Does It Really Matter?

My wife and I have this disagreement when it comes to which grocery store we prefer. I happen to favor a big chain based out of Florida. She happens to prefer a big chain based out of Ohio. We each have our reasons for and against each other’s pick, and they go a little something like this:

Her Store Choice
——————
Pros – They are cheaper.
Cons – The shopping experience is poor.

My Store Choice
——————
Pros – The shopping experience is great.
Cons – They are more expensive.

I choose experience over cost. She chooses cost over experience. The difference is that she always complains about the poor experience when she comes home from shopping at her store. I accept the fact that my store of choice is more expensive, but I feel better when I shop there.

Who Has The Better Argument?

The end result is the same. We both get food. What’s more important though? Money or the experience? I guess it depends on what you are focused on. As for our kids, they don’t care. They just want to open the pantry and see food.

Technology is “food”. Kids are “end users”.

Posted in vendors | Tagged , | 3 Comments

Touring Geek Heaven

A few weeks ago, I went to Atlanta to tour a data center. HP invited me down to take a look at a specific customer of theirs. I live about 4 hours away, so I drove down the night before excited to see racks of hardware, blinking lights, and further degrade my hearing by being inside the noisy room that held all that hardware.

This was a fairly large data center. It was the QTS Atlanta facility and is one of the larger data centers in the world. 970,000 square feet total, and 323,000 square feet is actual raised floor space. It’s a big building. The usual sights abound. Large pipes to carry water in and out of the facility to cool everything.

Here are some pics of the big pipes:

 

There are also pipes for air instead 0f water. I am assuming that is for air.

Here is one on top of the giant water tank that holds 1 million gallons of water. That water actually comes from the roof, which is built to capture rainwater. It saves them a lot of money on their water bill. It is hard to tell from this photo, but the slits are wide enough for a cell phone to fall through.

They also have their own power substation.

Let me show you an interior shot to give you some indication of size. This is a hallway that runs along the side of the main data center floor. The hallway is 1000 feet long. The picture doesn’t do it justice.

Another interesting thing to point out is the raised floor in the data center sits 48 inches high. A bit deeper than the datacenters I am used to. Since data cabling is all top of rack, that leaves plenty of room for cold air to flow since only power is run sub-floor.

Now that stuff is interesting, but I don’t know too many of my peers who get all hot and bothered by power and cooling. Nothing against those who do, but I just take those things for granted. If you want a better tour, you can watch the following video:

What I wanted to see, was the gear churning out the 1’s and 0’s. I knew it would involve a heavy amount of HP hardware, but I was surprised at how much Cisco gear was installed as well.

A Little Background

Diversified Agency Services(DAS) has over 100 sub-companies that each had their own IT infrastructure and IT staff. Imagine trying to manage and account for all of that. DAS undertook a project well over a year ago to consolidate the core data and applications of these 100 plus companies into a centralized environment. While there are obvious cost savings at play, it really comes down to ensuring IT can provide a reliable service to their customers. In this case, those customers are the 100 plus companies DAS is responsible for.

I was able to talk to several of the people responsible for making this consolidation happen while I was touring the Atlanta data center. The following people were at our disposal during the tour:

Jason Cohen – Global CIO for DAS

Jerry Kelly – North American CIO

BG Naran – Deputy General Manager and Data Center Architect for CDS

Mike Banic – VP Global Marketing, HP Networking

DAS was pretty happy with HP as their main vendor of choice for this project due to the high touch support they got. I saw a similar sentiment from Dreamworks when I was able to speak with one of their key IT people at Interop in Las Vegas back in May of this year. Obviously an organization the size of DAS is going to get high touch support from whatever vendor they do business with. At least, that vendor better give them high touch support if they want to keep doing business with them. I suspect(I forgot to ask this.) that HP was attractive due to the sheer amount of support capabilities and large product portfolio that they possess. They also chose the upper crust of technology that HP offers, with the exception of the servers. However, the servers they chose I would consider workhorses in the rackmount side of things. They aren’t bad, they just aren’t as hip as the blade servers. Of course, take that with a grain of salt. I am a network guy and for all the pictures I took, none of them, except one, had servers in them. 🙂

How Does It All Get Managed?

DAS has a data center in Phoenix that has similar gear and soon, they will be building one out in London. As a side note, they chose Phoenix and Atlanta based heavily on environmental factors as well as for latency purposes. Low incidence of earthquakes, floods, etc. Atlanta is prone to tornados, but the data center there can withstand the bulk of tornados.

