The Final Countdown to Cisco Live

Here we are, just under 2 weeks until Cisco Live 2016 in Las Vegas begins. Depending on when you are travelling there to begin the conference, whether it’s for the DevNet Springboard event or Hackathon that begin on July 9th, or on Sunday or Monday, I know if you’re anything like me, you’re getting excited. If it’s your first time or your twentieth time attending Cisco Live, there’s always some things that I like to remember before I attend, so I figured that I would share some of those reminders with everyone.

Bring a variety of clothing. I know this might sound weird, but if you’ve never been to Las Vegas before and look at the weather forecast, you probably think that you will want the coolest clothing possible. While this is true when you’re outside, the convention center seems to have an uncanny ability to keep the session rooms like ice boxes. Jeans aren’t a bad idea, unless you are going outside.

Have room to bring things back with you. I know it’s tempting to fit everything into a small carry-on for the week, but if you’re anything like me, you’ll more than likely make at least one visit to the Cisco Press store during the week. Couple this with the vast amount of shirts and other trinkets that you’ll be inundated with at the World of Solutions, and you might want to make sure you have some room to haul all of it back with you.

Socialize!!! This is a tough one for me to do, and even after meeting people over the past few years at CLUS, I still find myself sending messages to people via Twitter who are literally 5 feet away from me during the event, but make sure you engage with people. I’ve met some really cool people through this event, and it’s always nice to have people who you can throw ideas off of once you leave and head back to the real world.

Check out new things. If you’re a developer, and especially if you aren’t, you need to check out the DevNet zone. There is so much cool stuff going on here, and I’m sure that there will be even more this year. My main interest has been VIRL over the past year, and I’m going to be checking this area out to learn how I can use it even more to help in my studies and in my every day work. Trust me, as someone who knows very little about the developer side of things, it’s really cool to see the sorts of things that are on the horizon.

Cisco Live is my favorite event of the year, mainly because it’s something I’ve had the opportunity to attend for the past 6 years. This year, through the Cisco Champions program, I get to sit on a panel as well. So if you don’t already have something scheduled on Thursday at 11:15am, feel free to sign up for CISTHT-1001 and hear me and some other awesome people discuss Building Your Personal Brand with Social Media. I look forward to meeting more new people this year. When I’m not in a session, I usually lurk around the Twitter/Social Media zones, so feel free to say hello if you see me.

VIRL on bare metal – lessons learned

So this weekend, I made the jump to getting VIRL working on a bare metal server that I was able to get my hands on. The server in question is a Dell Poweredge R710. Nothing too new, but it has a dual Xeon and 32GB RAM, so I figured I’d see what it could do. Mind you, I have never installed anything onto a server before in my life, but I like a little bit of a challenge and to learn some new things, so I figured I’d give a little rundown of some things I encountered.

First things first, I downloaded and burned a DVD with the ISO file to a disc and booted it up on my server. The install process is very easy to follow along at http://virl-dev-innovate.cisco.com/iso.bm.php, so I highly suggest using that if you, like me, have never done anything like this before. After the installation was completed, I restarted and booted up to the VIRL server. I should, however, note that before this step I wasn’t even seeing my HDD’s, as the SAS controller was disabled. This was easily fixed and installation itself was easy.

Once logged in, I started to sense that some things weren’t right. First off, I couldn’t even ping out on my server. I didn’t see any IP information set up on eth0, then I realized that the server I was using used the em nomenclature for ports, rather than eth. I quickly modified the ‘/etc/network/interfaces’ file and changed the naming to match what my server used. Restart, and success, I can ping out. (This was not success, as I learned later).

I started to go through the checks in the installation process and everything looked good, except I noticed linux-bridge-agent under the neutron agent-list wasn’t happy or alive. I ignored this (big mistake) and moved on, figuring that it’d work later. I was able to get through the activation process of the SALT server just fine, but I had to modify my ntp daemon to point to em1 again instead of eth0 before it could talk to the salt server and authenticate.

I updated my VIRL server to run the latest VMMaestro and other components, loaded up VMMaestro, and started up a design from INE.  Succe….fail. None of the routers would load up. They kept indicating “state changed from BUILD to ERROR with message: No valid host was found”. I rebooted the server a few times, no luck. I then started searching Google for this error. Finally, I stumbled on this link that laid out my solution: http://community.dev-innovate.com/t/linuxbridge-agent-down-vms-fail-with-no-valid-host-was-found/3685. I had to go through the virl.ini file and edit all of the interface pointers to eth and modify them to my controller addresses. After going through these steps and a couple reboots, I’m happy to say that my VIRL server is working just fine.

