The Network Hub

November 16, 2007  8:20 PM

Cisco targeting digital signage, advertising

Ron Richard Profile: Ron Richard

The first time I talked to Cisco about the networking vendor’s foray into digital signage, I was a bit confused. Why would the largest enterprise networking vendor want to jump into an area targeted at consumers, especially something as futuristic as digital signage, which boils down to essentially an electronic or digital advertising screen like you would see in Times Square, displaying video content that can be changed on the fly without physically changing the sign itself? It’s similar to something seen in Minority Report or Back to the Future II.

For example, digital images could be changed depending on the consumers who are in close proximity to the sign. So, if you’re attending a punk rock convention, digital signs in the area could feature a mohawked teen snarling at you to promote a certain product, event or service. Similarly, say that same convention center hosts a video game convention, those signs could quickly, easily and cheaply be switched up to feature Ms. Pac Man or Link staring you in the face. Those advertisements would be sent to the sign via IP video.

To me, it sounded like a deviation from Cisco’s core competence of routing and switching.

But recently I had a chat with Rick Sizemore, chief strategy officer for MultiMedia Intelligence for a story. Sizemore, an expert on digital signage and other next generation mediums, broke it down for me. He pointed to several strategic moves Cisco has made in the IP video arena that, coupled with Cisco’s networking expertise, makes the vendor a top competitor in the digital signage and interactive advertising spaces.

I’m not exactly sure how companies are going to leverage all of this next-generation technology, or how Cisco is going to build on its digital signage and IP video plans to make it a viable revenue-generating medium for those companies. But if Sizemore’s discoveries and predictions ring true, which they have so far, it won’t be long before we’re greeted in an airport or a shopping mall with advertising and signage that can target us specifically.

November 15, 2007  9:59 PM

Mobile devices: MIA

Ron Richard Profile: Ron Richard

We talk a lot about the importance of mobile device management, but outside my job as an editor on a networking site, it’s not something I think about that often. Until, three days ago, I misplaced my cell phone.

runaway mobile device

It took me one day to figure out that the phone wasn’t actually plugged into the charger at home or hiding under the seat in my car. On the second day, I became annoyed that I didn’t have my contacts and started to worry that the phone fell out somewhere on the pavement. By the third day, I was becoming somewhat frantic, imagining someone was calling all their relatives in another country and I’d be stuck with the charges, or prank-calling my friends and business associates. Although, I have to admit, the prospect of buying a new phone was actually a bit exciting.

This is my personal and somewhat decrepit flip phone; the “wireless” line on my business card is a bit misleading and my paranoia over losing is a bit exaggerated. But had I actually lost a corporate mobile device, I can only begin to imagine the very real threats such a loss could imply: The cost of device replacement, the lost productivity due to a misplaced contact list, and the possibility that a malicious outsider or competitor could have access to sensitive data.

I just listened to a podcast on this very topic, called “Controlling Risks and Costs for Better Security.” The podcast covered eight mobile security risks that can be countered using effective mobile device management. The author, Simon Forge (of Ptak, Noel and Associates) goes beyond just the challenge of managing corporate mobile devices and explains some ways to do it; he also hints at management systems that take the responsibility away from the employee/end user and return it to the network manager.

I know that if I was a network manager, I would want to have a plan to cope with an errant mobile device. And as an end user, if I had anything more powerful than a basic cell phone, I wouldn’t mind someone else shouldering the burden of responsibility for mobile data security.

On the bright side, I shoved aside a stack of papers today and found my phone right on top of my desk. Too bad they don’t make a management system for that!

November 1, 2007  9:34 PM

It’s not easy being green

Ron Richard Profile: Ron Richard

Kermit the FrogBoston recently held a “hazardous materials drop-off day,” when residents of the city could take their half-empty cans of varnish and paint thinner, car batteries and the like for proper disposal at a certified facility. Unfortunately, we had to wait in line for almost an hour — in our cars — to drop off the materials. One has to wonder how much gasoline was burned and how much pollution was released into the environment in the interest of preventing pollution from the paint cans we disposed of.

