The Network Hub

January 12, 2010  6:23 PM

Nothing’s free? How about a community lab to experiment with Cisco gear

rivkalittle Rivka Little Profile: rivkalittle

Free education? What a concept. Packet Life blogger extraordinaire (also a network engineer) Jeremy Stretch has built a community lab that enables users to experiment with a host of networking devices.

The Packet Life Community Lab can be used for six-hour stretches to play with Cisco 1841s, 2811s, Catalyst 3550s, and ASA 5505s.

Users access the lab via Telnet and SSH sessions that are bridged directly to the physical console of each device by an Opengear CM4116, an open source console manager.

A full topology documentation of the lab is available on the Packet Life blog, as well as a behind-the-scenes look at the lab. While Packet Life Community Lab is completely free to users who register, donations to support the lab are accepted.

January 11, 2010  4:17 PM

Cisco supply chain woes: Core networking product shortage

Shamus McGillicuddy Shamus McGillicuddy Profile: Shamus McGillicuddy

The Channel Insider reports that Cisco is struggling to fill orders for core networking products after enterprises started buying products in greater numbers at the end of the year. In an official statement, Cisco told the web site that its suppliers are struggling to deliver to Cisco “based upon their labor and other actions taken during the downturn.” Apparently Cisco is dealing with a shortage of the raw material used to manufacture semiconductors and other basic components of its switches and routers.

A similar supply chain crunch struck the wireless LAN industry last fall when a surge in orders for 802.11n enterprise wireless LAN gear caught many vendors off guard. Aruba was forced to push back a product announcement by a week, due to this shortage.

Now Cisco is dealing with its own unexpected surge in orders, and its supply chain is struggling to deliver.

Cisco helped create this supply chain disruption, according to Jerald Kolansky, of the consultancy Gerson Lehman Group and a former executive with semiconductor firm PLX Technology. Kolansky wrote on his firm’s website that Cisco cut orders for supplies drastically in the fall of 2008 with little warning for its suppliers. This forced suppliers to make drastic cutbacks of their own and they are now struggling to ramp up production again.  Kolansky wrote:

Firms such as Cisco have reaped what they sowed. If they had been more willing to share the pain and in fact had not overreacted in cutting orders they would not be in the situation they are in today.

January 8, 2010  7:40 PM

IT jobs growth detected with a microscope

Shamus McGillicuddy Shamus McGillicuddy Profile: Shamus McGillicuddy

National unemployment remains at 10% (officially), but if you include people who are underemployed and who have given up looking for work that number is actually at 17.3%. Not pretty.

But Foote Partners LLC, the IT workforce management consultancy, points out that the country has experienced four consecutive months of growth in the IT jobs market (PDF).

On its face, that sounds nice. Four months of jobs growth? The country would love to see something like that for all job categories. However, Foote notes that the country gained about 7,600 IT jobs in December. That’s not exactly an explosion of opportunities, but it is a flicker of hope.

Despite this job growth, it doesn’t look like IT departments are actually hiring. Foote notes that the Department of Labor stats are showing the most growth in two categories: “Management & Technical Consulting Services” and “Computer Systems and Design and Related Services.” This implies that the companies are bringing in consultants, contractors and managed services rather than adding new employees.

December 23, 2009  5:17 PM

Avaya hangs onto Nortel data networking gear — what’s next, a Flip cam?

Jessica Scarpati Jessica Scarpati Profile: Jessica Scarpati

While we’re all twiddling our thumbs and waiting for Jan. 19 — when Avaya will announce which of Nortel’s acquired unified communications products are staying and going — there is still plenty to chew on about the official closing of Avaya’s buyout of the bankrupt telephony giant.

Despite analyst predictions to the contrary (oops — sorry, Zeus, we spoke a week too soon), Avaya will be hanging onto Nortel’s data networking business as part of the UC vendor’s strategy of “rewiring itself to be a fit-for-purpose company,” said Todd Abbott, senior vice president of sales and marketing and president of global field operations, in a briefing Monday with

Branch offices getting outfitted for Avaya integrated voice solutions wouldn’t need to involve a second vendor to buy the networking gear that goes along with such a deployment, he said.

“It was a strategic part of the acquisition. There are elements of the [UC and contact center] architecture that require a tight integration with data,” Abbott said. “It is an enabler for UC and we will continue to invest in the product line.”

