From Multi-Vendor To Single-Vendor

AerohiveLogoCareers take a funny turn a lot of times. Opportunities come up that you weren’t expecting and the timing is never as perfect as you want it to be. At least, that is how it has always been with me. I’ve learned though, that sometimes the best thing for you is to charge full speed ahead through the door, roll the dice, and take your chances. That is where I find myself right now. Having accepted an offer from Aerohive Networks to serve in a pre-sales engineering role in my local area, I am leaving behind a job and a company that I have enjoyed tremendously. Yes, there were times when I had to be talked off the ledge and keep on going. I think that comes with most jobs though. Overall, it has been a very rewarding almost 5 years working for a value added reseller(VAR) and I will miss it greatly.

In the span of a few months, I had to decide to give up the following:

1. Multi-vendor implementations and support.
2. Studying for the CCIE Wireless lab exam with 1 failed lab attempt already under my belt.
3. Involvement with other vendors courtesy of social media(blogging, Twitter, etc). – My involvement with Tech Field Day, HP, and other vendors has brought me into a whole different level of vendor interaction that I didn’t know existed.
4. Extensive travel across the greater US, which isn’t always fun, but I enjoy different locales and different networks to work on. I also haven’t paid for a hotel room or flight for my family in years.
5. Working with people and clients I have known for years.

For all that I gave up, I gained some things.

1. Being able to get really deep in a limited set of products from a single vendor.
2. Travel much closer to home and for shorter durations.
3. Potentially being able to get a better look at how products are brought to market.
4. Potentially being able to understand a vendor’s technology at a much deeper level than I ever could on the partner or end customer side(e.g. The secret sauce around RRM).
5. Potentially having more time for blogging, which I have neglected greatly over the past few years.
6. No more nights and weekends working on customer projects. – This may not totally go away, but it will decrease tremendously.
7. I have always wanted to work for a vendor to complete my overall picture of the IT industry.
8. The chance to compete against larger competitors. – It takes a lot of work to unseat incumbent vendors, or win deals against much larger competitors. Not every deal will be won, but when you can win in an ethical manner, it is a good feeling.
9. Better compensation. – None of us work for free, and I don’t want to be working until I am in my 70’s. Of course, if I can’t sell anything, I might be working until I am in my 70’s.

Which list is better? I came to the conclusion that what I was gaining would outweigh what I was giving up.

The Heart of the Matter
One thing that comes up when talking to peers is being able to go into the single vendor mode mindset after being multi-vendor for so many years. Can it be done? The short answer is yes.

I have worked with a number of networking vendors over the years. However, if I were to break down percentages and allocate them to each vendor, Cisco would have the largest share of the pie. Probably upwards of 75%. I have implemented solutions from Cisco, Meraki, HP, Brocade, Aerohive, Aruba, Meru, Sonicwall, Riverbed, Barracuda Networks, Dell, and a number of other smaller vendors. I have worked with, but not implemented, solutions from F5, Extrahop, Solarwinds, Juniper, and a few others. I wouldn’t claim to have high proficiency in any of them, except Cisco, and “high proficiency” is a rather subjective term. Put me in front of a Cisco Catalyst switch, give me a set of configuration requirements, and I can go to work right away. Put me in front of another vendor’s switch, and I have to stop and think about what needs to be done. I’ll fumble through the CLI, but eventually get it done. Does that make me multivendor proficient?

In all reality, to be proficient in more than one vendor requires consistent exposure and experience with each vendor’s products. I can tell you that even within Cisco, there are products I am very familiar with, and other products that I am not as familiar with. There are just too many products and too many caveats to function at a very low level on more than a handful of products from Cisco. That is the problem with multi-vendor work. Even if it is consistent, there are so many things to learn about each one. This was a lesson I learned when studying for the Cisco CCIE Wireless exam. I spent months on switches, wireless controllers, APs, Prime, ISE, and the MSE, and I still don’t feel like I am anywhere near an expert with those platforms. I am definitely a lot stronger with those products today than I was a year or two ago, but I still have much to learn.

