The Network Hub

June 9, 2008  2:17 PM

Deep diving into deep packet inspection

Michael Morisy Michael Morisy Profile: Michael Morisy

Speaking of deep packeteering, is a new non-profit with the goal to “foster and support community interest and progress in deep packet inspection (DPI).” OK, so the Gates Foundation it’s not, but I got on the phone with two of the founders, Kyle Rosenthal and Axel Weichert, both formerly with DPI provider Bivio Networks, yesterday to talk a little bit about the site’s ambitions and how it might help network engineers who are tackling how to integrate DPI into their networks.

They said they initially set out to create a very technical community, but they’ve since broadened that mandate to include high-level discussions about the place of DPI at both the network and service provider level. That topic tends to bring out ideologues on both sides, particularly as it’s linked to net neutrality, but hopefully the savvy searcher can avoid the worst of the flame wars and find some useful information, such as vendor profiles and a piece on using DPI to check and improve Skype traffic.

Rosenthal said one of dPacket’s big challenges would be to prove to readers that the site isn’t an industry mouthpiece, which might be tough with financial sponsors like Sandvine and Ellacoya. Still, the more resources there are for complex subjects like DPI the better, particularly if they are willing to tackle both the tough technical aspects of network deployment alongside the creation of ethical guidelines to address how far into the network should DPI peer, and how that information should be handled.

June 9, 2008  2:13 PM

Big Burns is Watching

Michael Morisy Michael Morisy Profile: Michael Morisy

My friend over at InsideHigherEd stumbled upon a novel approach to discouraging illegal P2P while allowing legitimate research usage:

In order to download (or upload) files on any peer-to-peer network whatsoever, all on-campus users have to pass an online quiz on copyright infringement.

But not just once. Passing the test — with a perfect score — enables peer-to-peer access for six hours on the user’s on-campus registered machines, presumably enough time to download that (legal) song, TV show or e-book. The next time, the student, staff or faculty member has to go to the intranet Web page and take the randomized test again, for a maximum of eight uses per month (which, kind of like vacation days, can accrue to at most 20).

While it’s certainly innovative, what’s the point? Nobody is better off, except maybe the RIAA when they use the quiz to show illegal downloading was “willful infringement,” which can bump damages up to $150,000 per song. Those intent on downloading tend to find creative workarounds , while those with legitimate needs are unduly hassled.

In the enterprise, we often hear that education of Net do’s and don’ts is critical, but randomized quizzes and P2P privilege accrual seems a pretty complicated way of doing it.

On the other hand, the statistics are impressive: The year before the program was implemented, the university got 800 copyright complaints; since, they’ve only received eight. Imagine the work productivity boost if you inserted to a picture of the boss every time an employee accessed a flash game or MySpace profile.

On second thought, no.

Back to work!

June 5, 2008  6:54 PM

Gen X to Gen Y: Grow up!

Ron Richard Profile: Ron Richard

From my perspective, there aren’t many differences between Generation X and Generation Y — except that people born in the 80s aren’t as likely to remember Spider Man and his Amazing Friends. (If you subscribe to the typical generational classifications, I was born toward the end of Generation X.) As far as their touted technological prowess, Generation Y, a.k.a. the “Millennial Generation,” doesn’t seem that different, either, except maybe when it comes to text messaging while driving a car. (I have friends who do this, mostly without incident. Now, that’s amazing!)

Yet, to listen to the media, you’d think that the children of the 80s were born with USB ports built into their nostrils and, like the iPods they commonly carry, are preciously fragile pieces of high-performance machinery — capable of amazing achievements, but oh-so-sensitive. Recently, 60 Minutes reported how the Millennials are revolutionizing the workplace. Millennials demand, according to the report, the right to work when and where they want. They also need lots of mentoring because they’ve always been told “you’re special, you deserve the best,” not “life’s tough and you have to work to get what you want.”

Shortly after I saw the 60 Minutes report, TechRepublic blogger Toni Bowers wrote about how IT managers must prepare for the Millennials. Again, the focus was on how our culture must make way for the under-30 workforce; supposedly everybody has to kowtow to the Millennials because they think their elders aren’t supposed to intimidate them.

Hello? Am I the only one who thinks this is just wrong?

I’m not that much older than these people, but I am old enough to remember that Generation X entered the workforce to the tune of “you’re a slacker,” “you need to be more motivated,” “get a job,” and “you’re a loser if you still live with your parents.” Now, slacking is considered a “market condition,” and living at home is considered a wise economic decision. How come we had to adjust to the world, and now we’re adjusting the world for them?