OK, to be fair, Avaya didn’t acutally say they’re trying to compete with Cisco. In not so many words, they pretty much said the opposite:

“You’re not going to find us in the carrier backbone networks. We don’t need to be there and it’s not a core element of the architecture … to deliver UC and CC [solutions],” Abbott said. “You’re not going to see us expand the investment to be all things.”

Where will they get the leg up? Maybe over UC/networking corporate cousins Siemens Enterprise and Enterasys?

Muddying the waters though is a little but important detail Network World’s Tim Greene points out: Avaya will continue its partnership with Brocade and Extreme Networks. Little commentary on that so far in the blogosphere, but you’ve gotta imagine those guys aren’t too happy with this.

December 11, 2009  7:42 PM

New wireless standard with speed that slaughters 802.11n … in a very small world

rivkalittle Rivka Little Profile: rivkalittle

A new wireless standard that outpaces 802.11n in speed by tenfold — but at a much shorter range — was approved by the Wireless Gigabit Alliance this week.

The Multi-Gigabit Wireless Specification or WiGig 1.0 works on the little used 60 GHz band and supports data transmissions of up to 7 Gbps. But the technology creates only a 10-meter range wireless network – much smaller than the 100-meter network enabled by 802.11n Wi-Fi.

The technology can, however, be used with beamforming to automatically switch over to Wi-Fi at the 10-meter border, extending to a 100-meter network with throughput of 600 megabits per second.

WiGig 1.0 will likely be used for home entertainment and will be built into PCs, TVs, cameras and mobile devices. The technology will enable users in the same house to watch multiple streams of video in different rooms. It is possible that the technology will be used to supplement 802.11n to provide video over WLAN in a multitenant environment, which could include universities and enterprise scenarios.

Devices using the standard are expected to be available in Q1 of 2010.

December 9, 2009  3:30 AM

Kensington MicroSaver Alarmed Computer Lock review: Will it protect your laptop?

Tessa Parmenter Tessa Parmenter Profile: Tessa Parmenter

After watching this video on how to pick a tubular Kensington lock with a toilet paper roll, I had some serious doubts about my laptop’s safety:

Had I watched this video when I forgot the keys to my Kensington MicroSaver Alarmed Computer Lock — generously given by for review — I might have saved myself from disassembling an office desk with a screwdriver. Let me explain…

The laptop locking gaffe

Being a remote worker left little opportunity for me to truly test the Kensington MicroSaver Alarmed Computer Lock. Sure, I could see how my laptop looked chained to my home office desk, but that wouldn’t have made for a very exciting blog post.

Shortly after I received the lock in the mail, did I coincidentally take a trip from the U.S. to the U.K. to put it to the test. Packing proved that the wire of the Kensington lock is not very flexible; you have to really work at coiling it up to fit it in small spaces. For those traveling, I’d recommend either not fitting it in small places or quickly wrapping it up with a few twist ties before it springs back on you.


When I set foot in the U.K. office, I was given the go-ahead to occupy the desk of a man who was absent. I started a file transfer over my corporate VPN towards the end of that day, in what seemed like minutes before my ride back to the hotel rushed into the room demanding I leave now.

“I can’t go,” I said.

They scratched their head.

“My progress bar says there are two more hours left for this file to transfer, and I need this downloaded before tomorrow morning,” I explained.

They clearly weren’t going to wait for me.

“Could I leave my laptop here?” I pleaded.

That was fine with them, and just as well for me since it gave me the chance to legitimately test my Kensington lock for review. I threaded the lock between a leg panel and table top — half-hoping the late-working employees or maintenance men would try to take it over night. Would anyone tamper with it? Would I hear the alarm sounding outside the brick walls of the building the next morning?


When I arrived the next day, it’s what I didn’t find that started the panic. I walked into the office to find the desk already occupied. The man (who didn’t know I was borrowing his space) was already working at his desk next to my laptop, which was locked to his table. Imagine my face when I obligingly went to his desk to remove my laptop only to realize I had left the keys miles away at my hotel!

After some debate, and nervous laughter on my part, one employee said we should take the desk apart. It was a three-man operation: One person did the unscrewing; another held the desk panel as it fell; another held the table top so that it, too, wouldn’t fall. Once the bolts were unscrewed, the man under the desk un-looped the lock from its offending location, and back together the desk went.