Back to Dallas though. Their network operations facility is in Dallas,TX. Their staff have been pulled from a variety of the agencies that DAS oversees. They basically picked engineers and administrators from the diverse companies and pulled them all together under CDS, which is the new company that runs IT for DAS. Complicated isn’t it? 🙂

The way the North American CIO Jerry Kelly explained it to us, they had a bunch of generalists spread across the various companies. Now, they are able to create a bunch of highly focused engineers/architects and rely less on third party consultants to figure out solutions to problems due to the centralization that is underway with this project.

Why Did You Pick That Platform?

I asked BG Naran, who is kind of the head geek(I mean that in a GOOD way.), about the choices they made in terms of platforms. He told me that a lot of it was based on the pre-existing knowledge and comfort level their ops folks back in Dallas had.

What Did They Pick?

Their core switches are HP 12518’s. They utilize IRF between the 12518’s so it appears as a single logical switch. Up to 4 of these switches can be joined via IRF.

 

Check out this home made air baffle. The 12518 blows out a ton of air and this engineering feat here ensures it blows right up into the hot air intake on the ceiling. That’s a custom little part. It isn’t a manufactured product. Duct tape baby! It still has uses. 🙂

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Top of rack switches to connect the  servers are HP 5830’s and 5900’s. This gives a fair amount of 1/10/40Gig capabilities. The 5900’s in particular are for the ESXi clusters.

 

They are using the Nexus 1000v as the distributed virtual switch within VMware as evidenced by the Nexus 1010. They also have a fair amount of ASR 1K routers. Of course, my favorite switch in the entire Cisco portfolio is the 4900M, which they had several of.

Load balancing is handled within the data center by Cisco ACE. Load balancing across the multiple data centers is handled by Cisco ACE GSS.

Various Cisco switches/routers handle the monitoring network and what I assume was Internet/MPLS connectivity.

 

 

 

 

Big and small ASAs were in use.

 

 

 

For IPS, they stuck with HP and chose Tipping Point.

Closing Thoughts

All in all, it was an interesting tour of an impressive facility. What I found even more interesting was that the DAS folks are sharing this consolidation project through a website with blog posts as well as some pretty decent videos. Other than advertising for the company, there doesn’t seem to be much to gain for them. I suppose they are genuinely interested in sharing their experiences with the IT community at large. Take a look at the link here:

A DAS Journey

The geek in me cannot resist the urge to take pictures of equipment I find interesting. Even if I have seen the platform a million times, I still find it interesting. In case you might be wondering why certain things weren’t cabled up, it is because this data center is about to go live. It is still being spun up, hence the devices without cables.

Posted in cisco, data center, hp | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

The Burden Of Pre-Sales

There’s something to be said for doing post-sales VAR/vendor work and corporate IT operations work. It has its major benefit in the familiar. By that, I mean that if you consistently perform the same type of work over and over again, you can get fairly proficient at it. Whether that is the consultant who integrates phone systems on a regular basis or the corporate IT engineer who maintains a network of equipment that only changes during equipment refresh times, they have an advantage.

I am finding that the pre-sales side of things, for those who are employed in the reseller space, or even the vendor for that matter, isn’t quite as advantageous. I say that not in a negative light, but simply pointing out that there are far more variables involved in the pre than the post. Now I suppose I could make the argument that there are quite a few situations in which you aren’t going to have a tremendously difficult time selling a solution. Perhaps you are pitching the market leader in that particular space, or the customer has indicated they only want a solution from a particular vendor. However, there are too many instances in which you are pitting your solution against others. By others, I mean competing vendor solutions. VAR on VAR violence tends to center around the human factor(account management/engineering) and not so much the product.

Let’s ignore price for this particular post of mine. I know it heavily influences deals, but there’s nothing interesting to me about being cheaper. It just means your overhead is less, or your ability to absorb loss is greater. Winning deals on price alone is like fishing with dynamite. It gets the job done, but there isn’t any real glory in it. I also acknowledge that there seems to be a lot of dynamite out there catching fish these days. 🙂

Analyze, Analyze, Analyze

Ever talk to sports addicts? Many of them have a remarkable ability to pop off facts and ideas about a variety of things surrounding a particular sport or sports. They’ll know who was traded to what team and what that means for the overall team’s chances of winning and losing. They can recall batting averages, average rushing yards, field goal percentages, win/loss records, and all kinds of statistics that boggle the mind.

