to class.  It’s a requirement for certification.  I don’t necessarily agree with this though.  No other certification I hold requires me to go to class.  The CISSP requires a certain level of experience, and when I looked at the Certified Ethical Hacker (CEH) requirements, they said that their required class could be waived with demonstrable experience.  So the fact that VMware is making me go to class is kind of irritating.  That’s even taking into account that my employer sees the usefulness of staying certified and lets me attend a large number of classes.  I really feel for the independent contractors that need to be VCPs to get into the field but can’t afford to either pay for the class or take the time off for 2-4 days to attend one.  There should be some kind of waiver for people that can demonstrate experience with VMware.  Yes, I know that if you are a 1-step removed VCP (VCP4 in this case) you don’t have to go to class.  Yes, I know that there are very good reasons to make people attend class, such as keeping current with new technology and ensuring your certified user base is up on all the new features.  Yes, I know that the costs of the class are necessary for things like facilities rental and materials.  Just because I understand why it’s required and why it’s so expensive doesn’t mean I have to like it.  But, I digress…

I chose to take the 2-day What’s New class because it was a quicker way to go through the requirements as well as being valid for upgrading my VCP3 to a VCP5 until February.  The 2-day What’s New class is a condensed version of the 4-day Install, Configure, and Manage (ICM) class that introduces VMware to those that are new to virtualization.  Being condensed, the prerequisites for the course state you must be familiar with VMware.  While you don’t need to be intimately familiar with every aspect of the hypervisor and it’s settings, you had better at least be comfortable logging into vCenter and doing some basic tasks.  There won’t be much time for hand-holding in the What’s New class.

The materials for the 2-day class are a 270-page student manual with the slide deck from the class printed in note-taking format and an 80-page lab guide.  The student guide has ample annotations of the slide deck as well as space for taking notes in class.  The lab guide has places to record the information for your student lab pods so you aren’t constantly flipping back and forth to remember what your vCenter or ESXi servers are named.  The lab guide went into good detail about each task, making sure that you knew where to go to enable features or perform tasks.  The lab guide is great for those that want to do a little more practice after leaving the class in a personal lab environment.

The material covered in the class focused on the new features in vSphere 5 and how it’s different from vSphere 4.  Special attention is paid to the new storage features and the new deployment options for ESXi servers, like stateless Auto Deploy.  Thanks to the ample amount of lab time, you have a great opportunity to reinforce the topics with actual examples rather than just staring at static screens on slides.  If you get a really good instructor (like we had), you can even see live configurations of these topics on their lab machines.  Rick, our instructor, made sure to show us live examples every chance he had rather than just relying on stuffy slides.  He also did a great job going into depth on topics that deserved it, like VMware HA changes and elections.  By the way, for anyone that has ever complained about HSRP elections or STP root bridge selection, you should really check out http://www.yellow-bricks.com and get Ducan Epping’s vSphere Clustering Deep Dive book.  Therein, you will learn in vSphere 5, 99 is greater than 100 when performing HA elections.  I’ll give you hint: lexical numbers don’t follow normal rules…


Tom’s Take

Overall, I found the condensed version of class to be a much better value than the 4-day ICM course.  On the other hand, I’ve also been working with VMware for the last 3 years, so I had a good grasp on the basics.  For someone that isn’t familiar with the way virtualization works, the 4-day ICM class will give you a much more measured understanding and more time to play with the basics.  For those that have already gotten their feet wet with VMware and are just looking for a tune up or need to go take the VCP5 exam, you can’t go wrong with the 2-day short, short version of the class.  It’s going to save you a good deal of time and money that you can use to buy more licenses for vRAM.

