Networking Grows To Invisibility


Networking is done. The way you have done things before is finished. The writing has been on the wall for quite a while now. But it’s going to be a good thing.

The Old Standard

Networking purchase models look much different today than they have in the past. Enterprises no longer buy a switch or a router. Instead, they buy solution packages. The minimum purchase unit is a networking pod or rack. Perhaps your proof-of-concept minimum is a leaf-spine of no less than 3 switches. Firewalls are purchased in pairs. Nowhere in networking is something simple any longer.

With the advent of software, even the deployment of these devices is different. Automation and orchestration systems provide provisioning as the devices are brought online. Network Monitoring Systems ensure the devices are operating correctly via API call instead of relying on SNMP. Analytics and telemetry systems can pull statistics on the fly and create datasets that give you insight into all manner of network traffic. The intelligence built into the platform supporting the hardware is more apparent than ever before.

Networking is no longer about fast connectivity speed. Instead, networking is about stability. Providing a transport network that stays healthy instead of growing by leaps and bounds every few years. Organizations looking to model their IT departments after service providers and cloud providers care more about having a reliable system than the most cutting edge technology.

This is nothing new in IT. Both storage and virtualization have moved in this direction for a while. Hardware wizardry has been replaced by software intelligence. Custom hardware is now merchant-based and easy to replace and build. The expertise in deployment and operations has more to do with integration and architecture than in simple day-to-day setup.

The New Normal

Where does that leave networkers? Are we a dying breed, soon to join the Unix admins of the word and telco experts on a beach in retirement? The reality is that things aren’t as dire for us as one might believe.

It is true that we have shifted our thinking away from operations and more toward system building. Rather than worry if the switch ports have been provisioned, we instead look at creating resilient constructs that can survive outages and traffic spikes. Networks are becoming the utility service we’ve always hoped they would be.

This is not the end. It’s the beginning. As networks join storage and compute as utilities in the data center, the responsibilities for our sphere of wizardry are significantly reduced. Rather than spending our time solving crazy user or developer problems, we can instead focus on the key points of stability and availability.

This is going to be a huge shift for the consumers of IT as well. As cloud models have already shown us, people really want to get their IT on their schedules. They want to “buy” storage and networking when it’s needed without interruption. Creating a utility resource is the best way to accomplish that. No longer will the blame for delays be laid at the feet of IT.

But at the same time, the safety net of IT will be gone as well. Unlike Chief Engineer Scott, IT can’t save the day when a developer needs to solve a problem outside of their development environment. Things like First Hop Reachability Protocols (FHRP), multipathing, and even vMotion contribute to bad developer behavior. Without these being available in a utility IT setup, application writers are going to have to solve their own problems with their own tools. While the network team will end up being leaner and smarter, it’s going to make everything run much more smoothly.

Tom’s Take

I live for the day when networking is no different than the electrical grid. I would rather have a “dumb” network that provides connectivity rather than hoping against hope that my “smart” network has all the tricks it needs to solve everyone’s problem. When the simplicity of the network is the feature and we don’t solve problems outside the application stack, stability and reliability will rule the day.

Blogging By The Refrigerator’s Light

Blogging isn’t starting off to a good 2017 so far. Ev Williams announced that Medium is cutting back and trying to find new ways to engage readers. The platform of blogging is scaling back as clickbait headlines and other new forms of media capture the collective attention for the next six seconds. How does that all relate to the humble tech blogger?

Mindshare, Not Eyeshare

One of the reasons why things have gotten so crazy is the drive for page views. Clickbait headlines serve the singular purpose of getting someone to click on an article to register a page view. Ever clicked on some Top Ten article only to find that it’s actually a series of 10 pages in a slideshow format? Page views. I’ve even gone so far as to see an article of top 7 somethings broken down into 33(!) pages, each with 19 ads and about 14 words.

Writers competing for eyeballs are always going to lose in the end. Because the attention span of the average human doesn’t dally long enough to make a difference. Think of yourself in a crowded room. Your eyes dart back and forth and all around trying to find something in the crowd. You may not even know what you’re looking for. But you’ll know it when you see it. Your attention wanders as you scan through the crowd.

