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Category Archives for "The Networking Nerd"

Conference Impostor Syndrome

In IT we’ve all heard of Impostor Syndrome by now. The feeling that you’re not just a lucky person that has no real skills or is skating by on the seat of their pants is a very real thing. I’ve felt it an many of my friends and fellow members of the community have felt it too. It’s easy to deal with when you have time to think or work on your own. However, when you take your show on the road it can creep up before you know it.

Conferences are a great place to meet people and learn about new ideas. It’s also a place where your ideas will be challenged and put on display. It’s not to difficult to imagine meeting a person for the first time at a place like Cisco Live or VMworld and not feeling little awe-inspired. After all, this could be a person whose works you’ve read for a long time. It could be a person you look up to or someone you would like to have mentor you.

For those in the position of being thrust into the limelight, it can be extremely difficult to push aside those feelings of Impostor Syndrome Continue reading

A Wireless Brick In The Wall

I had a very interesting conversation today with some friends about predictive wireless surveys. The question was really more of a confirmation: Do you need to draw your walls in the survey plan when deciding where to put your access points? Now, before you all run screaming to the comments to remind me that “YES YOU DO!!!”, there were some other interesting things that were offered that I wanted to expound upon here.

Don’t Trust, Verify

One of the most important parts of the wall question is material. Rather than just assuming that every wall in the building is made from gypsum or from wood, you need to actually go to the site or have someone go and tell you what the building material is made from. Don’t guess about the construction material.

Why? Because not everyone uses the same framing for buildings. Wood beams may be popular in one type of building, but steel reinforcement is used in other kinds. And you don’t want to base your predictive survey on one only to find out it’s the other.

Likewise, you need to make sure that the wall itself is actually made of what you think it is. Find Continue reading

Avoiding A MacGyvered Network

Ivan Pepelnjak has an interesting post up today about MacGyver-ing in the network. He and Simon Milhomme are right that most small-to-medium sized networks are pretty much non-reference architectures and really, really difficult to manage and maintain properly on the best of days. On the worst of days, they’re a nightmare that make you want to run screaming into the night. But why?

One Size Never Fits All

Part of the issue is that reference architectures and cookie-cutter designs aren’t made for SMEs. Sure, the large enterprise and cloud providers have their own special snowflakes. But so too do small IT shops that have been handed a pile of parts and told to make it work.

People like Greg Ferro and Peyton Maynard-Koran believe this is due to vendors and VARs pushing hardware and sales cycles like crazy. I have attributed it to the lack of real training and knowledge about networking. But, it also has a lot to do with the way that people see IT as a cost center. We don’t provide value like marketing. We don’t collect checks like accounting. At best, we’re no different than the utility companies. We’re here because we have to be.

Likewise, Continue reading

The Voice of SD-WAN

SD-WAN is about migrating your legacy hardware away from silos like MPLS and policy-based routing and instead integrating everything under one dashboard and one central location to make changes and see the impacts that those changes have. But there’s one thing that SD-WAN can’t really do yet. And that’s prepare us the for the end of TDM voice.

Can You Hear Me Now?

Voice is a way of life for some people. Cisco spent years upon years selling CallManager into every office they could. From small two-line shops to global organizations with multiple PRIs and TEHO configured everywhere. It was a Cisco staple for years. Which also had Avaya following along quickly to get into the act too.

Today’s voice world is a little less clear. Millenials hate talking on the phone. Video is an oddity when it comes to communications. Asynchronous chat programs like WhatsApp or Slack rule the day today. People would rather communicate via text than voice. We all have mobile devices and the phone may be one of the least used apps on it.

Where does that leave traditional voice services? Not in a good place for sure. We still need phone lines for service-focused businesses Continue reading

Is Training The Enemy of Progress?

Peyton Maynard-Koran was the keynote speaker at InteropITX this year. If you want to catch the video, check this out:

Readers of my blog my remember that Peyton and I don’t see eye-to-eye on a few things. Last year I even wrote up some thoughts about vendors and VARs that were a direct counterpoint to many of the things that have been said. It has even gone further with a post from Greg Ferro (@EtherealMind) about the intelligence level of the average enterprise IT customer. I want to take a few moments and explore one piece of this puzzle that keeps being brought up: You.

Protein Robots

You are a critical piece of the IT puzzle. Why? You’re a thinking person. You can intuit facts and extrapolate cause from nothing. You are NI – natural intelligence. There’s an entire industry of programmers chasing what you have. They are trying to build it into everything that blinks or runs code. The first time that any company has a real breakthrough in true artificial intelligence (AI) beyond complicated regression models will be a watershed day for us all.

However, you are also the problem. You have requirements. You need a Continue reading

Time To Get Back To Basics?

