The Network Hub

February 25, 2008  6:42 PM

UPDATE: Amazon says Kindle ‘does not violate net neutrality’

Michael Morisy Michael Morisy Profile: Michael Morisy

Amazon got back to my questions about whether or not Amazon’s Kindle eBook reader violates net neutrality. Their answer: No. Heather Huntoon, a PR manager for Amazon e-mailed me:

Hi Michael,

No, Kindle service does not violate net neutrality because the network operator does not preclude or degrade other traffic on its physical network. It’s more like a corporate VPN running on the Internet: special devices (company-approved PCs) are needed to use it, and the content transmitted is proprietary, yet other VPNs could operate over the same physical network.



Interesting take. I’m not sure if that meshes with how proposed legislation sees it, but I think that is part of the problem: The proposed FCC mandate is too unclear as to what falls under its domain. And as Ike Elliott points out, the bill covers neutral access over “broadband telecommunications networks, including the Internet.” Whether Whispernet counts as a VPN or Internet access, it is definitely a broadband connection and so could presumably fall under these guidelines.

February 25, 2008  4:48 PM

Does the Amazon Kindle violate network neutrality principles?

Michael Morisy Michael Morisy Profile: Michael Morisy

Imagine signing up for broadband service that forces you to buy your computer from the ISP, only allows you to download DRM’d content from them, and only lets you visit pre-approved blogs – which they charge you a per-blog fee to access.

This pretty much summarizes network neutrality opponents worst fears, but it’s also a pretty accurate description of Amazon’s Kindle eBook appliance, which telecom consultant/blogger Ike Elliott told me might not exist if net neutrality regulation isn’t properly thought out. The device connects using Whispernet, billed as a “wireless delivery system” powered by Sprint’s EVDO wireless data network.

As far as I’ve been able to research, Amazon is acting as a virtual network operator in this case, not much different than Virgin Mobile or any other MVNO. Nobody would argue that these carriers aren’t restricted by the same rules that govern carriers that own their own networks. But even if Sprint is considered the service provider, someone is ultimately restricting ways an Internet connection could be used.

To review, the currently proposed net neutrality legislation seeks:
“to preserve and promote the open and interconnected nature of broadband networks that enable consumers to reach, and service providers to offer, lawful content, applications, and services of their choosing, using their selection of devices, as long as such devices do not harm the network; and
“to safeguard the open marketplace of ideas on the Internet by adopting and enforcing baseline protections to guard against unreasonable discriminatory favoritism for, or degradation of, content by network operators based upon its source, ownership, or destination on the Internet.”.

A quick checklist:

  • Does Whispernet let consumer’s use their own device? Nope.
  • Reach lawful content of their choice? Nope.
  • Use applications of their choosing? Nope.
  • Discriminatory favoritism based on source, ownership, and destination on the Internet? Yup.

So why hasn’t there been an outpouring of public outcry against Amazon, a major network neutrality proponent? The simple answer is transparency. Amazon has always been very upfront about what the Kindle is and isn’t for, unlike, for example, Comcast, which has faced a backlash after is going back and forth on whether, and how, they throttle Internet connections. Another aspect might be Amazon’s radical departure here from traditional service models: There’s no monthly fees, no set usage agreements, just a pay-as-you consume model.

Elliott told me that while anti-competitive behavior by service providers is a real concern and must be regulated, he worried that net neutrality legislation which is too vague or too strict could cut out some possibilities for future devices and service plans like the Amazon Kindle. He’s blogged some other thoughts on what he thinks is wrong with the Markey bill.

Meanwhile, I’ve called and e-mailed Amazon for their take on whether or not the Kindle is “net neutral” and how this jibes with their public statements. I’ll post an update when they get back to me.

Update: Amazon responds, saying Kindle doesn’t violate network neutral principles.

February 22, 2008  8:47 PM

Open source networking hums along, quietly

SusanFogarty Susan Fogarty Profile: SusanFogarty

Open source has been buzzing lately: Gartner identified it as one of the top 10 trends for 2008, and last week Microsoft announced it was publishing 30,000 pages of documentation for Windows Server 2008 and Windows Vista and launching an “Interoperability Initiative.” Google is pushing open applications and development of the new Android operating system, while Verizon claims to be opening its network.

