Networks Generation

January 10, 2019  1:42 PM

Are You Fully Automated?

Steve Broadhead Steve Broadhead Profile: Steve Broadhead

One common theme with recent product tests and vendor briefings and that is – automation.

Not that there’s anything new here per se; back in the mid-90s I remember working on an extensive project with the splendid Roger Green of Boole & Babbage (long since part of BMC – the company that is, not Roger) to fully automate the network fault finding and remediation thereof.

Possibly in the interests of keeping a million networking SEs in work still, automation seemed to take something of a back seat (computerised cars gag?) for a while, but now it’s back with a bang (i.e. what happens when you get one human driver on the same road as otherwise computerised cars) as I noted in an excellent briefing with Mike Wood, now of Apstra. As Mike himself said, I’ve got such an extensive collection of his biz cards over the years, I could probably decorate my walls with them, but then he’s far from the only one – and all you others, you know who you are!

Apstra has defined “intent-based networking” with the aim of fully automating the whole network service lifecycle, which kind of brings us full circle from those mid-90s days with B&B. Key to this is the validation of what you create, before you get it catastrophically wrong. Definitely a company to keep an eye or two (one, if you’re an octopus) on and I will be chatting more about Apstra, post deep dive demo in Feb. Meantime, it will be interesting to monitor how many other vendors decide that they too are “intent-based networking” oriented -)

Meantime x2, back on the automation front, I’ve just finished a test report on Densify (the artist formerly known as Cirba, as we all say) whose multi-cloud/hybrid management and optimisation tech has recently become fully automated, thanks to Cloe. Now, I haven’t met her, but I have seen her in action and what she can do with one line of code is nobody’s business… Rather than wax lyrical about the tech here, far better an option is to take a look at the report itself (it’s got plenty of pictures between the words):

And please do proffer feedback – that’s what these blogs are all about! More to come on Densify this quarter, so be watching of this space…

And finally, a Happy New (Brexit – what’s that?) Year to all!

December 13, 2018  12:15 PM

Shock Headline: IT Saves $$$$ (again)!

Steve Broadhead Steve Broadhead Profile: Steve Broadhead

Two and a bit years ago – I should remember, it was on my birthday! – I was presenting a panel debate on the latest Cybersecurity deterrents. With four vendors and two consultants on the panel, it was the general consensus that deciding exactly which combination of products and services a company needed to invest in was more difficult than sorting out Brexit…

One of the issues was: exactly what replaces what, and what compliments what? The problem here was that few of the products on offer actually appeared to truly replace and consolidate existing products – and haven’t we all spent enough on different security products already? The concerns here are two-fold; not just CapEx and OpEx, but the complications of integrating and managing that increasingly large portfolio of products. One configuration slip and you leave a gaping security hole the size of the NHS defence strategy.

So, it was with a combination of pleasure and relief that, at another event (both organised by Mark “Mr Netevents” Fox) I rejoiced in the company of JASK (even if the name grates – Just ASK, in case you just ask) and one particular slide from a Citi Research CIO report, which showed individual vendors replacing incumbent vendors and – in some cases – more than one! In the case of JASK – which itself consolidates security alerts and feeds from multiple platforms – it showed the company displacing IBM QRadar AND Splunk. And it gets better for this Yorkshire – the commentary on why it achieved this? Saving MONEY!!! Shock heading – IT SAVES MONEY -) Not before time…

At the same event, another vendor – this time in the SD-WAN space – Versa, has a similar take on its own market, that of cutting out the middle man and doing it all itself. The Versa solution is a complete SD-WAN stack, all software, that even includes the security element. One to definitely get my paws on. This is a valid message that Versa is promoting as, post WanOp market (as defined by Gartner/Riverbed), that same level of confusion has arisen, as in: “what do I keep, what do I chuck, what else do I need to buy?”. The Versa answer is – “buy our product, end of story”, or pretty much so. Of course, I have clients wot can add still to the Versa offering, but that’s another story…