Blogging, on the other hand, is like finding a good conversation in the crowd. It engages the mind. It causes deeper thinking and engagement that leads to lasting results. The best blog posts don’t have thousands of views in the first week followed by little to nothing for the rest of eternity. They have active commenters. They have response pieces. They have page views and search results that get traffic years after publication.

The 3am Ah Ha Moments

Good blogs shouldn’t just be about “going viral”. Good blogs should have something called Fridge Brilliance. Simply put, the best blogs hit you out of the blue a day after you read it standing in front of your fridge door. BANG. Now you get it! You run off to see how it applies to what you’re doing or even to give your perspective on things.

The mark of a truly successful blog is creating something that lasts and is memorable in the minds of readers. Even if all you’re really known for is “that one post” or a series of great articles, you’ve made an impression. And, as I’ve said before, you can never tell which post is going to hit it big. So the key is to keep writing what you write and making sure you’re engaging your audience at a deeper level than their corneas.

That’s not to say that you can’t have fun with blog posts now and then or post silly things here and there. But if you really want to be known as an authoritative source of content, you have to stay consistent. One of the things that Dave Henry (@DaveMHenry) saw in his 2016 wrap-up was that his most viewed posts were all about product announcements. Those tend to get lots of headlines, but for an independent blog it’s just as much about the perspective the writer lends as it is for the news itself. That’s how you can continue to engage people beyond the eyeball and into the brain.

Tom’s Take

I’ve noticed that people still like to write. They want to share thoughts. But they pick the wrong platforms. They want eyeballs instead of minds. They don’t want deep thoughts. They just want an audience. That’s the wrong way to look at it. You want engagement. You want disagreement and argument and 4,000 word response posts about why you’re completely wrong. Because that’s how you know you’ve hooked the reader. You’re a splinter in their mind that won’t go away. That’s the real draw. Keep your page views. I’d rather have memories and fridge brilliance instead.

Bringing 2017 To Everyone


It’s time once again for my traditional New Year’s Day navel gazing. As per tradition with my blog, I’m not going to make prognostications about networking or IT in general. Either I’m going to wind up totally wrong or be totally right and no one will care. I rather enjoy the ride as we go along, so trying to guess what happens is kind of pointless.

Instead, I’m going to look at what I want to accomplish in the coming year. It gives me a chance to analyze what I’m doing and what I want to be working on. And it’s a whole lot easier than predicting that SDN is going to take everyone’s job or OpenFlow being dead again.

Write Like the Wind

My biggest goal for 2016 was to write more. And that I did. I worked in writing any time I could. I wrote about ONUG, SD-WAN, and other fun topics. I even wrote a small book! Finding time to work all the extra typing in to my Bruce Wayne job at Tech Field Day was a bit challenging here and there. And more than once I was publishing a blog post at the deadline. But all that writing did help me talk about new subjects in the industry and develop great ideas at the same time.

I also encouraged more people to write. I wanted to get people putting their thoughts down in a form that didn’t require listening or watching video. Writing is still very important and I think it’s a skill that more people should develop. My list of blogs to read every day grew in 2016 and I was very happy to see it. I hope that it continues well into 2017 as well.

King Of The Hill

2017 is going to be an exciting year for me and Tech Field Day. I ran Networking Field Day 12 as the host of the event for the first time. In the coming year, Stephen and I are going to focus on our topics areas even deeper. For me, that means immersing myself in networking and wireless technologies more than ever before. I’m going to be learning as much as I can about all the new things going on. It’s a part of the role of being the host and organizer for both Networking Field Day and Mobility Field Day coming up this year.

I’m also going to be visiting lots of other conferences. Cisco Live, Interop, and even Open Networking Summit are on my list this year. We’re going to be working closely with those shows to put on even more great Tech Field Day content. I love hearing the excitement from my friends in the industry when they learn that Tech Field Day is going to be present at a show like Cisco Live. It means that we’re reaching a great audience and giving them something that they are looking for.

