Plans for 2015: Where to from here?

I know I’m a little bit late for New Years resolutions, but it’s been a tough decision making process. There is so much going on right now in the networking industry and, to be honest, I’m not sure that networking is going to be a skill that will demand the premium that it’s been able to for the last 10-15 years.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that networking is dead. In fact, just the opposite, networking is going to flourish. There is going to be so much networking that needs to be done that the only way we will be able to deal with it is to dump all of our collective knowledge into code and start to automate what would have previously been the domain of the bit-plumbers that we are. 

 

What skills to pick up in 2015:

So the question: What skills am I looking at picking up in 2015?  I am a huge believer the infrastructure-as-code movement. Looking at what leaders like Matt Oswald, Jason Edelman, Brent Salisbury, Dave Tucker, Colin McNamara, Jeremy Schulman, etc… are taking us, it’s obvious that coding skills are becoming a mandatory skill for anyone in the networking field who wants to become, or remain, at the top of the field.  That’s not to say that core networking skills are not going to be important, but I’m definitely branching out this year in trying to gain some another language, as well as improve my chops with what I already know.

Increase Python Skills

As anyone who’s been here for the last year knows, I’ve been playing around with python a lot. I’m hoping that 2015 will allow me to continue to increase my python skills, specifically as focused around networking, and I’m hoping that I will have enough time to go from just learning to actually contributing back to some code to the community. I’m signed up for Kirk Bayles Python for Networking Engineers course starting in January, as well as going through a few different books. Bets of all, my 9 year old son has also shown some interest in learning to code, so this might actually become a father son project.

I’m also hoping to get more involved with things like Ansible, Schprokits, as well as possibly releasing some of my own all projects.  Crossing my fingers on the stretch goals. 🙂

Gain Data Analysis Skills

Cousera is awesome. If you haven’t checked it out, you need to. You would have to be living under a rock buried in a lead can stored in a faraday cage at the bottom of the ocean to not have heard about SDN. I believe that there’s an ENORMOUS opportunity within the networking space for applying data analysis techniques to the massive amounts of information that flows across our networks every day. There’s a Cousera Data Science Specialization that I’m signed up for that I”m hoping will start me down the path of being able to execute on some the ideas that I’ve had bouncing around in my skull for more than half a decade. I’m sure I will be blogging on the course, but you might have to wait for some of the ideas.  

Virtualization-Ho!

Docker, Rocket, NSX, ESX, KVM, OVS. They are all going to get a little love this year from this guy. I’m not sure how much I’m going to be able to consume, but I believe these are all technologies that are going to be relevant in the coming years. I believe that Containers are going to get a lot of love in the industry and companies like http://www.socketplane.io are going to be something I”m watching closely. 

Networking Networking Networking

This is my core knowledge set and, I believe, what will continue to be the foundation of my value for the foreseeable future. I hit my CCIE Emeritus this year and also had a chance to attend a Narbik bootcamp. It was an incredibly humbling experience and reminded me of how much there is still to learn in this space that I love. If you get a chance to attend a Micronics CCIE bootcamp, I couldn’t recommend it highly enough. There are very few people who understand and can TEACH this information at the level Narbik can. I’m actually planning on finding time to resit the bootcamp this year just soak up more of the goodness. 

 

Plans Plans Plans

2014 was a bit of a mess for me. But I think I still did fairly well in executing on gaining some of the programming skills that I wanted. 2015 is going to be a crazy time for the whole industry. I’m not sure which of these four areas is going consume the most of my time. The way our industry has been going, it’s entirely possible that I will fall in love with something else entirely. 🙂  

If at the end of 2015 I have managed to move forward in these four areas by at least a few steps, I think I will consider the year a success. 

 

What about you?

 

@netmanchris

 

Network Management – How to get started

Network Management Skills

In the last few years, I’ve noticed that I’m a little different. It’s not just because I wear coloured socks or my hair looks like I style after Albert Einstein.  I noticed that I’ve developed a different skill set than the majority of my pre-sales or post-sales network professional peers. What skills you ask?  Network Management and Operations.

Why I choose to develop Network Management skills

About five years ago, I took a look at the market and thought ” This stuff is complicated “.  Earth shattering observation, right?   It sounds simple, but then I started looking at some of the tools we had at the time and I realized that NMS tools could really help to automate not only the information gathering, but also the configuration tasks in our networks.  At the time, we had a cool little tool called 3Com Network Director.  It ran on a single PC. No web interface and it really only managed 3Com gear. But it was better than running CLI commands all day long. And the monitoring aspects really helped my customers identify and resolve problems quickly.  This was a moment of inspiration for me.  I choose to develop skills in network management and operations.