And while we’re on the subject of feature consolidation, another company I’ve been following recently, Avi Networks, in the – what was historically – Load-Balancing/App Delivery Controller market, is simplifying the decision-making process too. In addition to load-balancing traffic in any direction on pretty well any platform – real, virtual, container – locally, and globally, multi-cloud etc – it combines now with Istio to create what it calls a Universal Service Mesh. Basically, Istio manages a network of microservices that make up such applications and the interactions between them. As a service mesh grows in size and complexity, its’ requirements can include discovery, load balancing, failure recovery, metrics, and monitoring. A service mesh also often has more complex operational requirements, like A/B testing, canary releases, rate limiting, access control, and end-to-end authentication. Istio provides behavioural insights and operational control over the service mesh as a whole. So, we now have macro and micro control of applications, in addition to identity-based security, real-time application monitoring, and enterprise-grade authentication and authorisation, as well as the Web App Firewall (WAF) security that Avi already offers.

Seems like the decision-making processes in IT are finally becoming streamlined – or is this wishful thinking? Either way, sounds like a good IT New Year’s Resolution – must consolidate…


November 22, 2018  4:26 PM

Black Friday On My Mind

Steve Broadhead Steve Broadhead Profile: Steve Broadhead

Ah – tomorrow – the dreaded Black Friday, yet another unwanted import from Trumpland.

But, JASK – already previously subjected here to the blogging treatment – has some security advice to offer as they, rightly, note that the criminal fraternity have a great window of opportunity to take advantage of the online buying frenzy.

The company advises that stealing from and defrauding shoppers too excited by the lure of a huge discount to be aware they are being scammed, is accompanied by very focused campaigns, planned well in advance and that follow to the date and specific product detail offers that shoppers may publish in order to orchestrate and disguise their attack campaigns. JASK also notes that said malicious actors have the capability of affecting or even preventing stores operating online, but then a badly designed website/capacity/redundancy is equally capable of achieving the same result -)

Rod Soto, Director of Security at JASK, suggests a few damage limitation methods, such as using a credit card, rather than a debit card, so there are at least some safeguards, shop at familiar (to you) sites and use common sense where an offer appears too good to be true and don’t click on that link!

Two more pieces of advice are equally applicable to general online activity – one, never repeat your passwords in other online shops and use password vaults to generate strong and random passwords (and don’t use your phone browser) and two, make sure your computer is up to date with patches and security fixes.

I have one further piece of advice to proffer: forget stupid Black Friday shopping and just go down the pub instead…

November 9, 2018  2:20 PM

Global, Load-Balanced Redundant Weather

Steve Broadhead Steve Broadhead Profile: Steve Broadhead

I remember long ago, in an unlikely setting for a bleeding-edge test-labs – an old winery surrounded by vines where the only “blood” came from crushed grapes – yes, my old French test labs, where we created the world’s first globally load-balanced, server/content distribution system.

OK, so it was all simulated, but it worked. I won’t reveal the vendor concerned, but it never went into production as tested – ahead of its time? And why didn’t I copyright it????

Fast forward well over a decade and we have a similar situation regarding the cloudy IT scenario. Why have one cloud when you can have several? Then if one turns black you still have another with a silver lining… But then how do you load-balance them? Not even Carol Kirkwood knows how to do that… And our American readers don’t get that reference -)

So, along comes the knight in shining armour to match that silver-lined cloud, in the form of Avi Networks, who I met up with recently at IP Expo and was suitably impressed by. Its solution, logically, is SaaS-based and provides web app firewalling and service mesh for containers, as well as load-balancing and global server load-balancing across a multi-cloud environment. Avi rightly argues that appliance-based L-B solutions are not designed for the public cloud; correct, in the same way that Dartmouth’s Victorian streets were not designed for car parking, something I have first-hand experience of. If only I could park in the cloud…

The Avi solution, then, comes as a cloud-managed service; a true SaaS-based L-B controller, meaning very fast deployment, no field engineers required to be onsite across the globe (bang go your airmiles guys!) and adds/changes are simple as, so OpEx is bound to be lower too.

If only I’d taken out that copyright, would I be due royalties? Regardless, it would be most interesting to get my virtual hands on said virtual solution to see how closely it resembles my own creation!