I’m pretty much an average Joe when it comes to helping the environment: I recycle; I don’t support fur farming or deforestation or poaching. I’d like to do more, but I draw the line where my creature comforts start to be compromised. Although I have to say that I spend most of the long Boston winter wrapped in blankets because we keep our heat down — although that’s primarily a financial concern before an environmental one.

Corporate IT is pretty much the same when it comes to the environment, I suspect. While nobody wants to tear down an old-growth forest to erect their colossal data center (or maybe I’m wrong about that, having never visited the Pacific Northwest myself?), in today’s always-on, high-availability world, businesses have to put their bottom line before other concerns. Conservation sounds nice, but try telling that to an angry customer who can’t access his data because you’ve shut off your backup power supply and experienced a server failure.

The network eats a lot of power. Gary Audin, president of network consulting firm Delphi Inc., recently discussed this issue with our news editor, Andrew Hickey, in a two-part interview that covers both the device drain on power and how to convince upper management to go green.

The challenge of delivering high availability while cutting costs and conserving energy is before us. Is your company considering any “green” initiatives? What’s the most radical compromise you’ve made on behalf of the environment? Send me an email or post your comments below.

October 30, 2007  7:25 PM

The IT Guy: Cable under the table

Ron Richard Profile: Ron Richard
Incident response

IT Guy cartoon Oct. 2007
> Continue reading part 2, “Amazing Grace.”

> View all our IT Guy cartoons on

This cartoon is partially based on an idea suggested by our reader, Jim Shumaker. Jim will receive The Cubes IT Guy playset (not affiliated with The IT Guy or TechTarget) for his suggestion. Thanks, Jim!

October 26, 2007  4:07 AM

Network management can be just plain ugly

SusanFogarty Susan Fogarty Profile: SusanFogarty
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I’ve been a writer and editor in the enterprise networking market for 11 years now, and one topic I dread being asked about is network management. I didn’t really understand it when I started learning about networking, and I don’t really understand it now. But the more I learn about the topic, the better I feel about that; because I meet few people who understand it much better than I do. 

The problem is not network management itself; the idea is straightforward and is of obvious importance, especially in companies where the network has a big influence on business success (which is most companies, these days). My challenge has been in attempting to understand and categorize a wide range of products that simply defy categorization.  

When I ask readers about network management, they often define it according to the particular tool they use, which can range from a basic protocol analyzer to a full-blown suite like HP OpenView. Within that range there are product groups that seem like they should be comparable, but features and functionality vary wildly. One network monitoring tool might show a schematic of your network and alert you if a device fails or traffic levels reach a predetermined unhealthy level. Another network monitoring tool is able to give detailed usage data for every device and performance metrics for each application running on the LAN and WAN, all presented in easy-to-read charts that compare actual results to past performance and service-level guarantees. 

This makes it difficult for network managers to choose appropriate products. Muddying the waters even more is the recent overlap between network and applications management, as well as security management and monitoring. Many products incorporate applications and security elements, making it even harder to compare them. Add in that enterprises typically use several network management products in a layered fashion, all connected to element managers for different devices, and you have a complex scenario.

How can you make sense of network management and use it to its fullest advantage? One way is to have a clear game plan. The report, Network management systems: The good, the bad, and the ugly, brought to you by our partnership with Info-Tech Research Group, provides a step-by-step methodology for evaluating your network management environment. The resulting analysis can help you identify where your existing products are already managing the network well, how they work together, and where you should be making investments in additional products or upgrades. Check out the report and let us know if it helps make your network management look any less ugly.

October 23, 2007  4:56 PM

What’s the opposite of networking?

Ron Richard Profile: Ron Richard
Incident response

Last night I was watching Attack of the Show again and they mentioned a site called BuzzFeed, which picks up the latest and greatest Web trends and conversations and compiles them all with an editorial perspective. One of the trends they had picked up on of late was the rise of “anti-social networking” sites, which are pretty much what you’d think.