Let me say that again.

I choose to develop skills in network management and operations. 

I didn’t choose to develop skills in 3ND, or IMC, or Solarwinds, Cisco Prime, or any of the various other tools. Overtime, I’ve gained experience on all of those products, but I would say my true value is having gone through the process to develop skills in the sub disciplines of network management. Learning a product is only a very small part of the whole domain. 

What does that mean? 

It’s easy to learn a product. They have bells and whistles. Click this check box. fill in this box. etc..    Those skills are important. But they don’t help us understand how to apply the product to resolve our customers business challenges. They don’t help us understand when not to click that box. And they don’t help us to design a network management strategy, or to consult with our customers on operational efficiencies and what can be done to help increase their networks stability, to reduce the MTTR times, or to mitigate pressures put on the operations team. Learning the domain knowledge has helped me to understand WHY we have developed the product features and what they are to be used for.

My Learning Roadmap

To put it simply, I consumed everything I could on the subject. It’s amazing how much free information is out there if you set your mind on finding it. If anyone’s looking to increase their skills in this area, I’ve put together the following list of resources that have really helped me in this domain. I’ve tried to keep this out of vendor specific products, but I’m sure you’ll find that any product you choose will probably have training and learning resources around it as well. This is in NO way inclusive, there are a lot of resource out there. I highly encourage everyone to read, watch, and listen to as many of them as you can and to think about them critically.

Free Resource

Solarwinds SCP training  The Solarwinds SCP training is online and free. What I really liked about this training is that it’s really focused on network management, netman protocols, and the operational aspects of network management. There are, of course, some product specific aspects to the training, but in general this is a really good primer on network management in general. Oh… did I mention there’s a bunch of videos as well?  Great stuff to rip and put on your tablet when you’re stuck on a plane and you’ve seen all the movies. 

Solarwinds has also provided a bunch of whitepapers going further in depth on network management specific subjects which are a great reference.  If you’re interested there’s also the Solarwinds Certified Professional certification if you’re looking for a way to validate your knowledge.

The Information Technology Infrastructure Library  (ITIL) is a compilation of IT service management practices compiled over the last 30 years. There’s a lot of great stuff in here. The books are expensive though.  There is an entire industry that’s sprung up around ITSM.  If you have some commute time to spare, I would highly suggest typing in the words “ITSM” into your favourite Podcast app and sit back and listen. 

If you’re interested, there’s also the ITILv3 Foundations certification if you’re looking for a way to validate your knowledge.

Blogs and Podcast

Social Media is a great way to learn how people apply ITIL concepts to the real world. I particularly like http://www.itskeptic.org as it’s got a great following of a bunch of smart people who disagree on a regular basis. You never know when the customer you’re going into is operating in a traditional ITIL based ops model, perhaps they are using the Microsoft OperationsFramework, or perhaps they’ve moved on to Agile and DevOps. It’s good to have at least a cursory knowledge in all of this approaches to IT operations, to mention traditional Network Management Frameworks like FCAPS and eTOM

Paid resources

Books are a great way to learn about network management and operations. Here’s my  abbreviated reading list. These are the reference books that sit on my shelf within easy reach. 

Network Maturity Model – This book is actually a academic thesis focused on trying to extend the CMMI models to network specific capabilities maturity models. Of course, network operations is part of the capabilities of an organization, so there’s a lot of great content in here.  The book is definitely academic, but it’s got a LOT of great content in it, assuming you can get through all of the required footnotes and pointers to other academic works. 

Fundamentals of EMS, NMS, and OSS/BSS – This books is wonderful. It covers all aspects of traditional telecom management from FCAPS to eTOM, as well as looking at OSS/BSS architectures which usually exist only in Service Provider networks. Great information in here.  My biggest problem with this book is the font size. I have glasses and it’s tiny.  Worth the effort to make it through, but plan on multiple reading sessions. This is not a book you’re going to get through in one sitting.

Network Management Fundamentals – Cisco Press book that’s a great read. A lot of information in here is covered in some of the other books. What I like about this is that it written as an introduction to network management for people already working in the field. This is not an academic text.

Network Management: Accounting and Performance Strategies – Cisco Press book again. This one focuses strictly on performance management, focusing a lot on Netflow and how it can be applied to accounting and performance in large network.  

Performance and Fault Management – Cisco Press Book again. This is an older book, so the technologies discussed may not be as relevant as they once were. The nice thing though is that we’re talking about operational models and processes here, so the principles still apply. 