In the networking industry, however, while open source adoption seems to be growing at a good clip, I don’t see much hoopla about it. So I’ll forgive you if you missed Shamus McGillicuddy’s article about the launch of ZipForge, a new website Alterpoint developed to support its ZipTie open source network configuration product. The ZipForge site provides a place where AlterPoint vendor partners can post interoperable ZipTie components that developers and users can download, review, and contribute to.

snortIt would be great to see users take advantage of this repository to consolidate other networking-specific software tools, much like a true SourceForge (from which the new site partly takes its name) for networking pros. According to the article, networking has experienced less of an upsurge in open source because the technology itself is so reliant on hardware. While that may be true in a basic sense, software is becoming far more important and familiar. There are already several open source programs that networking folks use regularly, and that list is bound to expand.

Network engineers have long used open source software to run routers, VPNs and VLANs on run-of-the mill servers. Snort, OpenNMS, Nagios and Nessus are staples in networks big and small. And the popularity of Asterisk, the open source IP telephony platform, continues to grow in leaps and bounds.asterisk

Open source is definitely a part of the network, but I think that’s how most networking pros view it — as just a part of the network. They choose it because it works well, it interoperates, or it’s cheap, and they don’t get too caught up in the idealism and spreading the word about the benefits of open source. Also, most networking pros wear so many hats that they can’t spend a lot of time thinking about one system or product. They are even less likely to use that time evangelizing or flaming posts over at Slashdot.

I recall a network administrator I met a while back at a trade show. He had installed a few Vyatta routers, and he thought they were fantastic. But he was also in the throes of rolling out Avaya IP telephony to multiple locations and installing a new supply chain automation system. So while he was happy with his open source routers, they probably weren’t the first thing on his mind. The buzz about open source in the network is there, but sometimes you have to listen hard to hear it.

February 21, 2008  11:10 PM

Geeks defy (and underscore) geek stereotypes

Ron Richard Profile: Ron Richard

I spend a lot of time, possibly too much time, thinking about geek culture, and apparently I’m not the only one.

No sooner had I blogged about pundits trying to define the image of the “new” networking pro than I received a fierce note from one of our readers. His complaint was that the characters portrayed in our IT Guy comics didn’t resemble him, or any of the IT pros he worked with. “I looked like Jake ‘the Snake’ back in the 80s, and with no fat gut,” he wrote.

jake the snake

A week or so later, eWeek ran a story about one Microsoft employee’s blog, which aims to “dispel the tech nerd stereotype.” The blog, Microspotting, is written by Ariel Stallings, self-proclaimed “Web 2.0 geek,” who seeks out Microsoft “geeks who are passionate about what they do” and profiles them on her blog to point out that the evil Microsoft empire isn’t quite what outsiders might think. As cited in the eWeek article, Ariel has profiled the guy who rides everywhere on a Segway, wearing a golden helmet, as well as a goth lady who wears petticoats and top hats to work.

Similarly, Elizabeth Todd Doyle’s piece on fangrrls at sci-fi conventions; points out how female fans of science fiction and comic books are going against the grain of the geek stereotype.

It’s probably not necessary to point out that some people would say riding a Segway or wearing a top hat to work — or attending a sci-fi convention — is a pretty geeky thing to do, regardless of your gender or whether you wear a pocket protector.

Also, I’m not bothering to differentiate “geek” from “nerd” for the purposes of this blog, but I should at least acknowledge that for some, “nerd” is much more negative in connotation.

One thing I find interesting in these comments on geek stereotypes is the perception that John Hodgman, the PC guy from the Mac VS. PC ads (mentioned in both the above articles) represents the image of a geek (as foil to Justin Long’s “hip” Mac…) and that somehow the geek image needs to be remedied.

But don’t most of us actually prefer John Hodgman to Justin Long, anyway? As Wired blogger Pete Mortensen remarks, “The one enduring criticism of the ads is that John Hodgman’s PC is funnier and more likable than Justin Long’s sleazy hipster doofus Mac.” And Anna Johns on TV also points out that “super-hip Mac” actor Justin Long “has played some memorable geeky roles in Galaxy Quest and Dodgeball.”