That same dedication is required for pre-sales when it comes to technology. I don’t care if you sell for one vendor or a dozen; you better know the competition. You also better know about the products you are selling as well. You want to win don’t you?

One Such Example

Here’s a breakdown of one company. I purposely picked Riverbed because they have more than one product, but they don’t have the portfolio spread that Cisco, EMC, or HP do. A flowchart for either of those companies would have taken up too much space.

I have segmented Riverbed into three sections. Within each section, I have listed the product(s) that fall under it. I also listed some competitors in that product space underneath each section. It is NOT an exhaustive list. It’s just a list of enough vendors to give you an idea of the task at hand.

 

How Much Do I Need To Know?

In order to sell Riverbed, you need to be familiar with the company and the product set. Depending on your role, that level of familiarity varies. I built another graphic illustrating what I think is the depth required to sell a solution such as Riverbed and compete against the other vendors.

 

For the chart above, the first two columns apply to the vendor referenced in the bottom left in blue. The last two columns would be any other vendor in that space.

At first glance, it would appear that the VAR sales rep gets off the easiest. That might be true if that sales rep is only selling Riverbed. However, as is often the case, that sales rep is selling for a number of vendors. At a minimum, there will be a storage, networking, virtualization, security, and server vendor of choice for each VAR. Some of those areas might be the same vendor, but in any event, there are more product sets to be familiar with than if you worked for a single vendor. The vendor engineer won’t be in that bad of shape when it comes to large companies with a large product portfolio, as there will be specialty engineers who focus on particular areas.

Closing Thoughts

I don’t think for one second that everyone shares my opinion when it comes to pre-sales. I tend to favor being over-prepared, as you never know what will come up. Having a decent knowledge around the product you are selling as well as the various players within that particular space could make the difference between you getting the sale and someone else getting it. I also did not mention the human side of pre-sales, as I just wanted to focus on the technical merits of vendors. Additionally, I don’t want to sound as if I think there are never post-sales challenges. There are.

How do you view pre-sales from a required knowledge standpoint? Let me know in the comments or via Twitter. I’m genuinely interested in all opinions. Especially dissenting ones.

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Networking 101: WAN Optimization

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Networking 101: Load Balancers

For some time, I have been trying to think of a way to produce content for people very new to networking. Whether it was an IT manager, a recruiter trying to learn the lingo, or a sales person at a reseller or vendor, I was trying to find a way to impart basic concepts in a short amount of time. This video is my first attempt. It isn’t meant to be exhaustive. It isn’t meant to replace formal training of any kind. It is really just meant to give someone a nudge in the right direction. Oh, and it is also free. 🙂 I originally wanted to produce a cartoon book, but I recently bought a Wacom Bamboo Tablet and opted for this route instead. I can also assure you that I am not trying to copy CBT Nuggets new MicroNuggets series. I have a lot of respect for the content they produce and frequently steer people their way when asked which IT training companies I like.

 

 
For those of you who read my posts every now and then, this probably won’t tell you anything you don’t already know. However, I am always open to suggestions. No need to tell me my drawing skills aren’t professional. I’m acutely aware of that.

For those of you who may have actually found this useful, feel free to leave me a comment at YouTube or in the comments section below on topics you might want to see. I am looking to produce a couple dozen of these in the next few years. This video went long, but I want to keep them all under 5 minutes.

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The Automation You Love To Hate

Want to get people riled up? Send out a tweet proclaiming your love for VTP.
What is VTP? I’m glad you asked. For those who aren’t familiar, VTP(VLAN trunk protocol) is simply a way to propagate VLAN configuration across multiple Cisco switches. This prevents you from having to manually create VLANs on every switch in your network. You can read all about VTP and how it works here: http://www.cisco.com/en/US/tech/tk389/tk689/technologies_tech_note09186a0080094c52.shtml

Note – There is a standards based implementation called Multiple VLAN Registration Protocol (MVRP), which is part of the 802.1ak amendment to 802.1q, but more people are familiar with the Cisco proprietary implementation of VTP.

Why VTP?

I’m not really interested in talking about VTP, except for one reason. VTP is a tool, and that tool is used to reduce administrative overhead on your network. However, it gets ridiculed and derided due to the number of times it has taken networks down. One might say it is too easy to take down a network running VTP. Is that a problem with the design of VTP or a problem with the human beings that run VTP? I’d say a little of both, but more of the latter than the former. I’m simply using VTP to make my point because it is an easy target.

