I spent last Wednesday through Friday in San Jose, California, attending the first ever Networking Tech Field Day hosted by Gestalt IT. I wrote this article to summarize my thoughts on the event, and hope to have some more in-depth articles out over the next few weeks.
What is a Tech Field Day?
There is an entire FAQ available on Gestalt's site, but very briefly a field day is this: A dozen or so independent bloggers from all over the world meet in a physical location for a few days to attend presentations by IT vendors who pay to host the event (including travel, lodging, food, etc. for all of the attendees). The whole thing is organized primarily by Stephen Foskett, with Greg Ferro cast in a strong supporting role for this particular field day. Gestalt IT has hosted several field days before this one, but this was the first dedicated to networking technologies.
In my opinion, this gathering was simply epic. There were twelve bloggers including myself; we almost all knew each other already, but only a few of us had ever met in person. I can't thank Steve and Greg enough for putting this thing together!
HP was our first presenter. Unfortunately, their core presentation was an executive briefing, not something all that useful for a room full of engineers. The key take-away was that HP is going after Cisco in the networking market, and its recent acquisition of 3Com is a big strength. They also have an advantage in that they can leverage their established position as a server vendor to upsell networking gear as well. HP has also taken over H3C's Intelligent Management Center NMS, which looks promising, but no responsible conclusions can be drawn without trying it out on a live network.
One of the foremost complaints about HP's current stance is the limited amount of in-depth product documentation available to the public (in contrast to, for example, Cisco). I think they also really need to focus on education at the individual level if they want to get anywhere. I don't mean to suggest that they should roll out a certification program comparable in scope to Cisco's, but they need to give engineers some clear path by which they can become more familiar and more comfortable with HP's offerings.
Bottom line: If you're not looking at HP for networking gear already, you should be.
I've used SolarWinds' Orion Network Performance Monitor (NPM) in the past, and I'm glad to see they've updated the user interface over the last few releases. Orion is interesting in that it is really a network monitoring system, not an endpoint monitoring system calling itself an NMS. What I really like about SolarWinds is their emphasis on community. They have a pretty active forum at thwack.com for peer support, device templates, and so forth. They're also addressing the issue of scalability that plagues all monitoring systems, and their design for distributed pollers in the near future is enticing.
Bottom line: Orion NPM is a very decent NMS I have used in the past and only seems to be getting better.
Cradlepoint is a small niche company which specializes in 3G and 4G cellular access routers. They produce two basic classes of devices: fixed routers which provide a remote or backup WAN connection, and portable personal hotspots which provide a 802.11 wireless interface for one or more PCs to a 3G/4G cellular network. They generously gave away a few of their products for us to play with, so expect to see a review of their MBR900 router as soon as I get hold of a USB cellular modem.
A few of us at the presentation pointed out that Cradlepoint has unintentionally positioned themselves to quite easily enter a second market: out-of-band management access. A few months ago I reviewed Opengear's ACM5000 family, which includes one model sporting a 3G modem. Cradlepoint already has the connectivity in place, they would just need to add a few RS-232 interfaces or even USB ports to be able to also offer remote console connectivity on top of it.
Bottom line: 3G/4G uplinks are worth looking at either as backups to a hard-wired connection or as a primary connection for remote or difficult to access sites.
I wasn't familiar with Force10 at all before last week. Their products focus on 10G access and aggregation throughout the datacenter, and offer full line-rate speeds across all platforms. All devices run their FTOS, the configuration of which appears very similar to Cisco IOS, which suggests a low learning curve for engineers with Cisco experience.
Bottom line: Force10's focus seems to be on no-frills, high-throughput switching and routing.
The second day started with a trip to Juniper. Like HP, Juniper also had some difficulty adapting their normal presentations for engineers. One of Juniper's biggest claims to fame is its support of a single operating system, JunOS, across all of its devices (although they admit that all JunOSes are not 100% equal). I did find out that JunOS has an open API which they expose for extensions; I'll need to look more into this.
I'd really like to get more familiar with Juniper's gear, but there isn't much of a market for it on eBay. We did press them to release an officially supported emulator akin to Olive. They expressed that they were well aware of the demand but declined to say anything more. Hmm.
Bottom line: Juniper remains well-established in both the enterprise and service provider markets, and they would like to remind people that they have a pretty slick family of switching products.
Arista held one of my favorite presentations. They're a smaller company and very quick to point out that they're not trying to be everything to everyone. Instead, they maintain a very specific focus on high-speed datacenter switching. Like Juniper, but to a more strict degree, they maintain a single, powerful OS across all of their platforms. Arista EOS is Linux-based and offers unprecedented openness to engineers. I was also very impressed to learn that Arista supports a virtualized version of EOS for training and lab purposes. Arista is the first network vendor I've seen do this, and I like it. Are you listening, Cisco/HP/Juniper?
Bottom line: Arista offers some very impressive products with a robust operating system. More research here is definitely warranted.
Xsigo's I/O director offers an interesting approach to networking virtualized servers. In contrast to a virtual switch installed on the VM host like Cisco's Nexus 1000V, Xsigo aggregates the virtual connections of many VMs into a single centralized box, and presents them to the upstream network as physical Ethernet and Fibre Channel interfaces. The I/O director acts essentially as a packet-level multiplexer, although traffic can also be switched from one VM to another directly within the aggregator. This seems to be a very appealing design, both in overall reduction of cabling and ease of integration and demarcation with the network infrastructure.
Bottom line: Xsigo allows for a very different design than we've seen with CNAs. It certainly looks promising, but time will tell how successful it becomes.
- Big companies have a hard time presenting to engineers.
- Comparing products without pricing information is like shopping for a car without looking at sticker prices.
- Some companies understand the need for education and virtualization of their products, some don't.
- We need more network bloggers.