The Year of the Developer – a Cisco Live US 2017 Recap

Cisco Live 2017, the 28th annual event, wrapped up Thursday of last week. I believe it marked a pivotal moment for Cisco, and by extension, any company that uses networks – read “EVERYONE.” Although the big theme was Cisco’s “The Network. Intuitive.” message, I think the most impactful shift for engineers around the world is the affirmation of Cisco’s shift toward programmability. While Cisco CEO Chuck Robbins may have been joking about DevNet owing him $20 every time he mentioned their name, he was very serious about the growing importance of developers in the future of Cisco as a combined software and hardware organization. One of the most telling things I heard Chuck say was a commendation of Apple CEO, Tim Cook. He said, “You’ve always embraced the developer community – we’re now opening up a lot of our portfolio, in fact, our future strategy is everything about our portfolio will be programmable in the future.” As I mentioned in my interview before the closing keynote with Cisco VP and Chief Inclusion and Collaboration Officer Shari Slate, now is the time to get intimate with Cisco DevNet.

Now if you haven’t spent much time with DevNet, don’t panic just yet. Cisco is going to continue to manufacture hardware long into the future, and your current knowledge is still valuable today. To quote Chuck again, “the role the network plays, despite the fact that it may be taken for granted sometimes, has increased.” The parts that are new are that “we have to do this AT SCALE like has never been done before”, “we have to change the degree of complexity, remove this complexity that was necessary when we kept adding new features to move FASTER than we ever have before”, and “we have to apply SECURITY the moment they [frames] hit the wire.” Chuck believes that in 2020 there will be as many as 1 million new connections every hour and that APIs, and by extension DevNet, will be the tool chest we utilize to operate at such a large scale.

This new world of programmability isn’t necessarily going to mean every engineering task is going to require writing code. Take, for instance, the StealthWatch quarantine workflow demonstrated by TK Keanini during the Technology Vision Keynote. During that example, metadata was sent from the new Catalyst 9k switching to StealthWatch, where TK clicked a quarantine button, that sent a request to DNA Center, that used underlying APIC-EM to reconfigure the Catalyst 9k and implement the quarantine. There was no coding done in the example, but this capability utilized the programmable interfaces of each component to implement the desired action. Understanding that other applications can also leverage those same interfaces and that the individual components expose large amounts of functionality via their APIs are critical.

Now that you know everything produced by Cisco will be programmable moving forward, how do you start swimming in the right direction? Simple, go log in to DevNet at developer.cisco.com. There you will find a plethora of content and resources to help you grow your new skillset. You will find Learning Labs that are guided sets of modules that teach to a specific subject. Some of these learning labs are geared toward specific Cisco technology stacks, while others are meant to introduce the novice to coding 101 (hello world level simple). As you evolve over time and want a more flexible environment you can reserve time on a sandbox environment where you’ll be able to code against real kit tucked away in a Cisco data center. If you find yourself in need of support you can take advantage of the free DevNet support community resources available in Cisco Spark, or forums, or pay for advanced support that is billed by the ticket.

What does this all mean to you? It means you should get started by taking advantage of the training DevNet has to offer.

Doing things at scale successfully means doing them programmatically and automatically. Try pulling some configuration data or making config changes using YANG and NETCONF/RESTCONF with the new IOS-XE Denali in a DevNet sandbox. Learn about and encourage your enterprise application developers to code their Apple apps to take advantage of WiFi Fastlane capabilities so that they perform better in large scale, crowded RF environments. Doing things faster means taking human response and cycle times out of the equation. That could mean leveraging the same APIs and tools, or it could mean going up a layer and ‘programming’ your network policy in DNA Center to automate, simplify and speed up provisioning. Implementing pervasive security means taking it all a step further and tying in StealthWatch, ISE, Umbrella, and programming those into not only your policy.

In case you didn’t notice, quite a few of the activities I described aren’t the kind of ‘programming’ that requires coding. Programming and coding are different, and both are different still from development. But no matter which way you frame it, your world is changing. I encourage you to get out there and start learning now with the instrument of your salvation, DevNet!