VoIP Performance Management and Optimization – Last Cisco Press book. This book looks at the operational aspects of VoIP/IP Telephone/Unified Communications networks specifically. There are a lot of very detailed recommendations in here that can be leveraged to give customer guidance on what they should be doing and what they should be monitoring. This book has helped me a few times when working with customer who have chosen to implement a dual-vendor strategy and want to have HP Intelligent Management Center managing and monitoring there Cisco Callmanager environment in addition to their network.

The Phoenix Project – This book is written as a novel to teach people about the DevOps movement. This is a MUST read for anyone interested in IT operations and the current trends in the industry. It also will help get a first hand accounting of what many customers go through. Read it. Read it. Read it.

The Visible Ops – From the same authors of the Phoenix Project. This book tries to tie DevOps and ITIL together. Interesting read. Many people see DevOps and ITIL as two opposites of the spectrum. Most have had a bad ITIL experience and now the pendulum swings in the other direction. Finding a happy middle is a good goal. I’m not sure they’ve hit the mark, but it’s a start.

Network Management: Principals and Practice – Expensive book. Good information, but the technology is also quite dated. Concepts and knowledge is great. Good diagrams, but it’s sometimes hard to get through the hubs and token ring.

Domain Related Knowledge

Network Management is really about ensuring stability and helping the business to meet their operational requirements with the greatest efficiency possible. In that light, it’s important to understand what some of those operational burdens are. In recent years, businesses have had a ton of GRC (governance, risk, and compliance) requirements put on the operations teams that threaten to break an already overloaded team.   On the bright side, I believe that although they have been forced into these requirements through legislation and governance like SOX, COSO, PCI-DSS, HIPPA, Gramm-Leach-Bliley, etc.  have actually forced network operations teams to get much tighter on their controls, forcing us into more stable and secure networks. 

note: This list is US specific, if international readers can post some examples in the comments section, I would be happy to add them to the list of references.

In my experience, one of the issues with GRC requirements in general is that they are very rarely descriptive of what actually needs to be done. They have generic statements like “monitor network access”  or ” secure the it assets”.  

ISACA noticed this and put together the COBIT framework which is a very detailed list of over 30 high-level processes and over 200 specific IT control objectives. Most of the GRC requirements can be mapped to specific COBIT objectives. COBIT is a good thing to be familiar with. 

 Next Steps

As we move forward in IT, operations and orchestration skills are starting to become some of the hottest requirements in IT. 

Whether it’s products like HP’s Cloudsystem, or industry wide projects like OpenStack, CloudStack or Eucalyptus, having solid Operational knowledge and skills is going to be a requirement for anyone seeking the coveted Trusted IT Advisor role in any customer. 

For anyone looking to gain or just brush up on their network management specific skills.

I would recommend

  • Solarwinds videos as a place to get started with the basics of network management
  • become familiar with the basics of COBIT and GRC in general..  Doing some reading on the various GRC requirements that apply to your specific regions and customers is also a great way to change the conversation from speeds and feeds to the challenges of the business. 
  • Read on OpenStack
  • Learn about ITIL and DevOps

Social Media is always a great way to stay current as well. One of the biggest challenges of operations is the best way to learn it is to do it. Unfortunately, many of the really good Network professionals, whether pre-sales or professional services, don’t get an opportunity as they are usually hands-off or on turning over the keys to an ops team after the project has been delivered. Socialmedia helps to connect to the daily challenges of people who are living in the trenches. 

Get some ITSM experience. If you don’t work in a company where you get to babysit the same environment, you can always do what I did and experiment with it at home.

Anyone else have any suggestions on how to get up to speed? Feel free to comment below!

@netmanchris

From Cisco to HP – Quick Start

It’s not uncommon that I have customer who are making the jump to HP networking gear from a Cisco  background.

This post is just a way for me to put together some resources for them to quickly get up to speed and to help make their lives easier.

Resources

CLI Reference Guide

If you’ve got a reasonable background in Cisco networking, the first thing you’ll want to check out is the HP Networking and Cisco CLI reference guide. Someone ( thankfully not me!) went through and created 292 pages of goodness in basically what is a small rosetta stone for a dual-vendor network.

If you know the command on a cisco IOS device. Do a quick search and you’ll find the HPN equivalent.

Interoperability Cook book

It’s VERY rare that I ever get involved in a greenfield environment. Most customers have a legacy network around, and many of those were built on Cisco equipment.  HP has taken this into consideration and put together the HP/Cisco Switching and Routing Interoperability Cookbook  which gives some clear guidelines on setting up both sides of the connections.

HP Press

A lot of people still haven’t caught on that HP Press was launched last year. There are already books out covering the major HP networking certifications, not to mention other HP product lines as well.  These are great resources to have on a shelf for those times when you just have to look something up.