What is your point?

We’re clamoring for automation. We feel that we need better tools to manage the administrative tasks that bog us down. We don’t want to have to touch a hundred devices to do something like change a password or configure a VLAN. I get that. There are choices though. Just because you don’t like the choices doesn’t mean they aren’t valid methods to get rid of some of the administrative overhead we have to deal with on a regular basis. They way I see it, you have 3 choices today:

1. Use proprietary vendor configuration management tools. – Most large vendors have some sort of management suite for their own hardware. You can make massive changes across many systems with a few clicks of the mouse.

2. Use third party vendor configuration management tools. – Several vendors out there have tools to configure network devices from multiple vendors. They also probably do more in the realm of policy enforcement, configuration history, etc. Be prepared to spend some money for these tools though.

3. Use other built in features like VTP. – Perhaps most of these little freebies are proprietary, but others could be standards based.

Each of those 3 solutions have the ability to bring your network to its proverbial knees. Put an unskilled technician/engineer in front of any of those “tools” and bad things can happen. Since VTP is a relatively easy way to break a network, it tends to get beat up on. I happen to think it has relevance just like NAT. It all comes down to how you use it though.

In a perfect world, everyone touching a keyboard or mouse and tasked with maintaining a network would be highly skilled and capable. That’s not reality though. The truth is that IT departments are understaffed and the average engineer is overworked. They spend a fair amount of time simply fighting fires as they come up. If they do manage to get training, it is often on their own time and at their own personal direction. Their managers may or may not understand the intricacies of their job to where they are willing to go to the executives and get the money for the tools needed to make them more efficient. We also have to acknowledge that not every IT person is going to be motivated to manage their own professional development. Some are perfectly content being mediocre and will never put forth any extra effort to learn more. I could go on, but I think the point is made. Not every environment is like what I just described, but I would say the majority of them have at least some degree of what I just described. Of course, I have never been in the service provider side, so I can only speak to what I have seen in the enterprise arena.

Closing Thoughts

While we could always use more tools to manage networks, I think there are some valid choices out there right now. Infoblox, SolarWinds, and HP all have decent network automation/management tools available. There are others, but those three immediately come to mind. They aren’t cheap, for the most part, and why should they be? Automation is an incredibly difficult thing to do. There’s also the “native” tools like VTP and the proprietary vendor management suites.

The problem isn’t the tools or lack thereof. The problem is the people using the tools. If the thought process is that “only idiots use VTP on a network”, then you might as well stop using dynamic routing because you can have all kinds of problems with that too. Add on SDN, OpenFlow, or whatever the next new thing to come along is and you’ll still have problems if the person administering it doesn’t understand how it works.

Posted in automation, network management | Tagged , | 1 Comment

Interop 2012 Las Vegas Pictures

Here are some random photos I took with my iPhone during Interop 2012. Based on the quality of them, I probably should invest in a real camera. The picture with Spock and I was taken by Stephen Foskett who I happened to run into on the show floor. You can tell he was using a real camera based on the image quality. 🙂

The pictures are sorted by vendor. Since I spent 2 hours in the HP booth, I have more pictures of their stuff than anyone else. They paid my way to Interop, so I suppose it is only fair that I took more pictures of their hardware than the other vendors. It is also worth mentioning that I didn’t see a whole lot of new hardware at this show. I could always take pictures of the same Riverbed, Cisco, F5, ShoreTel, etc hardware that you probably already run in your own network, but what fun would that be?

Note – You can click on any image below to get a better view.

HP

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

These are the newer HP 5900 series switches. Designed for top of rack deployments, they can run 10Gig or 1Gig. They also feature 40Gig stacking ports. One thing to note is the chassis. It’s a Foxconn chassis. Look familiar? If you have deployed any Cisco Nexus 5548UP’s, Cisco Nexus FEX 2248’s, Cisco MDS 9148, or Cisco UCS FIC 6248’s recently, it should. I could be wrong, but I am pretty sure those platforms are Foxconn chassis’ as well.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This is the new 10512 switch. This positioned for the campus network and not the data center. Although the name indicates the switch probably has 12 slots, it doesn’t. It has 14. The two supervisor slots are not counted. Arista, Brocade, Extreme, and Juniper also do this. It seems Cisco is one of the few who count the supervisor slots in their chassis(ie 6500’s, Nexus 7k’s, etc.).