Twenty-Four Bit Segment – A Glorious Cisco Live US Soundtrack

Every year the technology world waits with bated breath for the Cisco Live US Customer Appreciation Event band announcement.  I am very excited to write that THIS year Cisco has booked five-time Grammy award winner and Super Bowl XLVIII headliner Bruno Mars! Even if you don’t know his name, it is very likely you’ve heard his music, including singles such as Just the Way You Are, Grenade, Locked Out of Heaven, That’s What I Like, and 24K Magic. Since this is a technology event, I propose that Bruno Mars use his performance as an opportunity to teach the Cisco community about protocol headers!  Below you’ll find the original song lyrics rewritten in a style more fitting for an event like CLUS.

Of course, the CAE is only one small part of the event.  In recent years I’ve been drawn more and more to the DevNet portion of Cisco Live.  In the DevNet area, Cisco delivers a number of sessions that target anyone from the novice who hasn’t coded since college to the person who knows 5 current languages and just wants to immerse themselves into a specific technologies’ APIs. What makes this area arguably more valuable for learning than the rest of CLUS is that there are roving teams of knowledgeable staff available to help you work through learning labs.  Whether it’s a 20-minute session on Git, or a 90-minute presentation on Spark APIs, you should set aside some time to spend here.  If you plan to arrive in Las Vegas early, you can also attend one of the two DevNet Express events planned for Saturday and Sunday before CLUS starts in earnest.  If you haven’t registered yet what are you waiting for, go do it!

Of course, I would also be remiss if I didn’t recommend that you stop by and visit the Presidio booth too during your time at Cisco Live.  We might not sing this song for you, but we can tell you about the myriad ways we can help your organization with our vast technical expertise!

Spoiler alert: MOSTLY SFW. Your useful enjoyment of the original song will be forever spoiled after reading this post – try not to hear ‘twenty-four bit segment‘, I dare you! The lyrics also won’t teach you very much and didn’t actually end up very focused on headers, but they ARE fun!

Tonight
 I just want to take my frames higher
 Throw your traffic up in the overlay
 Let's set this abstraction off right

Engineers, put yo' stacking-rings up to the moon
 Workloads, what y'all trying to do?
 Twenty four bit segments and leaf pairs
 East to West so easy
 We route uh

Hop hop, it's VXLAN time (VXLAN time)
 VXLAN time (VXLAN time)
 Layer 2 tunnels are back again
 Oh hosts don't know? (never tell 'em)
 Oh hosts don't know? (never tell 'em)
 I bet VTEPs know soon as traffic floods in (mappin' up)
 Using hundred gig links (ya)
 Forty gig links (ya)
 San Jose's finest views (whoop, whoop)
 Don't look too hard might confuse ya'self
 Known to give an interface bigger MTUs

Oh, I'm a dangerous man with new protocols in my pocket (keep up)
 So many new workloads around me and they segmenting up the network 
 Why you mad, fix ya layers ain't my fault STP be blocking (keep up)

Techies only, come on
 Put yo' stacking-rings up to the moon
 Workloads, what y'all trying to do?
 Twenty four bit segments and leaf pairs
 East to West so easy
 Uh, we route!

Second verse for the SecOps (SecOps) CISOs (CISOs)
 Bad actors and ya weekly bitcoin sends (haha)
 Can I preach (uh oh) can I preach (uh oh)
 I gotta show 'em how ACI get it in
 First, take your VIP (VIP), don't do RIP (RIP)
 Write your policy like memory ain't shit (whoop, whoop)
 We too fresh
 Got to blame in on Cisco
 Hashtag meshed they ain't ready for me

Oh, I'm a dangerous man with new protocols in my pocket (keep up)
 So many new workloads around me and they segmenting up the network
 Why you mad, fix ya layers ain't my fault STP be blocking (keep up)

Techies only, come on
 Put yo' stacking-rings up to the moon
 Hey workloads
 What y'all trying to do?
 Twenty four bit segments and leaf pairs
 East to West so easy
 Uh, we route!

