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Geek Speak

266 Posts authored by: Josh Stephens

Well folks, after many, many years of working here at SolarWinds and helping to build the best IT management products in the world I've decided to branch out on my own and do something a little different for a while. I have thoroughly enjoyed my time here at SolarWinds and even more than that I've enjoyed with working with all of you - our customers and community members.


Fear not, you are being left in good hands. Several of the people within our organization - in engineering, product management, product marketing, sales engineering, and the like - will be stepping up to fill any void that I might be leaving. That said, these folks have been doing all of the heavy lifting for a long time now. They'll just be a bit more visible in some of the places where I've typically appeared.


I'll still be around here at SolarWinds for a little while yet. Also, the folks here at SolarWinds and I continue to maintain a strong, healthy relationship so even after I leave don't be surprised if you see me blogging about SolarWinds technologies or someone there recommends that you reach out to me for some advice with your IT management strategies.


I'm still around for a little while yet but you can go ahead and start using my personal contact information if you need to reach out to me.


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Josh Stephens

Founder, Bearded Dog Consulting Services

e-mail:  josh@joshstephens.com

twitter:  @josh_stephens


blog:     http://blogs.computerworld.com/stephens

In today's age of iPhones, Androids, iPads, and Kindles - it's not uncommon for employees to spend more time working on their personally owned computing devices than the ones issued to them by their companies. For example, while SolarWinds has issued me a laptop and a server (I use it as a wicked fast desktop), I do about 70 percent of my work from my personally owned iPhone and iPad. This trend creates some interesting dilemmas for both IT managers and IT users, some of which are covered in this blog post by my fellow Computer World blogger Barbara Krasnoff.

We'd like to learn more about how your company deals with the "Bring Your Own Device" or BYOD trend and we're willing to pay you for what you know. Fill out our survey on Personal Mobile Devices and Enterprise Networks for a chance to score a $50 Amazon gift card. You can visit the survey here and I'll also share the results here on the Geek Speak blog.

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As most of you probably know, SNMPv3 has several advantages over previous versions of SNMP. Most importantly, SNMPv3 adds security to the protocol. Historically, using SNMPv3 was pretty tricky because not many network monitoring tools supported it and many of the network devices (routers, switches, firewalls) had varying levels of SNMPv3 support. However, things have changed quite a bit in the last few years and SNMPv3 is widely supported today and thus, it's been widely adopted by many companies around the world.

Here at SolarWinds our network monitoring and systems management tools support SNMPv3 and have for quite some time. However, we're commonly asked for help configuring network devices to enable the SNMP. The team here at SolarWinds developed this document to help. This document explains, in detail, how to enable and configure SNMPv3 on a Cisco IOS based device (Cisco routers, Cisco switches, Cisco firewalls, etc).

You can download the document for free from our community site, thwack.com, here:

SNMPv3 Configuration Guide for Cisco IOS devices

Good luck and may the force be with you...

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We recently partnered with Network World to conduct a survey on IT certifications and I must say that the results surprised me, even though I was already a fan of IT certifications.

You can click here to see the full results, but to summarize:

  • 60% of the respondents said that having an IT certification helped them land a new job
  • 50% said that they earn more money thanks to their certifications
  • 30% said that their certifications helped them get a promotion

Wow! If there's ever been a time to think about getting a certification, especially with the economies and job markets being what they are, it seems to me that the time is now. The results of this survey also inspired me to write an article for Computer World highlighting how to decide which certifications to pursue and when. You can find that article here.

In the spirit of helping folks get certified, SolarWinds is offering 50% off of the certification exam for the SolarWinds Certified Professional (SCP) certification. Just use "SOLAR50" as the discount code when you register. You can also find all of the materials that you need to study for the exam for free on SolarWinds.com. I'm seeing more and more jobs out there requesting SolarWinds experience and/or certification and if you're a user of the software the certification is a great way to validate your knowledge.

Which certifications do you have? Any interesting experiences that you'd like to share?