As a representative of Gen X, I have to say that at the first mention of “step aside, old lady,” I will whap that Millennial whippersnapper upside the head with my soon-to-be-non functioning iPod.

That being said, I work with quite a few Generation Y colleagues, and they are lovely people — hard workers, for the most part — smart, and motivated in the way of ambitious young people, not at all the special snowflakes or idiot savants 60 Minutes made them out to be.

There are, admittedly, a few generational differences. But in my mind, these center around the idea that technology is taken for granted among people who have spent most of their lives around it.

For instance, not that long ago when I was in college (and I’m certainly dating myself here), I was told that to pursue a future in graphic design, I would need to learn the appropriate computer skills on my own because the school lacked those resources. Also, our “social networking” was done via Telnet, in green text on a black screen, with only our imaginations and vocabularies enabling us to throw sheep at each other. Nowadays, both those cases would be unthinkable.

Similarly, fellow Network Hubster Tessa Parmenter recently blogged about how shocking it can be when someone lacks email in this day and age. The same day, Michael Morisy reported on the fact that Generation Y wireless customers are more fickle and likely to jump ship if their carriers don’t deliver.

Both those examples show an insistence on connectivity — on technology that does what people want it to do — but (in my mind, at least) they don’t scream “hold my hand or I won’t work for you!”

So maybe it’s not Generation Y, but the media hype machine, that needs to grow up.

May 29, 2008  6:32 PM

Geek Squad vs. Sex and the City

Ron Richard Profile: Ron Richard

Sure, Carrie Bradshaw was mystified when her Mac died, but that’s no reason to hate on Sex and the City.

As much as pop culture may have you believe that the worlds of beauty and brains lie as far apart as Mars and Venus (Ashton Kutcher’s television “social experiment,” Beauty and the Geek, comes to mind), the truth is that the world is made up of plenty of geeky girls and eye-candy boys — and individuals who defy stereotypes and combine the best of both worlds. And one of the lessons from Sex and the City (if you can believe an HBO comedy would have a lesson) was that love can come in many unexpected packages, from Carrie’s Mr. Big to Charlotte’s true love — short, bald, sweaty and hairy-backed Harry Goldenblatt. Carrie even once dated a comic book guy… though he looked more like an indie rocker than Jeff Albertson.

Of course, that doesn’t mean that a few geeks won’t gag a little at the mention of tomorrow’s Sex and the City opening.

Nobody expects computer nerds to get giddy about satin pumps or the latest trends in foil highlighting. Leave the differential equations to the geeks and the eyebrow waxing to the so-called beauties, because if they try to swap, the results are not good — that’s the kind of thing that makes Beauty and the Geek entertaining. For that matter, I don’t even think the majority of men or many women care about that stuff.

But I do like to rail against the stereotype that women just can’t grSex and the City girlsasp technology (or that geeky people can’t also be pretty people, if they want to). So when I got an email from Ketchum PR this afternoon announcing an anti-Sex and the City promotion with Best Buy’s Geek Squad, I decided to have a little fun.

The email started off with a typical publicity shot of the four Sex and the City ladies with the caption, “IF THIS PHOTO UPSETS YOU, READ ON.” It followed by saying, “Sure Sex and the City will be adored by fanatic females that sip cosmos, adorn Manolos and look for their Mr. Big to get them out of credit card debt, but what about the unfortunate men that get dragged to this film?”

It went on to explain that Geek Squad agents will be handing out promotional packets at theaters in New York, Chicago and LA. The packets will contain four quarters and a list of excuses, so the geeks can run away to the safety of a video arcade. (Good luck finding that arcade, or an arcade game that runs for just four quarters!)

They also sent Geek Squad agents on the NYC “Sex and the City tour” to “become experts on the show.” The video is pretty amusing:

Here was my reply. I hope geek girls everywhere are vindicated.

Your email message was more offensive than the photo — what about men who *like* Sex and the City, or females who don’t like it, or the masses of well-rounded people who actually enjoy (gasp!) both their Manolos AND Mario Bros.? Can’t I have my cosmo and play arcade games? And, incidently, I’ll take Tony Stark to ease my debt over Mr. Big any day.

– Amy Kucharik, tongue firmly in cheek.

(In retrospect, I should have said that I’d rather be Tony Stark than have Mr. Big rescue me from debt.)

May 29, 2008  4:36 PM

Is there a gap between those who are tech savvy and those who are not?