I’ve had some fascinating networking discussions over the past couple of weeks at Dell Technologies World, Interop, and the spring ONUG meeting. But two of them have hit on some things that I think need to be addressed in the industry. Both Russ White and Ignas Bagdonas of the IETF have come to me and talked about how they feel networking professionals have lost sight of the basics.

How Stuff Works

If you walk up to any network engineer and ask them to explain how TCP works, you will probably get a variety of answers. Some will try to explain it to you in basic terms to avoid getting too in depth. Others will swamp you with a technical discussion that would make the protocol inventors proud. But still others will just shrug their shoulders and admit they don’t really understand the protocol.

It’s a common problem when a technology gets to the point of being mature and ubiquitous. One of my favorite examples is the fuel system on an internal combustion engine. On older cars or small engines, the carburetor is responsible for creating the correct fuel and air mixture that is used to power the cylinders. Getting that Continue reading

Transitioning Away From Legacy IT

One of the more exciting things I saw at Dell Technologies World this week was the announcement by VMware that they are supporting Microsoft Azure now in additional to AWS. It’s interesting because VMware is trying to provide a proven, stable migration path for companies that are wanting to move to the cloud but still retain their investments in VMware and legacy virtualization. But is offing legacy transition a good idea?

Hold On For One More Day

If I were to mention VLAN 1002-1005 to networking people, they would likely jump up and tell me that I was crazy. Because those VLANs are not valid on any Cisco switches save for the Nexus line. But why? What makes these forbidden? Unless you’re studying for your CCIE you probably just know these are bad and move on.

Turns out, they are a legacy transition mechanism from the IOS-SX days. 1002 and 1004 were designed to bridge FDDI-to-Ethernet, and 1003 and 1005 did the same for Token Ring. As Greg Ferro points out here, this code was tightly bound into IOS-SX and likely couldn’t be removed for fear of breaking the OS. The reservation continued forward in all IOS branches except Continue reading

A Review of RSA Conference

So, I recently went to my first RSA Conference. It’s something I’ve had on my radar for a while but never had the opportunity to do. However, with Security Field Day coming up later this year I thought it was high time I went to see what everything was about. Here are some ideas that I came up with during my pilgrimage to the big security conference.

  • It’s Huge. Like, really big. I’ve never seen a bigger conference before. I haven’t gone to Oracle OpenWorld or Dreamforce, but the size of the RSA show floor alone dwarfs anything I’ve seen. Three whole areas, including one dedicated to emerging vendors. That’s big. Almost too big in fact.
  • I Still Hate Moscone. It’s official. No conference should ever use this place again. It’s been 4 years since I railed against it and every word still applies. Doubly so this year, as RSA was being held during construction! Seriously. At this point, Moscone must be paying people to hold a convention there. RSA is too big. I don’t care if it’s cheap to ferry people up from Silicon Valley. Stop doing this to yourself and tarnishing your brand. Just go to Vegas if Continue reading

It’s Time For Security Apprenticeships

Breaking into an industry isn’t easy. When you look at the amount of material that is necessary to learn IT skills it can be daunting and overwhelming. Don’t let the for-profit trade school ads fool you. You can’t go from ditch digger to computer engineer in just a few months. It takes time and knowledge to get there.

However, there is one concept in non-technical job roles that feels very appropriate to how we do IT training, specifically for security. And that’s the apprenticeship.

Building For The Future

Apprenticeship is a standard for electricians and carpenters. It’s the way that we train new people to do the work of the existing workforce. It requires time and effort and a lot of training. But, it also fixes several problems with the current trend of IT certification:

  1. You Can’t Get a Job Without Experience – Far too often we see people getting rejected for jobs at the entry level because they have no experience. But how are they supposed to get the experience without doing the job? IT roles paradoxically require you to be cheap enough to hire for nothing but expect you to do the job on day one. Apprenticeships fix Continue reading

On Old Configs and Automation

I used to work with a guy that would configure servers for us and always include an extra SCSI card in the order. When I asked him about it one day, he told me, “I left it out once and it delayed the project. So now I just put them on every order.” Even after I explained that we didn’t need it over and over again, he assured me one day we might.

Later, when I started configuring networking gear I would always set a telnet password for every VTY line going into the switch. One day, a junior network admin asked me why I configured all 15 instead of just the first 5 like they learn in the Cisco guides. I shrugged my shoulders and just said, “That’s how I’ve always done it.”

The Old Ways

There’s no more dangerous phrase than “That’s the way it’s always been.”