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Last week we hosted a webcast entitled "Achieving and Maintaining Federal Compliance". For those of you that are new to this subject, compliance management or policy management is the process of ensuring that your IT department is complying to the rules and standards that have either been mandated to them by a governing authority or by the management team within your own organization. It can be as simple as verifying that all of your outside interfaces have specific access control lists (ACLs) applied to them or that all of your users' passwords are of a certain strength. However, it can also be quite complex and involve a mixture of technical details like these and procedural details around how you document and mitigate identified security incidents and ensure effective log management.

The focus of this webcast was to educate people on best practices for managing compliance requirements within US federal government organizations. While the focus of the event was centered around federal government requirements like FISMA, NIST, DISA Stigs, and HIPAA many of these same practices can be applied to HIPAA within non-federal organizations and toward complying with non-federal government issues like SOX and PCI.

You can watch the recorded version here or download the slides here.

What I liked about this webcast is that we were able to show that "compliance" is no longer one of those dirty, four letter words to be avoided by all costs by geeks like me. Sure, in the old days compliance usually meant days of manual effort to product reports for people that wouldn't really understand them. Those reports would be out of date the minute that they were produced and the data provided by the reviewers never seemed to actually provide any value. Nowadays though, things are different. Most tools today - like our Network Configuration Manager (NCM) and SIEM tool Log and Event Manager make managing compliance requirements and policy management easy and pain free. Additionally, these applications allow you to do compliance management on the fly, in real-time which dramatically improves the effectiveness of the process as a whole.

Do you have to manage compliance requirements in your organization? If so, we'd love to hear from you. Post a comment and tell us some of the issues that you face and how you're currently dealing with them.

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A couple of weeks ago we hosted a webcast called "Back to the Basics of Network Management". Our "back to the basics" webcasts are always a big hit but maybe not for the reasons that you'd think...

Yes, many folks that attend these webcasts are new to IT management and may be implementing the first network management system within their company. However, more and more we talk with people that are instead starting over from a network management perspective and want to be sure that they get the fundamentals down correctly before moving on to more advanced topics. Most of the folks that are starting over are either replacing open source systems, home grown systems, or traditional "heavy systems" like HPOV, Spectrum, and Tivoli.

During this webcast we covered the fundamentals, i.e. the basics of network management and how to get started with them. You can watch a recording of the webcast here or you can download the slides here.

As always, please let us know if you have any comments. We'll be expanding this with a "back to the basics of systems management" very soon.

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This morning I hosted a webcast on network management basics and I polled the audience to find out which of them were network engineers, network administrators, sys admins, infrastructure folks, and etc. The results to this question always surprise me as nowadays IT professionals go by so many different titles and labels. Even though the attendees for this webcast covered a broad range of specialties, across the board they expressed an interest in being able to analyze network performance.

Most of the time when we're looking at network performance we're looking at trends and analyzing historical data. However, sometimes you need to be able to analyze network performance in real time (or near real time) and that sort of analysis requires specialized tools. So, we decided to launch a new free tool to help with this - the Real Time Bandwidth Monitor.

The Real Time Bandwidth Monitor allows you to monitor bandwidth utilization on a network interface (both directions) at a very granular level, down to a 500 millisecond polling interval. Since most network devices (routers, switches, firewalls, load balancers, and etc) don't provide for sub-second MIB updates this is quite literally as fast as you can go. Often I find myself in a situation where I need to test how the network behaves, in real-time, under load and this is a great tool for doing this. Combined with the WAN Killer, a traffic generator found in our Engineer's Toolset, and the Real Time NetFlow Traffic Analyzer (another free tool) you can easily reproduce and diagnose congestion issues.

Check out this video to see the Real Time Bandwidth Monitor in use or download a free copy for yourself to try it out.



As always, please let us know if you have any feedback on the tool or ideas for our next free tool.

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My friend and colleague Michael Torok, our Director of Community, recently wrote this blog post. I liked it so much, and not just because I too ride motorcycles and love community, that we decided to re-post it as a guest post here. His original blog post is found on Riding and Community… stay with me for a few minutes?.