Everywhere traffic goes they be like
 Oh, so easy 
 Everywhere traffic goes they be like (oh, so easy oh)
 Oh everywhere traffic goes they be like (oh, so easy oh)

Now, now, now watch me break it down like (uh)
 Twenty four bit, Twenty four bit segment
 What's that sound (Twenty four bit, Twenty four bit segment)
 Come on now
 Twenty four bit, Twenty four bit segment
 Don't fight the feeling invite the feeling

Put yo' stacking-rings up to the moon
 Workloads, what y'all trying to do? (tell me what y'all trying to do)
 Twenty four bit segments and leaf pairs
 East to West so easy (hands up!)
 Put yo' stacking-rings up to the moon
 Workloads, what y'all trying to do? (do)
 Twenty four bit segments and leaf pairs
 East to West so easy (twenty four bit) uh, we route

If you aren’t familiar with the jingle, you can watch a live performance from the AMAs here: https://youtu.be/ttlTus58MNA

 

All A-Board, the Cisco Spark Board

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The world has no greater champion for making communication easy than Rowan Trollope.  The image above is of Rowan on stage at Cisco Partner Summit on November 1, 2016.  The contents of the wheel barrow he’s wielding represent the current equipment load of the average meeting room.  Take a look at what you see in there – the picture may be of potato quality but I’m sure you recognize many of the relics – two projectors, assorted infrared remote controls, a computer monitor, a computer tower, an assortment of network and video cables, some microphones and most notably, a whiteboard.  Rowan demonstrates, and I whole heartedly recommend, that you DUMP these devices in favor of a revolutionary experience!

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That revolutionary experience, of course, is the Cisco Spark Board.  Part whiteboard, part video endpoint, part large screen display, the Spark Board isn’t just going to change the way you meet, it’s going to change the way you work.  The idea behind the Spark Board is simple – remove the barriers to effective communication by making meeting and collaboration easy.  The minds at Cisco, and Rowan in particular, have correctly observed that there is tremendous room for improvement in the average meeting experience.  Although there has been great penetration in the video conferencing space over the last couple of years, there remain a very large number of conference spaces in the world that never made the cut for infrastructure-intensive and expensive video systems.  Worse still are the rooms that were over-“improved” with so many different complicated point solutions that only a single individual knows how to get a meeting started and pain is inflicted on all new comers.  The Spark Board aims to simplify your meetings by eliminating conference room sprawl and replacing it with a single, intelligent Spark powered device.

Let’s begin our dissection with the feature I believe is the most valuable in the Spark Board and where it derives its name – the ability to replace a whiteboard.  Whiteboards have seen a remarkable number of attempted disruptions all with limited success (I admit ignorance about the success of SMART boards in classrooms).  From old school chalkboards, to paint-on, whole wall whiteboards that are near impossible to erase cleanly, to the whiteboards Panasonic built that scroll a film for drawing and do an awful job of printing the things drawn on film with an attached thermal printer, to Cisco’s own digital WebEx whiteboard capability, there is a common adjective to describe them all – mediocre.  For physical whiteboards in a room, much like Vegas, the content drawn in the room stays in the room.  The only way whiteboard contents leave an environment is through individuals snapping pictures of the board with their cellphones (admit it, you’re guilty).

Spark Board overcomes this limitation (and others) by allowing the annotations drawn on the board to be shared in real-time directly with participants in a Spark room.  Not only can those participants see your annotations, they can also annotate all on their own at the same time.  You read that right, the experience that can be had by two people on other sides of a continent can be the identical to two people standing shoulder to shoulder in the same room.  With four different drawing colors it is possible to have up to four discretely identifiable participants making their mark on the meeting.  Adding to that power is the drawings and annotations are automatically saved to the Spark room associated with the meeting.  This means no more cellphone pictures of whiteboards that you struggle to read later on.  I’ve already had a taste of drawing like this with the iPad Pro and Apple Pencil, and let me tell you, it is a very exciting thing – almost like the first time you sat in front of a high quality video endpoint and realized you had a new way to communicate that was going to make your life easier.

New content is easy to generate using the Cisco Spark Board marker, but what about sharing traditional content like PowerPoints and PDFs with your audience?  The Spark Board has done away with our wired past in a brilliant way, by pairing itself to a device, user and room through ultrasonic pairing in the style of Cisco Proximity.  Now, if you have ever used Proximity you know it has a fatal design flaw – the user who wants to connect must be on the same network as the endpoint.  This is a big problem if a customer wants to follow along from a paired cellphone or a contractor wants to use the feature to share a presentation.  The Spark Board overcomes this by drawing (pun intended) its sharing capabilities directly from the Spark room, which, of course, stores all its content in the internet accessible cloud.  For an individual to share content on the Spark Board, he or she need merely post the content in the room then the Board can load it directly.  This can be done from guest wireless without an issue so long as the internet is accessible.