Perhaps the biggest benefit to being multi-vendor focused is the awareness of each vendor’s product set. I don’t necessarily have to know how to configure each nerd knob. I just have to know what the capabilities are. In short, vendor analysis is as big a part of being multi-vendor as is doing the actual configuration and troubleshooting work. Does working for a vendor like Aerohive mean I cannot spend time learning about how wireless is done at any of their competitors? On the contrary, I think it requires that. If you are going to sell against the competition, you better know what you are selling against. If you rely on vendor competitive documents, you will get bit eventually. Those documents are rarely up to date, and I have seen them from numerous vendors working in the VAR space.

In short, I think you can be multi-vendor while working for a single vendor, but from the standpoint of understanding the competition. I know where my paycheck is coming from, so as long as I can do things in an ethical manner, I have no problems only presenting products from the company I represent. I already do that to a certain extent on the VAR side. It isn’t a foreign concept to me.

On another note, if my new job and CWNP studies allow, I plan on doing a lot more blogging. However, don’t be surprised if a fair amount of those posts are “how to’s” on Aerohive. I am VERY excited about being able to get as deep as I can in their products, since I do very little Aerohive work these days. I plan on sharing what I can when I can in the hopes that it will help someone out there. For an IT community that has given me so much, it is the least I can do to return the favor.

Posted in aerohive, career, wireless | 1 Comment

In Pursuit of the CCIE

Just a short post to let you know this blog is not dead. I have not written anything in several months. While I have several posts that are partially complete, I have not been able to finish them…..yet.

For the past several months, I have been busy studying for the CCIE Wireless lab exam. Prior to that, I was sort of working towards the CCIE Route/Switch written and lab exam. I wasn’t fully committed, so my studying was sporadic at best. My heart just wasn’t in forcing myself to learn more about IPv6, multicast, MPLS, and some of the other blueprint items.

Somewhere along the line it changed. Maybe it was having another co-worker who was serious in his pursuit of the CCIE Wireless. Maybe it was that my job working for a reseller had me doing more and more Cisco wireless work. Maybe I just liked the fact that wireless was hard. I’m not really sure. I just know that at some point, a switch flipped inside my head and I just decided to go all in on my studies. Honestly, I should have done this years ago, but the timing just didn’t seem right.

I’ve been studying most nights every week for a few months. I don’t sleep a whole lot these days. A lot of times, I fall asleep in my chair up in my office and don’t wake up until my wife comes up to check on me. On those nights when I do make it to my bed, I think about the lab blueprint until my brain finally shuts down and I drift off to dream. I have dreams about odd things like wireless authentication. My thoughts are always on the lab. Whether I am in a meeting with a client, sitting in church, or just driving down the road, it consumes me.

I’m constantly fighting off the voices in the back of my mind telling me to stop and go back to life as it was before the study urges took over. I have a wife and two kids. I have a job that demands a decent level of performance mentally. I travel a fair amount for work. I work odd hours. I am fairly active in my local church. I also make a decent living, so passing the lab doesn’t mean a massive pay raise for me. There are so many reasons I shouldn’t do this, and they almost overshadow the reasons that I should.

On the positive side, I am convinced there are doors that will not open career-wise, without the CCIE. Will I make more money after passing the lab? Probably. Will I have more recruiters and HR folks pinging me on LinkedIn? Yes. Will I have interesting career choices cross my path? Probably. I’m not planning on doing anything different work-wise after I pass, but as any of you who have CCIE digits knows, you have more options.

Those are all well and good, but if there is one reason I want to pass the lab, it is related to a quote attributed to John F. Kennedy from a speech he gave in 1962 regarding the USA’s attempts to land on the moon:

“We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard.”