While I don’t really want to lapse into a long personal metaphor, I  was struck with a the strange cool parallel this morning as I sat in my  car and watched the motorcycle riders shoot past in the opposing lane.  Motorcyclists have an interesting code. You ride; you wave; you’re a  member. When I first started riding, it was one of the most inviting and  hidden benefits that I found. It is obvious that there is a freedom you  gain by the lack of metal around you. You gain a freedom, coupled with a  sense of exposure. But, you also join a family. And, yes, there are  people who play better than others… there are some riders that only  greet people on certain bikes, but there are the rest of us, the  majority, that don’t care if you’re on a Suzuki, a Triumph, a Ducati, a  Harley, a Honda, a Buell… whatever. You are on two wheels. You are one  of us. We are a family.

When I see the incredible activity, the  flurry of posts and replies, the content that gets shared, the scripts  people provide each other, it is the same exact feeling. I know there  are people who are more comfortable hanging out quietly in the  background, certainly feel free, and there are members who never post,  but there are also those members who share knowledge, post answers,  reach out to folks who are struggling – they wave to one another all the  time. Often you organize your own poker runs to support each other… I  mean, what else can you call this post in TIPS & TRICKS: Stop the madness! Avoiding alerts but continuing to pull statistics., other than a big thank you and give back? 

We  all get into tight spots. Like all the riders I know, I’ve hit the  ground. I’ve been rather lucky and, so far, only have a couple scars and  something to blame my future arthritis on. One of the most amazing  things that happened when I found myself along the side of the road was  the number of people who stopped as I waited for a tow. Motorcyclist,  car drivers, truck drivers… almost every one of them starting with, “Are  you okay?” and ending with telling me about when they dropped their own  bike. Everyone who stopped offered help. I see this same thing here in  the SolarWinds community. Sometimes the bike gives out unexpectedly;  sometimes you forget to turn the petcock on; sometimes you just can’t  figure out why the silly lights stay on. But someone out there has been  there. They’ve seen the same issue. They have a workaround. They have a  friendly reminder about giving SQL Server more gas or tuning the engine.  They stop to help.

I guess, in the long run, all I’m saying is  that it is a great feeling to be a part of this community. I appreciate  the feedback, positive and negative about your experiences here, and I  want you to know that my ears are open and my voice is yours here in  SolarWinds.

Please keep waving…


Great post Michael. Let's keep it rolling...

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Most organizations today leverage several applications that are at least in part java based. Many times, these are the applications that you've either developed in-house or had customized for your specific use. Java is great in this way as there is a wealth of development talent available for it and there is strong community support as well. The difficulties start when you suspect that you're having performance issues with the java apps but you don't have any way to tell for sure or to proactively watch for these occurrences.

Solving these problems was a big part of why APM 4.2 (the SolarWinds Application Performance Monitor) was released. Within this new release you'll find improved capabilities in several areas but especially focused around more intensive monitoring for java based applications and components. Jeremy Morrill, or AlterEgo as many of you know him, highlights the improvements and provides some screenshots here.

One of the strongest trends that we see within organizations today is a desire to tie all of their monitoring needs and strategies together into a single, cohesive set of processes and tools. Java application monitoring is one of the areas that is typically included within these projects. The new version of APM, integrated with the rest of the SolarWinds monitoring products like the Network Performance Monitor, Storage Manager, and Virtualization Manager, offers compelling capabilities to significantly reduce the number of management consoles within your operations center while adding depth of monitoring.

As always, you can download free versions of these applications from the SolarWinds website to try them out and have them up and running in about an hour. That said, regardless of whose applications you decide to implement and purchase, be sure that the solutions are solving your monitoring problems and not creating new ones...

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Last week I was out in Vegas attending VMWorld. As usual, it was a great show. VMWorld is one of those shows that I feel like I just have to get to every year (in addition to Cisco Live and a couple of others in the DoD space). There's always a boatload of new technologies being talked about and demonstrated and it's a fantastic place to sync up and collaborate with other technologists. The Venetian did a splendid job of hosting the event and the Sands Expo Center is a great location, though I do think that for this particular show you just can't beat San Francisco and the Marcone Center.

