A network geek pilgrimage – Networking Field Day 14

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What is Networking Field Day?

Networking Field Day 14 or #NFD14 is almost upon us! I am heading to sunny San Jose, California to drink from the fire hose of data – the heavens will part and rain down golden non-fragmented packets of information and insight.

If you’re not familiar with Networking Field Day, which is part of Tech Field Day hosted by Gestalt IT, you can go here to get a full overview.

The Delegates

Networking Field Day is rare opportunity for individuals (delegates) that are engaged in the practice of network engineering/architecture to come together and interact not only with the vendors who are presenting but also fellow delegates.

While some of the delegates have attended previous Tech Field Day events, others, like myself are first timers and will be taking in the vast array of technical content as fast as our buffers permit.

The delegates comprise a group of like-minded and yet diverse networkers that are heavily invested in the community of network engineers and IT.

It’s truly a privilege to be be invited to NFD14 and I count myself fortunate to be in the company of some incredibly sharp practitioners of IP networking – a special and very sincere thanks to Tom Hollingsworth (@networkingnerd)   for inviting me!

The Format

NFD14 sets the pace with scheduled vendor presentations on products and solutions that form a large part of the three day event. Time is also allocated to podcasts to foster some free-form discussion about the presentations.

Beyond that, it is an overall forum for the exchange of ideas, opinions, some healthy debate about technology and the opportunity to learn from some of the smartest people in the business. What makes the event even more exciting is that it is live streamed for all 3 days and encourages participation from those watching remotely by sending questions in via twitter or other social media.

And if all of that weren’t enough – an added bonus – certain vendor presenters like Big Switch, Riverbed and Juniper will host us at their corporate headquarters.

The Presenting Sponsors 

Here is the list of network vendors that we will interact with during NFD14. Drew Conry-Murray (@Drew_CM) of the Packet Pushers (who is also one of the delegates) has written a great overview of the vendors and a summary of what they do here.

Meat and Potatoes – The Tech – Part 1

Describing this event as a network geek pilgrimage is accurate but might even be an understatement as most of the delegates, like myself eat, sleep and breathe this stuff.

I mentioned on twitter a few days ago that when I was a kid, I wanted to go to Space Camp. But now as an adult, I want to go to Network Camp in the form of NFD14 (and I still want to go to Space Camp) What I am most looking forward to is the nerdy deep dives into the black hole of design, protocols, future technology, SDN and the like.

There are a number of topics that are likely to be heavily discussed at NFD14 starting with SDWAN. In order to keep this article to reasonable length, i’ll be covering thoughts on Analytics, Automation and Switching (whitebox and programmable) in a second post.


When everyone got tired of saying the word “Cloud”, SDWAN stepped in to save the day as it seems to be all the rage these days.  And with good reason – SDWAN has started us down the road to solving problems we have coped with for too long – things like the inability to use all of the bandwidth available to an organization or use cheaper off-the-shelf Internet connections to offset or complement more expensive MPLS transport.

The presenting vendors that will be at NFD14 with SDWAN solutions include Silver Peak and Riverbed. Juniper also touts an SDWAN solution, but they have a vast portfolio of solutions, so it’s not totally clear if Juniper will talk about SDWAN.

How does it work?

While I get what SDWAN does at a high level with overlays and dynamic policies that help to provide a mesh of connectivity, I still don’t have a good feel for what’s under the hood and would like to understand the deeper mechanics of how SDWAN works and the differences between vendors in the underlying technology.

Use cases I’m interested in

SDWAN presents a number of possibilities for the work I am engaged in. The most obvious use case is that of a large enterprise with a vast array of circuits and remote sites and that solution is fairly well documented and covered. However, SDWAN also interests me for more non-traditional applications like that of a Wireless ISP or WISP.

WISPs rely on Point-to-Point RF commercial RF links and backhauls to connect towers together. Like most ISPs, the trifecta of MPLS/BGP/OSPF is commonly found to manage the routing in this environment.

SDWAN deployment in WISPs?

But unlike most ISPs, you can’t put 100 gig transport link up on an RF tower just yet, so the speeds are more in the realm of anywhere between 100 Mbps and 1 gig. The technology does exist to go beyond 10 gig in RF but it’s insanely expensive and with a limited range.

One of the challenges that SDWAN has the potential to solve is the disparity between the speed of the links and even the fact that capacity of an RF link is an elastic value – it can be 900 Mbps one minute and drop the modulation to 700 Mbps during a lightning storm.

This is an almost impossible problem to solve with traditional routing protocols and seems well suited to the world of SDWAN.

The lower speeds in RF transport allow for the possibility of an SDWAN overlay at key tower aggregation points to more effectively use bandwidth and set SLAs for QoS.  Although we have made great strides in WISP design like the OSPF transit fabric to better utilize unequal links, there still isn’t an application aware control plane. It would be very interesting to mix the OSPF transit fabric with SDWAN and see if they can co-exist.

Riverbed is more Enterprise focused in its solution and I work with Riverbed frequently for Enterprise clients, so I’m very interested in how the SteelConnect product meshes with the SteelHead WAN optimization platforms.