That’s it in a nutshell. I need to know if I can push myself to finish something that on the surface, seems impossible. When I was 15 years old, I ran a mile(1600 meters) in 4 minutes and 56 seconds on a dirt track in Hawaii. I had been trying to break 5 minutes for a while at that point. I remember that race vividly. I had a great running coach that trained me well. I put in a lot of miles on hills and roads leading up to that point, and I only mentioned the locale(Hawaii) to give you an idea of what kind of “hills” I was referring to. It was the end of our track season and I was in peak shape. Had it been a rubber track, I could have probably run it in 5 or 6 seconds faster. It doesn’t matter though. I broke 5 minutes. For some, that is not a big deal. For a kid who had asthma at a younger age, that was huge. It will always be one of my favorite moments in my life, taking a back seat to only the birth of my children and the marriage to my wife.

I am always telling my kids that they can be anything they want to be as long as they are willing to work hard for it. I can tell them all day long. It’s better if I show them through example. I’ll find out in 18 days when I sit the lab for the first time. I may go back several more times before I pass it, but I am prepared to do that.

Nobody ever talks to me about my sub-5 minute mile I ran. In fact, my father was the only one in my family who witnessed it. When, and it is a “when”, I pass the CCIE Wireless lab, most of the people in my day to day life, outside of work, will not even know what that is. I am perfectly fine with that. I’m not doing this for accolades or pats on the back. I’m doing this for me, and also to secure a potentially greater ability to provide for my family.

When it is over, I will take a break from studying. I’ll stop reading technical books for a few months, and not think about this stuff too much outside of my work hours. I have several hundred books I have put off reading for several years. I also have 60 years of National Geographic magazines that a friend gave me that are sitting in my office closet begging to be read. After a few months and a few dozen books and magazines, I will get back on the study “horse” and push towards the Aruba ACMX.

While I would have loved to create a bunch of blog posts documenting the technical aspects of my studies, I made the decision to devote that time to studying. Anyone who has written even one technical post knows how much time those things take. I am very grateful for people like Rasika who took the time to document all of their studies. If you are studying for the CCIE Wireless as well, you are probably already familiar with his excellent site. Much of that content applies to the version 3 lab blueprint.

Just wanted to put something up here to let you know I have not abandoned this site. I’m still around. I’m just busy studying.

Posted in career, ccie, learning, wireless | 4 Comments

Aruba and HP – The Remaining Pieces

Aruba-HP-LogoI wrote previously about the Aruba and HP ecosystems. You can find that post here. I also wrote about Aruba’s culture here, and although I had planned on writing about HP’s culture as I understand it, I don’t know that I need to spend too much time on that. When you look at the difference in the two ecosystems from a wireless perspective(HP is a big company with a broad portfolio), HP is a completely different animal and that HAS to affect their company culture.

Well, what really remains to talk about? I think two things. Execution and product disposition.

Execution

Ask anyone who follows the industry about HP, and you will get a variety of thoughts. However, one of them that always seems to surface is in regards to their ability to execute. There is a history of missteps regarding HP in the executive arena over the past several years. Since Meg Whitman has taken over as CEO, I think we have seen a bit more stability in that regard. When thinking about Aruba and HP combining forces for wireless, I am reminded of a comment that Andrew vonNagy made during a Tech Field Day roundtable at the 2015 Las Vegas Atmosphere conference regarding Meg’s handling of the PayPal acquisition when she was heading up eBay. He mentions that she let PayPal run as a separate entity. Perhaps that will be the same with Aruba, and since the Aruba leadership will be running the campus networking section of HP. it is likely that would be true.