This was definitely a learning experience, and one I’m mainly documenting for my own records, so when I attempt this again I hopefully have something to reference when I inevitably run into these same issues. I’ve been enjoying running the server at home, labs run with no problem and memory isn’t an issue yet. I have a feeling when I start loading up some larger IOS-XR topologies in the future that I will probably need to kick up the memory, but so far, everything is working well.

~Dustin

CIERS1 – What I learned

This week I attended the CIERS1 class through Global Knowledge. For those of you who aren’t familiar with it, this is a Cisco 360 CCIE R&S Advanced Workshop 1, and it lived up to everything that I had hoped. The class was led by Bill Burns, a CCIE himself, and I have to thank him for taking time to lead us through what was a great and informative week. Here is a quick breakdown of how the week went:

Monday – Morning lecture on what to expect in the CCIE lab, along with techniques to use when taking the lab for time management, drawing diagrams, and how to read the lab. The afternoon was a 9 hour assessment lab.

Tuesday – Go over results of assessment lab, lecture, and BGP lab

Wednesday – Finish BGP lab, lectures and labs on MPLS and Multicast

Thursday – Lecture and labs on MCQ QoS, Network Services, and finish the day with a 3-hour troubleshooting assessment lab.

Friday – 6-hour configuration assessment lab, review of the final assessments, and the first day that ends before the sun has set.

I knew going into this class that it would be more intense than any other that I had taken in my CCNA and CCNP studies, but I honestly had no idea that it would be like this. To say that it was drinking from the firehose would be an understatement, as this class is generally meant for someone who is probably further along in their CCIE studies than I know I am. However, I am very satisfied with this class, as it really provided me with a glimpse into what my weaknesses are, and actually helped me see that I do have a few stronger areas. I’m already working on breaking down for myself what I’ll need to work on studying. This class really touches on every aspect of what is on the blueprint, which while it is an enormous amount of subjects, it gave me a good grasp of what the CCIE lab is all about.

Now, about the lab assessments. The one at the beginning of the week was a 9 hour lab that only tested the core technologies, namely L2 and L3. Our instructor said that someone who is ready for the CCIE lab should be able to finish this assessment in a couple of hours, as it would get you to the “Golden Moment”, which is where your network is fully reachable from all other points in the network and routes are distributing properly. After 9 hours, nobody was at this point in our class.

The labs were also considerably smaller than the one in the real CCIE lab environment, with the first assessment only comprised of 6 routers and 4 switches, and the final assessment having 7 routers and 4 switches. This, however, was more than enough to keep us occupied while not being overwhelming.

I had several big takeaways from this class. One, that time management is essential to all aspects of the lab. You have to know how to approach every question, jumping around is not something that I’d suggest unless you keep good note of where you were and what you had accomplished. Get the basics done, then work on getting the ancillary items done, as you can’t get MPLS working without having your IGP and BGP working, which rely on Layer 2 working properly.

The other big takeaway was that you have to follow the rules. If you’re told that a route must appear a certain way in every routing table, you don’t get points if a /32 is in the routing table, but the rules specified that a /24 must be. The scoring is strict and unforgiving. Verification is a must, and scripts will be invaluable to run to check things when you have a massive topology.

I’m sure these are things that many people have said before, but I needed to put pen to paper, or more aptly, fingers to keyboard, and write them out for my own reference. If you’re able to take one of these classes, I highly recommend it. The Cisco360 program is one of many tools that I plan to use on my journey, and while I may have wanted to do some sightseeing in NYC while I was here this week, I’m going to make it a point to come back here after I pass with my family so that we can see things together when there isn’t a class for 13 hours a day.

Good luck to all who are pursuing their certifications, whether it’s CCENT or CCIE, we all work together to accomplish the goals in front of us.

Kick start my studies

The title may have given it away, but I’ve been a Motley Crue fan since I was a young child, and I’m using it as motivation for the upcoming week. I’m attending the CIERS1 class, put on by Global Knowledge via the Cisco360 program, and there is a mixed bag of feelings as I approach this. I feel like I’ve struggled over the past three years to get a solid footing in my CCIE studies. Life seems to constantly get in the way, and I have made it a personal goal to at least have a CCIE lab attempt by the end of 2017. I want to have my CCIE by the time I’m 40, which is less than three years off. I think this is more than enough time, and I’ll probably shrink this time as I get going on this journey.

The class itself looks like a very intense bootcamp, a week-long immersion into the CCIE. I passed my written back in 2013, so I’ll need to refresh that as well, but this time along I’ve decided to simply study for the CCIE as a whole, rather than studying for the written and then studying for the lab. I’ve read stories from both approaches, and I think with the way my brain works, this one will be the best. The class days are 12-14 hours each, so while I’ll be visiting New York City for the first time, I have a feeling that I won’t get to do much sightseeing. All of this is fine with me, this has become beyond a career goal but a personal goal.

