Monday, 22 December 2014

2015...happier times?

It's about time I posted something new, as I realise I have been absent for too long. So here it is. I can't promise anything exciting and indeed this is not a technical post. I wasn't even sure about posting this but here goes.

2014 has been a very tough year (actually 2013 wasn't much better) and that's the reason I've not been posting much. The reason it's been tough is that it's been a limbo year.

For the last couple of years I've been working away from my family and that's been hard to do. I've missed them like crazy and the only thing that's kept me from going insane is the thought that it was a short term sacrifice and things would get better. We were also trying to sell our house and buy another one, with all the joys that brings.

I was also finding it hard to get a job anywhere near my family. I applied for roles and would never hear back, I would attend interviews and not hear back. It's just plain rude. It was tiresome but I kept at it.

With the sale complete, I had to move in to a rented place which only heightened my awareness of my own situation. At least I had my loyal feline companion to keep me company. My trusted friend, who adopted me 12 years ago and stole my heart. Well, a few months ago during a routine booster check-up the vet found a lump. A biopsy was done and the result I never wanted to hear came back. My beautiful boy had cancer. What's more, due to the nature and location of the tumour, there was nothing they could do for him other than pain medication.

I took him back to the family, so he would always be surrounded by their love and affection, rather than being stuck at home alone whilst I was at work.

In November my wife and I made the most difficult decision I have ever had to make. He was given lots of kisses and cuddles. He left this world peacefully; he had done us proud by lasting 12 weeks but in the end it was clear he had had enough.

It's still raw and I miss him every day. He was the best cat ever. Very affectionate and laid back, even when the kids came along. He was my buddy and now he's gone, my life has a massive cat shaped hole.

But, in amongst all the doom and gloom there is light at the end of the tunnel. I start a new job in the new year and I'll be back with the family (that's going to be a major adjustment for me). It will be a challenge and there will be lots of learning to do. Here's hoping that Christmas will be the start of happier times and 2015 will be a year I can look back on and smile.

Here's wishing you all a great holiday season and a happy New Year.

Saturday, 8 March 2014

Vendor agnostic - the only way to be

It's been a while since my last blog and unfortunately real life is to blame. Life changing events are currently afoot so whilst I apologise to my reader (Hi Frank), I can't really help it.

As an engineer who deals with a pretty mixed bag, I talk with lots of vendors about their products and  more often than not I come away thinking why doesn't my existing vendor do something like that? Well the grass is always greener let me tell you. My current organisation is a Cisco house for the most part, at least for the LAN and WLAN and I can't really complain. It's good solid kit with only two real issues; licensing and cost. I know I'm preaching to the converted as these factors are well known. Whilst I enjoy working on the kit and every now and then they surprise me with cool features, none of this makes me particularly loyal to this one vendor.

You see there is no one vendor who gets everything right or has all the features you want. Do yourself and your organisation a favour and scope out all the vendors and see what is right for you. Even if you aren't realistically going to be able to replace that LAN infrastructure it will give you ideas, possibly highlight better ways to do things or at the very least make you ask your current vendor why they don't offer a service or feature and find out what's on their roadmap.

For me this has been especially true of my WLAN. Whilst we have a considerable investment in Cisco, a move to 802.11ac phase 2 will mean replacing access points and if I am doing that then I may as well look at the whole solution. Of course this means talking to all vendors to see which ones will scale and which ones will provide a best fit. I'm even considering multiple vendors but I will have to weigh up the potential administrative nightmare that this would be against any benefits.

Of course if you work with a solutions provider you may well be limited to their partners but if you aren't look at all the options even if you think you know what you are after. Ideally what we would be able to do is pick the best or most suitable features from all the vendors and merge them into some kind of mythical creature if legend. Great idea but unlikely to happen any time soon. Just look at the marketing. I guess to us engineers what matters are the standards not any particular slant on them.

Be agnostic. Be free to choose. Be realistic. Be happy.

Monday, 2 December 2013

Baby Steps

Earlier in the year I set myself a goal; to get some certifications under my belt. Specifically, Cisco certifications. I'd always been telling myself that they weren't that useful as I didn't work with Cisco kit (although I had in the past) and I continued telling myself that even though I was now using Cisco kit.

What I wasn't telling myself was the truth. The fact is I was lazy and I was scared of failure. I'd built up a certain image of myself in my own mind and I wasn't about to shatter it with failing.

However, circumstances changed and actually made it valuable to achieve and I had the time to do them. It was put up or shut up.

Well, today I sat and passed my CCNP TSHOOT exam and I have to say I enjoyed it. I liked testing myself and seeing how good I really was. Sometimes it's good to have faith in yourself, confidence in your own ability and determination to see something through to the end.