Perhaps some definition is needed here. Obviously, not all IT workers are (or wish to be known as) geeks. Neither are all geeks computer-savvy. At the moment, I like this broad definition from Wikipedia’s (unsurprisingly lengthy) entry for geek:

A person with a devotion to something in a way that places him or her outside the mainstream. This could be due to the intensity, depth, or subject of their interest.

Under that definition, you could have not only your computer geek, math geek or band geek… you could also have an architecture geek, a horticulture geek or even a baseball geek! So, embrace your inner geek — and if somebody calls you a geek, don’t quibble about stereotypes, but take it as a compliment.

Or maybe I should really be talking about nerds, after all…

February 14, 2008  8:01 PM

Network security concerns: Mo’ remote workers mo’ problems

Tessa Parmenter Tessa Parmenter Profile: Tessa Parmenter

When the network was built like a castle, located in one static location, it was easier to have perimeter defense–the castle walls, the moat and hill (i.e., the firewalls)–protecting the royalty… I mean, data. Nowadays, there’s more royalty (information) to keep track of and they don’t stay put within the safe walls of their core network/abode.

Needless to say, security is a primary networking concern (as was seen in a survey conducted last fall polling more than 1,200 readers). I blame this largely on the increase of wireless (many wireless network security best practices are mysteries to most), the growing deployment of mobile devices (anywhere access), and the fact that not only are corporate devices travelling well beyond office-building walls, but the workers are too.

Sixty percent of enterprises have wide-spread remote access–where 50% or more of the workforce have remote access to the internal network–according to Yankee Group who surveyed 200 enterprises last summer. Senior Analyst of Enterprise Research in Network Security Phil Hochmuth of Yankee Group reported that three years prior, less than 25% of organizations supported wide-spread remote access.

With such an increase in such short amount of time, it’s no wonder network administrators are worried about how to secure and manage all these people. I realize I’m one of them: in the past three years, the companies I have worked for either allowed me to work remotely or involved me working from home entirely; I’m living this statistic, as many of you now are too, I’m sure.

Office space can be costly for an enterprise, and for the workers–so can gas, auto-repairs, and overall transportation. But on top of avoiding commutes, there’s a business benefit; mobile workers in jobs like sales or consulting, which require them to travel, are able to access data, fill orders more quickly, and quicken the overall pace of business transactions because they no longer lose as much time when they’re on the road. Unfortunately for the system administrator, all of this remote interaction puts stress on the network.

Hochmuth said “increased employee productivity is the main driver behind the move to open up internal networks for anywhere access, and SSL VPNs are emerging as the main tool enterprises use to provide this type of access.”

Independent research firm Amplitude Research commissioned by VanDyke Software found in their Fourth Annual Enterprise Security Survey that organizations are heightening their commitment to securing data communications. Secure remote access was the number one security management issue facing their company, according to their 2007 survey.

“The survey findings correlate to what we see happening in the field,” said Jeff P. Van Dyke, president and founder of VanDyke Software: “There’s a lot on the plates of the systems administrators, and with securing remote access a top issue and secure file transfer showing significant increase as a top issue to manage within the enterprise, VanDyke Software focused on new features for SecureCRT 6.0 and SecureFX 6.0 that make life in these areas so much easier for IT and network administrators.”

Hochmuth said “enterprises are literally opening up for business when it comes to supporting the ability of their employees to work from anywhere.” And VanDyke Software is one such company “opening up for business” to meet the needs of floundering network administrator’s who have to implement and support the increasing number of remote workers for their companies.

I suspect many more are aiming to follow suit.

February 13, 2008  7:26 PM

IT Ethics

Michael Morisy Michael Morisy Profile: Michael Morisy

Over on Slashdot there’s a lively discussion of IT ethics, and what sort of codes (no pun intended) network managers work by. Three camps of “ethical rules” came up:

Of course, these guides regularly conflict. Scanning personal e-mails is high-profile topic, but it’s certainly not the only ethical dilemma confronting the conscientious network admin. I once knew a network administrator who routinely scanned and copied all mp3s from networked personal folders into his “master database,” which took up a few spare gigs of unused space and more than a few spare hours of his workday, spent chilling out to the Grateful Dead. He didn’t last too long, despite his impressive collection of B-sides.