Time and time again we find ourselves falling back on the old rule of thumb or an old working configuration that we’ve made work for us. It’s comfortable for the human mind to work from a point of reference toward new things. We find ourselves doing it all Continue reading

Reclaiming 1.1.1.1 For The Internet

Hopefully by now you’ve seen the announcement that CloudFlare has opened a new DNS service at the address of 1.1.1.1. We covered a bit of it on this week’s episode of the Gestalt IT Rundown. Next to Gmail, it’s probably the best April Fool’s announcement I’ve seen. However, it would seem that the Internet isn’t quite ready for a DNS resolver service that’s easy to remember. And that’s thanks in part to the accumulation of bad address hygiene.

Not So Random Numbers

The address range of 1/8 is owned by APNIC. They’ve had it for many years now but have never announced it publicly. Nor have they ever made any assignments of addresses in that space to clients or customers. In a world where IPv4 space is at a premium, why would a RIR choose to lose 16 million addresses?

As it turns out, 1/8 is a pretty bad address space for two reasons. 1.1.1.1 and 1.2.3.4. These two addresses are responsible for most of the inadvertent announcements in the entire 1/8 space. 1.2.3.4 is easy to figure out. It’s the most common example IP address Continue reading

Wireless Thoughts From Aruba Atmosphere

I just got back from Aruba Atmosphere this week and I thought it would be a good chance to go over some of the cool stuff that I saw there.

  • Rasa is now Aruba NetInsights. That platform is going to be a big one for Aruba in the future. There’s a lot of information that is being gleaned from installations and it’s fueling some hard looks at best practices and such. Also funny that it’s being installed primarily in university campuses to profile coverage and client capabilities. Those are usually pretty hostile environments for users and administrators alike.
  • The security pieces that were shown off were also very interesting. The idea of port profiles has always made me a bit skeptical, but the way that Aruba is doing actual traffic profiling makes me think they have it this time. It’s also really cool that it can be done with non-managed devices in the middle. I think the key is that Aruba is doing actual traffic profiling instead of just looking at the basics behind the packets, like ports or VLANs. Real, automatic port security could be a huge win for places that need on-the-fly access to rapidly changing conditions. Like, Continue reading

Is Patching And Tech Support Bad? A Response

Hopefully, you’ve had a chance to watch this 7 minute video from Greg Ferro about why better patching systems can lead to insecure software. If you haven’t, you should:

Greg is right that moral hazard is introduced because, by definition, the party providing the software is “insured” against the risks of the party using the software. But, I also have a couple of issues with some of the things he said about tech support.

Are You Ready For The Enterprise

I’ve been working with some Ubiquiti access points recently. So far, I really enjoy them and I’m interested to see where their product is going. After doing some research, the most common issue with them seems to be their tech support offerings. A couple of Reddit users even posted in a thread that the lack of true enterprise tech support is the key that is keeping Ubiquiti from reaching real enterprise status.

Think about all the products that you’ve used over the last couple of years that offered some other kind of support aside from phone or rapid response. Maybe it was a chat window on the site. Maybe it was an asynchronous email system. Hell, if you’ve ever installed Continue reading

When Redundancy Strikes

Networking and systems professionals preach the value of redundancy. When we tell people to buy something, we really mean “buy two”. And when we say to buy two, we really mean buy four of them. We try to create backup routes, redundant failover paths, and we keep things from being used in a way that creates a single point of disaster. But, what happens when something we’ve worked hard to set up causes us grief?

Built To Survive

The first problem I ran into was one I knew how to solve. I was installing a new Ubiquiti Security Gateway. I knew that as soon as I pulled my old edge router out that I was going to need to reset my cable modem in order to clear the ARP cache. That’s always a thing that needs to happen when you’re installing new equipment. Having done this many times, I knew the shortcut method was to unplug my cable modem for a minute and plug it back in.

What I didn’t know this time was that the little redundant gremlin living in my cable modem was going to give me fits. After fifteen minutes of not getting the system to come Continue reading

Cisco Live CAE and Guest Keynote Announcements

As you may have heard by now, there have been a few exciting announcements from Cisco Live 2018 regarding the venue for the customer appreciation event and the closing keynote speakers.

Across The Universe

The first big announcement is the venue for the CAE. When you’re in Orlando, there are really only two options for the CAE. You either go to the House of the Mouse or you go to Universal Studios. The last two times that Cisco Live has gone to Orlando it has been to Universal. 2018 marks the third time!

Cisco is going big this year. They’ve rented the ENTIRE Universal Studios park. Not just the backlot. Not just the side parks. They WHOLE thing. You can get your fix on the Transformers ride, visit Harry Potter, or even partake of some of the other attractions as well. It’s a huge park with a lot of room for people to spread out and enjoy the scenery.

That’s not all. The wristband that gets you into the CAE also gets you access to Islands of Adventure before the full park opens! You can pregame the party by hanging out at Hogwarts, going to Jurassic Park, or joining your Continue reading

Memcached DDoS – There’s Still Time to Save Your Mind

In case you haven’t heard, there’s a new vector for Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks out there right now and it’s pretty massive. The first mention I saw this week was from Cloudflare, where they details that they were seeing a huge influx of traffic from UDP port 11211. That’s the port used by memcached, a database caching system.