Silver Peak and Juniper both have service provider portfolios, so i’ll be interested to see the differences in what SDWAN means for both the Enterprise and ISPs.

Overall, SDWAN represents a drastic paradigm shift in WAN connectivity and I count myself fortunate to have the opportunity to spend several days looking at the nuts and bolts of what makes the SDWAN magic happen.

Stay tuned for Part 2 – Analytics, Automation/Orchestration and White Box/Programmable Switching!

Be sure to follow me on twitter @stubarea51 and look for the #NFD14 hashtag over the next few days. Please feel free to send me any questions you have for the vendors or the group in general!


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Netbox IPAM/DCIM – What all Network Engineers beg for!

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We found it!!!

Have you ever sat at your desk, hoping on a miracle, that somebody somewhere will develop a fully comprehensive application for tracking network information???  I know I have, along with millions of other fellow network professional’s I have to assume.  What exactly am I referring to?  IP addresses, vlans, VRF’s, Rack Elevations and on and on and on.  We all have to keep up with this information, for most it is located in spreadsheets; some in notepads; others try to lock it all away in the vast empty space we call a brain.

So, the stage is set.  Yes, there are claims of applications that can keep track of what your CORE router IP address is and what vlan you assigned to one of your customers, or even where in the bloody rack it sits in relation to your other devices.  Some can even keep track of which VRF routing table your management lies in along with which physical port it connects to.  Going a little further, maybe the application claims to give you a basic map layout to which you can refer to…

BUT, very few paid applications actually combine most of these functions into one and very little if any Open Source projects do at all.  Although I can think of maybe one or two programs such as iTop or phpIPAM that combine some useful features such as IPAM and documentation pools etc.

Which brings us to Netbox.

Netbox is a swiss army knife, a gem, a diamond in the rough.  It combines all the features every person in the networking world needs, wants and should have.  We found Netbox on packetlife.net which is run by Jeremy Stretch and who subsequently developed Netbox.  If you want to read more about how it came to fruition, take a look here.

Basically, this is what Netbox does and it does it extremely well, its also Open Source and completely FREE:

  • IPAM – IP Address Management
  • DCIM – Data Center Infrastructure Management
  • Single Converged Database
  • Circuit Provider Management
  • Vlan Management
  • VRF Management
  • Multi-Site (tenancy)
  • Rack Elevation
  • Connection Management – Interfaces/Console/Power
  • Customization Header For Logo’s etc
  • And More!

Here are a few screen shots to highlight some of the above features:


Main      Devices      IP_Space     Circuits     Connections    vlans


Hopefully if you are as geeky as we are, you are biting at the bit to give this puppy a try.  In that respect, there are a couple of options for you to give it a go.

  1. Follow the written documentation provided by Jeremy.  I have to say, the instructions are pretty spot on.  They are lengthy though with the components needed in Linux to allow Netbox to work.  You can find the documentation here if you wish to try yourself.  I will not be going over the installation steps in the post because they are cemented in the provided link; though have no fear, there is the second option…
  2. I took all the brain hurt and built a Virtual Machine and installed/configured Netbox for you, just follow the below steps and voila.  Currently I have it ported to an OVF which you can use with VMWare ESX, VMWare Workstation.

Just follow these easy steps and you will have Netbox up and running in about 15 minutes (vs ???, I cant remember how much time I spent but still!).  This is for VMWare ESXi using vSphere client.

  1. Download the OVF from here
  2. Select ‘Deploy OVF Template’ from the file menu in vSphere
  3. Browse for the downloaded OVF then click next
  4. Click next again
  5. Give your netbox server a VMware name
  6. Choose which Datastore to install to
  7. Pick whether you like to Lazy provision or Thick provision (if you don’t know what this means, you probably should not be using VMWare)
  8. Click next
  9. Click Finish

Now this gets a provisioned server with Netbox installed, but don’t power it up yet, there are still a few more steps to complete.

You will need to add an Ethernet Adapter.

  • Right click your server
  • Select ‘Edit Settings’
  • Click on ‘Add’
  • Select ‘Ethernet Adapter’
  • Follow the prompts and finish

Now you can start the server and open the console to watch it boot and perform the final couple of steps and you will be up and running.

Once the server is at the login prompt, go ahead and login using these credentials (all usernames and passwords for the site and database are the same):

Username: netadmin

Password: netadmin

At the #, type ‘ifconfig’ and find your current IP address (hopefully assigned by your DHCP server on your network if you installed the network adapter as above) and note it.

Again, at # do the following using nano (my personal preference), you could substitute for your own like vi.

The only parameter you need to change is the ALLOWED_HOSTS which needs to be the IP Address of the server and/or DNS name you want to assign.  This is a security precaution to only allow web requests to either the IP or DNS configured in this file.  Once you have edited, exit and save.

Next, we need to restart a service called supervisor.

That’s it, your done.  Open your favorite web browser and go to your server IP/DNS to login.  Creds are posted above.

In summary, Netbox seems to be the solution many of us are looking for to keep us straight in the networking life.  I for one will be glad to get away from spreadsheets, documents strewn about and in-cohesive scribble by other people; to a centralized repository of cohesive information and network bliss!

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