We’re also going to be looking at new ideas and new things to do with our growing media presence with Gestalt IT. There should be some interesting things there on the horizon as we embrace the new way that media is used to communicate with readers and fans alike. Stay tuned there for all the excitement we’ll be bringing your way in 2017!

Tom’s Take

Analyzing a year’s worth of work helps one see progress and build toward even more goals in the coming year. I’m going to keep moving forward with the projects that excite me and challenge me to be a better representative for the networking community. Along the way I hope to learn more about what makes our technology exciting and useful. And share than knowledge with everyone I know in the best way I can. Thanks for being here with me. I hope 2017 is a great year for you as well!

Visibility In Networking – Quick Thoughts from Networking Field Day


I’m at Networking Field Day 13 this week. You can imagine how much fun I’m having with my friends! I wanted to drop some quick thoughts on visibility for this week on you all about what we’re hearing and raise some interesting questions.

I Can See Clearly Now

Visibility is a huge issue for companies. Seeing what’s going on is hard for people. Companies like Ixia talk about the need to avoid dropping any packets to make sure we have complete knowledge of the network. But that requires a huge amount of hardware and design. You’re always going to need traditional monitoring even when everything is using telemetry and other data models. Make sure you size things right.

Forward Networks told us that there is an increasing call for finding a way to monitor both the underlay network and the overlay network. Most overlay companies give you a way to tie into their system via API or other telemetry. However, there is no visibility into the underlay because of the event horizon. Likewise, companies like Forward Networks are focusing on the underlay with mapping technologies and modeling software but they can’t pass back through the event horizon to see into the overlay. Whoever ends up finding a way to marry both of these together is going to make a lot of money.

Apstra is taking the track of not caring what the underlay looks like. They’re going to give you the tools to manage it all without hard setup. You can rip and replace switches as needed with multivendor support. That’s a huge win if you run a heterogeneous network or you’re looking to start replacing traditional hardware with white or bright box options. Likewise, their ability to pull configs can help you visualize your device setup more effectively no matter what’s under there.

Tom’s Take

I’ve got some more Networking Field Day thoughts coming soon, but I wanted to get some thoughts out there for you to think about this weekend. Stay tuned for some new ideas coming out of the event!

How To Ask A Question At A Conference


The last time you went to a conference, did you ask any questions? Were you curious about a technology and wanted to know more? Was there something that you didn’t quite get and needed an explanation? Congratulations. You’re in a quiet group of people that ask questions for knowledge. More and more, we are seeing questions becoming a vehicle for more than just knowledge acquisition. If you want to learn how to ask a proper question at a conference, read on.

1. Have A Question

I know it goes without saying, but if you’re going to raise your hand at a conference to ask a question, you should actually have a question in mind. Some people grab a microphone without thinking through what they’re going to say. This leads to stammering and broken thoughts that usually culminate in a random question mark here or there. This makes it difficult for the speaker to figure out what you’re trying to ask.

If you’re going to raise your hand, jot some notes down first. Bullet points help as does making a note or two. This is especially true if the speaker is answering questions before yours. If they answer part of your question before you get to ask it, you may have to reframe your thoughts. It never hurts to have an idea of what you’re going to say before you say it.

2. Look For Knowledge, Not To Make A Statement

The other side of the coin from the above recommendation of actually having a question is to make sure that what you’re asking is actually a question and not a statement. A great example of this is a video from Scott Bradner during a recent ONUG meeting:

I’m sure Scott has seen his fair share of statements masquerading as questions during his time. And I can’t disagree with him. Far too often, people seeking questions aren’t really asking to get information. Instead, they are trying to make a point about why they think they are right or why they disagree with the speaker. The point stops becoming a question and more of a soliloquy or soapbox. The most egregious will usually end this rant with an actual question along the lines of, “So, what do you think of my opinion?”