Tessa Parmenter Tessa Parmenter Profile: Tessa Parmenter

When I finished up my taxes online some months ago I laughed a little when I saw a button that said “If you do not have an email address, click here to get your tax receipt mailed to you.” I found it ironic because someone tech savvy enough to complete their taxes online would almost have to have something as basic as an email address.

I tried imagining the type of person who would have to click on that link. “Who in this day and age does not have an email address who uses the Internet?” I thought.

Although I’m embarrassed to admit, I couldn’t help but think of someone of an older generation. A thought persists that those who have not grown up around technology are somehow out of touch with the modern world. It seems everyone has a great aunt or uncle who refuses to go online, has been taken in by a phishing scam, or at least is still stuck using dial-up.

From my own experience I know plenty of recent retirees who have not only used computers during their careers but are more tech savvy than myself. So who would have to click on that link?

Not long after I asked this question did I receive a phone call from a long lost pal. We met up and reconnected, and despite the differences between gender, geography and race, the only time I felt disconnected from him was when he told me he could count on one hand how many times he had ever even been on the Internet.

Needless to say he did not have an email account. He was not over the age of retirement. He was not Amish. He had nothing against computers or technology. This person was 24. It blew my mind how someone my age had barely even surfed the Web, let alone been without an email address. Come to think of it, I think he was one of the last few in Generation Y who had a land line and no cell phone.

So I found examples of those close to me who had overthrown the statistics and stereotypes. When it came down to it age didn’t tie directly to one’s amount of tech-savviness or lack thereof, but I wondered whether being technological made someone more connected not just with society but with other people.

May 20, 2008  7:58 PM

Wall Street insiders float idea of a Cisco and EMC merger

Shamus McGillicuddy Shamus McGillicuddy Profile: Shamus McGillicuddy

Either it’s wishful thinking or some keen insight. Yesterday Eric Savitz, the west coast editor of Barron’s, speculated that Cisco Systems might try to buy storage giant EMC Corp. He wrote that Paul Wick, manager of the Seligman Communications and Information Fund, a tech industry investment fund, told him that Cisco is overdue for a megadeal and that EMC is a perfect target.

A Cisco-EMC deal would probably lead to a big day on Wall Street, so it makes sense that the investment world would float such a rumor. Heck, it might even get the two companies talking. Perhaps Cisco CEO John Chambers and and his EMC counterpart Joseph Tucci read Savitz’s piece yesterday and have booked a TelePresence chat to toss the idea around.

Regardless of whether Cisco and EMC might take it seriously, many blogs in the tech universe are atwitter about the idea and for good reason. Cisco has $24 billion in cash, which is probably enough to grab EMC, with a market capitalization of around $35.5 billion.

Cisco has made no secret of its interest in transitioning from a networking vendor to an overall IT vendor. Buying EMC would make Cisco the leader in enterprise storage technology. It would also have a controlling interest in EMC software subsidiary VMware, the leader in virtualization, and RSA, EMC’s powerful security division. Cisco executives speak openly about the company’s interest in expanding its market position in both the virtualization and security industries. And Cisco already owns a a 1.5% stake in VMware.

Savitz says his source has no idea if such a deal is even being discussed between the companies, but Cisco has the cash to spend. It has set ambitious growth goals for itself, even though it’s already the dominant market leader in its core business – routing and switching. And EMC stock has been stagnant for awhile now (other than a brief boost late last year when VMware had a highly-publicized IPO), much to the consternation of its shareholders. A Cisco deal would no doubt cheer up EMC investors.

The question is – Is this good for the industry? Investors might like the deal, and it makes a whole lot more sense than a Blockbuster-Circuit City marriage. But how would the merger be handled? Would the world’s biggest networking company be capable of managing the world’s biggest storage company? How would a such a deal affect smaller players such as VMware, which has clearly benefited from a hands-off approach by EMC executives? Sometimes $30-to-$40-billion tech industry mergers don’t work. Just ask Dan Hesse, CEO of Sprint-Nextel.

May 16, 2008  5:24 PM

Are Cisco knockoffs a modern Trojan Horse?

Michael Morisy Michael Morisy Profile: Michael Morisy

Turning our own tools against us!
So it’s not exactly breaking at this point, but scary nonetheless: The FBI’s Operation Cisco Raider has led to a number criminal cases involving counterfeit Cisco products bought by military agencies and contractors, according to the New York Times.

What’s so worrisome? Knockoff handbags and even iPhones aren’t a direct security threat, but fake Cisco routers might be, as the Times reports:

The potential threat, according to the F.B.I. agents who gave a briefing at the Office of Management and Budget on Jan. 11, includes the remote jamming of supposedly secure computer networks and gaining access to supposedly highly secure systems.

