The Network Hub

October 15, 2007  2:47 PM

“Most awesome router ever”

Ron Richard Profile: Ron Richard
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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?

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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.”


Related stories from TechTarget:

October 12, 2007  4:13 PM

Is NAC stuck in the mud?

Ron Richard Profile: Ron Richard
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Around this time last year, network access control (NAC) was the be-all, end-all for network security. Performing pre- and post-admission checks on devices before allowing them access to the network and applications was still a relatively fresh concept.

And, as with every new thing, vendors scrambled and clawed to get their solutions to market and offer a new or different form of NAC, adding in one or two new components, but keeping the rest pretty much status quo.

Now, however, it seems it’s all been done. While many key vendors offer some form of NAC — Cisco, Microsoft, Juniper and others — it’s getting increasingly harder to differentiate between them, since NAC has entered the realm of commoditization. There are also still a number of vendors — Vernier, Nevis and many more — offering point-based NAC appliances and tools to fill the gap, but even those solutions vary in only minuscule ways.

I didn’t really see things that way until a recent chat with Current Analysis senior analyst Andrew Braunberg. While we discussed some additions and enhancements to Juniper’s Unified Access Control (UAC) NAC products, Braunberg quickly pointed out that NAC has gotten to the point where there isn’t much that can be added to it that isn’t already there. Sure, vendors can enhance certain elements and integrate NAC with other tools, but the core functionality of a NAC solution is likely not to change much for a while.

“There’s not really going to be anything new under the sun in the NAC market over the next few years,” he said. “Most of it is already available. Vendors will continue fortifying their NAC solutions.”

I have to agree. It seems the time for radical developments in NAC has stopped. That’s not necessarily a good thing or a bad thing. It just is. I’m curious, however, what that next big NAC development will be a few years from now. I’d like to ask you. Do you have any predictions on where NAC is heading? Do you agree or disagree that NAC solutions have reached a plateau? How will that affect your NAC purchases moving forward?

October 4, 2007  8:05 PM

The “other” kind of networking

Ron Richard Profile: Ron Richard
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For about as long as routers, switches and cables have been connecting critical functions of the business network, people have been using that same technology to connect socially — whether for sharing notes on open source tool configuration, trading MP3s of their favorite bands, or swapping recipes for SPAM Fra Diavolo.

While the former may have its place in the business world, the latter can drain productivity and bandwidth if employees are “networking” on the clock. But this week, SearchCIO news writer Shamus McGillicuddy reported on a recent study that concluded fewer than half of IT managers polled banned employee use of sites such as MySpace and Facebook.

What’s interesting is how quickly many businesses have not only shrugged their shoulders at this phenomenon, but have actually jumped on the social networking bandwagon. For example, a year ago, McGillicuddy reported how IT execs were willing to exploit the Web 2.0 wave by getting into blogging and other online community-building activities. And in September, blogger Jeff Kelly wrote:

The social networking application market will grow to over $420 million dollars by 2009, a whopping 815% increase from its 2006 size of $46.8 million, according to a recent report by IDC. As the market develops, the report continues, social networking functionality will increasingly be built directly into the foundations of communication platforms including email and IM. (Batten down the hatches: Enterprise social networking market set to explode!)

So what does this mean for networking pros, aside from more traffic to support on the IP network? First, I wonder whether the benefits of shared information will ever be enough to warrant taking time out of a schedule already overwhelmed with building, maintaining and troubleshooting the network, dealing with end users, and putting out fires. I also wonder whether online social networking will ever replace the much more chaotic and interesting real-world networking on the trade show floor or at the vendor-sponsored cocktail party, where you can raise a glass to your favorite router along with a new-found friend who shares your taste in skewered mini-meats.

In reality, for regular companies (not media conglomerates and hip online startups) it may just be “blogging and other online community-building activities” that catch on for the meantime, if any. I’m the first to admit that I’ve been skeptical of the value of blogs, especially the sort of “here’s where my cat threw up today” blogs that clog so much of cyberspace. But one quality I do find potentially valuable is the egalitarian spirit blogging encourages. Publishing is no longer kept to the domain of the gatekeepers; virtually anyone can go online and post their ideas. Community is built grassroots style, from the ground up, rather than dictated from above. Also, where online media is concerned, the reader can now participate in a conversation — as Paul Gillin pointed out in his blog essay “The new journalism.” Social networking (or “social media,” to use Gillin’s terminology) builds community and opens a dialogue between its participants.

That’s the reason why launched The Network Hub as part of the IT Knowledge Exchange. In the ITKE, IT professionals can gather, share problems and solutions, and create a knowledgebase of useful information. Moreover, ITKE is a community of IT professionals — segmented by the interests you select when you register. We hope this distinguishes the ITKE from other, generically social sites. You can ask very specific questions, directed at other qualified people who can collaboratively build answers to your questions. This should save you time in your network troubleshooting and other job functions — a far cry from wasting your day downloading 8-second “Flock of Seagulls” samples (although we don’t necessarily condemn this practice). You can also read IT blogs, like The Network Hub, and post comments — or even start your own blog.

We believe our readers have plenty of expertise in networking (the routers and switches kind) and we want to help you share that knowledge with us and each other, using the “other” kind of networking.

September 28, 2007  9:06 PM

World Cyber Games network taking shape

Ron Richard Profile: Ron Richard
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Day two of setting up the network for the World Cyber Games has seen the network take shape.

After a quick trip to Sears to grab some extra tools — a wrench and a screwdriver set — the 25 switches have been configured and assigned names and IP addresses, which will allow the team from ProCurve Networking by HP to manage them centrally. The more than 700 PCs have been fired up and assigned to their switches, making each gaming station its own miniature network. Ben Van Kerkwyk, the lead engineer, said each switch will provide gamers with 1 gig speeds and localizing the network to each gaming table cuts down on hops, which could degrade performance, which in a gaming environment could be disastrous.