SolarWinds came away with the Best of VMWorld prize for best product in the virtualization space with the SolarWinds Virtualization Manager. A couple of my good friends, Michael Nels (Engineering) and Jon Reeves (Product Management) were in attendance and since this product has been largely their brain child for the last several years it was great to see it publicly recognized at an event where they were in attendance.

A few key trends that I noticed at the show:

* Cloud - in the past when you talked about cloud it was mostly assumed that you meant public cloud and usually you'd need to specify either public or private. However, at this show it was apparent that when used generically, cloud implied private cloud or implied the style of computing. I wrote a little bit that you might find helpful about cloud computing and definitions here.

* Management - a lot of people were looking to replace existing management tools in hopes of replacing with a single tool or set of tools with an integrated approach to solving their problems. I'd put this in the "reduction of dashboards" category as I heard the term "single pane of glass" many times.

* Virtualization Management - It's apparent that managing only the virtualization infrastructure is no longer enough. The virtualization management tools now need to provide visibility and performance monitoring all the way down to the SAN and up through the network.

* Desktop virtualization - it's come a long ways in the past couple of years and it's hitting mainstream in several markets. Don't be surprised if it stops popping up in your company soon.

All in all, cool show and for all of you that I got to speak with while I was there - thank you for all of the ideas and feedback that you shared. This is an awesome community to be a part of.

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Troubleshooting application performance is one of the most common tasks that network administrators and sys admins do on a daily basis. Many of today’s applications are web based which can complicate troubleshooting as the application itself may be on a network that you don’t control and that is distant to your users. Likewise, most web based applications can be accessed from anywhere. This means that users at remote sites and telecommuters may report performance issues that you’re responsible for solving.

When troubleshooting this type of application performance problem there are three main things to understand before you start troubleshooting.

First, you need to understand which part of the application is running slowly. Even a simple web based application can have many parts. For this example, we’ll use a basic shopping cart based ecommerce site. Typically, an application like this would involve steps like these:

  • Loading of the initial web page
  • Searching or browsing to the desired item
  • Selection of the desired item
  • Adding it to the cart
  • Reviewing the cart
  • Submitting the order
  • Processing payment
  • Display of order confirmation

Second, you need to understand where the issue is occurring. Is it universal or does it only affect users at your corporate office? How are remote site users impacted? How about telecommuters? What about users in foreign countries?

Third, you need to understand when the issue is occurring. Does it happen every time that you process a transaction or only during certain times of the day or specific days of the week? Does it seem random or is there a pattern to the performance problem?

Gathering this type of information manually is very difficult and likely to produce inaccurate results. However, there are application monitoring applications available that have been built specifically for this purpose. The new Synthetic End User Monitor from SolarWinds, launching tonight, is one such application. Synthetic End User Monitor can be used to monitor performance of the application as a whole and allows you to record a series of steps (like the ones listed above) to be used to test the application in detail. Then, the tests can be ran periodically to help you understand how application performance varies over time. Additionally, Synthetic End User Monitor allows you to install players at remote sites so that you can monitor application performance from those locations as well.

Once you understand which part of the application is slow, for which users the issue is occurring, and during what time of day finding the root cause of the application performance is fairly straight forward. At that point, the issue can usually be handed off to either a network engineer, system administrator, or application developer depending on the root cause that you determined.


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Last week I traveled to central Florida to give a couple of presentations on IPv6. While there I met with several technologists and business leaders from the federal community to answer questions and field discussions on this subject. It was a great trip and the presentations went well. Two things surprised me about the trip though...

First, it was a lot cooler there in and around Orlando Florida than it's been here in Austin TX. As a matter of fact, it rained for a few minutes each of the days that I was there. We haven't had a decent rain here in Central Texas in nearly a year and I'd forgotten how much I missed it. The cooler weather was also a nice respite, although typically when people think about going to Florida they think it'll be warmer there  and I was no exception.

