Tonight I set out to write a quick tutorial on how trace route works but when I went to verify my writings I found that the description at was so much better than what I'd written I decided to talk about Wikipeda instead.

First off, there's a great definition of trace route and description of how it works here. Trace route is a great tool for troubleshooting network issues and the SolarWinds Trace Route tool within our Engineer's Toolset offers several unique advantages over and above what standard trace route tools do.

That out of the way, I have to say that Wikipedia is without a doubt one my favorite places on the web. I really don't know how I'd get by everyday without it. The fact that they're able to do what they do without selling advertising space on the site is just phenomenal.

A few months ago I remember getting an e-mail asking me to donate to Wikipedia and explaining they way that their business works and detailing out their operating expenses. At the time, I didn't think a lot about it but it's been waying on my mind since and it's now time to act.

Tonight I'm pledging a donation to Wikipedia. These folks have gotten it right and I salute them.

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Every once and a while I allow myself to pontificate on subjects outside the realm of networking engineering, security, system administration and network management. Today's post is an example of that, as when I say "Understanding Traffic Flows and Common Causes of Congestion" I'm talking about cars on the highway vs. packets on the wire.

Before I get started, let me say that I'm an excellent driver as I would imagine that most of you are. I've never caused an accident and I have even been able to avoid several with some quick thinking and maneuvering. When you think about it, this isn't surprising as driving is nothing more than a practical application of physics, geometry, and mechanical sciences. It's no wonder so many of us geeks are both great drivers and ride motorcycles and/or fly planes on the weekends...

A couple of days ago I got yet another speeding ticket. This makes the second one in as many months. Then, last night, my wife got a speeding ticket for going pretty much the same speed as I was going on Saturday. This got me to thinking...

Listen, I don't mind paying traffic fines. What I do mind is the backwards ways our government seems to think about driving and it's affect on traffic. Why are we focusing on making people go slower? This is backwards to just about everything esle we do. Hey folks, guess what? We have problems with traffic in pretty much every city in our country. The slower people go the longer they'll be on the road and the worse our traffic problems will be.

So how do we fix this? Well, here are my top 5 ideas on this subject:

Head Geek's Top 5 Ideas for Solving our Traffic Problems

#5 - Replace "Defensive Driving Schools" with "Aggressive Driving Schools". Why would we want to teach people to go slower? Folks, we already know how to drive defensively - we just don't want to because it sucks. Instead, we should cite people that we find that are driving too conservatively and causing traffic issues and force them to go to a class to learn how to drive more aggressively. These are the people that find it necessary to stop and stare at accidents on the other side of the highway and that fail to accelerate into merge lanes.

#4 - Hold all driving classes/schools in the rain. Why is it that a light rain causes some people to decrease their speed by 80%? Yesterday it was sprinkling here in Austin and the average speed of my commute went from the normal 65 mph to 15 mph. This is crazy. When we see this we should send out police helicopters to find the ones up at the front of the line that are causing the problems, lower a giant magnet to their car, and airlift them directly to the "Aggressive Driving School" above.

#3 - Replace the HOV lanes (fast lanes) with "Easy Driving" lanes. It makes no sense to me that our highways have 5 lanes that end up going slow with one HOV lane that goes fast. Instead, we should have 5 lanes for going fast with a slow lane on the far right for older people, people that are on the phone, people that are trying to type on their iPhone or Blackberry while driving (you know who you are) and anyone that isn't capable of driving least the legal posted speed limit.

#2 - Offer a "Fast Driver" sticker. I would gladly pay a couple of hundred dollars per month to be able to drive as fast as I want to and quite frankly it would save both me and the State of Texas a lot of time and money as I'm sure they're as tired of pulling me over as I am of getting tickets. They can use the money from this program to fund better roads and/or special lanes for those of us that actually know how to drive (see #3 above).

#1 - Pace cars. This is probably an interim solution until we can implement some of the other solutions above, but rather than have the police sitting beside the road scaring everyone to death by pointing their laser guns at us and trying to force us to go slower - have them turn on their lights and sirens, move to the head of the pack, and set the pace for everyone else. Then all we have to do is follow.

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It struck me this morning that one of the few constants in life is the importance of fundamentals. I can well remember my junior high and high school basketball coach drilling the importance of fundamental basketball into our young heads - dribbling, proper shooting technique, passing - he was all about mastering the basics and we practiced them for hours at a time, 6 days per week. It was much the same when my mom dragged me to church on Sundays - learn the fundamentals and they will stay with you throughout your life they told us. So, we focused on memorizing the Ten Commandments, speed drills on finding specific verses in the Bible, and so on.