Attempting to pick a Kensington lock
Kensington MicroSaver Alarmed Computer Lock picking

It wasn’t until I returned to the states weeks later that I discovered the video. I had to try hacking it of course, but the lock wouldn’t open. I blamed it on having an inferior toilet paper roll (if there is such a thing), or my lack of utility tape. I first tried with scotch tape, then started over using duck tape. Every time I attempted to pick the Kensington lock, I ended up with a mutilated piece of cardboard (shown right).

Maybe the Kensington MicroSaver Alarmed Computer Lock has better security than the one in the YouTube video — or maybe I lack the lock-picking finesse of the demonstrator. Either way, it brought me to a broader conclusion of laptop security.

Secure laptops like you would your network

A security expert once told me there’s no such thing as perfectly secure data. If you wanted zero risk of data being stolen, you would have to keep your data off networks altogether. Network security offers prevention and protection methods — but they won’t be 100% safe.

That’s why security needs to come in layers. Enterprise network security expert Michael Gregg explains the concept of network security defense in depth in this expert response. Just as your network can’t have only a firewall, or only anti-virus, your laptops need defense in depth to slow down corporate crackers. Password protect laptops; add laptop tracking software; figure out stolen laptop recovery if it ever gets that far. talked about seven ways to prevent computer and data theft by using all of these physical computer security products:

  1. a USB port block
  2. a laptop lock
  3. a USB fingerprint reader
  4. a notebook privacy filter
  5. an anti theft PC security stand
  6. a laptop lockbox
  7. a CPU security cabinet

While not each and every security product is likely needed for every laptop — the idea of securing in layers is essential to any network, laptop or mobile device.

December 3, 2009  6:28 PM

IDC: IBM will buy Juniper in 2010

Shamus McGillicuddy Shamus McGillicuddy Profile: Shamus McGillicuddy

IBM will step back into networking in a big way in 2010 by buying Juniper Networks, according IDC.  The New York Times “Bits” blog says IDC will unleash some of its year-end predictions for 2010 today. One of its bolder predictions appears to be the IBM-Juniper hookup.

Bits quotes IDC’s chief analyst Frank Gens:

Networking, Mr. Gens says, is increasingly part of the package of capabilities the largest technology companies must offer corporate clients. He points to Hewlett-Packard’s recent purchase of 3Com and Cisco’s partnership with EMC as evidence of the trend.

“If you are going to be in the hardware systems business,” Mr. Gens says, “you need network competence.”

This year IBM has stepped up its networking business, first with an announcement in April of a broad OEM agreement to sell IBM-branded Brocade Ethernet products. Then a few months later IBM announced an expansion of that deal with Brocade and added Juniper and Cisco switches to its OEM offerings.

In IDC’s prediction document (which you can download for free), IDC admits that the IBM-Juniper prediction is, in basketball terms a “3-point shot.” But IDC says this prediction is driven by the “growing importance of in the IT world – especially with the emergence of cloud computing and the explosion of mobile devices” which are driving the convergence and integration of the network with computing and storage systems.

A purchase of Juniper seems like a logical step for IBM, if it wants to buy its way back into the networking business whole-hog. Although Juniper is probably best known as a service provider equipment vendor, it has made big strides with its enterprise Ethernet switching and data center networking business over the last year or so. IBM would certainly see the Juniper acquisition primarily as an opportunity to add data center networking into its overall product portfolio.

A IBM-Juniper merger would open the door to a huge three-way data center war among IBM, Cisco and HP. All three would offer soup-to-nuts technology for the data center. Buyers of networking gear would suddenly have three monstrous companies to choose from and companies like Brocade, Force10 and Extreme would be bigger underdogs than ever before.

December 3, 2009  5:11 PM

Motorola brand to disappear? I don’t think so

Shamus McGillicuddy Shamus McGillicuddy Profile: Shamus McGillicuddy

On the blog 24/7 Wall Street, Jon Ogg boldly predicted this week that Motorola is one of 10 brands that will disappear in 2010. It’s time to break up the company and “scuttle a brand with a bad reputation,” he wrote.  A bad reputation among whom? Enterprises? I don’t think so. Brocade and Extreme Networks both recently announced strategic OEM agreements with Motorola’s wireless LAN business. They seem to think the Motorola brand is just fine.

