What in the world do Cisco IOT, Xilinix SmartNIC network cards, a Movie theater, and storage have in common? A can of worms. Which is exactly what Tech Field Day brings to the table at each of their events. This go ’round, I was invited to contribute as a delegate for Tech Field Day 24.
While Gestalt IT has many specific groups under the Tech Field Day moniker (Mobility Field Day, Storage Field Day, Network Field Day, etc) Tech Field Day is the one event that is a pot-luck of technology. It’s one of my favorites to watch because you get delegates from all kinds of different backgrounds coming together to provide insight and input that can range from spot-on to all over the place. With TFD 24, we had a healthy combination of both.
So what did we learn?
We learned that it is always awesome to get out of your comfort zone, for one. We all had a great time trying to think creatively and constructively when it came to how we would solution or leverage the presenter’s products. While some of the presentation at TFD and it’s specific focus groups tend to be directly geared to the expertise of the anticipated crowd, what some of these companies did by going very broad in their examples and demos to appeal to a larger tech-based group was totally well received.
Pure Storage kicked it off with a session on Portworx explaining what they do to make storage portable with containers and kubernetes and dockers and what not so that when you move or deploy applications across your organization, you aren’t just allocating space, but you are dragging everything that the application needs with it.
To someone who knows nothing about that industry other than what I’ve read and seen online, it seems like that would be a given. What I have learned is that it is absolutely not a given and the way that it as been done in the past isn’t the way that it should be done, or at least the way it could be done. It seemed like it was one of those things that has been evolving over time, so no fault to the way that it was done, however it’s really neat to see that part of the tech world evolving.
Cisco & Meraki
Cisco came through discussing their IOT play, which obviously hits a little close to home for me since wireless is an area of my specialty. I really enjoyed their presentations on the new ISR routers and equipment that is being put to market to extend the IOT to the wired side. Their commitment to this part of the network is great to see because it feels like it’s been a while since there has been any movement in that space. It’s like everyone got the 2912 and was happy with it and a few changes here and there, but now there’s some real movement.
Something I didn’t like.
I’ve got a pretty deep history in the wireless mesh world. I’ve deployed some of the first, largest, and most intricate mesh networks. I’ve worked for mesh manufacturers, consulting companies, and toured the US talking about the pros and cons of it. There’s are ways to do it, and times to do it, but it’s not the end all be all wireless network solution. Of course that is, unless you ask the marketing team at Cisco that has rebranded FluidMesh to Cisco Ultra Reliable Wireless Backhaul. I mean really? ULTRA reliable? Is Extreme too 90’s to have been used? First off y’all, the name is laughable to anyone who has done any type of mesh networking, ever. Secondly it sets an expectation that this will always work no matter what. So when we found out that it is in UNLICENSED spectrum only, with no plan to move to licensed spectrum, and plays in an open sandbox where anyone with a radio or microwave oven can blast the spectrum, it was a little dumbfounding. Listen, I like the FluidMesh product. I like what it does for the applications that can use it. But to call it Ultra Reliable not only sets customers up to think it won’t fail but it puts ALL of your wireless products and the industry at risk.
The first time it fails and a CTO or IT Director notices it, they’re gonna say “throw it out and run a wire” .. And that will be the attitude that they take towards ALL wireless technologies. If the ULTRA RELIABLE stuff doesn’t work, then there’s no way that “regular wireless” will.
I would love to see this reimagined into something that isn’t gonna make your sales teams, your product teams and the wireless industry look bad when it doesn’t work. Because, on the real, it will fail. The only thing ultra reliable about mesh is that it will reliably be ultra inconsistent, especially when you can’t control the unlicensed spectrum.
Back to the program
Meraki came in next to provide a great product update on what is their Wireless Health product.
This begs for a mention that their marketing and technical marketing team over there deserve some love. The origianl icon for wireless health was a green heart with Wi-Fi signals overlayed that looked identical to the icon I’ve been using as Wireless Nerd for years (except theirs was green, obviously.) When brought to their attention, they recognized that it was something I was using and they changed their imagery. They didn’t have to, and they’re way bigger than this blogger, but they did and that was a huge sign of respect. So yeah, respect back at ya folks.