Enough people have gotten fed up with Friendster and LinkedIn (and hearing how social networking is the new black) and have formed parodic sites like Snubster, EnemyBook, and isolatr… designed, in the words of EnemyBook, to “disconnect you to the so-called friends around you.”

I suppose social networking was overdue for a backlash, although you probably don’t need me to point out that there’s an irony in connecting to disconnect. Especially if you believe that parody is the sincerest form of flattery (in the world of social media, in particular), then you have to think that the authors and users of these sites are really more interested in promoting an agenda, a sneering iconoclastic stance that nonetheless snuggles right up next to that which it seeks to mock — like Sid Vicious spitting out the lyrics to “My Way” — the essence of punk rock, but knowing all the while that for all his swagger, he was really a pretty boy in an extremely well-marketed boy band.

Anyway, if you really don’t want to connect to other people, why not just go to the library and bury your nose in a book?

The other interesting think about anti-social networking sites, as pointed out in naturalsearchblog, is their effect on search engine optimization efforts. It undermines your efforts to associate with the “right” keywords if you go and list a bunch of stuff that you hate. (Maybe that’s why Hatebook makes their content pages uncrawlable.) I thought of this same problem once when I was listing all the things I disliked on my personal blog profile… I didn’t want the system to connect me with other people who listed “Thomas Kinkade” or “beer pong” just because I said I didn’t like those things. So I scrapped the list.

Of course, maybe that’s the point of anti-social networking… I can make un-connections with other cranky people who hate the same things I hate. Is it easier to relate to someone about your dislikes than your likes? Hmmm… well, speak ill of Steve Ballmer on any Linux forum and you’ll probably find a friend for life.

October 19, 2007  3:57 PM

You mean I won’t get paid more for getting this cert?

Tessa Parmenter Tessa Parmenter Profile: Tessa Parmenter
Incident response

Tell me you haven’t heard this before: Getting a certification earns you more pay. This week, however, Foote Partners LLC released a study revealing just the reverse: the average premium pay for uncertified workers trumps those who are certified. They have seen the average premium pay for uncertified workers increase 8% and decrease 2.3% for certified engineers in the past year.

I sat down with cofounder and CEO of Foote Partners LLC’s David Foote a few weeks ago to discuss the value of networking certifications in the job market. At that point in time, statistics for non-certified versus certified IT worker base pay percentage had just come to a head. Foote saw that managers were just beginning to look more at the skills IT professionals had to offer over the certifications they had obtained. In light of these new statistics, we’re really seeing results of this statement now. In less than a month we’ve seen a huge difference in how certifications are viewed.

“Part of the reason for this is the steady convergence of IT and business as, quite clearly, the design and delivery of products and services is heavily enabled by technology,” Foote stated in his report. New technology has always lead to new specialized jobs (think IT engineers). With the rapid rate the tech industry evolves at, it should come as no surprise that the IT job market would follow suit. To paraphrase Foote’s words, the toll that skill certifications are taking is just a drop in the bucket of changes we will see in the industry as a whole.

“IT professionals today have to be routinely knowledgeable about a whole lot of things that have to do with their employers’ industry, customers, and products–enough to take a strategic as well as tactical role in growing the business,” Foote said. But is it possible for IT to be completely converged in the business? Foote Partners LLC found that managers are most likely to hire IT pros with superior business skills, over IT pros with superior tech skills.

Does a decrease in pay for certified engineers mean that the workforce will start to see less-knowledgeable workers? IT guys and gals constantly juggle between certifying, schooling and getting work experience, and it finally seems that work experience is more valuable to managers. We can hopefully see experienced IT workers getting the recognition they deserve. No more struggling to prove their skills on paper; no more sacrificing work experience to chase down a certification.