 

 

 

 

 

HP built some new phones specifically for use with Microsoft Lync. They’re nice little phones, and I took a few pictures showing some of the features.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

One of the interesting things about these phones are the active call/voicemail lights. It is placed on the corner and is visible from the front, side, or back of the phone. That way, you can see if there is a message or if the phone is in use without having to walk to the front of the phone. I’ve seen this feature on some of the newer Avaya phones as well.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Notice anything missing? There is no “hangup” button that the handset depresses when you put it in the resting place. There’s some sort of sensor that detect the handset is there. An odd feature, but I suppose it is one less manual piece that can fail due to wear and tear. Then again, the sensor could fail and you would probably have a harder time figuring that out.

 

 

 

 

 

Here’s the phone GUI. Excuse the blurry picture of it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This was a neat little feature. The Ethernet ports on the back of the phone have LED’s on them so you know if there is a connection or activity. I haven’t seen another IP phone with this feature, but since I am not a voice engineer, they might exist on some other vendor’s phones and I just haven’t come across them yet.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Any number of possibilities with this USB slot on the side of the phone!

 

 

 

 

 

I snapped this picture to show the few Polycom pieces that HP had on display.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This isn’t new, and certainly not exclusive to HP(Motorola and Ruckus have similar products.), but I just happen to like these little “AP on a wall” type units. This particular model is the MSM317 and features a single 2.4GHz radio, 4 Ethernet drops, and a single passthrough RJ-45 connection. The yellow port in the top left can be configured as an 802.3af PoE port.

Juniper

 

 

 

 

 

Teren Bryson and I waited for several minutes to talk to Abner Germanow from Juniper(He’s always busy at these shows.). He was kind enough to take time to run through QFabric with Teren and myself. I managed to snap a bad shot with my phone while Abner’s hand was in full swing. I can assure you that there are 5 fingers on his left hand. 🙂

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here’s the guts of QFabric. This is the interconnect. These things are deployed in pairs. Due to real estate limitations, they only brought half of the QFabric system to the show.

 

 

 

 

 

In the middle of this picture is the QFabric Director. It is the brains of the system.

 

 

 

 

 

These are several of the QFX3500 switches. In a QFabric system, they are what the end nodes connect into. The ports are on the backside of these switches.

Arista

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This is the 7508 switch from Arista. What is different about it is that it has 40Gbps interfaces on it. That currently is not available for sale. I was told that sometime in late 2012 or early 2013 you would be able to buy a 7508 loaded up with 40Gig interfaces. I had assumed that Arista would be releasing 40/100Gig sometime in the near future and that was the main reason I stopped by their booth.

Huawei

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here is the 12808 switch from Huawei. They have the 24 x 40Gig line cards on display on this model.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This is the 12812, which is a little bigger than the 12808. The interesting thing about this switch is the 8 x 100Gig line card. Yes, you read that right. 8 100Gig ports on one line card.

Xirrus

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There was one main reason I went to the Xirrus booth, and you are looking at it. I wanted to see how they were dealing with MIMO and 802.11n. I, and others I talked to, couldn’t figure out how you get multiple streams off of arrays using directional antennas. It turns out that they have newer radios with 2 or 3 antennas in them. The pictures above show the three antennas.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here are some additional pictures of Xirrus arrays. These arrays range from 4 to 16 radios. By serving up a directional portion of the area surrounding the array, the radios aren’t having to transmit or receive 360 degrees and can focus on serving up their particular sector.

 

 

 

 

 

Here’s what one of the arrays look like with the cover on.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This is the XR-1000H external array. It can have a single or dual radio configuration.

Netgear

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Netgear sells a lot more than the stuff you buy at Walmart. They had some of their wireless/storage/security on display. Not sure how much of it is rebranded from other manufacturers though.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I wanted to see the Netgear chassis that does 10Gig. I had heard of it much like Bigfoot or the Chupacabra, but I had never seen it. I was really bummed when I was told that it was an Extreme Networks switch rebranded. I believe it was Kaj Niemi who burst my bubble. 😉

Famous People

 

 

 

 

 

Matthew Gast from Aerohive was on the expo floor signing his new 802.11n book from O’Reilly. He had a good turnout! I stopped to chat with Matthew and he was gracious enough to pose for a picture.