If you’d like to see more details on the VMware education offerings or sign up for a VMware class, head over to the VMware Education Website at http://mylearn.vmware.com/portals/www/

Dirty Chai – The Engineer’s Little Helper

From time to time, I still see tweets about asking about the dirty chai.  The hallmark of any rough morning or caffeine-deficient situation, the dirty chai combines many things that are both delicious and useful into a small, portable package.  A little background…

What most people refer to as “chai” is actually a specific kind of spiced tea with milk known as Masala Chai.  I’ve been drinking these things for years.  The smooth taste is much more agreeable to me than strong coffee.  On a cold day, it really hits the spot with its combination of spices and richness.  However, one of the downsides of the delicious chai is the low amount of caffeine.  Due to the tea used and the brewing process, very little caffeine makes it into the drink.  Great if you are looking for something to drink right before bed or to calm you down.  Not so great if you find yourself in need of an energy infusion, or in my case, a jumpstart at the beginning of the day.  After all, hot drinks without caffeine are like beer without alcohol.  What’s the point?

Jennifer Huber introduced me to the concept of a “dirty” chai.  After ordering your typical hot chai drink, have the barista pour in an additional shot of espresso.  I wasn’t for sure the first time I ordered this drink, even going so far as to order it by recipe instead of using the sobriquet “dirty”.  When the barista confirmed that this was indeed “dirty”, I knew I’d found something good.  By adding the additional shot of espresso, the caffeine content is kicked through the roof.  The bitter flavor I typically associate with espresso shots is mellowed by the rich flavor of the chai.  A win/win situation.  If you find yourself in need of an additional pick-me-up, you can double the amount of espresso for a “double dirty” chai.  I hesitate to recommend the triple shot version before you’ve built up a tolerance, as mainlining that much espresso with chai could lead to molecular vibrations that will cause you to pass through solid objects or travel back in time.  Caveat drinkor.

In case you need a better example of the universal appeal of the dirty chai, check out this little example from Tech Field Day 5 in San Jose from February:

Happy Twitterversary To Me!

Today marks the one year anniversary of my first tweet on Twitter.  I’d sing the “Happy Birthday” song, but the royalties on that little gem would cost me a fortune.  Instead, I’m going to spend some time talking about why I think Twitter is so very useful for IT people.

I have always spent a lot of time reading blogs.  Great content in concise, easy-to-digest format.  Especially when I started studying for my CCIE lab.  However, last year I noticed that some of my CCIE blogs weren’t being updated anymore, specifically CCIE Candidate and CCIE Pursuit.  I figured that CCIE Candidate wasn’t being updated quite as regularly anymore due to Ethan getting his number, so I decided to do a little digging.  Turns out Ethan had a new, non-CCIE focused blog at PacketAttack, but also had an account on Twitter (@ecbanks).  Now, I had my misgivings about Twitter.  It was a microblogging site dedicated to people telling me what the had for lunch or when they were taking a constitutional.  All the previous experiences I had seen on Twitter led me to believe that it wasn’t exactly a fun place to be.

However, after reading through Ethan’s tweets, I realized that there was a lot of good information and discussion that was being posted there.  I searched around and found a couple of other good tweet streams, including one from a real-life friend that I didn’t get to see much, Brad Stone (@bestone).  After mulling the decision back and forth for a day or two, I decided to take the plunge.  I tried several names before I finally came up with one that I thought personified both my desire for technical discussion and my outlook on things, @networkingnerd.  Once I signed up for Twitter, I started following a few people that I had found, like Ethan, Brad, and Narbik Kocharians (@narbikk).  I knew that the only way I could get more involved with what was going on was to start talking and see if anyone was listening.  At first, it felt like the guys in the park standing on a soapbox with a bullhorn, shouting for all the world to hear but no one really listening.  Once I figured out how to address someone with a tweet to get their attention, the followers started taking off a little more.  Part of the key for me was staying focused on networking and tech and injecting a little snarkiness and humor along the way (something that would pay off later when I started blogging).