I have reached the determination that the CCIE is no longer about prestige or what it can do for my career in terms of money. It’s become a goal to get my number, regardless of whether it will further my career, I want to gain the knowledge and insight into networking that comes along with it. I’ve had many things happen in my personal life over the past 3 years, and if you see me at Cisco Live and want to chat about them, I’m a fairly open book, but I’ve been able to overcome a lot of things that were holding me back in life. I feel like I’m finally ready, and I really hope I’m not feeding myself a line of BS, but I know I can do this.

I’m hoping to blog my progress next week in my class, time permitting, as I’m looking forward to drinking from the firehose.

And the Cisco Live CAE band is…

Maroon5

Our band this year for the Customer Appreciation Event at Cisco Live in Las Vegas is Maroon 5. One of the biggest pop bands of the past ten years, and fronted by Adam Levine (also known from his work on The Voice), this will surely be an amazing CAE.

The venue for the Customer Appreciation Event is the brand spanking new T-Mobile Arena

16TMobile Arena Render

According to Cisco: “Cisco Live’s “Customer Appreciation Event” will be the FIRST corporate event hosted in the brand new arena.  The new arena also features “Cisco StadiumVision”  an innovative video and digital content distribution solution.  Cisco StadiumVision is used to centrally manage and deliver all of the video and digital content in the arena, except the scoreboard.”

I’ve attended four of these before, and so far, the CAE has never left me disappointed. I’m looking forward to seeing everyone there, and this should be a fantastic time to let loose at the end of a week of information overload!

CCIE studies – Back to Basics

I feel like I’m once again back at a place where I want to work towards my CCIE R&S certification again. This road has frustrated me in the past, and I decided I want to put in the time and effort to really dig into the basics, rather than believing I already know enough to look at the fun stuff like OSPF, BGP, MPLS, and those things which us engineers like to work on. Instead, I’m taking Brian McGahan’s advice and going back to learning the underlying fundamentals. On tap first in my reading list is Interconnections: Bridges, Routers, Switches and Internetworking Protocols, Second Edition by Radia Perlman.

The importance of this book up to this point is that it really does a great job of explaining how Layer 2 works. It breaks down things like bridges, switches, spanning tree, BPDU’s, and other things that I’ve taken for granted in my work and looks at these and other things from the very lowest level and works its way up. This has made re-learning how spanning tree works much more understandable, and with an understanding comes the ease at which knowledge is retained. One of the complaints I always have with the Cisco books is that they sometimes gloss over the small stuff and assume an understanding. This book, however, goes into detail (sometimes too much) and breaks down every aspect of different protocols.

Along with the studies, I’ve decided to take a new approach to how I’m going to prepare for the exams. I had passed my v4 written exam back in 2013, but since I never sat for the lab, I’ll need to take another swing at the v5 written exam. I took the free sit at Cisco Live 2015, and to say it turned out miserably is an understatement. This time, I’m going to focus on studying for the lab, and hopefully passing the written will simply be a byproduct of those studies.

Apathy: The destroyer of careers

Apathy: Lack of interest, enthusiasm, or concern.

These are three synonyms for apathy that I have begun to identify with at different times throughout not only my career, but my certification pursuit. It’s something that ebbs and flows within my life, and I’ve talked to others who would agree that depending on the project they are working on, or the boss they are working for, apathy is something that creeps its way into our lives at different times. I’ve found in my life that there have been both positive and negative aspects to losing interest in certain things.

I still remember when I first started pursuing my CCNA about 9 years ago. Back then, I’d never logged into a router or switch, but I had convinced my boss in the NOC to send me to a CCNA bootcamp. There, I was introduced to the Cisco CLI along with learning about different protocols and how to connect devices together. I immediately loved it and went to eBay to buy my first rack with several routers and switches. This new technology made me feel alive, and I loved every minute of learning new things.

Over time, however, it seems like my passion has dried up somewhat. My day to day work doesn’t have me doing what I want and truly love, but rather I feel like I’m dying a little inside every day at work. I love the people and the company I work for, but I don’t feel that challenge that I used to. I will take the blame on some of it, but I really am looking for a new challenge in my career. Maybe it’s this apathy that is telling me that I need to finally step outside of my comfort zone and pursue something that will really make me happy.

I guess only time will tell…

To CCIE or not to CCIE…that is the question

I apologize for the horrible plagiarizing of the Shakespeare quote, but it has been something that I’ve been struggling with for years. Do I truly want to go after my CCIE certification? Certainly, the recognition, monetary rewards, and personal satisfaction that would go along with obtaining it are something that I’ve seen as motivating factors in obtaining it. I have a great respect for those who have dedicated their lives to getting their number, and I’ve always hoped that I would be among those few to obtain it. But, in the end, do I really have what it takes to get my CCIE?