New Horizons

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I only got one t-shirt while I was at Interop and this was it. New Horizons gave out these t-shirts at their booth. I thought it was clever.

The End.

Posted in Interop, vendors | Tagged , | 1 Comment

HP Networking – One Year Later

Posing with the Elvii at HP Discover 2011 in Las Vegas.

Last year, HP sent me to Interop. The Las Vegas show and the New York City show. I received a fair amount of access to HP Networking engineers and executives. This year, they sent me to the Interop show in Las Vegas again. For all the shows HP has sent me to, and all the access they have given me to their people, I will be forever grateful. I’m just a regular IT guy from the Nashville,TN area who happens to do a little writing on the side. Being able to interact with some very bright people from a vendor as large as HP has been a wonderful experience.

Having said all of that(and I meant every word), I wanted to give my impressions of HP Networking from over a year’s worth of interacting with them. Realistically, attempting to write an article that summarizes all of HP Networking would be tough to do. The last time I tried it, it took 3 posts. See here, here, and here for those posts. That didn’t include all of HP Networking either.

If you follow the networking industry, you know about the Cisco/HP rivalry. In case you aren’t familiar with it, I submit the following short history lesson:

In the spring of 2009, Cisco announced UCS. Eight months later, HP announced the acquisition of 3Com. War was declared, even if nobody ever issued a formal declaration. Here we are three years later, and things have certainly changed. The Cisco UCS line has been refreshed a few times and continues to grab market share from IBM, HP, and others. HP has a much broader product set from a networking perspective and can offer the entire solution set from storage to compute to networking. The few things they don’t do that Cisco does is handled through their Alliance One partnership.

Last Year’s Perception

Rather then give you a gigantic post to read, let me break down the big things that were noted last year in discussions myself, and others had with HP. Here’s a semi-logical grouping of them:

1. Branding – There needs to be a lot less H3C and 3Com logos and a lot more HP logos. The longer you continue to carry old logos on documentation and hardware, the less it looks like an integration has taken place.

2. Message – We get it. You’re not Cisco. I don’t expect you to be exactly like them. Mentioning them constantly can have the effect of making HP look like the whiny child stomping up and down begging someone to pay attention to them. Nobody likes whiny kids.

3. Product Line Reduction – There are way too many switching platforms from HP, and they realize that. At the Interop NYC show in October of 2011, HP stated that they were going to get rid of the A and E designators. “A” meaning 3Com/H3C platforms, and “E” was for ProCurve platforms. They also indicated that they would work on simplifying the product line.  Additionally, the wireless side needs some reduction as well.

4. Ecosystem – If you are trying to woo people from Cisco, you need to have some sort of an ecosystem that people are comfortable with. This would include a robust support site with forums, design guides, painless process to open support tickets, and books. Lots of books.

5. Technology – Give people a reason to walk away from Cisco and other vendors. If all you are offering is the same, then why would I switch? Cost will only get you so far. There is a bit too much secrecy around how everything on the data center side works. You’ll probably get more sales if people understand what it is that they are buying.

6. Focus – Learn from the failures at competitors and stick with what you know. If you are a hardware company, then develop hardware. Make sure every executive you hire understands where the company focus is and should be.

This Year’s Perception

After a year, how have things changed in my opinion?

1. Branding – I didn’t see anything but HP logos in the HP booth on the Interop Las Vegas expo floor. It was much better than last year’s Vegas booth. Additionally, with the new switches that have come out in the past year, there is no longer any “A” series or “E” series. Everything just has a numerical designator for the switch model.

2. Message – I barely heard Cisco’s name mentioned except in technical discussions revolving around particular platforms. As the market share leader in networking, HP is acutely aware of Cisco. However, in my discussions with HP employees at Interop, it was less of a big deal compared to last year. I think a lot of that has to do with the dust settling on the 3Com acquisition. A lot of the technology that 3Com developed is already a part of the HP solution set.

3. Product Line Reduction – So how has HP done to reduce switch sprawl? According to this URL: http://web.archive.org/web/20110615124934/http://h17007.www1.hp.com/us/en/products/switches/index.aspx, HP had 48 different switch models in mid-June of 2011. Compare that to today at this URL: http://h17007.www1.hp.com/us/en/products/switches/index.aspx. If you look under the “Full Switch Portfolio” tab, there are 57 different series of switches. 57!