The second thing that surprised me was the amount of interest there was in discussing IPv6. It's usually pretty easy to get a group of network engineers together to talk about the depletion of IPv4 and the need to start working toward IPv6 but many of the folks I met with weren't in the networking community. There were local Value Added Resellers (VARs) in attendance, attorneys that work with small businesses, business consultants, federal purchasing agents, senior executives from the federal community, and more in addition to the technical audience of network administrators, system admins, and application developers.

I don't think that a conversation on IPv6 would've drawn such a crowd a year ago, which is more evidence that we are finally making progress toward IPv6 in some real, tangible, and measurable ways. Likewise, when I spoke at Cisco Live in Las Vegas in July, in London in January, and even during a community meeting in Sydney this year - IPv6 is gaining momentum everywhere I look.

Key takeaways for you - it's time to start looking into training on this technology, get some hands on experience (labs or even maybe migrate over your own subnet at work), and start working on an IPv6 assessment for your organization. You really want to be out in front on this - not left behind...

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Like Rodney Dangerfield would say, some System Admins feel that they "don't get no respect!"

Me and some of our product managers, sales engineers, and other folks here at SolarWinds used to be Sys Admins, and lets face it -- as IT guys, most of us don't get the positive feedback we deserve for all of the things we do to prevent problems from happening. Yet that doesn't stop folks from blaming us the rare times that an issue with a network or a server does go down. And doesn't it feel like this always happens at 2 a.m. on a weekend, or when the fish have been biting for the first time that day and you're 2 miles from land?!?

Well, that's why Sys Admin Day was created. The 12th SysAdmin Day, is next Friday -- July 29! 

It's time to remind your boss about the great work you do. How about sending them an Outlook calendar reminder, or a Facebook invite? You might even ask a boss or colleague to enter you into a contest to show their appreciation! Our friend Matt Simmons of the Standalone Sysadmin wrote a great post about some of the cool contests that your colleagues can enter you in, or that you can enter yourself. These include: 

  • Think Geek's 2001 SysAdmin Pageant: Colleagues must nominate you by Thursday, July 28, and the incentive for them is a chance to win a $500 shopping spree. If you win, prizes include an iPad, and a red Swingline stapler (cool!).
  • Cyber Ark’s SysAdmin Appreciation Day Contest: This is a Twitter-based contest where Sys Admins are asked to answer the question, "What is your greatest enterprise IT accomplishment in the past year" to win a Kindle. Details are kind of complicated so click on the link to check 'em out. If you are on Twitter, you should also check out the #SysAdminDay hashtag, which is kind of fun.
We asked some of our Sys Admin blogger friends what they would want for Sys Admin Day, or what they think other Sys Admins would appreciate. 
"Something that costs $25 or less that says thank you and is useful," said Bob Plankers of the Lone Sysadmin. Bob's other ideas included to be taken somewhere cool for lunch, or a gift card, or the afternoon off. "Just so long as it doesn't send any message but 'thank you," he said.

Simmons of Standalone Sysadmin first heard about SysAdmin Appreciation Day in 2009, and has been organizing events every year since then. Some of his suggestions include gift certificates to Think Geek, books on a topic not directly related to work, or a conference pass to something they normally don't get to go to (like LISA or even DefCon).

"But really, those things are all just tangible representations of a kind of recognition. We like to be appreciated. In too many companies, we're treated like plumbers - unnoticed until something goes wrong, then unappreciated when we fix whatever was broken," Simmons said. "Most of the really good sysadmins, the long term people with more than a decade in the business, the knowledge that our machines run well is a reward unto itself. But that being said, I've never known anyone to turn down a Think Geek gift card. ;-)"

What do YOU think would be a kind way to say "thank you?" Have you ever received something from a boss that really meant something to you? What was it?

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Next week I'll be speaking at Cisco Live in beautiful Las Vegas Nevada. Cisco Live has always been one of my favorite shows and the lineup for this year looks fantastic. SolarWinds will be hosting a large booth (booth #1337) and we'll be giving away some cool items and you can stop by to see presentations by me and several of our PMs that you probably know from our community site over at thwack.com. Additionally, I'll be presenting a breakout session with my friend Mark Balch from Cisco Systems who is an expert on the Cisco UCS. Last but not least, I'll be presenting at the Cisco Theatre on what everyone needs to know about IPv6.

