Cisco Live: A network engineer's thoughts on the event

CCIE and network engineer Nate Lee shares his experience of attending his first Cisco Live event in Las Vegas. Find out his take on the technology presentations and announcements.

I found out from my employer that I would be able to go to the show two weeks beforehand. With the short notice, I wasn't able to book a room at Mandalay Bay with the rest of the packet jockeys and stayed a few hotels down at Aria. When I arrived in Las Vegas around 11:30 PM Sunday not much was going on. Being a person who has taken (and passed!) 8th grade math, I bypassed the late night slot machine crowd and headed to my room where I spent 20 minutes figuring out the high tech curtain and light controls in the room before going to sleep.

Monday morning I woke up early, grabbed breakfast at the hotel and walked over to Mandalay Bay and the networking goodness that lay within. Upon arrival at the convention center, the first thing I noticed was how well organized everything was. They had "ambassadors" strategically placed at all major intersections in the convention center. They provided assistance locating bathrooms, breakout sessions and trays loaded with mini caramel rolls. Although the Mandalay Bay convention center is rather large and spreads across four levels, there was more than adequate help finding any session you were looking for either via signage or the aforementioned ambassadors.

Monday: Ipv6 security, G2 ISRs, and more

I attended three sessions on Monday - IPv6 security, Intelligent Access at the Campus Edge, and Next Gen Branch Network design. I was able to learn more about some interesting topics such as the hardware architecture of the G2 ISRs. The new series seems to bring the vision they had for the original ISRs closer to reality. Anyone who has tried enabling the IOS Firewall, Telephony, IPS and NAT at the same time on some of the smaller models can attest to the lack of available horsepower present in the original ISRs when pushed hard. With multicore processors and the new Services Ready Engines (SRE) available, the updated hardware should be more than up to the task of juggling all those services.

After the day's sessions were over, the World of Solutions opened up for the attendees. I took a spin through the expo floor to get a quick overview of what types of vendors and products were there. It was mostly standard expo fare with all varieties of products on display from management tools and WAN carriers to patch panels and PDUs. This was my first Cisco Live / Networkers event, and as a rank n00b I was not prepared for the barrage of requests to scan my badge. Soon after it was scanned for the 23rd time, I began to ponder the large amount of spam that my inbox was set to acquire as a result of badge-related promiscuity on the expo floor. As a result of this, I started avoiding anyone packing an infrared sidearm unless I had a genuine interest in hearing more about their product. I managed to come across a couple products that I think may help with some projects I have been working on. It was great to talk with the vendors firsthand and to be able to ask them questions directly.

Tuesday: EnergyWise, Chambers keynote, and the Cius

Tuesday, I had sessions on Overlay Transport Virtualization (OTV), EnergyWise and the challenges faced by mass virtualization. Again, all three were pretty solid and all three succeeded in getting me to think about the new tools available to solve design and management problems in a large and modern network. EnergyWise, for those unfamiliar with the technology, allows you to monitor and control the power usage of devices on your network including PCs, PoE devices, and even building HVAC. It is particularly interesting on larger scales since it allows you to gain visibility and control over an often overlooked cost of running an enterprise network. It appears to be in its infancy, but has huge potential if Cisco can convince vendors to support their SDK and API.

Tuesday was also John Chamber's keynote speech. I had not seen him before, but heard he was a very engaging speaker. He definitely did not disappoint in that regard. He was in and out of the crowd on the floor, speaking directly to people in the audience. This made me glad that I did not sit in the CCIE section right in front. I mean, what are you supposed to do when the CEO stands right in front of you, looks you in the eye, tells you that sales in emerging markets are up 40% year over year and then holds the stare a couple seconds for emphasis?

His presentation focused on the new ways that Cisco is moving into segments beyond network infrastructure and onto the new platforms enabled by <marketingteam> an internet forever changed by the release of the CRS-3s.</marketingteam> The big news of course was the Cius, the Android based tablet announced at Live as a collaboration tool for business and education. It didn't seem ready for prime time quite yet; however, I don't see any reason tablet-based devices similar to the Cius and iPad won't become ubiquitous in the future. In case it isn't immediately obvious what the big picture is here, all those PoE+ powered HD video streams running on the network will do wonders for driving future router and switch sales. Hooray for job security!

Wednesday: Ipv6 deployment, Advanced Campus Design

Wednesday's sessions that I attended were IPv6 deployment, wired 802.1x deployment, and advanced campus design. I was already familiar with much of the information presented in the 802.1x session but found the other two to be quite interesting. With IPv6, hearing more about the different deployment strategies an enterprise could use along with the caveats associated with each was perfect for me as I am working on some research along these lines for my current employer.

The Advanced Campus Design was also interesting since as engineers, we tend to do quite a bit of this. Although many of the concepts were not new, such as Root Guard, PortFast, Storm Control and route summarization, the real value I got from this session was the "Why?" behind the solution. It's hard to recommend something when you don't understand the reasoning behind the decision, and this session addressed many of those reasons. The presenter showed the reasons that routed links converge faster than SVIs, how ARP processing during an FHRP failover can cause convergence slowdowns and how even 2% of a GigE link being broadcast related will cook your CPU.

Thursday: Virtual Switching System and final thoughts

Thursday, I attended a session on VSS before having to get ready for my flight out. I haven't had a chance to implement it yet, but am interested to test it out in the labs once I get my hands on some VSS 720s. Having the option to span L2 domains across IDFs without making the spanning tree diameter frighteningly large certainly has some appeal to it and the fact that it has been out in the wild now for several years means most of the snags have been worked out.

Overall, I thought the week was a great experience. Meeting all the other engineers in attendance who are passionate about shuttling bits and bytes across the planet was truly a treat. I was able to learn about the latest technologies straight from the engineers who were most familiar with it. The biggest takeaway for me (besides the free tote bags and magnets) was the sheer number of technologies out there enabling innovative1 network designs in the campus and data center environments. Overlay Transport Virtualization (OTV) on the Nexus series and Virtual Switching System (VSS) on the Catalyst 6500s for example, require you to rethink what may not have previously been good network design. The wisdom of extending L2 domains aside, it was cool to learn more about all the new features that I haven't yet had a chance to play with.

It also reminded me why I love this field - no matter how much you learn, there are always opportunities to further increase your depth of knowledge. The big downside of the event is that there were so many sessions I didn't have time to attend, so I will be digging through the presentation slides for quite a while. With next year's Cisco Live already planned for Mandalay Bay, I am looking forward to writing up the document for my management on why I am the perfect candidate for a repeat appearance.( 1Innovative appeared to be Cisco's word of the week, I would be remiss if I didn't use it at least once.)

Nate Lee is CCIE # 25988 in R&S. His journey to become a CCIE included certifications as CCNP, CCDP, CCDA, and CCNA. Nate began his IT career in 1995 as a Network Administrator. He is a member of Emmanuel Conde's CCIE Flyer contributing network.

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