These sharing capabilities are so simple, and so powerful it is easy to forget that the Spark Board is also a very capable video endpoint as well.  Having both a 4K 120 Hz display and 4K 60fps fixed-focal length camera, the Spark Board provides a strong video showing.  It should be obvious that it is no SX or MX unit, but super high quality video isn’t what it’s made for.  More impressive than the video experience is the innovative way Cisco is improving the audio experience by building the microphones into the Board.  Instead of relying on cabled overhead or table microphones, the Spark Board has an internal array of twelve (12) mics.  In a similar manner to how Cisco’s wireless access points use MIMO and some amazing math to reconstitute a data stream from one RF signal arriving at different times and orientations due to reflection and multipath, the Spark Board is able to intelligently process the noisy incoming audio streams (waveforms just like 2.4 or 5GHz signals) from each microphone and assemble a much cleaner audio signal that gets sent to remote participants.

The features I’ve described eliminate the need for a white board, a projector, remote controls, a dedicated PC, a video conferencing unit, table microphones, table-consuming starfish-style conference phones and extender mics, dongles, markers, erasers, spray cleaner or any other vestige of a traditional in-person meeting room.  With a single device providing such a compelling replacement for these things I think we’re about to witness a large culture shift in the way we collaborate.  Please watch my YouTube video which shows some simple usage for more detail. If you’d like to dig deeper, please reach out to your Presidio account manager.  If you don’t have, or don’t know, your Presidio account manager, please reach out to me and I’ll put you in touch!

A Conference to Remember

I was apprehensive when I heard our Presidio Exchange conference would be held on a cruise ship in 2016.  I had never been on cruise, but I had toured historical Navy vessels and mentally I had extrapolated their cramped halls with periodic bulkheads to step through to the very dissimilar luxury liner we were destined to travel on.  That misconception paired with abundant jokes about bad weather, hurricanes, Zika, a last-minute schedule change to drag sessions into Saturday, abandonment of private island excursions and the prospects of having the UN’s defined fundamental right to internet access revoked for days collectively had me anticipating a lackluster and melancholy voyage.  I couldn’t have been more wrong.

I woke up at 4 am Thursday to gather myself and arrive at the airport early for my 7 am flight to Miami.  I worked furiously in the terminal to burn down as much work as I could before boarding the flight and then I started to detach from routine as I took in Jeanne Beliveau-Dunn’s book I’m The Boss Of Me about self-improvement and grabbing life by the horns.  By the time we landed I was five cups of coffee in and ramped up for the day.  Then the gears jammed; the flight was early, the shuttle to the airport was fast, the ship wasn’t ready.  Hundreds of Presidio employees packed into the Norwegian ship terminal for hours waiting to board the vessel.  The terminal lacked both entertainment and food save a pair of vending machines, so everyone was very hungry and very anxious to board the ship.  By the time boarding started, the time allocated for lunch had come and gone and general session is what many had to sate them.

After acquiring sustenance it was easy to get myself into conference mode and soak up the positive outlooks promulgated by our amazing leadership team.  Listening to the thoughts, insights, strategy ideas and initiatives our executives have put together never fails to get me excited about our company, about my relationships with my customers, my career and technology in general.  The positivity these sessions induce is contagious, and in a confined space like a cruise ship, I believe it is greatly amplified.  Like bringing hemispheres of plutonium together, when the mass of people who make up Presidio are put together and positive force is applied, criticality is achieved and we explode in optimism and camaraderie.

Particularly encouraging to me was the last admission that a developer’s mindset is something every engineer will need moving into the future.  I believe this has been an 800-pound gorilla in the industry for years and that many have been terrified of making it angry.  To tell the large, talented and diligent workforce of engineers that they need to need to adapt or perish has been to risk backlash for a long time, but no longer.  It’s a brave new world and we all need to start thinking at a higher level and abandon the ways of the trench digger.  Those themes were made very clear during Exchange and I couldn’t be happier.