Will this mean certifications will no longer exist? Should you request a refund of your Cisco training camp check? Not entirely. For one, Foote says “The Department of Defense has made [the decision to make]* certification a condition of employment,” meaning, once this goes through, The Department of Defense Directive 8570 will only hire security workers that have security certifications. So if you plan on helping Uncle Sam’s security sector five years from now, these stats won’t mean a great deal.

What else should you expect to see? Foote Partners LLC says that “the IT career ladder has been replaced by meandering career paths that span business functions and enterprises.” So rather than a rigid, one-way climb, think more about moving up, diagonally and across a jungle-gym rope ladder.

*The Department of Defense Directive 8570 is not mandating certifications for another five years.

October 16, 2007  4:23 PM

The problem of network management

Ron Richard Profile: Ron Richard
Incident response

Back in July, I wrote in a SearchNetworking newsletter about the challenge of choosing the right network management tool:

There’s not only overlap among these tools, but also a lot of variation in what they aim to manage — so much so that an apples-to-apples comparison is almost impossible to make. So far, it’s up to the people using the tools to clear up the confusion and determine the best approach.

I then asked readers to send me their thoughts, and received a very insightful reply from Internet security professional Rob Newby:

Network Monitoring and Management is a space which has been booming in recent years. A number of tools have grown up to monitor jflow, netflow, cflow, etc. There are more SIM, SIEM, and Log Management tools than I care to think of at present, most of them starting with “Net” something or “Log” something.

However, like all the simplest questions, “Why is the sky blue?”, “Why is there thunder and lightning?”, etc., the answer is longwinded and complex, and not as simple as this.

I have worked as an SE, and lately Product Manager for various companies, selling IT security tools, network add-ons, devices, software and hardware. For as long as I can remember, people have asked for centralized management and simple monitoring. The problem, of course, comes from the fact there there are no standards for these security devices and tools, apart from weak protocols such as SNMP and syslog, which are not up to the task of controlling and watching a network of hundreds of nodes.

To prove the lack of alternatives, HP Openview, an SNMP tool which gives a picture of network health by picking up SNMP traps, is still as popular today as it ever was. Nagios, and open source version is still used in many enterprise environments. Syslog collectors are available for all the “Net” and “Log” devices mentioned above.

Because of the lack of standardization, centralization is increasingly difficult unless you have some sort of vendor tie-in. Microsoft’s Operations Manager (MOM) is looking to be the most likely candidate for popular centralized management as the market crawls forwards to its decision. At the moment, it is wide open, however… and vendors are also moving towards SOA type offerings which can interact without the need for building APIs.

The market itself is crowded and becoming more complex. It is hard to make progress in any of these areas, and those leading the standards are the ones who will inevitably make the best of the markets. A common event format is being proposed for Log Management devices, for example. If you can’t standardize the software everyone is running, standardize the output — it makes sense.

Read Rob’s blog, “IT Security: The view from here” at

October 15, 2007  2:47 PM

“Most awesome router ever”

Ron Richard Profile: Ron Richard
Incident response

Belkin N1 Vision
Last Friday, G4TV’s Attack of the Show named the wireless Belkin N1 Vision the “most awesome router ever.” Co-hosts Kevin Pereira and Olivia Munn rattled off a list of winning specs including 802.11n (although it runs in “mixed” mode), multiple SSIDs, a “guest-enable” feature and easy installation without CDs or software (you just turn it on and your computer detects it automatically).

The obvious thing that’s most impressive about the N1, however, is its sleek design and LCD display, which tells you a lot more about your connectivity status than the traditional blinking lights. The N1 is getting a lot of press for its sexy appearance; it looks more like an iPhone than your typical Linksys box.

So is this just for home users with gadget lust? Would you shell out $200 for this sleek 802.11n router — or would you prefer something that looks more like, well, a router? (Hey, we thought routers were sexy all along.)

October 12, 2007  11:34 PM

Bizarro VoIP: Is it evil? Do you care?