Just before the economy took a dive, Motorola announced vague plans for a corporate breakup. The company would spin out or sell off its struggling mobile handset division so that its networking businesses could thrive.  Now it appears that success with smartphones built on Google’s Android OS (the Cliq and the Droid) has Motorola’s leadership more bullish about the handset division. The scuttlebutt now has Motorola selling off its set-top box and network equipment divisions and holding onto the handset division.

Will any of this happen? Hard to say. Plenty of big technology companies (Cisco, HP, Dell) have been in a buying frame of mind in recent months. But one thing is clear: I haven’t seen a single Droid advertisement that informs consumers that the hot new iPhone alternative is a Motorola product. If Motorola is planning to dump its infrastructure business and focus on handsets, why isn’t it associating its brand with Droid?

Meanwhile Motorola’s brand remains strong among enterprises (and telecoms). Motorola’s wireless LAN business is a top-five market leader (although it battles over scraps with companies not named Cisco and Aruba). Its enterprise mobility business (Good Technology) is a well-known brand. And Motorola still has a good reputation among public safety agencies, shipping and transportation companies and football coaches for its two-way radios and its radio dispatch systems.

I think the Motorola brand will survive 2010 just fine. The question is, which part of the company will hold onto it?

December 2, 2009  10:43 PM

Port blocking: Why corporate computers need disabled USB ports

Tessa Parmenter Tessa Parmenter Profile: Tessa Parmenter asked me to review a few products as part of a data theft prevention promotion they were advertising. One such appliance was a USB port block.

You may be wondering why you would want to block ports on your laptop, and if that’s the case, then here is why network administrators call it the “evil USB port.”

The answer simply is that USB storage devices pose a network security threat to corporate data. MCSE Brien Posey wrote in his article on stopping USB storage devices, that unblocked USB ports could be where an aloof network user places an infected USB device, or where a disobedient employee could easily offload unlicensed software or programs. Unblocked USB ports could also lead to corporate espionage. Imagine a disgruntled employee slipping in a thumb drive and downloading several MBs of sensitive enterprise data in a flash. (By the way, you can check out this guide on network user management to learn about managing problem network users).

While Posey mentions one way to physically block your port drives is to pump it full of epoxy, that also disables ports — even for valid means. He writes:

One of the biggest arguments against plugging up a computer’s USB ports with epoxy is that doing so usually voids the system’s warranty. I have also heard unconfirmed stories of technicians turning on a PC before the epoxy is completely dry and causing damage to the system board as a result.'s USB port block
In preventing USB device use with Windows Vista group policy, Posey talks about how you can disable ports through the systems BIOS, or through Windows Vista and Windows Server 2008 policy settings. However, if you don’t use Windows Server 2008 or Vista, you may be stuck. What are your other options? A port block perhaps.

A USB port block is tiny plate of metal (or some alloy of metals) that covers ports. I’ve shown a larger-than-life picture of one to the right here. Rather than glue your port, you can simply cover it while allowing authorized USB devices when you need it. It sure beats epoxy, and they’re relatively cheap.’s USB Port Block was priced at $4.97, and I saw one from Katerno priced at $3.49. Of course, compared to a $20.00 bottle of epoxy, glue would cover more ports at a smaller cost — but the end result could be far more expensive if the computer malfunctions.

The downside of using a USB port block is that you need to have a tool called a USB lock to fasten it to your computer. You’d also have to go to each port of each computer in your office if you wanted to block ports across your enterprise. However, for CEOs or employees who travel often, or more than most, it may be a way to heighten their laptop security in a pinch. Very little technical experience is needed to place one in your port. You could even get a remote employee to install it themselves provided they had a USB lock.

November 25, 2009  4:49 AM

Government agencies still skeptical on the public cloud

rivkalittle Rivka Little Profile: rivkalittle

Government agencies aren’t likely to move their core data to the cloud just yet partially because they can’t be sure their data won’t be moved to servers across state lines where different regulations could apply to how it can be accessed or stored. If cloud service providers want to lure government agencies, they’ll have to provide SLAs that ensure data will be held to specific zones. In this 3-minute video, New York State Deputy CIO Rick Singleton talks about the regulatory challenges posed by the public cloud (similar to problems the health insurance industry has with the cloud), and why there is not enough interoperability between private and pubic clouds.

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