Tips and Tricks

Spanning-tree is turned off by default

Whether or not you agree with this decision, HP has made it and you should be aware of it. If you’d like your new switch to participate in a (r/s/pv/TP ) environment. You’ll need to turn it on.

Command Aliases

I’ll admit it. After spending years in a Cisco world, the word ” show ” jumps out of my fingers faster and onto a keyboard faster than just about anything else except perhaps ” wr”   (  write mem for those of you who grew up in a copy running-configuration startup-configuration” era.  )

Even after years working with the comware products, ( which use the word display in place of show ) I still hit situations where the reflex just kicks in.

Luckily, HP has included a nice alias function which allows you to map new keywords to existing commands.
Included here is my list of commands which I keep on all my comware lab equipment. To say this outloud, there’s no excuse to not learn the new CLI. You will be a better engineer for it. But… it’s also nice to have a safety net for those moments when you’re fingers think faster than your brain.

HP Comware Cisco Alias command List

command-alias enable

command-alias mapping undo no

command-alias mapping reboot reload

command-alias mapping header banner

command-alias mapping reset clear

command-alias mapping acl access-list

command-alias mapping port switchport

command-alias mapping stp spanning-tree

command-alias mapping snmp-agent snmp-server

command-alias mapping user-interface line

command-alias mapping display show

command-alias mapping return end

command-alias mapping quit exit

command-alias mapping sysname hostname

command-alias mapping acl access-list

command-alias mapping save write

command-alias mapping delete erase

command-alias mapping info-center logging

 

note: If anyone has any I’ve missed here, please feel free to post in the comments and I’ll try and update the post.

Hotkeys

One of the other nice touches that HP has done with Comware is to include system hotkeys. This allows you a VERY quick way to input commands without typing the whole thing out. Wonderful for those situations where you can’t see where you are typing. Turned on too many debugs? CTRL_O will perform an “undebugging all” command for you and you get your terminal session back.

There are some default system ( unchangeable ) as well as some user-definable hotkeys which are listed here.

            =Defined hotkeys=

Hotkeys Command

CTRL_G  display current-configuration

CTRL_L  display ip routing-table

CTRL_O  undo debugging all

 

           =Undefined hotkeys=

Hotkeys Command

CTRL_T  NULL

CTRL_U  NULL

 

            =System hotkeys=

Hotkeys Function

CTRL_A  Move the cursor to the beginning of the current line.

CTRL_B  Move the cursor one character left.

CTRL_C  Stop current command function.

CTRL_D  Erase current character.

CTRL_E  Move the cursor to the end of the current line.

CTRL_F  Move the cursor one character right.

CTRL_H  Erase the character left of the cursor.

CTRL_K  Kill outgoing connection.

CTRL_N  Display the next command from the history buffer.

CTRL_P  Display the previous command from the history buffer.

CTRL_R  Redisplay the current line.

CTRL_V  Paste text from the clipboard.

CTRL_W  Delete the word left of the cursor.

CTRL_X  Delete all characters up to the cursor.

CTRL_Y  Delete all characters after the cursor.

CTRL_Z  Return to the User View.

CTRL_]  Kill incoming connection or redirect connection.

ESC_B   Move the cursor one word back.

ESC_D   Delete remainder of word.

ESC_F   Move the cursor forward one word.

ESC_N   Move the cursor down a line.

ESC_P   Move the cursor up a line.

ESC_<   Specify the beginning of clipboard.

ESC_>   Specify the end of clipboard.

Display this

Wow. I can’t say enough about how much I love this command. In a nutshell, display this ( or show this if you have the alias function turned on ) is a context sensitive command that will show you the configuration elements applicable to exactly where you are in the operating system hierarchy.

You want to see what configurations is applied to a specific port? No more  ” do show run inter gig 1/5″.  You just type in “display this” and you get the output.  What about when you’re in the RADIUS configuration mode?  Yup. Display this. Configuring OSPF or BGP on a switch? Display this.

It may seem like a very minor thing, but trust me, you will appreciate the consistency and the simplicity in a very short time.

This post is not intended to make you an expert on HP’s Comware OS, but hopefully, if you’re already a reasonably good networking professional, this will give you a leg up in getting up to speed quickly.

Misc

As with most modern Network OS’s, I would also remind everyone that

  • piping is supported

ex.  display running-configuration | include SNMP

  • the TAB key does auto-complete.
  • The question mark (?) is your friend. When it doubt use it and you will probably see what you’re looking for.

 

Did I miss any other getting started tips? Please feel free to post in the comments!

@netmanchris