October 22, 2018  2:02 PM

All Things Migration

Steve Broadhead Steve Broadhead Profile: Steve Broadhead

So, in recent blogs I’ve talked about all things migration-wise; Windows migration issues and the testing thereof, migrating to the cloud, even migrating the cloud back to OnPrem, from OnPrem to VDI (in the cloud) and all stops in between seemingly…

Shortly, my focus will be turned by to the issue of cloud migration with a look at Densify’s service solution but, meantime, I also decided to migrate my own website, aka a makeover, and have just put the report on Rimo3’s ACTIV Windows migration solution, as blogged about recently, up there, so check out the new look:

Interestingly, for the vendors concerned, my record on testing migration products – starting with a Netware 4.1 migration tool company, whose name escapes me (and Wikipedia) currently – and that vendor then getting acquired by either the obvious candidate, or a suitable suitor, is very high, so watch this space!

October 12, 2018  4:23 PM

No Cloud Over VDI!

Steve Broadhead Steve Broadhead Profile: Steve Broadhead

Unsurprisingly, whatever the IT genre and whatever the weather, cloud is always on the horizon right now.

One of several top meetings I had last week within IP Expo’s confines was with Morteza Esteki of Liquidware (glamorously assisted by Jane Rimmer of Hiviz Marketing of course, from an original idea by Declan “when’s my next guitar lesson?” Waters of Water Comms). One issue that many IT departments are finding themselves in right now, is in feeling they are potentially trapped within a world of VMware, Citrix, Google, Amazon, Azure… you get the picture.

For the VDI crowd who chose the thin client route many moons ago, the potential migration to the cloud/DaaS world (one mainframe substitute to another?) can, I guess, be a little scary – two IT worlds that make lots of sense, meshing logically but… What Liquidware offers is a platform-agnostic helping hand. For example, its Stratusphere UX product, sits atop and provides that all important end-to-end visibility of the combo of physical, virtual and cloud-based workspaces – as a single entity. Think migration, performance assessment and optimisation, as well as problem solving and – ideally – avoiding those problems in the first case. Endpoint client support is also open – Windows, Mac and Linux are all supported (not sure about Oric Atmos and ZX Spectrum though…).

As an example of real-world use of this tech, legal expenses insurance company DAS, in the UK, has recently taken on Stratusphere UX and is looking to put it to use it in areas such as:

⦁ The on-boarding of VDI from home.
⦁ Windows 10 testing and on-boarding.
⦁ Scaling the environment.
⦁ To provide a real time dashboard for BAU (business as usual) incidents and alerts so they are ahead of the game should an issue arise – fix it before it’s a problem!
⦁ Troubleshooting for users who have reported issues from a previous date, pulling historical info that will prove useful when working on longer standing issues.
⦁ Measuring Network and SAN performance during an issue (let’s not forget good old SANs – they won’t be disappearing anywhere quickly!).

Timing isn’t always my strong point, but there’s a definite alliance of technology here, given that I’m involved in very complimentary product projects with the likes of Fedr8 and Rimo3 in the UK and Canada-based Densify, not to mention some top secret due diligence on tech breakthroughs that impact on all of these areas by a mad professor from West Virginia (oops, too late).

Maybe I’m unintentionally assembling the next IT dream team?

October 11, 2018  12:20 PM

A Cure For IT Paranoia And A Dig In The US Ribs

Steve Broadhead Steve Broadhead Profile: Steve Broadhead

Last week’s IP Expo at EXCEL wasn’t all bad news; we escaped the first night into proper London, to a brewery disguised as a pig restaurant and then, naturally, to a (posh) curry house. Well, it is London, not Heckmondwike…

Focus of said evening was Cloudistics, the company that created “cloud for the paranoid”; i.e. it’s a private OnPrem cloud – the idea being all of the scalability benefits while maintaining control. I guess one of the issues – however well thought-out the concept (and it is well thought-out)  – you’ll always get with a “Cloudistics” trying to change the world is the “Cloud-who?” response the CFO proffers when smart IT geek says “we need to go in this direction”. That’s why we often talk about ” a big guy” needing to onboard the concept in order to validate a new market (or Goodwood), usually in the eyes of a Gartner or IDC. Well, let’s face it – Gartner. Now, this isn’t right or honourable or morally sound, but it is reality!