Please, at all costs, avoid this behavior. This is singularly the most annoying thing a speaker has to deal with. It’s enough to be questioned on your material, but it’s something else entirely to have to shift your thinking to someone else’s viewpoint while on stage. If you have a point you’d like to bring up with the speaker that is contrary to their thought process, you should do it after the presentation without people watching. Have a discussion and express opinions there. Don’t grandstand in front of the crowd just to satisfy your ego.


3. Make Sure Your Question Wasn’t Already Answered.

This one’s a bit tougher. If you’re sitting in a session and you have a question, it’s important to make sure it wasn’t already asked and answered beforehand. This can be tougher if you have to duck out to take a call or you miss a section of the presentation. In these cases, you can ask for clarification or additional information but it would be better to ask after the session. Audiences tend to get a bit irritated if someone asks a question that was previously answered or that was covered earlier.

This one is probably the most forgivable of the question faux pas. People at conferences know that ducking out to deal with things is more common now. But if you are going to ask a question because you missed something, please make sure to address then when you ask. That helps everyone get the frame of reference for why you’re asking it. That will keep the audience on your side and less likely to boo you.

Tom’s Take

I ask lots of questions. I also answer them. And nothing irritates me more than having to deal with someone making a point during Q&A to try and make them look smarter than me. I get it. I have a hatred of keynotes and other speeches with no ability to get feedback. But at the same time, as Scott Bradner says above, the focus of the presentation is about the people presenting. It’s about the people doing the work and sharing the ideas. If you want to use Q&A time to pontificate about your position, then you need to volunteer to be a speaker.

Designer or Architect? It’s A Matter Of Choice


I had a great time at ONUG this past week. I got to hear a lot of great presentations from some great people, and I got a chance to catch up with some friends as well. One of those was Pete Lumbis (@PeteCCDE) who had a great presentation this past spring at Interop. We talked a lot about tech and networking, but one topic he brought up that made me stop and think for a moment was the wide gulf between design and architecture.

Binary Designers

Design is a critical part of an IT project. Things must fit and make sense before the implementors can figure out how to put the pieces together. Design is all about building a list of products and describing how they’ll interact once turned on. Proper design requires you to step away from the keyboard for a moment and think about a bigger picture than just hacking CLI commands or Python code to make some lights start blinking in the right order.

But design is inherently limited. Think about the last design you did, whether it be wireless or networking or even storage. When you start a design, you automatically make assumptions about what’s going on in the scenario. Perhaps they want to expand their near-line storage capacity. That brings a set of products into play that you choose from. But what if the goal is something different? What if they want a fast caching tier? What if the goal is to create a new pod for object storage?

All of these scenarios are broad enough to require a designer to come up with a good mix of products to fulfill the goals of the project. But the designer has already had assumptions put down for them: The scope and the requirements are pre-determined for them before they ever start thinking about the technology that will be involved in the setup.

Design is all about choices. You have to choose the right product to meet the goals. Once you know the product, you have to make the right choices about which set of products to use? The orange ones or the blue ones? The cheap ones or the expensive ones? Design is about making good choices so implementers can focus on making those choices work.

Visionary Architects

Architecture, on the other hand, has very little to do with choice. Architects are idea people. They look at a problem faced by an organization and try to narrow the focus of the issue to make the designer’s choices easier. Architects don’t worry about individual products or even minor solution sets. They focus on technology areas.

Think back to our storage problem from above. How did the designer arrive at the near-line storage decision? Or the object storage idea? It’s because an architect is the one driving those ideas from a higher level. Architects may not know how to build an object storage bill of materials or how to assemble a chassis switch but they do know what those are used for. Architects instead know that you should be using flash storage in lower density, faster reaction systems when cost is sensitive. They know that a rack may only need a 1U ToR switch instead of a chassis if that ToR switch doesn’t have to provide power or advanced features. They won’t know the specific part number, but they know the technology.