My goals won't stop here....I've already got my eye on three more certifications I want to get, but I'm going to rest for a little while. Technically, it hasn't been hard getting here but it has taken time (a precious commodity), motivation (the major part for me I think) and the willingness to spend some cash (also a precious commodity).

So, I guess what I'm saying to everyone is set an end goal and break it up. Take baby steps and pretty soon you'll realise you're where you thought you wanted to be....but in that time your end goal will have grown with you. Like I's a journey, so enjoy the ride.

Tuesday, 8 October 2013

Is your horse still thirsty?

Of course, I'm not referring to actual horses but I am eluding to the term 'you can lead a horse to water, but you can't make it drink'.

Sorry for not posting sooner but this is our busiest time at work and I've been out and about on courses and suchlike and to be totally honest, nothing of real note has happened!

I'll put it out there; I love my job. I'm passionate about it, I love fault finding and diagnosing and most of all I love it when everything comes together. My role at the moment allows me the flexibility of challenges but also getting my hands dirty and still doing the day to day things like switch configuration and installing APs.

I'm currently the team leader of a small network team and I believe in empowering people to take charge of their careers and professional development, but I'm not in to forcing people to do it. To me, engineers who are still passionate about what they do will bite my hand off and those who aren't...well *shrug*. For almost 4 years I sent people on training and offered more developmental activities....and got nothing, not even a small bite.

So about a year ago now I decided that perhaps I was going about it in the wrong way. What if I needed to inspire people by going through the motions myself? After all, I've always shared my knowledge and experience freely (such as it is) and tried to inspire others through my own actions. Now, the thing about me is I don't like to fail. I'm a sore loser and I'm worse when there's no one else to blame but myself. What if I put myself out there and I failed? Well, isn't that kind of the point? So I would try again and again until I did it right. Maybe, just maybe that may cause others to be less afraid.

So, I started getting certifications under my belt to prove to myself and others that it could be done and all it would need would be the desire to learn and the self motivation to keep at it. Now that I've been going through the motions, I've had a breakthrough and others have started asking about training possibilities. It kind of makes things worthwhile just for that.

Today, feeling very uncertain, I took my CCNP Route exam. It was a longer drive than normal to the test centre, it being one I have never used before. Facilities were suitable and the staff very helpful and friendly.

I always hate click that last next's like if you don't click it you'll be OK, stuck in limbo between pass and fail. I saw the congratulations bit and I have to say it was a weight off my shoulders. It was a pretty tough (but fair) exam in the time allowed. Onwards and upwards towards CCNP switch.

Now...if you don't mind, I'm going to treat myself to a brew and a bourbon (that's a chocolate biscuit for the yanks out there).

Thursday, 15 August 2013

IPv6 - My view...could this thing actually fly?

OK, so I'm kidding and anyone who thinks that IPv6 is the future is just plain wrong. It's the present! Let's make this clear, IPv4 is legacy. Fact. If you're not using v6 then you should be.

Actually, I feel more than a little hypocritical saying as we don't use it in my workplace. That upsets me greatly, especially as we pride ourselves on being progressive. The fact is we suffer from the apathy that many other organisations in the west do. Why do we need to bother? What do we get out of it? Isn't it just a lot of work for not much benefit?

Don't get me wrong, I happen to think that we should do it, but it's convincing others of the merit that is proving difficult. After all, they're partially right but that doesn't mean we shouldn't do it.

CIDR (Classless Inter-Domain Routing), NAT (Network Address Translation) and the fact that most of the IPv4 address space is held by the western world have held us back in progressing. That, coupled with the fact that major players like Cisco have been way behind in moving things forward, has been a roadblock to implementation.Yes you can route v6 traffic but until relatively recently you couldn't manage the network effectively. Pretty poor.

In the UK, less than 40% of all ISPs have even applied for IPv6 address space according to RIPE. That's pretty disgraceful if you ask me.

Back in February 2011 IANA (Internet Assigned Numbers Authority) handed out the last unassigned top-level block of addresses to the 5 RIRs Regional Internet Registries. And as of September 2012 both RIPE_NCC (Reseaux IP Europeens Network Coordination Centre) and APNIC (Asia-Pacific Network Information Centre) reached the point of handing out only 1024 addresses (/22).

In some parts of the world only IPv6 addresses are issued. So that means we now have a two-tier Internet with some of it invisible to IPv4. Do we really want that?

It's not good enough to hope that the ISPs (Internet Service Providers) will translate the addresses for us. We should be running it natively.

But...until the ISPs and equipment manufacturers start doing our jobs for us and start switching off IPv4, then we'll be stuck muddling along.

Here's a final note...when I started work in the industry, my colleague who was training me mentioned I shouldn't take too much time learning IPv4 subnetting as we'd be running IPv6 in a couple of years. That was back in 1997! I guess his crystal ball was a little off.

Remember the future is now the present. Keep pushing IPv6. Together we can make this bird fly!