I realize that some of these switch series could be grouped together, but you would still have around 50 different series if you did that. My gut tells me this needs to be chopped down to about 20 different series, and even that might be pushing it. Cisco is bad about this too, so it’s not just HP that has a product sprawl problem. As for the wireless side, I did manage to speak with HP about this. They are reducing all wireless down to 1 line of products from the 3 that exist today.

4. Ecosystem – At the end of 2011, HP released a few HP branded books centered around their HP Expert One certification program. You can see the full list of books here. They have added several titles to the lineup since the initial 2 books were launched last year. In addition to books, there are several training courses available from HP Networking on switching, wireless, and even IMC.

As for the design and deployment guides, these are still lacking. I have found plenty of documentation centered around specific platforms and how to configure them, but in my quest to find overall design guides, I came up short. There are generic FlexCampus, FlexFabric, and FlexNetworking design guides, but that’s about it. I would expect to see a design guide just for mobility, but it looks like that is just a few pages in one of the generic “Flex” design guides. I also would expect dedicated design guides for security and other specialized areas. Unless I am navigating the HP web site incorrectly, I don’t see them.

5. Technology – HP has a lot of good technology. I was pleased to see that their HP Discover conference in Las Vegas in June, featured some deep dives on technology like IRF and certain switching platforms. Cisco sets the standard with architecture education, as anyone who has ever sat through or listened to a 2 hour session at a Cisco Live conference can tell you. They tell you almost everything about how their products work. HP should do the same.

6. Focus – While I cannot say that across the entire company there is focus, I will say that within the networking division, HP is doing something right. By allowing the AllianceOne program to exist, HP is saying that they can’t make everything. They are ceding certain areas of networking to other companies. Riverbed is their main WAN optimization vendor, F5 is their main load balancer vendor, etc. This is a smart move in my opinion. The one area I am still unclear about is what they are going to do on the firewall side. They have firewalls, but you almost never hear them mentioned.

Closing Thoughts

I’m happy to see HP Networking get better. Whether it is in the campus network or the data center, they have a wide range of products to fit almost every need. For the things they cannot do, they rely on third party vendors to fill that gap.

For all the problems that HP has had recently(real or perceived), none of them really centered around their particular hardware platforms, from the networking perspective. They are facing ecosystem battles and the higher level executive issues. The HP ecosystem is much better off today than it was a year ago. As for the executive issues, those appear to be settling down now that Meg Whitman has been CEO for almost a year now.

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ExtraHop Networks

I have written and re-written this post at least a half dozen times. It’s been nagging at me since Interop in early May. I had a nice format. I even created some nice graphics, but it just felt so clinical and boring. I’m just gonna’ go off the top of my head on this one.

ExtraHop is unbelievable. I’m not just saying that because my company is an ExtraHop reseller. Or maybe that IS why I am saying that. I’ve seen this product run on the production side and the amount of usable data it generates is amazing. Especially given the fact that it uses no software agents. That’s right. It is a completely agentless Application Performance Management(APM) solution.

A Short History Lesson

Many years ago, network monitoring was fairly simple. Check a device status using SNMP or ICMP and pop off an alert when it stopped responding. That wasn’t enough, so we started watching flows. We learned a bit more about what was going through the various devices and how much bandwidth each application was eating up. We could also see QoS markings to gauge how well our QoS policy worked.

Flows were great and all, but the network grew up. It went all layer 7 on us. Standard network monitoring had its place, but wasn’t enough to tell us why a particular application wasn’t working. Applications moved off of a couple of boxes and onto multi-tier monstrosities. I use the term “monstrosities” in a loving manner. 🙂

The market responded. Companies begin to market APM solutions that gave insight as to why a particular application ran slow. Networking people everywhere rejoiced because the network infrastructure started to get exonerated at a faster rate once the APM product could point to a particular node in an obscure application tier as being the culprit. Measuring things like server wait time and comparing it to network wait time could clearly show where the problem was. Sometimes the problem WAS the network, and a good APM tool would show that too.

There’s just one problem with a lot of APM solutions. Well, not one problem. Several problems really. Let’s enumerate a few, and in doing so, maybe it will help you see why I am a fan of ExtraHop Networks.

Some Problems To Note

Software Agents – There are quite a few APM vendors that take the agent-based approach. You load an agent on the required servers and then get data directly from that host. Of course, now you have to maintain the code level on the agents and upgrade as needed. You also just installed software that might cause problems on your box due to the hooks the agent installs to have full visibility. ExtraHop doesn’t do that. No agents at all. They trust the wire to provide them with all the information they need. They use packet captures over software agents.

