Monday, September 20, 2010

Tech Field Day - wrap up

Last week I took part in a unique meeting of the minds - now I freely admit that I didn't get everything that was discussed, but neither did @plankers.  He was (and is) The Lone Sysadmin, and I was the only wireless person in attendance.  I did learn a lot, and took a lot of notes.  It seems to me that large companies have a hard time dialing back the sales pitch, or the back story of how they came to be.  I think they just can't help it - I think this gets written into their source code once they've been assimilated into the corporation.

The event was called Tech Field Day, organized by Gestalt IT (Stephen Foskett & Claire Chaplais).  This was the first networking focused Tech Field Day, and the list of vendors that presented to our group was: HP, SolarWinds, Cradlepoint, Force10 - for the second day: Juniper, Arista Networks, Xsigo.

HP delved into the future of network virtualization with Jay Mellman Sr. Director WW Marketing, then had  Les Stuart talk about the HP Intelligent Management Center, but I'll just provide a link to Jeremy Gaddis' blog post which covers the event in much greater detail.  The recurring theme of the switching vendors was that nobody had a supported switch emulator for testing proof of concepts for change management needs - HP currently does not have a solution to enable the Network Admin to prove to the rest of enterprise that a planned configuration change would not take out the network..

SolarWinds crew was pleased to hear that they were free to dive into the nuts and bolts since we were all fully aware of the basics of how their software worked.  I was not aware that SolarWinds can monitor/manage multiple vendors' wireless devices out of the box.

Cradlepoint's offering of 3G and 4G wireless hotspot devices was very interesting.  Their new pre-paid 4G wireless device called the Rover, and was shaped like the thing you're handed when you have to wait for a table at Macaroni Grill.

I can see the beauty of the pre-paid feature, but man are these things gonna cause problems if they become prolific.  I say cause problems, because just imagine a dozen people firing up their Rover to surf the net at the same time. Each one may have its own 4G uplink, but the local hostpot is still 802.11B/G, and there are still only three channels that are non-overlapping.  I looked through the Rover FAQ, but didn't see anything indicating you can change the 802.11 operating channel, or how you'd even know there was interference.  There are strong business drivers for this type of localized wi-fi hotspot capability since not everywhere has free wifi (yet).  I can see this type of networking device with cellular backhaul, local 802.11 wireless connectivity being used at events like Bonnaroo, Lollapalooza or other outdoor events with sales tents where hard wiring the tents isn't feasible.  Their product comparison sheet shows which devices have ethernet ports, and which ones support 802.11n.  Now WPA2 with a random string of 63 characters for the PSK doesn't meet PCI compliance unless you throw a firewall in there, but that probably wouldn't stop a small independent merchant from using something like this at a mobile event.

Force10 - Company started in 1999 to build around emerging standard of 10 gig ethernet.  In 2002, they first shipped a 1/2 rack with 28 10GB (line rate fully non blocking) ports.  Today they ship 1/2 rack systems with 140 10GB LR ports.  Their technology is used by the majority of the large portals based in Silicon Valley.  Also of note, Force10 is powers 2 of the 10 fastest systems in the world.

Juniper - The general overview of how Juniper started was useful to me, since I only know about their switching products from the Juniper as a Second Language online course that I've never gotten around to studying.  We got into the real meat and potatoes of Juniper when Dan Backman sat down with us for the Round Table discussion.  Dan is ridiculously smart, and has been hip-deep in Juniper for many, many years.  Until the video of the roundtable is up, I found a 2006 Interop podcast where you can see what I mean..  I'm looking forward to learning Juniper once I've passed the CCIE wireless.  Make a note to yourself to tune back in once all the Tech Field Day videos are up on Vimeo - the Juniper Round Table should not be missed.  The unsupported Juniper emulatorOlive  is JUNOS software running on an PC rather than a Juniper router.  They would not say if they were working on a supported switch emulator, and deferred the conversation to be discussed at a later date.  There are a million online how-to guides for installing Olive/JUNOS, hopefully Juniper got the message from us that a supported implementation is greatly desirable.

Arista Networks - I had not put two and two together to associate @dgourlay with the Packet Pushers Runt Podcast Arista Networks and Data Centre Switching.  I wish I'd listened to the podcast before this preso. In any case, my takeaway from Arista is that their gear is installed in places where you absolutely cannot lose a packet, or accept a delayed packet.  Think high-frequency trading, biomedical research, cloud networking. From what I understood, their OS is basically a linux kernel, with a few modifications to offset the different traffic flows from the main switching functions - and basically anything you'd do with bash/perl/python is possible at the CLI of an Arista switch.  Now, I'm no coder, and I'm sure that when Jeremy G. or Ivan P. writes up a synopsis of Arista it'll be a comprehensive overview.  I did get that "If you can code it, it can happen" is a very powerful statement to make to people with a deep understanding of Unix/Linux/BSD etc..  Arista commented that if you wanted to run their code on any pc/laptop etc to test configuration designs or proof of concepts you can, with the vEOS download.

Xsigo - This is the preso where @plankers got excited, because Xsigo was speaking his language.  Bob was able to explain a few things from the server side perspective when questions came up from the networking side of the table.  The jist of Xsigo is they provide a virtual I/O that connects to servers via standard Ethernet server ports -- no add-on cards needed.  I thought of their solution as a patch bay of sorts between the server front end and the backend hardware.  The configuration was all done through a java based web interface, and it was pretty simple to set up.  We spent about 10 minutes setting up a couple of servers to a cloud in their lab/classroom.  Things have changed a lot since I was unboxing HP fans to build DL380s in 2004.

All in all, the Tech Field Day was a unique opportunity to visit so many organizations in person - and have in depth technical conversations about their products (once you beat the marketing out of them).  My next goal is to reach out to the contacts I have at wireless vendors to see if we can't set up a wireless-specific Tech Field Day sometime soon. Are you listening vendors? We want to ask you tough questions, and talk with the people that have the direct answers.

Naturally, I took a lot of pictures - not nearly as many as Stephen, but nothing beats the Polaroid I took of him.  period.

My Tech Field Day Picasa Slideshow:

Full disclosure - the Tech Field Day event was made possible by contributions from the sponsors, and I did not incur any travel or lodging costs.  The schwag I went home with was a t-shirt from Solarwinds, a 4gb usb key from Juniper and HP and a Cradlepoint MBR900 except I forgot the MBR900 at Juniper - so Abner is shipping it to me :)

1 comment:

  1. It's true, I learned A LOT, and more as I realized that I was going to have to start asking some people about the gaps in my knowledge. I liked how everybody stepped up to help me out (and, as it turned out, help each other out, too -- not everybody there had the same level of knowledge).

    The main thing I learned was that there's a significant language barrier between systems and networking folks, but that once it's overcome it seems we worry about a lot of the same things. Concepts like capacity planning, oversubscription, failover, patching, config management, and ROI/TCO are all fundamentally the same, just with different tools, and just at different levels of the OSI model.

    I'll get my notes up online tonight or tomorrow as well. I had a great time, and it was nice to meet someone who has thoroughly creative hobbies as well. I spent some time on the plane looking at Polaroid cameras on eBay and The Impossible Project, and I'm still laughing at some of those jokes (interrupting doctor). :)