Just as encouraging as the inspiring orations of Thursday was the volunteerism of Friday.  Orchestrated by Tony Kaperick and a team of leaders, the Presidio team engaged in extensive Hurricane Matthew relief efforts after arriving in the port of Nassau.  Some went to the Red Cross or the Salvation Army to break down pallets and pack food boxes, and I and many, many others went to Clifton Heritage National Park to help clear the beach.  After a long tour of the devastation as we traveled through the island to arrive at the site, our team was confronted with what seemed to be an insurmountable task.  There were tree limbs and branches all over the beach. Many of these were buried in the beach itself as a result of the slurry of sand and sea water swirled well above normal levels.  Many were impossible to pull from the ground and had to be dug out with shovels.  Some were still mangled and interwoven with the trees that remained and had to be extracted.  Dispersed throughout the beach were assorted trash, roof beams, broken glass, tires, pallets and other non-organic debris all of which made clean up dangerous.  Piled up closer to the current shoreline and extending its entire length was seaweed piled 2-3 feet high in places all of which had similar trash and branches entangled within it.  The stench the seaweed emitted was nauseating as it rotted in place.

BeachVolunteers

Presidio employees tackled the challenge head-on.  Men and women, young and old, muscular and no quite so all went right to work grabbing everything conceivable and moving it several yards off the beach and into piles that could be more easily removed from the site.  We had diggers shoveling sand off of larger limbs so that they could be extracted more easily.  We had pickers who grabbed everything from twigs to forearm thickness branches.  We had crazies with no regard for personal safety (myself included) lift entire trees in Navy Seal fashion to overcome the lack of access to chain saws.  We had meticulous cleaners with rakes who gathered smaller pieces of debris into smaller piles to be gathered and removed.

After a few hours of hard work by all, the condition of the beach was much improved.  At the conclusion of our service, we were met by Mario Steele of the Clifton Authority Board of Directors who thanked us profusely for our efforts and indicated that the hundreds (dare I say thousands) of feet of beach we cleaned up saved them weeks of man hours in a time when many were still rebuilding their own homes.  More important than that, we helped them move closer to reopening the park which helped put money into their economy via eco-tourism.  Mr. Steele even offered to provide anyone who returns with Presidio identification a personal tour and lunch!  We were also thanked extensively by our very lively tour guide on the shuttle, Vivien Wiley, who is descended from the slaves who worked the land at the Wiley plantation that is now the park.  I believe we all felt a great sense of pride, humility and love when we were all done.

Saturday was the day that felt the most like a traditional conference day with a series of shorter sessions focused on individual topics.  As is normal for me at all professional conferences, I attended a wide array of discussions ranging from collaboration discussions to DevOps to network forensics to cloud services.  While everyone had something great to discuss, some of it is governed by NDA and can’t be shared with a public audience.  One thing I am very comfortable sharing is probably the most profound five words I heard at Exchange.  I was compelled to write it down at the time and I am compelled to share it with you now.  “Open up and be vulnerable.”  These words were uttered during the DevOps session in response to someone expressing concern about neophytes being too embarrassed or anxious to ask elementary questions about programming practices.

In this brave new world of automating our lives, we need to start checking our egos at the door.  We need to ask questions in search of knowledge and doing so requires that we discard our fear and not be intimidated by the social responses of our peers.  The simple fact of the matter is, none of us are experts, if we were we would be coders and not engineers.  None of us has experience with DevOps practices.  We need to abandon our fear of failure.  To quote Cisco executive Jeanne Beliveau-Dunn in her book I’m the Boss of Me, “Success takes practice and, by definition, always starts with multiple failures or mediocre results.”  I for one look forward to rolling up my sleeves and setting the Shark Tank in my sights.  I have ammunition embodied in some ideas I’ve long held back because of fear of failure.  I have resolved to abandon my apprehensions and go full steam ahead not only in pursuit of financial rewards, but to make manual tasks less painful and more expedient, which will facilitate higher level thinking.

One full week removed from Exchange, I believe the experience was tremendous and that it is a great time to be a Presidio employee.  I entered this week with unbridled optimism, and it seems to be sticking.  The persistence of communication among our teams after the conference seems to be a departure from conferences past where everyone returned to their daily grinds and abandoned the heady notions they had before Monday deflation.  I look forward to continuing to write.  I look forward to transforming my long shelved development ideas into reality.  I look forward to helping others as I help myself grow.  I look forward to the future.