Which rules are the trump card when it comes to acting ethically? Are ethics ever written into your job description? Have you tried building in ethical rules into your networking infrastructure? Tight permission access comes to mind, but that’s a security no-brainer at this point.

Unfortunately, most of the networking engineer guidance we found was pretty minimal, such as this rather vague section in SAGE’s Code of Ethics:

  • I will strive to build and maintain a safe, healthy, and productive workplace.
  • I will do my best to make decisions consistent with the safety, privacy, and well-being of my community and the public, and to disclose promptly factors that might pose unexamined risks or dangers.
  • I will accept and offer honest criticism of technical work as appropriate and will credit properly the contributions of others.
  • I will lead by example, maintaining a high ethical standard and degree of professionalism in the performance of all my duties. I will support colleagues and co-workers in following this code of ethics.

Nary a word on reading e-mails, logging chats or jamming out on borrowed binary.

February 12, 2008  7:06 PM

iPhone, oh the madness you have wrought

Shamus McGillicuddy Shamus McGillicuddy Profile: Shamus McGillicuddy

I just finished writing about how the iPhone’s success has made touch-screen smartphones all the rage in 2008. And then this morning I read that Jim Balsille, co-CEO of Research In Motion, told attendees at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona that his company is open to producing a touchscreen version of the BlackBerry. Et tu, BlackBerry?

In an interview with Reuters, Balsille made it clear that RIM would be open to adding a touch-screen control feature to its BlackBerry line if that’s what the company’s customers want:

For sure we’re looking at all kinds of different device packaging and presentation. I think getting religious on packaging is not the way to go. It’s really user preference-oriented.”

At the same show in Barcelona this week, Sony Ericsson debuted its Xperia X1, a touch-screen smartphone that appears to be a direct response to Apple’s iPhone and other touch-screen announcements from HTC and Nokia.

Touch-screens are nice and all, but sometimes I wish my Tom Tom GPS had a keyboard. My fingers are just too big!

February 7, 2008  8:36 PM

IPv6 makes inroads on the Internet

SusanFogarty Susan Fogarty Profile: SusanFogarty

IPv6 ready

This week, ICANN (the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers) announced that it made almost half of the Internet’s root server networks IPv6 capable. According to the release:

IPv6 addresses were added for six of the world’s 13 root server networks (A, F, H, J, K, M) to the appropriate files and databases. This move allows for the possibility of fuller IPv6 usage of the Domain Name System (DNS). Prior to today, those using IPv6 had needed to retain the older IPv4 addressing system in order to be able to use domain names.

This actually surprised me, because over at SearchNetworking, we’ve been writing about migrating to IPv6 for quite a while. I didn’t realize that while corporations, schools and government agencies were upgrading to the new protocol, they also had to keep running IPv4 for Internet transmissions because the Internet itself did not support IPv6. Sending and receiving IPv6 traffic across the Internet was a clunky, expensive process that involved the use of specialized gateways to perform DNS mapping and/or network address translation.

The ICANN changes will allow devices to use IPv6 directly to reach a good portion of the Internet, with more to come in the near future, we presume. And almost all new networking equipment you buy now is IPv6-enabled. That combination will help simplify upgrades for networking teams that are just beginning to think about it.

For more technical detail, a comprehensive report on ICANN’s DNS changes is available from their Root Server and Security Advisory Committees, prepared by networking expert Dave Piscitello.

For readers who plan to procrastinate indefinitely and ignore the reports of address space running out (the IPv6 Forum predicts it will be in 1648 days), keep in mind that the U.S. government is requiring all its networks to be IPv6 compliant by June 30. All companies that have contracts with or are suppliers to any government agency must also comply, so that will trickle down to a large percentage of U.S. businesses. Ramping up your IPv6 skills now may be worth your while in the long run.

February 1, 2008  11:52 PM

Who is the “new” networking pro?

