Category Archives for "The Networking Nerd"

The Legacy of Cisco Live

Legacy: Something transmitted by or received from an ancestor or predecessor or from the past. — Merriam-Webster

Cisco Live 2024 is in the books. I could recap all the announcements but that would take forever. You can find an AI that can summarize them for you much faster. That’s because AI was the largest aspect of what was discussed. Love it or hate it, AI has taken over the IT industry for the time being. More importantly it has also focused companies on the need to integrate AI functions into their product lines to avoid being left behind by upstarts.

That’s what you see in the headlines. Something I noticed while I was there was how the march of time has affected us all. After eighteen years I finally realized the sessions today have less in common with the ones I was attending back in 2010 than ever before. Development and advanced features configuration have replaced the tuning of routing protocols and CallManager deployment tips. It’s a game for younger engineers that have less to unlearn from the legacy technologies I’ve spent my career working on.

Leaving a Legacy

But legacy is a word with more than one definition. It’s Continue reading

Butchering AI

I once heard a quote that said, “The hardest part of being a butcher is knowing where to cut.” If you’ve ever eaten a cut of meat you know that the difference between a tender steak and a piece of meat that needs hours of tenderizing is just inches apart. Butchers train for years to be able to make the right cuts in the right pieces of meat with speed and precision. There’s even an excellent Medium article about the dying art of butchering.

One thing that struck me in that article is how the art of butchering relates to AI. Yes, I know it’s a bit corny and not an easy segue into a technical topic but that transition is about as subtle as the way AI has come crashing through the door to take over every facet of our lives. It used to be that AI was some sci-fi term we used to describe intelligence emerging in computer systems. Now, AI is optimizing my PC searches and helping with image editing and creation. It’s easy, right?

Except some of those things that AI promises to excel at doing are things that professionals have spent years honing their Continue reading

On Open Source and Volunteering

I saw a recent post on LinkedIn from Alex Henthorn-Iwane that gave me pause. He was talking about how nearly 2/3rds of Github projects are maintained by one or two people. He also quoted some statistics around how projects are maintained by volunteers and unpaid members as opposed to more institutional support from people getting paid to do the work. It made me reflect on my own volunteering journey and how the parallels between open source and other organizations aren’t so different after all.

A Hour A Week

Most of my readers know that one of my passion projects outside of Tech Field Day and this humble blog is the involvement of my children in Scouting. I spend a lot of my free time volunteering as a leader and organizer for various groups. I get to touch grass quite often. At least I do when I’m not stuck in meetings or approving paperwork.

One of the things that struck me in Alex’s post was how he talked about the lack of incoming talent to help with projects as older maintainers are aging out. We face a similar problem in scouting. Rather than our volunteers getting too old to do the Continue reading

Copilot Not Autopilot

I’ve noticed a trend recently with a lot of AI-related features being added to software. They’re being branded as “copilot” solutions. Yes, Microsoft Copilot was the first to use the name and the rest are just trying to jump in on the brand recognition, much like using “GPT” last year. The word “copilot” is so generic that it’s unlikely to be to be trademarked without adding more, like the company name or some other unique term. That made me wonder if the goal of using that term was simply to cash in on brand recognition or if there was more to it.

No Hands

Did you know that an airplane can land entirely unassisted? It’s true. It’s a feature commonly called Auto Land and it does exactly what it says. It uses the airports Instrument Landing System (ILS) to land automatically. Pilots rarely use it because of a variety of factors, including the need for minute last-minute adjustments during a very stressful part of the flight as well as the equipment requirements, such as a fairly modern ILS system. That doesn’t even mention that use of Auto Land snarls airport traffic because of the need to hold other planes outside Continue reading

User Discomfort As A Security Function

If you grew up in the 80s watching movies like me, you’ll remember Wargames. I could spend hours lauding this movie but for the purpose of this post I want to call out the sequence at the beginning when the two airmen are trying to operate the nuclear missile launch computer. It requires the use of two keys, one each in the possession of one of the airmen. They must be inserted into two different locks located more than ten feet from each other. The reason is that launching the missile requires two people to agree to do something at the same time. The two key scene appears in a number of movies as a way to show that so much power needs to have controls.

However, one thing I wanted to talk about in this post is the notion that those controls need to be visible to be effective. The two key solution is pretty visible. You carry a key with you but you can also see the locks that are situated apart from each other. There is a bit of challenge in getting the keys into the locks and turning them simultaneously. That not only shows that the Continue reading

Human Generated Questions About AI Assistants

I’ve taken a number of briefings in the last few months that all mention how companies are starting to get into AI by building an AI virtual assistant. In theory this is the easiest entry point into the technology. Your network already has a ton of information about usage patterns and trouble spots. Network operations and engineering teams have learned over the years to read that information and provide analysis and feedback.