There is one other factor to consider. HP will be splitting into two companies on November 1st of this year. HP Enterprise will be headed up by Meg Whitman, and will handle servers, storage, networking, professional services, and software. HP Inc will handle the personal systems(desktops, laptops, tablets) and printing division. The conventional wisdom coming out of HP is that this will allow greater focus on products catering to specific customers. By having separate marketing, research, development, and sales teams, the two HP companies will be able to bring solutions to the marketplace in a much more focused manner. Time will tell if that is the case. The optimist in me sees this as a good thing. Maybe I am simply recalling Cisco’s attempts to play in the SMB/consumer spaces and mostly backing out of that space. I’ll admit that I don’t see the bigger picture as I am not a finance/business person, so there’s a chance that this could be a horrible disaster, and there are no shortage of articles and commentary with that viewpoint.

In short, HP’s ability to execute well with the future of Aruba’s products is yet to be determined. I suspect it will be mid-2016 before we really start to see if the new HP Enterprise company is a stronger and more nimble enterprise competitor than the legacy HP company. What I am certain of is that you cannot be good at everything. You have to pick and choose certain things and do the best you can. As my friend Devin Akin has pointed out to me, if you try and be good at everything, you will be good at nothing. Even though HP Enterprise will still be broad from a technology perspective, it will definitely have fewer things to worry about than the HP of today.

Product Disposition

When I was at HP Discover in Las Vegas last month, I was able to talk with the individual heading up the product disposition between Aruba and HP. I was told that August 18th is the official date within HP that a decision will be made around which products are staying and which products are going. It was still very early on in the evaluation process, so nothing definitive had been decided, and even if it had, that would not have been shared with me. I had some thoughts during the conference, and mostly, I think the same today as I did in early June. Here is what *I* think will happen:

HP Wireless AP’s and Controllers – These are gone. With the Aruba acquisition, there is no need to keep the HP wireless line. For wireless cloud based management, HP was already rebranding Aruba AP’s, so that should tell you something. I don’t see how the HP and Aruba product lines for AP’s and controllers could co-exist. Development was happening much faster on the Aruba side, so I don’t see why the HP product set would stay around.

Aruba Switches – I am still on the fence about these. I think they will stick around for a little bit longer, but only long enough for HP to incorporate some of their functionality into the ProCurve line that HP already sells. I don’t see why HP would keep them once AirWave and ClearPass are able to manage HP ProCurve switches in the same manner they manage Aruba switches today.

Aruba ClearPass – Although there is some overlap with HP’s IMC in terms of functionality, ClearPass is wholly focused on providing/restricting access. IMC is a much more modular system and has the ability to do a bunch of other things. I am not a user of IMC. I have never installed the product into a production environment, so my understanding of it is purely academic. However, I have used ClearPass and know that it is a very powerful product, especially when coupled with Aruba’s wireless solutions. I don’t see HP getting rid of it anytime soon.

Aruba AirWave – I am still uncertain about this product. As others pointed out to me, it was mentioned several times in keynotes during HP Discover 2015, and they would not have done that if they were going to kill it off in favor of HP’s IMC. I think there is pretty big overlap between it and HP’s IMC product, but I am sure there are things that Airwave does today that would take time to implement in IMC. It may end up being a management play for smaller customers, or it may simply co-exist with IMC.

Aruba Meridian – I don’t see this product going away. I don’t believe HP has anything similar to this in production.

Closing Thoughts

There are still many more months to go before we get to see what the results of the Aruba-HP deal will bring. August 18th will be here soon, and that will help Aruba partners and customers figure out what their future purchases should consist of. The bigger question will be answered in 2016, after HP has split into two separate companies.

Everything I have written is pure speculation. I don’t know all the things that HP and Aruba know. I don’t run companies for a living. I only see things from the field engineering level. I could be right, and I could be wrong. Unfortunately, I think we have another 6 months or so before we get a good feel for where this ship is headed. I am hoping it all works out for the best. Those of you that use or support Aruba products are probably watching this merger just as closely as I am. I hope it works out for the best for all parties. If it doesn’t, the industry will go on, but it will be worse off if a solid competitor in the wireless space fades off into obscurity.

Posted in aruba, hp, wireless | 1 Comment