Ron Richard Profile: Ron Richard

Comic Book Guy

For more than a year, I’ve been hearing a lot of buzz about the concept of the “new” networking pro from networking vendors and pundits alike. The idea is, in a nutshell, that the old-school network guy spent his time thinking about network plumbing — connectivity, throughput, and Layer 3 hardware. Our publisher likens this guy to the Comic Book Guy from the Simpsons. (Don’t you work with at least one IT guy who looks a bit like that, after all?)

At the other end of the spectrum is the “new” networking pro, who is supposed to look like the guy below, in the suit. This person takes into account evolving technologies and network convergence. His concerns go beyond just plumbing; he concentrates on maximizing bandwidth, optimizing application and WAN performance; he troubleshoots a network that must accommodate voice and video traffic. The new networking pro realizes that he isn’t operating in a silo, but must cooperate (and, increasingly, share responsibilities and tools) with the security, voice, and data center staff.
New network guy?

Last week, two of the major network vendors — Cisco and Juniper — launched new switch offerings that are very much attuned to the “new” network pro.

Cisco’s Nexus 7000 super-switch may sound like it’s all about increased throughput, but perhaps the greater benefit, one which appeals to our new network pro, is that it is designed to eliminate redundant connectivity by allowing for converged Fibre Channel and Ethernet networks. And Cisco’s strategy, according to Doug Gourlay, senior director of marketing for Data Center Solutions at Cisco, is all about new network trends like convergence and virtualization (as quoted from an article by Shamus McGillicuddy).

Gourlay said Cisco has recognized several drivers that are leading higher-density data centers to turn to the network for help in improving operations. First is a “new class” of applications, such as voice and video, which consume significantly more bandwidth. The second driver is server virtualization. When you consolidate 10 virtual servers onto one physical server, that single box now deals with the aggregate bandwidth demands of the 10 servers. The third driver is Input-Output consolidation.

Similarly, Juniper’s new switches — the EX 3200, the EX 4200 and the EX 8200 — appeal to the network performance-minded enterprise, with their emphasis on uptime and reliability. As quoted in an article by Michael Morisy, Eddie Minkill, executive vice president of Juniper’s worldwide field operations, says that the view of the network as “plumbing” is outdated because consumers and businesses expect instant responses and more and more communications are carried through IP.

So the vendors and the pundits have their ducks in a row, but I wonder whether real-world network pros are getting in line. Surely these new switch offerings bode well for network reliability and productivity — but whenever I talk to actual people who are down in the IT trenches, I hear again and again that a) they would like to implement new technology, but instead spend more time keeping old stuff running and b) they don’t have time to think about anything besides putting out fires. (Maybe disgruntled IT pros are more verbal about this stuff.)

This skepticism isn’t unique. In the same article about Juniper’s new switch, Morisy writes that Jim Metzler, vice president of Sanibel, Fla.-based consultancy Ashton, Metzler & Associates, was doubtful about the current market for the powerful switch:

“I don’t know who they are going to appeal to,” he said, adding that most enterprises are not prioritizing carrier-grade robustness and millisecond latency. A few major exceptions exist, particularly in the financial sector, but he disagreed with the assertion that enterprises see the difference between 5 and 4 9’s of uptime as a critical tool in keeping customers.
smokey the bear
“Is it good technology? Absolutely,” Metzler said. The problem is that people will not switch simply to use good technology, or even better technology, when what they have works, and Metzler said Juniper has found a solution for a problem people do not currently have. If the EX Series is to become a success, he said, a better marketing strategy must be implemented that could focus on cost reduction or other, more enterprise-focused problems.

Ultimately, I think that defining the network pro according to any stereotype is going to prove inaccurate, but the successful IT person may be the one who can look beyond their departmental silo and embrace “new” networking concepts like mobility and application performance. For that to happen, though, network pros may have to find a way to prevent those fires from happening in the first place.

February 1, 2008  6:22 PM

Video tour of Juniper’s EX 4200 series network switch

Michael Morisy Michael Morisy Profile: Michael Morisy

Juniper’s Michael Peachey, senior product marketing manager, points out some of the major features — including an LCD screen, hot-swappable fans and user-replacable batteries — of the newly-launched EX 4200 series network switch.

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