When it comes to network engineering and/or network management, the same philosophy applies. So many of the problems that we face in our jobs maintaining networks rely on a sound understanding of the fundamentals of networking that it's amazing to me that so many people try to do this job without mastering them. I've seen it proven time and time again - when all else fails - go back to the basics and sure enough you'll usually find the problem.

So, in typical Head Geek fashion, here's my Top 7 List of the Network Fundamentals that you quite simply can't do without.

Top 7 Network Fundamentals

#7 - Understand and be proficient at making standard cables. If you can't take a roll of Category 6 cable, a crimper, and some RJ-45s and make me a set of ethernet cables, cross-over cables, and a cable to use when connecting to the serial port of a Cisco router you're probably not going to pass any interview that you'll be in with me.

#6 - Learn to type. Yes, it's possible to get through a career without doing this but I suppose you could also have your buddies tie your shoes for you for the next 30 years. There are a lot of applications you can download to help you learn to type and once you learn the basics it's all about practice - which we all get plenty of - so just do it. Don't agree that this is a fundamental? Go hire someone that doesn't know how to type, work with them for 6 months, and get back to me.

#5 - Be comfortable in Cisco IOS. You don't have to memorize all the commands but you need to be comfortable enough in it to get the job done.

#4 - Understand basic network management protocols and functions. I'm talking about SNMP, NetFlow, ping, traceroute, Syslog, and Telnet.

#3 - Connect. Be a part of a social network with other people in the networking field. Whether you use, LinkedIn, or Facebook- you're never going to know all the answers. Connecting with other people via an online community should be a key part of your success strategy.

#2 - Master IP Addressing. You need to understand IP (version 4) addressing, subnetting, and the concepts around them. IPv6 is still above the "fundamental" level (for now), but if you can't break a /24 into four /26s you need to hit the books.

#1 - Understand the OSI model and at which layers different devices and protocols operate. This is why I listed the "Top 7" vs. the "Top 5". If you don't understand the OSI model and how to determine at which layer problems are occurring you better read a book or buy a clue. This is the most basic skill that you need to work in this space.

Alright, so I wanted to do a Top 7 but I really can't close this post without at least mentioning protocol analyzers. Look, you need to be able to use Wireshark (or another packet capture/analysis tool) to capture some packets and you need to understand the data that it's showing you. Sadly, this is a skill that many people consider to be above the "fundamental" level these days, but I disagree. You can download Wireshark for free and I promise that there are plenty of packets flying around to sniff at.

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Over the last few years some really cool technology has been introduced to the networking industry. Some of my favorites would include things like:

  • cFlow (NetFlow, JFlow, sFlow, ipFix)
  • WAN acceleration
  • Cisco's IP SLA

I've written a lot about NetFlow and WAN acceleration over the last few months but today I wanted to highlight Cisco's IP SLA or IP Service Level Agreements. IP SLA is a great technology for many reasons. First, it's cool because it's free (assuming that you're running the full IOS feature set of course). Second, it's cool because it's embedded in technology that you've already deployed throughout your network. Third - there's now a cool free tool from SolarWinds to both enable and monitor IP SLA metrics.

Now, about this time you may be wondering "What the heck is IP SLA?". In a nutshell, IP SLA is a technology built into Cisco IOS that allows you to turn your routers and switches into agents of a sort. As agents, these devices can generate tests on the network and store the results. This is super important as these devices offer a unique perspective on network performance both because of their natural function and because of their physical location within your topology. Many network management applications, such as Orion NPM and the new IP SLA Monitor, can pull these metrics/statistics from the devices and present them in an easy to understand format along with other relevant network performance information.

You can watch a video on IP SLA as a technology and the new SolarWinds IP SLA Monitor free tool here.

Ping me back if you'd like to learn more about this technology or if I can answer any specific questions.

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In case you haven't heard, Cisco recently announced a new program/technology called "EnergyWise". You can read more about it on, in SolarWinds Helping Cisco Systems to Automate the "Green" Process..., or you can attend the new Cisco TechWiseTV episode on Thursday, February 19th, from 1300 to 1400 EST on this subject.  You can click here to sign-up and attend the live event.

If you've never watched TechWiseTV, it's a great source of information and quite entertaining as well. Jimmy Ray Purser and Robb Boyd host the shows and these guys are fantastic.

Hope to see you there.

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