Ron Richard Profile: Ron Richard
Incident response

Recently, Tom Keating at TMC wrote in his blog about Digium acquiring Switchvox, a proprietary Asterisk-based VoIP solution. Keating had interviewed Asterisk inventor and Digium CTO, Mark Spencer, who explained that one of the goals of that acquisition was to assimilate some of the proprietary technologies from Switchvox back into open source. Keating remarked:

I recalled Mark Spencer’s IT Expo keynote where he espoused the benefits of truly 100% open source solutions and how this contrasted sharply with some of Digium’s competitors such as Fonality. Again, Mark called hybrid-open/proprietary solutions “evil.” I couldn’t help but think of Digium vs. Fonality as Superman vs. Bizarro. Who is Bizarro and who is Superman I leave for you to decide…

One month ago, at TMC’s Internet Telephony Conference & Expo in Los Angeles, I had the pleasure of meeting Mark Spencer. Unfortunately, I had missed the relevant part of Mark’s keynote, which (fortunately) Greg Galitzine summed up nicely in his blog:

[Spencer] mentioned the evolution in the open source world, where things have gone from a simple “good versus evil” debate (open source vs. proprietary) to a complicated new world where we find open source (good) fake open source (bad) proprietary open source (evil), and even proprietary hybrid hosted (really evil).

Naturally, being drawn to all things evil, the next day at the conference I met with the dark lord of the open source PBX world, Chris Lyman. OK, Chris isn’t actually evil (to my knowledge) — he’s the CEO of Fonality. Fonality, one of the “proprietary hybrid hosted” companies makes low-cost phone systems — according to Lyman, their Trixbox platform is the first and biggest built on top of Asterisk code.


Chris Lyman shows off the trixbox appliance with a tricked-out case mod.(And it’s green, too…)

According to Fonality’s website, being a hybrid-hosted phone system means that the free software is first downloaded by a business and installed on a local computer and local IP phones. After this step, the local computer connects to the Fonality network where server health, call quality and usage are constantly monitored. The hybrid-hosted nature of trixbox Pro also securely extends the phone system outside the corporate firewall, so an employee’s extension can follow them when they work from home, remotely on a laptop, or even on a mobile phone. (Thanks to Alicia diVittorio for tracking down the definition.)

trixbox girls

Sounds like a pretty good arrangement, especially for SMBs who may not have the resources on staff to manage a premise-based solution. In a tip on, Yankee Group senior vice president Zeus Kerravala advised companies:

Even if you’re a predominantly do-it-yourself IT organization, consider a hybrid environment where the hosted services are used for some of the smaller branches and telecommuters. This will probably scale much more easily for you as you move more locations over to VoIP.

What I’m trying to figure out here is why the proprietary hybrid hosted model is “really evil,” and I can’t seem to track down Mark Spencer to comment. (Hey Mark, if this is a secret alter ego thing, I’d be just as happy to talk with Superman!) Personally, I’ve been a proponent of open source for some time now. I understand the benefits of encouraging innovation and avoiding vendor lock-in and lowering per-port charges. So, is Fonality locking in their customers? Are they corrupting open source ideals? Will they stifle innovation? Will mixing open source and proprietary code cause an explosive reaction, like encasing Kryptonian crystal in green kryptonite?

And, despite all this, “Most of the people buying the phone systems in the SMB space don’t even care if it’s open source,” Chad Agate, Co-Founder & CEO of NeoPhonetics, a Digium partner, said during a conference session on “Selecting an open source VoIP solution for the SMB.”

When I asked Lyman about the whole “very evil” issue, he pointed out that Digium has their own tricky issues and aren’t as pure as the driven snow when it comes to open source and their “Digium Waiver” (Read xrobau’s blog on Fonality and the GPL for more about that.)

“This shouldn’t be a war of the Davids; the Davids should join forces and take on Goliath, which is Cisco,” Lyman said. “Fonality and Digium don’t equal one half of one percent of U.S. PBX market share.”


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