If marketing is to be believed, no one in the modern world has time to learn how to read all that data. Instead, AI provides a natural language way to ask simple questions and have the system provide the data back to you with proper context. It will highlight areas of concern and help you grasp what’s going on. Only you don’t need to get a CCNA to get there. Or, more likely, it’s more useful for someone on the executive team to ask questions and get answers without the need to talk to the network team.

I have some questions that I always like to ask when companies start telling me about their new AI assistant that help me understand how it’s being built.

Question 1: Laying Continue reading

Repetition Without Repetition

I just finished spending a wonderful week at Cisco Live EMEA and getting to catch up with some of the best people in the industry. I got to chat with trainers like Orhan Ergun and David Bombal and see how they’re continuing to embrace the need for people in the networking community to gain knowledge and training. It also made me think about a concept I recently heard about that turns out to be a perfect analogy to my training philosophy even though it’s almost 70 years old.

Practice Makes Perfect

Repetition without repetition. The idea seems like a tautology at first. How can I repeat something without repeating it. I’m sure that the people in 1967 that picked up the book by Soviet neurophysiologist Nikolai Aleksandrovitsch Bernstein were just as confused. Why should you do things over and over again if not to get good at performing the task or learning the skill?

The key in this research from Bernstein lay in how the practice happens. In this particular case he looked at blacksmiths to see how they used hammers to strike the pieces they were working on. The most accurate of his test subjects didn’t just perform the Continue reading

A Handy Acronym for Troubleshooting

While I may be getting further from my days of being an active IT troubleshooter it doesn’t mean that I can’t keep refining my technique. As I spend time looking back on my formative years of doing troubleshooting either from a desktop perspective or from a larger enterprise role I find that there were always a few things that were critical to understand about the issues I was facing.

Sadly, getting that information out of people in the middle of a crisis wasn’t always super easy. I often ran into people that were very hard to communicate with during an outage or a big problem. Sometimes they were complicit because they made the mistake that caused it. They also bristled at the idea of someone else coming to fix something they couldn’t or wouldn’t. Just as often I ran into people that loved to give me lots of information that wasn’t relevant to the issue. Whether they were nervous talkers or just had a bad grasp on the situation it resulted in me having to sift through all that data to tease out the information I needed.

The Method

Today, as I look back on my career I would like Continue reading

Painless Progress with My Ubiquiti Upgrade

I’m not a wireless engineer by trade. I don’t have a lab of access points that I’m using to test the latest and greatest solutions. I leave that to my friends. I fall more in the camp of having a working wireless network that meets my needs and keeps my family from yelling at me when the network is down.

Ubiquitous Usage

For the last five years my house has been running on Ubiquiti gear. You may recall I did a review back in 2018 after having it up and running for a few months. Since then I’ve had no issues. In fact, the only problem I had was not with the gear but with the machine I installed the controller software on. Turns out hard disk drives do eventually go bad and I needed to replace it and get everything up and running again. Which was my intention when it went down sometime in 2021. Of course, life being what it is I deprioritized the recovery of the system. I realized after more than a year that my wireless network hadn’t hiccuped once. Sure, I couldn’t make any changes to it but the joy of having a stable environment Continue reading

Back On Track in 2024

It’s time to look back at my year that was and figure out where this little train jumped off the rails. I’ll be the first to admit that I ran out of steam chugging along toward the end of the year. My writing output was way down for reasons I still can’t quite figure out. Everything has felt like a much bigger task to accomplish throughout the year. To that end, let’s look at what I wanted to do and how it came out:

  • Keeping Track of Things: I did a little bit better with this one, aside from my post schedule. I tried to track things much more and understand deadlines and such. I didn’t always succeed like I wanted to but at least I made the effort.
  • Creating Evergreen Content: This one was probably a miss. I didn’t create nearly as much content this year as I have in years past. What little I did create sometimes felt unfocused and less impactful. Part of that has to do with the overall move away from written content to something more video and audio focused. However, even my other content like Tomversations was significantly reduced this year. I will Continue reading

Production Reductions

You’ve probably noticed that I haven’t been writing quite as much this year as I have in years past. I finally hit the wall that comes for all content creators. A combination of my job and the state of the industry meant that I found myself slipping off my self-appointed weekly posting schedule more and more often in 2023. In fact, there were several times I skipped a whole week to get put something out every other week, especially in the latter half of the year.