Another part of the reason I got involved with Twitter was to feel like a larger part of the IT community.  Last year, my annual sojurn to Cisco Live was coming up fast, and Cisco had been releasing a lot of good information and tips for Cisco Live attendees on Twitter.  Now, when I go to Cisco Live, I have a group of 5-6 people that I usually hang out with and do things like take the Cisco Challenge in the World of Solutions or heckle the bands at the Customer Appreciation Event.  However, thanks to Twitter this year I’ve got 50-60 people that I’m going to be hanging out with and meeting for the first time in real life.  Twitter also helped me get more information about events like Tech Field Day, which I had no idea about.  Later, Twitter helped me get my first invite to Tech Field Day, both through my involvement in the community and Twitter’s gateway effect that drove me to start blogging out my longer thoughts (like this one).

Twitter isn’t for everyone.  Some people have a hard time keeping up with the firehose of information that you get blasted with.  Others have a really hard time condensing thoughts down to less that 140 characters.  Still others never really find the right group to get involved in and write Twitter of as stupid or childish.  My counter to thinking such as that is “You get what you put into it.”  I search out new and fun people to follow all the time.  I’m not afraid to unfollow someone if their tweets become pointless and overly distracting.  Twitter, for me, is about discussion.  Helping answer questions, learning about industry news before my bosses, even railing against hated protocols.  All of these things have increased the payoff I have received from Twitter in the last year.

At the same time, I make sure to respect the wishes of those that follow me.  I tend to relegate my non-IT related posts to something like Facebook.  I may post personal things on Twitter from time to time, but I tend to think of them more as little details about my life that help fill in the dark spots about me.  I don’t post about sports, even though my Facebook wall in the fall is a virtual commentary on college football every week. I don’t let applications tweet things for me if I can help it.  I don’t link my 4square account or let an unfollower app shout things no one else is interested in.  I have total control over my Twitter account to be sure that those that take time out of their schedules to listen to what I have to say will hear my words and not those of some robot.  Those that let their Twitter streams become a wasteland of contest entries and “I just unfollowed X people that didn’t follow me back” updates from applications usually fall by the wayside sooner or later.

Tom’s Take

People I know in real life make fun of me when I tell them I’m on Twitter.  They crack jokes about updates from the water closet or useless junk spamming my Twitter feed.  However, when the joking stops and they ask me what’s so compelling about it, I tell them “On Twitter, I learn things I actually WANT to know.”  My Facebook feed is a bunch of game updates and garbage about stuff I really don’t care to know most of the time.  Until my Twitter followers started friending me on Facebook, no one on Facebook knew about the depths of my nerdiness.  On Twitter, I feel free to talk about things like BGP or NAT without fear that I’m going to be deluged with comments from people who are hopelessly lost or would rather talk about the Farmville animals.  On Twitter, I’m free to indulge myself.  And the community that I’ve become a part of helps me develop and become a better person.  Without Twitter, I would never have been able to find so many people across the world that share my interests.  I never would have been pushed to increase the depth of my knowledge.  Dare I say it, I probably wouldn’t have been driven to get my CCIE nearly as much as I was thanks to the help of my Twitter friends.  In short, I’m glad I’ve had my first year on Twitter be as successful as it has been.  Here’s to many more.

An Outsider’s View of Junosphere

It’s no secret that learning a vendor’s equipment takes lots and lots of time at the command line interface (CLI).  You can spend all the time you want pouring over training manuals and reference documentation, but until you get some “stick time” with the phosphors of a console screen, it’s probably not going to stick.  When I was studying for my CCIE R&S, I spent a lot of time using GNS3, a popular GUI for configuring Dynamips, the Cisco IOS simulator developed by the community.  There was no way I would be about to afford the equipment to replicate the lab topologies, as my training budget wasn’t very forgiving outside the test costs and any equipment I did manage to scrounge up usually went into production soon after that.  GNS3 afforded me the opportunity to create my own lab environments to play with protocols and configurations.  I’d say 75-80% of my lab work for the CCIE was done on GNS3.  The only things I couldn’t test were hardware-specific configurations, like the QoS found on Catalyst switches, or things that caused massive processor usage, like configuring NTP on more than two routers.  I would have killed to have had access to something a little more stable.