Crews laid down more cable, creating a maze of multi-colored wires streaming to and from all of the ports. Once cabling is complete, the network will be segmented into separate VLANs and subnets, making it easier to manage, Van Kerkwyk said. The ProCurve team will also make some sections of the gaming area wireless for VIPs and admins.

There is also an overflow of extras — two more core switches arrived today, and there are extra 2650 switches on hand in case something goes wrong.

“We have three core switches and 15 power supplies, so we’re good if something goes down,” Van Kerkwyk said.

Here’s a draft of what the network will look like upon completion:

World Cyber Games network layout

And here’s ProCurve technical consultant Chris Ruybal rack-mounting the 8212 core swtich:

Rack-mounting the 8212

September 27, 2007  10:38 PM

World Cyber Games set up delayed, thanks to Bryan Adams

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The World Cyber Games Grand Final is gearing up to be the gaming event of the year, with gamers from all over the globe gathering at Seattle’s Qwest Field Event Center to battle each other in FIFA ’07, Counter Strike, StarCraft and others…sorry, no Ms. Pac Man or Donkey Kong for us old-schoolers. Picture the Super Bowl of the gaming world, a contemporary version of the events documented in The Wizard or King Of King.

But before the game-fest kicks off in earnest on Oct. 4, teams are working feverishly to set up the massive network to ensure the games go off without interruption and without a hitch. Imagine the network dropping out the final lap of Need For Speed Carbon?

In less than 48 hours, a team from ProCurve Networking by HP — with help from several other groups along the way — will assemble an enterprise-grade network powering roughly 1,000 network devices, more than 700 of which are gaming systems. A tall order for a temporary network.

Today was all about setting the stage. The ProCurve team used diagrams to plot the layout. It spent some time tracking down an elusive ProCurve 8212zl core switch (which was in the building, but nowhere to be found … despite the gaming festival being the 8212’s first public appearance). The rest of the day was spent powering up and troubleshooting more than 20 ProCurve Switch 2650s and mounting the found 8212. Elsewhere, teams laid cable, set up PCs and ensured things were good to go. And that was just in the balcony.

But, alas, progress was cut short on Thursday and the main event floor was off limits because 80s rocker Bryan Adams is performing at the venue Friday night. His sound check was set to begin at 4 p.m. Thursday, meaning all set up was suspended until Friday morning.

“That’s one of the challenges for setting up for an event like this,” said ProCurve Technical Consultant for the Americas Chris Ruybal. “The on again and off again.”

I guess Adams was right when he crooned, “It cuts like a knife.”

September 27, 2007  7:16 PM

World Cyber Games sneak preview

Tessa Parmenter Tessa Parmenter Profile: Tessa Parmenter
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Some of us may already be well aware of, or well on our way to, the video-game conference hosted in Seattle this year. For those of you not in the know, the buzz of gamers is in the air; World Cyber Games (WCG), the world’s largest game festival, starts October 4 and goes through October 7, and reporter, Andrew Hickey, has the privilege to get a behind-the-scenes view — thanks to ProCurve Networking by HP, who is supporting the WCG network infrastructure. Get your gamer face on, and check back in to get a sneak peek into the festival.

September 27, 2007  3:38 PM

Do geeks rule the world (or are we slaves to the marketing machine)?

Ron Richard Profile: Ron Richard
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It’s a banner week for geeks, at least for geek-themed pop culture. Between the release of Halo 3 on Tuesday and all the geek-friendly TV shows premiering all week long, I wonder how many people are able to concentrate on work.

My work week has been consumed with two activities: editing a screencast for and launching this blog. Screencasts and blogs… two media forms that didn’t even exist just a few years ago, but have already become pretty mainstream. Even sportscasters these days are routinely rallying viewers to “check out the blog!”

Monday, Wired ran a story about the TV mainstreaming of geek chic phenomenon. I watched NBC’s Chuck this week (it’s the story of a retail tech support dude who unwittingly learns encrypted government secrets through an email attachment). Frankly, the show was entertaining, but less a celebration of the geek life and more a mainstream action/spy story with an underdog hero and some geek-friendly eye candy sprinkled on top — a Tron poster here, a Matrix-looking set there, a Zork reference in the first five minutes.

Still, tech and techhie references abound. Have geeks taken over the world?

Actually, I have this theory about marketers and geeks. There’s some kind of triggering mechanism in the modern psyche trained to tweak out at the mention of key concepts, the way mine does when I hear “Time Lord” or the first few measures of a Black Sabbath song. Like Pavlov’s dog, you start to salivate; you can’t think straight from the excitement. It’s that thing! That thing I like! That thing is me! I must own it! Your elven sword glows blue. Your processor crashes. And you open your wallet.

If you think about it, everybody has their trigger, whether it’s “shoe sale” or “baby back ribs.” But for geeks, I think there’s an especially mouth-watering hook that marketers can dangle out there because the geek concepts are mainly man-made technology items and pop-culture references… and there are so many diverse, yet specialized triggers (“wireless-G router,” “TIE fighter,” “20-sided die.”)… Stuff that can be sold. And geeks are buying.

September 26, 2007  9:23 PM

The IT Guy: Tech support, I forgot my password

Ron Richard Profile: Ron Richard
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Here’s the latest cartoon in our “IT Guy” series. Check out more cartoons on

September 26, 2007  5:47 PM

Welcome to the Hub

Ron Richard Profile: Ron Richard

The editors of welcome you to our shiny new blog. Click over to “about us” and find out who we are, post a comment, or sign up for ITKE, where you can connect with like-minded IT pros and experts.

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