I’ve always wanted to keep the content level high around here and give my audience things to think about. As the year wore on I found myself running out of those ideas as portions of the industry slowed down. If other people aren’t getting excited about tech why should I? Sure, I could probably write about Wi-Fi 7 or SD-WAN or any number of topics over and over again but it’s harder to repeat yourself for an audience that takes a more critical eye to your writing than it is for someone that just wants to churn out material.

My Bruce Wayne job kept me busy this year. I’m proud of all the content Continue reading

Routing Through the Forest of Trees

Some friends shared a Reddit post the other day that made me both shake my head and ponder the state of the networking industry. Here is the locked post for your viewing pleasure. It was locked because the comments were going to devolve into a mess eventually. The person making the comment seems to be honest and sincere in their approach to “layer 3 going away”. The post generated a lot of amusement from the networking side of IT about how this person doesn’t understand the basics but I think there’s a deeper issue going on.

Trails To Nowhere

Our visibility of the state of the network below the application interface is very general in today’s world. That’s because things “just work” to borrow an overused phrase. Aside from the occasional troubleshooting exercise to find out why packets destined for Azure or AWS are failing along the way when is the last time you had to get really creative in finding a routing issue in someone else’s equipment? We spend more time now trying to figure out how to make our own networks operate efficiently and less time worrying about what happens to the packets when they leave our organization. Continue reading

Asking The Right Question About The Wireless Future

It wasn’t that long ago that I wrote a piece about how Wi-Fi 6E isn’t going to move the needle very much in terms of connectivity. I stand by my convictions that the technology is just too new and doesn’t provide a great impetus to force users to upgrade or augment systems that are already deployed. Thankfully, someone at the recent Mobility Field Day 10 went and did a great job of summarizing some of my objections in a much simpler way. Thanks to Nick Swiatecki for this amazing presentation:

He captured so many of my hesitations as he discussed the future of wireless connectivity. And he managed to expand on them perfectly!

New Isn’t Automatically Better

Any time I see someone telling me that Wi-Fi 7 is right around the corner and that we need to see what it brings I can’t help but laugh. There may be devices that have support for it right now, but as Nick points out in the above video, that’s only one part of the puzzle. We still have to wait for the clients and the regulatory bodies to catch up to the infrastructure technology. Could you imagine if we did the same Continue reading

AI Is Making Data Cost Too Much

You may recall that I wrote a piece almost six years ago comparing big data to nuclear power. Part of the purpose of that piece was to knock the wind out of the “data is oil” comparisons that were so popular. Today’s landscape is totally different now thanks to the shifts that the IT industry has undergone in the past few years. I now believe that AI is going to cause a massive amount of wealth transfer away from the AI companies and cause startup economics to shift.

Can AI Really Work for Enterprises?

In this episode of Packet Pushers, Greg Ferro and Brad Casemore debate a lot of topics around the future of networking. One of the things that Brad brought up that Greg pointed out is that data being used for AI algorithm training is being stored in the cloud. That massive amount of data is sitting there waiting to be used between training runs and it’s costing some AI startups a fortune in cloud costs.

AI algorithms need to be trained to be useful. When someone uses ChatGPT to write a term paper or ask nonsensical questions you’re using the output of the GPT training run. Continue reading

Does Automation Require Reengineering?

During Networking Field Day 33 this week we had a great presentation from Graphiant around their solution. While the presentation was great you should definitely check out the videos linked above, Ali Shaikh said something in one of the sessions that resonated with me quite a bit:

Automation of an existing system doesn’t change the system.

Seems simple, right? It belies a major issue we’re seeing with automation. Making the existing stuff run faster doesn’t actually fix our issues. It just makes them less visible.

Rapid Rattletraps

Most systems don’t work according to plan. They’re an accumulation of years of work that doesn’t always fit well together. For instance, the classic XKCD comic:

When it comes to automation, the idea is that we want to make things run faster and reduce the likelihood of error. What we don’t talk about is how each individual system has its own quirks and may not even be a good candidate for automation at any point. Automation is all about making things work without intervention. It’s also dependent on making sure the process you’re trying to automate is well-documented and repeatable in the first place.

How many times have you seen or heard of Continue reading

Victims of Success

It feels like the cybersecurity space is getting more and more crowded with breaches in the modern era. I joke that on our weekly Gestalt IT Rundown news show that we could include a breach story every week and still not cover them all. Even Risky Business can’t keep up. However, the defenders seem to be gaining on the attackers and that means the battle lines are shifting again.