Streamlined Product Set and Architecture – There are 2 physical models from ExtraHop and 1 virtual model. That’s it. The EH2000 will go up to 3Gbps capture rate and the EH5000 will go up to 10Gbps capture rate. The EH1000V(interesting name for the virtual product since Cisco has a switch with a similar name.) will go up to 1Gbps capture rate. Other solutions might have dedicated boxes for capturing traffic and other boxes to do the actual number crunching or to run reports and dashboards. ExtraHop can function with a single box. If you have more than 1 of their boxes, you can use their Central Manager product, which is free, to aggregate information from multiple boxes.

Install Process – Some APM implementations can take months to get up and running. Not so with ExtraHop. Their box can be up and operational in 15 minutes. Actually, there was an install they did for a local client of ours and it took 11 minutes. That’s 11 minutes from nothing to usable data.

A Different Way

I listed three things above that I think are a pretty big deal. There are more things though, that cause me to like ExtraHop over other APM vendors.

Focus – ExtraHop is not trying to be all things to all people when it comes to monitoring. Because of that, they are exclusively focused on the operations side. They are not interested in making software development tools. There are plenty of other vendors who are doing that. ExtraHop is not going to be one of them.

Speed – ExtraHop writes their own hardware drivers on their boxes. Because of that, the box boots up fast and they can capture in real time using commodity hardware.

Enough of me going on and on. Take a look for yourself.

A Quick Look

This video has a lot more information and also shows you the capabilities of their new Citrix piece:


Conclusion

Of all the APM solutions I have seen so far, ExtraHop is my favorite. It isn’t that all the other solutions are horrible. They aren’t. It’s just that ExtraHop is better, in my opinion.

Easy to setup, easy to understand the architecture, and easy to use. Of course, you could do it the old way. Have a bunch of different boxes with different roles. Bring in a bunch of vendor engineers to setup the various pieces. Spend a fortune training people how to use it. You could always do that.

Or, you can start here and see what APM from ExtraHop looks like.

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Setting Up Partners For Failure?

A short post, but this has been on my mind for a few months.

People who work for resellers and vendors typically have access to competitor information. This is usually a comparison or contrast against whomever the vendor sees as their competition. Sometimes it is generic in nature, and other times it is tailored to specific competitors.

For example, if you were an EMC partner, you might get to see what EMC’s views are regarding NetApp, HP, IBM, Hitachi, Dell, and other storage vendors. They give you this information so that if you have to go and sell against these other vendors, you can emphasize all the benefits of your vendor of choice, and bring up all the negative things about the competition. If you happen to work for a vendor, you probably have access to even more information about the competition as vendors trust partners to a certain extent, but they aren’t going to give them everything as it relates to their competition.

There are a lot of people out there who don’t really care for the competitive information. They see it as marketing nonsense and don’t waste their time reading it. I tend to read a fair amount of this stuff since my company partners with so many different vendors. I do this because I like to be prepared when it comes time to discuss the pros and cons of various vendors. I will never think of everything on my own, so I can leverage this type of information and gain a bit more insight into the various vendor products.

The Problem

As I read through this stuff, I find myself wondering if vendors aren’t setting partners up for failure. Two issues I have noticed are:

  1. Vendors do not admit their own shortcomings in the competitor info documents. I realize you only want to emphasize the good points, but eventually someone will bring up a deficiency and your salespeople won’t know how to answer it unless they have an engineer with them, or they REALLY know the product they are pitching. Some of the competitor info will mention what to respond with if the other side brings up any “perceived” weaknesses, but it is usually some vague statement attacking a “straw man” and not really dealing with the initial claim.

2.  Some of the information regarding other competitors is just plain wrong. I was recently combing through a particular vendor’s competitive analysis documents on one of their competitors, and the points raised in opposition to the other vendor were incorrect. I don’t mean that they embellished a little. I meant that they were factually incorrect. They were wrong enough to where even a semi-competent customer would be able to shoot down the claims made in the competitive info document as false.

Closing Thoughts

Competitive info can be useful provided it is realistic and somewhat sincere. Filling people up with outright lies or generic marketing messages will eventually get them in trouble. Someone is bound to call them on it, and when they don’t know how to respond, they end up looking like an idiot.

What are your thoughts on competitive information?

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