Friday, 9 August 2013


As the delegates at the Wireless Field Day are visiting Xirrus today I figured I would share my recent meeting with you. I would also check out either the live stream or the recorded sessions on the Wireless Field Day site. Some of them are just fascinating. Very cool stuff being looked at by some of the greatest minds in the industry.

If you don't know who Xirrus are then they are a vendor with a somewhat unique type of access point. Actually, it's many access points in an array. Take a look.

Yeah...kinda looks like a flying saucer. The one pictured above is actually their largest model, the XR 6000. It's pretty much a beast at 17 inches across. The Xirrus XR-6000 Series Wireless Array is a sixteen slot chassis available in 8, 12 or 16 multi-state (2.4GHz or 5GHz) radio configurations supporting up to 1792 users with up to 7.2Gbps of bandwidth if you believe the marketing on their website (don't get excited though as the maximum Wi-Fi backhaul is limited to 1.3Gbps across all the models in the XR-6000 series).

Inside they look just as funky.

Each array is a controller and the APs sit inside nice and snug. I believe the APs have a 3dBi/6dBi gain for the dual band (2.4GHz/5GHz). The RF coverage is 120 degrees for the 2.4GHz and 90 degrees for the 5GHz. They have all the usual things you can expect from a controller such as traffic shaping, power selection, channel selection, etc.

They seem perfect for those high density areas where sticking dozens of individual APs is either not cost effective, logistically impossible or aesthetically not pleasing to the eye. This is exactly my dilemma currently. So, I gave them a call. I know right? Actually having to call someone about their product; normally they're calling you all the time.

At present we have a large open area within one of our campus buildings that hosts events and conferences in the main area with lots of lecture theatres that are used as break out areas when they are not being used for lectures. Trouble is the events can sometimes have 300-400 hundred people and they all need Wi-Fi. We have added APs in the area but to be honest that actually caused more problems due to the interference. The 5GHz space copes pretty well, but the 2.4GHz was a mess. Eventually I got around to running a survey in the area and resorted to turning off around 60% of the 2.4GHz radios just to get decent throughput and signal consistently.

To my mind, those APs could be put to better use elsewhere for offices and corridors. Hence my call to Xirrus. They proposed an XR-2000 array (4 AP) for the ground floor and a couple of XR-1000 arrays (2 AP) for the first floor in a salt and pepper type arrangement. This would be music to the building managers ears as she's been unhappy with so many APs spoiling the look of the otherwise clean white lines in the building. The other good thing is they are willing to provide a nice plastic snap on cover so they actually hide the array and help them blend in.

The Xirrus SE was knowledge and seemed to appreciate what I had already done in the area and I think it saved him having to explain to a complete novice, even though I am far from an expert. I expect to hear back from them soon, as I'm keen to try out the technology for myself as I have never been one for marketing spin. Results, results, results are the only things that matter. I'll keep you updated.

Thursday, 1 August 2013

Certification update

I finally got my act together and booked the CWTS exam for Monday 29th July. I figured I was going to be working from home and an extended lunch break would allow me to drive to the test centre, take the test and drive home without being out of contact for too long.

Well the drive up was pretty uneventful (I did forget about a 50mph average speed limit though!). I actually arrived a little early so I chilled and listened to some Satriani in the car. I don't like to do any last minute revision as I find it clouds what's already in my head. If I know it, I know it.

I was pretty confident going in, after all I had gone through the CBT Nuggets and I had gone through the study guide to plug some gaps. However, when I sat down I started to get a little nervous. I needn't have worried. I completed the test in 30 minutes and passed with a 90's score. I was a little disappointed I didn't get the 100, but a pass is a pass and I had proved to myself that I had remembered and understood the material. goals have always been CCENT, CCNA, CWTS and then CCNP. I suppose that is still the same and in fact I booked my CCNP Route and CCNP Switch courses today and I plan to sit the exams soon after each course. It's going to be pretty tight, but I don't think it's unreasonable if I put in the hours.

If you're wondering about the CCNP TShoot course, I provisionally booked that too but at present it is oversubscribed so they are looking at getting a bigger room for the course, so it's a wait and see on that one.

The courses are all in London, which given my local rail links means I'll have to travel up the day before if I want to make it in on time (I kid you not, to get there for 9am I have to board the train the night before and sleep in it or get up at 4am and leave from another city). Ahhh, public transport.

I will have to stay the week too. Not a problem I guess if work are paying. You have to be there from the beginning so you don't miss anything, as I suspect this will be harder than the ICND2 course I took.

But...I also gave in and picked up the CWNA study guide, just for when I get some spare time and when I don't fancy routing and switching anymore.

Fun times ahead and a lot of study. Going to hit the CBT Nuggets again. Will be great to have Jeremy Cioara in my ears again filling me with Cisco enthusiasm. Ever onward on my journey.