Two of my favorite technology experts and speakers, John Chambers and Padmasree Warrior, are doing the keynotes on Tuesday and Wednesday, respectively and if you're attending I'd highly suggest that you try to attend their presentations.

If you're around please stop by our booth and say hello or attend my breakout session and theatre presentation. Otherwise, maybe I'll run into you at The Gun Store or we could even end up on Pawn Stars together :)

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I'm often asked for help by new network engineers, network  administrators, system administrators, VMware admins, and general IT  managers who are looking to enhance their skills, knowledge, and  marketability for the technologies that they're responsible for. It's a  common concern among folks in IT because the technologies change so  quickly and because so many new people are getting into the field.  Today's job market also drives us to find new ways to ensure that if we  do find ourselves looking for employment, we can distinguish ourselves from the  many other people with similar skillsets who might be applying for the  same job.

Over the last 20 odd years I've have well over 1,000 IT professionals working for me at one time or another and so I have a lot of experience in recruiting, hiring, and retaining folks in this field. When it comes to enhancing your skills and marketability as an IT professional, there are five key areas that you should keep in mind.

Certifications and Technical Training
Certifications are  becoming more important than ever and more and more companies are  willing to pay for their employees to become certified, especially if the certification exam can be bundled with technical training. There are two types of  certifications that are important. First, get a certification within  your area of specialty. If you're a network engineer go for the CCNA and  then CCNP. If you're a systems administrator the MCSE track is a great  one. For virtual infrastructure specialists, pursue VMware's certification program. Second, get a certification within a specialty area to sort of separate yourself from the pack. If you're into network operations or network management, check the SCP we offer here at SolarWinds. If you're into project or program management the PMP certification is well recognized and so on. These specialties, when added to your core certifications, are great ways to improve your marketability.

Breadth of skills
I was speaking at a user group meeting recently to an audience of about 150 engineers and I polled the audience as to what they do. First asked for a show of hands for how many of them were network engineers or network administrators - almost none. Then I asked how many were systems administrators or server admins - again, very few. I repeated the question for virtualization or VMware admins, SAN and storage admins, helpdesk, etc until I was out of ideas. Finally, I just asked a table near the front what they did - "We're infrastructure guys" one of them said and they all nodded. So, I re-polled the audience and just about everyone's hands went up. In today's data centers, you really have to know it all. Infrastructure, in the old days, meant core network gear. Today, infrastructure means critical network, server, virtualization, and storage gear along with just about everything else that has a broad impact on your organization. So, don't just study one discipline. Find a way to expand your base of knowledge and your opportunities will expand as well.

Soft skills
The most highly paid IT professionals I've ever known had two things in common - they were good writers and they were skilled negotiators. If you're weak in either of these areas, the next time you're offered the chance to attend some technical training ask if you can do something in these areas instead. Otherwise, there are some books and online resources available to help.  It's probably the best investment of time you will ever make

Join a community
No, I don't mean Facebook I mean something like the SolarWinds community at thwack.com or Spiceworks. These communities are a great place meet other folks in the industry, learn about the technologies that they're working with, and in many cases you can find out about job opportunities there. Additionally, when you're stumped with a problem you can't seem to solve reaching out to your community is a smart next step.

Be an expert in something
Yes, earlier I said that it's good to have a broad base of knowledge and that's true. However, it's also important to have a deep understanding in at least one core area. If you're new to the field being an expert probably isn't a good goal to set your sights on for now but be sure that there's an area that you know more about than the others. Two questions you're sure to be asked in an interview and that you should be able to answer: "What area are you strongest in?" and "What is your biggest weakness?". The area that you say you're strongest in will likely determine who does your second level interview, should you make it that far, so be sure it's something that you can discuss in detail.

Have a suggestion or comment? I'd love to hear it.

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