Now let’s go flip-side; you are a multi-billion dollar global vendor, doing very nicely, thank you, in a range of markets, but ideally needing an angle to get yourself into the emerging markets the likes of Cloudistics are creating. Well, sometimes the stars do align – in the guise of Lenovo in this instance. Now, for those of you who still think Lenovo = laptops, the DC/storage sector has been an increasingly major play for them in recent times. However, for Lenovo to create their own, in-house “Cloudistics” requires a leap of faith, as well as many person-years of development.

So, in a simple ceremony, with boardroom preferred to Westminster Abbey, the two have entered an exclusive relationship – meaning both get what they want. Yet another example of Common Sense as a Service. Lenovo provides the boxes, the global reach and the “big name brand”, Cloudistics provides the youthful makeover and a new lease of life. For the record (or mp3) the Lenovo-labelled product is called “ThinkAgile CP Series” – more snappy, corporate marketing at work there – but it promises to be right, right good (technical term), and definitely a keeper, kind of private cloud in a box (maybe comes delivered with optional “install pizza”?). As one Dell guy said once at a Netevents, we’re looking for our customers to have “a pleasant, out of the box experience”. You don’t hear that kind of language in Barnsley… And, talking of food, here’s the real story from that encounter – Chris (all-US boy) Myhill of Cloudistics declared the ribs at Cinnamon Kitchen to be “the best he’s ever tasted”. The Texan fan club has disbanded…

Meantime, I shall watch the Cloudistics/Lenovo development with a great deal of interest and hopefully get my paws on the tech. We might not be able to control the weather, but it looks like we can now control clouds at least 🙂




October 11, 2018  11:41 AM

AVIn A Well Balanced Time…

Steve Broadhead Steve Broadhead Profile: Steve Broadhead

Me and Load-Balancers (the artist wot became known as the Application Delivery Controller at some point in its life, even though it always did this anyway) go back a long way; 20 years basically, when “cloud” was merely a snowflake in the natural world of IT.

Think Alteon and Arrowpoint – kind of wild-west country where L-Bs were concerned; inventing concepts such as reverse proxy, sticky cookies (I wonder if Cadbury as was ever invested in this tech?) and global, load-balanced content delivery systems (actually created the world’s first in our old labs).

One issue with the classic, H/W-based solutions was that, eventually they ran out of silicon puff and had to be re-engineered, ground up. This was great for repeat test work but patently (pun there?) not the future. Fast forward to the cloud era and meeting with AVI Networks at IP Expo in the culture desert that is EXCEL in East London, and the tech has most definitely been brought bang up to date. Instead of investing “X” in an L-B solution (well, X+Y as companies always wanted a redundant stack) and then trying to get your $$$ wotsits out of it, the idea here is what AVI flashily (well someone has to employ marketeers) calls Intent-Based Application Services (IBAS). In English, a business works out what it needs in terms of handling its traffic requirements/SLAs etc and then auto-provisioning takes over, scaling up or down as necessary to handle volume efficiently. Common Sense as a Service…

AVI is rightly aiming high with this solution; multi-cloud environments, xSPS, Times Fortune Top 500 or whatever it’s called, but essentially those whose need is greatest and loss is most painful. Talk with AVIs David Moss, whose CV is almost a mapping of my vendor clients since the early 90s, did turn to how an AVI-Lite might be achievable, so watch this space on that one. Suffice to say, L-B/ADC is alive and well in the cloud era. The snowflakes have melted long ago…

October 2, 2018  4:00 PM

Parallel Universe Windows Migration as a Service

Steve Broadhead Steve Broadhead Profile: Steve Broadhead

Rewind a few years and I was carrying out a series of test projects for a UK-based ISV client, AppDNA, whose focus was the analysis of application compatibility when migrating between different versions of Windows and IE respectively and, indeed, possibly concurrently – the ultimate double whammy.