Cisco says we’re safe this time, and the counterfeiters’ motives are a little more pedestrian:

“We did not find any evidence of re-engineering in the manner that was described in the F.B.I. presentation,” said John Noh, a Cisco spokesman. He added that the company believed the counterfeiters were interested in copying high volume products to make a quick profit. “We know what these counterfeiters are about.”

Today, it might (hopefully) be about making a quick buck, but an Ars Technica article underlines some of the Pentagon fears about of so-called “Manchurian chips“:

There is no question that the technological infrastructure in the United States is under siege. We have seen a steady litany of attempted intrusions originating from abroad, most likely perpetrated by a mix of foreign governments and organized crime groups. An emerging concern is that the same agents behind those cyber-attacks could also have access to the chip fabrication facilities that make the components used in US military technology. Researchers say that virtually undetectable kill-switches and backdoors can be built into any of the countless integrated-circuit chips used in mission-critical military hardware systems.

So what can you do to make sure your own equipment is genuine? Not a whole lot, it appears. Amy browsed some forums for tips, but the best we could find was the old consumer adage: If a deal looks to good to be true, it probably is.

May 9, 2008  5:38 PM

Be a MacGyver — not a MacGruber

Ron Richard Profile: Ron Richard

Network pros must feel like they carry the world on their backs. One of my big takeaways from Interop was that with the tide of new applications being delivered across the network, network pros have to work across organizational and technological silos in order to keep things running; that they must stop pointing fingers and saying, “it’s not the network,” and fix the problems to prove their worth. By proving their worth, the network staff gains better access to coveted resources.

Network pros also have to be able to speak the language of business if they want to communicate with company bigwigs. Dr. Jim Metzler, evangelizing this message at Interop, said: “You don’t want to go to the vice president of sales and say, ‘I have MPLS.’ It sounds like a disease. You would not get a second meeting with that person; you have just screamed ‘I am a techie nerd.'”

Maybe this isn’t new or earth-shattering wisdom, but the frequency I heard it repeated got me thinking: Why is it all up to the network pro? Isn’t expecting the network guy to troubleshoot application performance sort of like expecting the highway department to fix your car?

Before you start to complain too much, though, think about MacGruber. If you haven’t seen the recurring sketch on Saturday Night Live, Will Forte plays an alcoholic, neurotic spoof on MacGyver. In the most recent MacGruber sketch with Jonah Hill, MacGruber confronts his assistants about criticizing his abilities and questioning his job performance. He’s so busy worrying about this that he fails to defuse the ticking time bomb, and — boom!

Imagine you’re MacGruber, the ticking timebomb is an application performance problem, and Jonah Hill is an application manager blaming your network for his flawed application. You could get defensive and argue with him over whose fault the bomb is. But look what happens.

Sometimes, if you don’t fix the problem, nobody will.

I asked Craig Hulbert, a senior network engineer at a major health care company in Ohio, why so much responsibility falls on the shoulders of network staff. He answered, “Lowest common denominator,” and explained that calling him is almost always the first step taken when there’s a problem to solve.

I’m not sure whether the network is the lowest common denominator. I would like to think that the smartest people with the most technical know-how are running the network, and when people have a problem that’s where they turn.

As far as I know, they’re not turning to the security team to fix application problems or asking the CEO to bone up on his geek-speak.

> Does your network take the blame for poor application performance? Tell us your story in an email.

May 7, 2008  3:12 PM

How sexy is your network diagram?

Michael Morisy Michael Morisy Profile: Michael Morisy

Sample diagramWhat, you don’t know a precise number? Then get over to and find out exactly how pretty your peers think your network diagram is on a sliding 1-10 scale. It’s for the networking set.

My favorite diagram overlaid the components and locations over an outdoor picture of the building, although another which explained Godzilla’s position in the network was helpful when planning my home setup.

Speaking of which, you can browse and rank diagrams by size and purpose: Small, Large, Home, Rack, and Funny are all options, so no matter what your need you can find a little diagram inspiration … or at least a laugh or two.

Via Cisco blog.

May 6, 2008  3:35 PM

FastSoft demonstrates fast data transmission

Ron Richard Profile: Ron Richard

After struggling for several hours to upload the first of my Interop videos to YouTube, I ran across FastSoft’s video demonstration of their accelerated file transfer appliance, which struck me pretty compelling. In this video, Dan Henderson, VP of Marketing, explains and demonstrates how FastSoft can accelerate data transmission over the Web at Interop Las Vegas 2008.

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