Meraki Wireless Health has come a long way in helping IT organizations and individuals help identify when there are issues on the network, where those issues are happening, and how to mitigate risks to user experience all in one package.
The demo that they gave showing off how to identify sticky clients and the revelation that they had built that into the back-end of the Health package was incredible. There are a few absolutely common issues on wireless networks that plague every one of us, and sticky clients is one. Understanding that sticky clients are happening is part of the problem.
Usually identifying a sticky client takes a fair amount of RF analysis coupled with some time in Wireshark or Eye P.A. Once you figure out what is going on, solving for it can be tricky if you haven’t done it before. As with everything else in Wireless Health, Meraki takes the guess work out of this. Their goal is to limit your time in packet capture (for those of you that haven’t/won’t/can’t/don’t want to do it) and show you what’s plaguing your network simply and effectively. Once you see it, there are mitigation tips on the right hand side of the screen to help you easily fix common things.
Now granted, this is not perfect for everyone, but this is where that magic 80/20 rule applies: this will probably work for 80% of you. To those other 20%, grab your packet sniffers and enjoy!
Day two of Tech Field Day 24 took us to a place that felt a little familiar, however a bit more advanced. We started off at Avassa. We had heard about this magical storage moving technology and the ability to provision, deploy, manage, and maintain applications and packages at the edge the day before based on Kubernetes or k8s or whatever you wanna call it, but here was a way that it was being done without that. I can appreciate hearing both sides of the conversation: the stuff that everyone is familiar with versus a way to do it from ground up and reimaging how it could be done without the confines of the previous iterations.
But honestly, what drove it home, was the way it was presented. So many kudos (or whatever the Ikea version of a kudo is) to the Avassa team.
They taught us by showing us and it gave me a better appreciation for what their technolgoy can do. What’s crazy is that it built a faith in them and their technolgoy that allows me to enter them into the mental Rolodex as the people to call to just get it done.
I can’t tell you all the parts and components, how to configure them, or what parameters to include. But what I can tell you is that they can make it happen. We saw it, live. Not at 1 or 2 sites, but at over 100 sites, on the fly, in front of us. Either that or it was a great digital smoke and mirrors trick, and either way they earned my business if I ever have a bunch of movie theaters.
While the concept is essentially the same (you have a bunch of stores / locations / offices and you need to a way to centrally deploy applications and services without having to have an IT person load software and applications on at each location) the execution seemed a bit more streamlined with Avassa.
Sure there was a ton of CLI, but I am told that’s a “thing” with you Dev Ops types, so they get a pass. But overall, it was the common-sense approach to deploying these applications at edge locations that made sense to me. Big clap o’ the hands and tip o’ the hat to the team at Avassa for making it all make sense and the exceptional presentation for someone who doesn’t know the intricacies of what you do.
Finally to round up TFD24, we got to hear from Xilinix. Normally knows for their FPGA chips and the huge acquisition announcement from AMD over the past 6 months or so, they showed up to talk about their SmartNICs. Essentially, the network interface card, or NIC, allows you to offload a number of functions onto the card that would normally require resources from the operating system, which in turns makes less resources available for the OS to do what the OS does.
We talked about the latest Linux kernel and the way that you can push the nftables functionality to the card with direct hooks from the kernel as opposed to eating up processor and memory resources on the OS. Things like that let you use the SmartNIC to establish VPN sessions, block traffic, streamline delivery of services and add firewall functions outside of the OS processor and memory space. As you can imagine doing so let’s you keep the OS focused on providing resources to the apps that run on it.
When you shave seconds and milliseconds off of functions like that, you can imagine why FinTec, medical and ultra reliable (see what I did there?) applications are all over this. Couple this with bonding / lagging two 25Gbps ports together and now you’ve got the speed, capacity, and processing power to do some incredible stuff.
I did ask when their tech was going to produce a wireless equivalent (a little tongue in cheek) and they let me know that they have a whole department focused on how to do some of the same things with 5G and other technologies. Can’t wait to see that.
Wrapping it up
All in all, Tech Field Day 24 was a great introduction to some new tech while showing off some new ways to do things that some of the crowd was comfortable with. I would totally encourage you to watch the Avassa preso if you want to learn about this new age of application / edge control and definitely catch up on the Cisco stuff with wireless health. Until next time, thanks for the read and shares!