The point was that, in order to do this manually, you ideally needed several parallel universes and an infinite team of advanced lifeforms within each, dedicated to the task. Otherwise, before you’ve generated the results from one migration analysis, the version you needed to migrate to had already moved on. So, said product automated all the Arcturan MegaDonkey work (thanks, Douglas Adams) and made the impossible possible (without the need for an Infinite Improbability Drive).

And that concept was clearly based on good foundations as the company sold to Citrix for rather a lot of money. Now, we do appear to have a case of parallel universes as one of the founders of the previous company has re-emerged as a founder of Rimo3, a UK-based ISV whose focus in is the area of application compliance and compatibility when moving to Windows 10 (funnily enough).

What’s that I hear: “You mean to say – shock, horror – that not all Microsoft-addict enterprises have moved to the current Windows platform yet?” Well, no actually. To use a technical term, ‘shedloads’ of them haven’t yet thrown themselves to the lion that is effectively Windows as a Service, or at least have only partially done so. I guess the latter option is kind of like letting a shark bite one ankle off initially to see how painful it might be if you went the whole way.

So, enter Rimo3 which, no prizes for guessing here, automates the process of testing application compatibility and compliance for moving to Windows 10/WaaS. But this time the stakes are even higher since, with WaaS, Microsoft moves the proverbial goalposts every six months, so you have to reconfirm that all is well in the land of Happyappville twice a year. And this is ongoing – to the end of time, at least. And that’s a conservative estimate…

My life would therefore not be complete without getting my hands on “Son (or daughter) of AppDNA”. I – perchance – am at IP Expo tomorrow in the beautiful and not at all ugly and echo chamber like surroundings of ExCel in the very far East of London (same time zone as Singapore) where, by an astonishing coincidence, Rimo3 is being launched. So, I might happen upon the stand and claim my testing rights which, in turn, would lead to a Broadband-Testing report on “Son (or daughter) of…” Watch thee said space. In whichever parallel universe you currently exist…

October 2, 2018  3:39 PM

What – no grilled sardines?

Steve Broadhead Steve Broadhead Profile: Steve Broadhead

Recently returned from the sunny climes of the Algarve at this year’s round up of IT reprobates at Netevents (congrats, as ever, to the Netevents team for a) organising the event and b) surviving it).

Unsurprisingly there was much talk of that re-roasted old chestnut that is AI and what it actually means (if not what it stands for). My old (equally) mad mate Jan Guldentops rightly made the point that you could probably ask a hundred vendors and get a different interpretation from each. And is “machine learning” the same thing as “artificial intelligence”? And why did no one discuss why, when the latter is known as “AI”, that no one ever refers to the former as “ML”?

Much of the conversation was greatly on topic – thanks Scott Raynovich, AKA Mr Futuriom, for making the point that SD-WAN is going to be massive. Music to my ears, as it’s one of my key focus areas. Some of my clients are smiling very broadly. No thanks to Gartner for narrowing the definition of WAN Optimisation in the first place, so that it had to be renamed in order to expand and fulfil its potential, however…

As part of the ongoing debates around SD-WAN and cloud came the realisation that there isn’t actually infinite bandwidth around the globe and that all forms of optimisation are actually a fundamental requirement going forward into a multi-cloud, “let’s kill off MPLS” future.

And then there’s the inevitable realisation that security still doesn’t work (though if you believe certain Antipodean journalists it isn’t actually necessary; what’s worth stealing in Australia anyway?), as evidenced by ongoing, much documented hacks into major global companies, banks, travel companies and governments.

Then with the migration from OnPrem to various cloudy scenarios and migration of apps and data onto all manner of virtual environments and self-contained containers, there’s the issue of how you manage that migration, especially when it might be across connections that have very significantly less than infinite bandwidth? Does VMware enjoy the company of Docker? Are Azure and AWS bosom buddies?

Seems almost freaky then, that I’ve just started a project working with a US inventor focused in the areas of data acceleration, encryption and multi-platform migration, backup and replication management. Or was I just dreaming that on the way back from Faro airport?

Actually, I wasn’t. I think I’m rather going to enjoy the ride. And no prizes for guessing what I bought a bottle of at the duty-free shop, Faro airport, that being in PORTugal…

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