Don’t Dwell

A recent article from The Register noted that dwell times for detection of ransomware and malware hav dropped almost a full day in the last year. Dwell time is especially important because detecting the ransomware early means you can take preventative measures before it can be deployed. I’ve seen all manner of early detection systems, such as data protection companies measuring the entropy of data-at-rest to determine when it is no longer able to be compressed, meaning it likely has been encrypted and should be restored.

Likewise, XDR companies are starting to reduce the time it takes to catch behaviors on the network that are out of the ordinary. When a user starts scanning for open file shares and doing recon on the network you can almost guarantee they’ve Continue reading

The Essence of Cisco and Splunk

You no doubt noticed that Cisco bought Splunk last week for $28 billion. It was a deal that had been rumored for at least a year if not longer. The purchase makes a lot of sense from a number of angles. I’m going to focus on a couple of them here with some alliteration to help you understand why this may be one of the biggest signals of a shift in the way that Cisco does business.

The S Stands for Security

Cisco is now a premier security company now. The addition of the most power SIEM on the market means that Cisco’s security strategy now has a completeness of vision. SecureX has been a very big part of the sales cycle for Cisco as of late and having all the parts to make it work top to bottom is a big win. XDR is a great thing for organizations but it doesn’t work without massive amounts of data to analyze. Guess where Splunk comes in?

Aside from some very specialized plays, Cisco now has an answer for just about everything a modern enterprise could want in a security vendor. They may not be number one in every market but Continue reading

Wi-Fi 6E Won’t Make a Difference

It’s finally here. The vaunted day when the newest iPhone model has Wi-Fi 6E. You’d be forgiven for missing it. It wasn’t mentioned as a flagship feature in the keynote. I had to unearth it in the tech specs page linked above. The trumpets didn’t sound heralding the coming of a new paradigm shift. In fact, you’d be hard pressed to find anyone that even cares in the long run. Even the rumor mill had moved on before the iPhone 15 was even released. If this is the technological innovation we’ve all been waiting for, why does it sound like no one cares?

Newer Is Better

I might be overselling the importance of Wi-Fi 6E just a bit, but that’s because I talk to a lot of wireless engineers. More than a couple of them had said they weren’t even going to bother upgrading to the new USB-C wonder phone unless it had Wi-Fi 6E. Of course, I didn’t do a survey to find out how many of them had 6E-capable access points at home, either. I’d bet the number was 100%. I’d be willing to be the survey of people outside of that sphere looking to buy an iPhone Continue reading

Overcoming the Wall

I was watching a Youtube video this week that had a great quote. The creator was talking about sanding a woodworking project and said something about how much it needed to be sanded.

Whenever you think you’re done, that’s when you’ve just started.

That statement really resonated with me. I’ve found that it’s far too easy to think you’re finished with something right about the time you really need to hunker down and put in extra effort. In running they call it “hitting the wall” and it usually marks the point when your body is out of energy. There’s often another wall you hit mentally before you get there, though, and that’s the one that needs to be overcome with some tenacity.

The Looming Rise

If your brain is like mine you don’t like belaboring something. The mind craves completion and resolution. Once you’ve solved a problem it’s done and finished. No need to continue on with it once you’ve reached a point where it’s good enough. Time to move on to something else that’s new and exciting and a source of dopamine.

However, that feeling of being done with something early on is often a false sense of completion. Continue reading

Networking Is Fast Enough

Without looking up the specs, can you tell me the PHY differences between Gigabit Ethernet and 10GbE? How about 40GbE and 800GbE? Other than the numbers being different do you know how things change? Do you honestly care? Likewise for Wi-Fi 6, 6E, and 7. Can you tell me how the spectrum changes affect you or why the QAM changes are so important? Or do you want those technologies simply because the numbers are bigger?

The more time I spend in the networking space the more I realize that we’ve come to a comfortable point with our technology. You could call it a wall but that provides negative connotations to things. Most of our end-user Ethernet connectivity is gigabit. Sure, there are the occasional 10GbE cards for desktop workstations that do lots of heavy lifting for video editing or more specialized workflows like medical imaging. The rest of the world has old fashioned 1000Mb connections based on 802.3z ratified in 1998.

Wireless is similar. You’re probably running on a Wi-Fi 5 (802.11ac) or Wi-Fi 6 (802.11ax) access point right now. If you’re running on 11ac you might even be connected using Wi-Fi 4 (802.11n) if you’re Continue reading

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