Surprisingly, or not, there were thousands of companies that had left UDP/11211 open to the entire Internet. And, by design, memcached responds to anyone that queries that port. Also, carefully crafted packets can be amplified to have massive responses. In Cloudflare’s testing they were able to send a 15 byte packet and get a 134KB response. Given that this protocol is UDP and capable of responding to forged packets in such a way as to make life miserable for Cloudflare and, now, Github, which got blasted with the largest DDoS attack on record.

How can you fix this problem in your network? There are many steps you can take, whether you are a system admin or a network admin:

  • Go to Shodan and see if you’re affected. Just plug in your company’s IP address ranges and have it Continue reading

Wireless Doctors

Wireless is a complicated thing. Even when you try to distill it down to networking basics on the wired side of the access point, you still have a very hard problem to solve on the radio side. Even I’ve talked in the past about how wireless is now considered a “solved” problem. But, the more I interact with wireless professionals and the more I think about the problem, the issue isn’t that IT departments think wireless is solved, it’s that they don’t appreciate the value of a specialist.

The Last Place Doctor

There’s an old joke that goes, “What do you call the person that graduated last in their medical school class? Doctor.” Professionals spend a lot of their time learning a tradecraft and practicing it to get better. And it’s not just doctors. So do plumbers, electricians, and teachers. Anyone that has ever tried to do any of these trades will tell you that the basics are capable of being figured out by the average non-professional, but the details are a huge leap.

You’d never assume that being able to put on a Band-Aid on a scrape would qualify you to do brain surgery. Or that changing a Continue reading

Making Alexa Tech Demos Useful

Technology always marches on. People want to see the latest gadgets doing amazing things, whether it be flying electric cars or telepathic eyeglasses. Our society is obsessed with the Jetsons and the look of the future. That’s why we’re developing so many devices to help us get there. But it’s time for IT to reconsider how they are using one of them for a purpose far from the original idea.

Speaking For The People

By all accounts, the Amazon Echo is a masterful device. It’s a smart speaker that connects to an Amazon service that offers you a wider variety of software programs, called skills, to enhance what you can do with it. I have several of these devices that were either given out as conference attendance gifts or obtained from other giveaways.

I find the Echo speaker a fascinating thing. It’s a good speaker. It can play music through my phone or other Bluetooth-connected devices. But, I don’t really use it for that purpose. Instead, I use the skills to do all kinds of other things. I play Jeopardy! frequently. I listen to news briefings and NPR on a regular basis. I get weather forecasts. My son uses Continue reading

The Winds of Change From January

Some quick thoughts on networking from my last couple of weeks at Networking Field Day 17 and Tech Field Day Extra at Cisco Live Europe:

  • Cisco is in the middle of turning a big ship away from hardware. All their innovation is coming in the software side of the house. Big announcements around network assurance. It’s not enough any more to do the things. Now you need to prove they were done and show your work. Context and Intent only work if you can quantitatively show that they were applied.
  • Containers are still a thing. Cisco has a new container platform. I also had the chance to chat with a startup called AppOrbit that’s doing some interesting things around containers but including storage and networking. They should be primed for some announcements soon, so stayed tuned for that!
  • Automation is cool again. Well, maybe it never stopped being cool. But thanks to Extreme Networks and Juniper people are really hopping on the train to talk more about removing the limitations of the CLI and doing it with tools like Slack. Check out Lindsay Hill and Matt Oswalt showing this off to people in some finely crafted demos.
  • 2018 is Continue reading

Is ACI Coming For The CLI?

I’m soon to depart from Cisco Live Barcelona. It’s been a long week of fun presentations. While I’m going to avoid using the words intent and context in this post, there is one thing I saw repeatedly that grabbed my attention. ACI is eating Cisco’s world. And it’s coming for something else very soon.

Devourer Of Interfaces

Application-Centric Infrastructure has been out for a while and it’s meeting with relative success in the data center. It’s going up against VMware NSX and winning in a fair number of deals. For every person that I talk to that can’t stand it I hear from someone gushing about it. ACI is making headway as the tip of the spear when it comes to Cisco’s software-based networking architecture.

Don’t believe me? Check out some of the sessions from Cisco Live this year. Especially the Software-Defined Access and DNA Assurance ones. You’re going to hear context and intent a lot, as those are the key words for this new strategy. You know what else you’re going to hear a lot?

Contract. Endpoint Group (EPG). Policy.

If you’re familiar with ACI, you know what those words mean. You see the parallels between the data center Continue reading

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