Architects have vision. Designers know products. They need each other to make solutions work and designs happen. The same person can fulfill both roles provided they understand how things break down in the end. A designer architect needs to know that the solutions to customer problems should come before any decisions are made about products. Too often, we find ourselves cornered in a mess because the product mix was decided before the solution was determined.

It’s like trying to bake a cake when all you have in the house is flour, eggs, and swiss cheese. Maybe a cake isn’t what you should be making. The architect would realize that the problem is a limited set of ingredients. instead of deciding on a cake, the architect can work with the designer to find a solution to the problem of food with limited ingredients. Perhaps the designer realizes what’s needed is a soufflé instead. The team figures out the problem with the best design instead of deciding on a design before knowing what the problem is.

Tom’s Take

I was a designer in my past life at a VAR. I still had to implement my designs at the end of the day, but I was the one making the decisions about the products that were needed to meet the solutions my customers had to have. Now, at Tech Field Day I understand the technology at an architecture level. I know why you need this solution for that problem. My ability to hack CLI has gone down a bit but my understanding of the bigger picture has increased several times over that. I now think that I have a better idea of what needs to happen to make tech work the right way and be implemented easier when the architect’s vision can solve the problems that allows the designers to make the right choices.

Thoughts on Theft


It’s been a busy week for me. In fact, it’s been a busy few weeks. I’ve had lots of time to enjoy NetApp Insight, Cloud Field Day, and Storage Field Day. I’ve also been doing my best to post interesting thoughts and ideas. Whether it’s taking on the CCIE program or keynote speakers, I feel like I owe a debt to the community and my readers to talk about topics that are important to them, or at least should be. Which is why I’m irritated right now about those ideas being stolen.

Beg, Borrow, and Steal

A large part of my current job is finding people that are writing great things and shining a spotlight on them. I like reading interesting ideas. And I like sharing those ideas with people. But when I share those ideas with people, I make absolutely sure that everyone knows where those ideas came from originally. And if I use those ideas for writing my own content, I make special care to point out where they came from and try to provide the context for the original statement in the first place.

What annoys me to no end is when people take ideas as their own and try to use them for their own ends. It’s not all that difficult. You can use weasel words like “sources” or “I heard once” or even “I read this article”. Those are usually good signs that content is going to be appropriated for some purpose. It’s also a sign that research isn’t being done or attributed properly. It’s lazy journalism at best.

What really grinds my gears is when my ideas are specifically taken and used elsewhere without attribution. Luckily, I haven’t had to deal with it much so far. I have a fairly liberal policy about sharing my work. I just want people to recognize the original author. But when my words end up in someone else’s mouth, that’s when the problems start.

Credit Where It Is Due

Taking ideas given freely without offering a clue as to where they come from is theft. Plain and simple. It takes the hard work that someone has put in to thinking through an issue and wraps it up in a cloudy mess. Now, who is to say (beyond dates) who was the originator of the idea? It’s just as easy to say that someone else came up with it. That’s what makes the tracing the origin of things so difficult. Proper attribution for ideas is important in a society where knowledge carries so much weight.

I don’t expect to make millions of dollars from my ideas. I have opinions. I have thoughts. Sometimes people agree with them. Just as often, people disagree. The point is not to be right or wrong or rich. The true point is to make sure that the thoughts and ideas of a person are placed where they belong when the threads are all unwound.

Honestly, I don’t even really want a ton of credit. It does me little good to have someone shouting from the rooftops that I was the first person to talk about something. Or that I was right when everyone else was wrong. But when the butcher’s bill comes due, I’d at least like to have my name attached to my thoughts.

Tom’s Take

I’ve luckily been able to have most of my appropriated content taken down. Some have used it as fuel for a link bait scheme to get paid. Others have used it as a way to build a blog for readership for some strange purpose. Thankfully, I’ve never run into anyone that was vocally taking credit for my writing and passing it off as their own. If you are a smart person and willing to writing things down, do the best you can with what you have. You don’t need to take something else that someone has written and attempt to make it you own. That just tarnishes what you’re trying to do and makes all your writing suspect. Be the best you can be and no one will ever question who you are.