Cisco recently released a virtual router offering based around IOS-on-Unix (IOU), a formerly-internal testing tool that was leaked and cracked for use by non-Cisco people.  The official IOU simulation from Cisco revolves around their training material, so using it to setup your own configurations is very difficult.  Juniper Networks, on the other hand, has decided to release their own emulated OS environment built around their own hardware operating system, Junos.  This product is called Junosphere.  I was recently lucky enough to take part in a Packet Pushers episode where we talked with some of the minds behind Junosphere.  What follows here are my thoughts about the product based on this podcast and some people in the industry that I’ve talked to.

Junosphere is a cloud-based emulation platform being offered by Juniper for the purpose of building a lab environment for testing or education purposes.  The actual hardware being emulated inside Junosphere is courtesy of VJX, a virtual Junos instance that allows you to see the routing and security features of the product.  According to this very thorough Q&A from Chris Jones, VJX is not simply a hacked version of Junos running in a VM.  Instead, it is a fully supported release track code that simply runs on virtual hardware instead of something with blinking lights.  This opens up all sorts of interesting possibilities down the road, very similarly to Arista Networks vEOS virtualized router.  VJX evolved out of code that Juniper developers originally used to test the OS itself, so it has strong roots in the ability to emulate the Junos environment.  Riding on top of VJX is a web interface that allows you to drag-and-drop network topologies to create testing environments, as well as the ability to load preset configurations, such as those that you might get from Juniper to coincide with their training materials.  To reference this to something people might be more familiar with, VJX is like Dyanmips, and the Junosphere lab configuration program is more like GNS3.

Junosphere can be purchased from a Juniper partner or directly from Juniper just like you would with any other Juniper product.  The reservation system is currently set up in such a way as to allot 24-hour blocks of time for Junosphere use.  Note that those aren’t rack tokens or split into 8-hour sessions.  You get 24 continuous hours of access per SKU purchase.  Right now, the target audience for Junosphere seems to be the university/academic environment.  However, I expect that Juniper will start looking at other markets once they’ve moved out of the early launch phase of their product.  I’m very much aware that this is all very early in the life cycle of Junosphere and emulated enviroments, so I’m making sure to temper my feelings with a bit of reservation.

As it exists right now, Junosphere would be a great option for the student wanting to learn Junos for the first time in a university or trade school type of setting.  By having continuous access to the router environments, these schools can add the cost of Junosphere rentals onto the student’s tuition costs and allow them 24-hour access to the router pods for flexible study times.  For self-study oriented people like me, this first iteration is less compelling.  I tend to study at odd hours of the night and whenever I have a free moment, so 24-hour access isn’t nearly as important to me as having blocks of 4 or 8 hours might be.  I understand the reasons behind Juniper’s decision to offer the time the way they have.  By offering 24-hour blocks, they can work out the kinks of VJX being offered to end users that might not be familiar with the quirks of emulated environments, unlike the developers that were the previous user base for the product.

Tom’s Take

I know that I probably need to learn Junos at some point in the near future.  It makes all the sense in the world to try and pick it up in case I find myself staring at an SRX in the future.  With emulated OS environments quickly becoming the norm, I think that Junosphere has a great start on providing a very important service.  As I said on Packet Pushers, to make it more valuable to me, it’s going to need to be something I can use on my local machine, ala GNS3 or IOU.  That way, I can fire it up as needed to test things or to make sure I remember the commands to configure IS-IS.  Giving me the power to use it without the necessity of being connected to the Internet or needing to reserve timeslots on a virtual rack is the entire reason behind emulating the software in the first place.  I know that Junosphere is still in its infancy when it comes to features and target audiences.  I’m holding my final judgement of the product until we get to the “run” phase of the traditional “crawl, run, walk” mentality of service introduction.  It helps to think about Junosphere as a 1.0 product.  Once we get the version numbers up a little higher, I hope that Juniper will have delivered a product that will enable me to learn more about their offerings.

For more information on Junosphere, check out the Junosphere information page at http://www.juniper.net/us/en/products-services/software/junos-platform/junosphere/.