Let me start off with some backstory about myself. I’ve worked for the same company for the past 15 years, a cable ISP in the Midwest, starting at the level of tech support. I eventually moved up into the NOC and for the past 8 years have been in our network engineering group. I obtained my CCNA back in 2007, which is what helped me break through into this group, and finally got my CCNP in 2012. I then passed my CCIE written back in late 2013, but since then, I’ve constantly put off the serious study needed to take the lab exam.

My day to day job has taken me away from working on routers and switches on a daily basis to working more with our fiber optic equipment and cable CMTS’s, due to a re-organization within our group back in early 2013. While I enjoy these endeavors, I still know my heart is working with the IP side of things. I love reading about new technologies and make sure I keep my skills current by throwing things together either in a lab or at home in VIRL.

For so long, I’ve thought less of myself and my skills because I didn’t have a magical number that I had attached so much meaning to. What I’ve come to realize though is that although the accomplishment would be amazing, it probably wouldn’t be as life changing as part of me always thought it would be. My mind likes to jump around and learn many different things, from Python to SDN to Data Center to optical…the list goes on and on. I think that is probably my main personal problem with focusing on the requirements of the CCIE. I have problems focusing and taking the time needed and have the personality that I’d rather learn something that I find exciting at the moment rather than sit and go through a CCIE blueprint. And I’ve come to a realization that it’s ok for me. I’m still a good engineer at the end of the day. I love my life, and if by some chance I get my CCIE some day, I’ll still have the same life at the end of the day.

Just a disclaimer, by no means do I want to take away anything from those of you who have accomplished what I consider to be a huge undertaking. I have nothing but respect and admiration for anyone who takes the time to achieve any certification, from an associate to an architect level. But one thing I’ve learned is that the person behind the certification is far more important than the letters they may put on their resume.

Being a network engineer…

I started my path towards the roll of engineer back in 2007, when I first became serious about learning the field. I’d worked in the NOC at a small cable MSO for several years, the main roll being that of dispatcher when something went down on the network. For so long, I wanted to be the person on the other end, the one whose job it was to fix the problem. I convinced my boss to let me attend a CCNA bootcamp, and a couple months of studying later, I had my CCNA.

I remember those days of studying, buying a few routers and switches on Ebay, building a home rack and logging endless hours of learning the basics. A few months later, a network technician position opened within the company and I was promoted. It was one of the proudest moments in my career, and one that I still look back upon with pride. I’m thankful to this day to the people who helped me and saw my potential.

I took a nose dive into a world that I really didn’t understand at first, and I always made sure to ask lots of questions. Hours of documenting the network, doing the most menial tasks in order to learn as much as possible. These were the things that motivated me as I grew in my roles at work.

A couple years later, I was promoted to network engineer, and I’ve been there for the past 5 years. I’ve had the opportunity to help deploy many things in our network, work with different technologies, and grow my knowledge in areas that I didn’t even know existed when I started. But to this day, I still consider myself a newbie when it comes to network engineering.

I know that I have just scratched the surface of what there is out there, I think every day I learn about something new through the people I’ve met on Twitter, various technical blogs and podcasts. There aren’t enough hours in the day to learn everything, and that is what I love the most about this career. It is always growing, changing, evolving.

The thing that I’ve learned to be the best trait of a network engineer, IMHO, is someone who loves to learn and does not fear change. Change, whether it be in a network protocol or in how we design and engineer the network, seems to be the only constant. And I think one of the things I’ve enjoyed the most over the past several years is not only the network engineer role, but the network of people I’ve come to get to know who share this same passion for this life.

~Dustin B.

Why I started this site

For the past year or so, I’ve been wanting to take the time to create a blog that would follow and help me to document my studies as I work towards my CCIE R&S certification. Unfortunately, my own procrastination had undone those efforts, and I find myself at a crossroads. I honestly don’t know if I have the desire to continue my CCIE studies, at least at this time, but I want to continue to further my education and knowledge in the tech world.

I’ve been intrigued by the whole concept of Software Defined Networking (SDN) for a while, and I’ve decided that the best thing I can do for myself, at this time, is to start to learn to program in Python, as it seems like that’s the best way to jump into the SDN arena. I haven’t programmed in over 15 years, not since college, and my programming skills are probably minimal at best currently. I’m aiming to use this as a journal of my studies, whether it be SDN related, CCIE related, or anything in the networking world that I find interesting.

~Dustin