Skip navigation
1 14 15 16 17 18 Previous Next

Geek Speak

2,408 posts

This week's Actuator comes to you direct from a very quiet house because we have sent the spawn off to an overnight camp for two weeks. The hardest part for us will be doing all the chores that we've trained the kids to do over the years. It's like losing two employees!


As always, here are some links from the Intertubz that I hope will hold your interest. Enjoy!


Avanti Breach – Does This Signify IoT Attacks Have Become Mainstream?

Yes. And, since you had to ask, I suggest you pay attention to all the other IoT hacks in the news.


Hacker steals $30M worth of Ethereum by abusing Parity wallet flaw

Good thing these banks have insurance to protect against loss… What's that you say? Oh.


A Hacker's Dream: American Password Reuse Runs Rampant

It’s time to get rid of passwords, and we all know it. Unfortunately, security isn’t a priority yet, so systems will continue to rely on antiquated authentication methods.


IoT Security Cameras Have a Major Security Flaw

Like I said, security is not a priority for many.


How Microsoft brought SQL Server to Linux

Somewhere, Leon Adato is weeping.


New IBM Mainframe Encrypts All the Things

This sounds wonderful until you remember that most breaches happen because someone left their workstation unlocked, or a USB key on a bus, etc.


Sweden leaked every car owners' details last year, then tried to hush it up

There is no security breach that cannot be made worse by trying to cover up the details of your mistakes.


This arrived last week and I wanted to say THANK YOU to Satya and Microsoft for making the best data platform on the planet:

The Europe/Middle East/Africa (EMEA) team have just finished our fourth Partner Bootcamp, and I would like to share some of our experiences from the event.


What is it?

For the last couple of years the EMEA team has been running a multi-day event for our channel partners. It started as short, 2-day event for a dozen or so of our distributors and resellers, hosted out of EMEA headquarters in Cork, Ireland, but has quickly grown.  In fact, we’ve outgrown our office facilities, and now run the event at a local conference centre.  Not only is it a great chance for our partners to learn about SolarWinds products and culture, it’s also an excellent way for SolarWinds to learn from our channel partners about our customers, and what they would like to see, in our products.


Bunnyconnellan: Dinner Venue for Monday evening’s entertainment

Bunnyconnellan: Dinner Venue for Monday evening’s entertainment


Who was there?

This latest event was the largest to date, with over 50 partners from all across the region, ranging from the UK, Germany, and Ireland, to South Africa, Turkey, Kenya, Bulgaria, Netherlands, and Spain. We even had Thwack MVP robertcbrowning in attendance!

From a SolarWinds perspective, it’s not just our local staff that attend the event. We had presenters from sales and support, out of our Cork and London offices, as well as folks from our Austin, Lehi, and Herndon offices.


What was covered?

  • What started as a small presentation forum with a single track of sessions has now evolved into a two-day sales track and four-day tech track, allowing us to cater for various staff roles at within the partner organizations. As an added bonus for our tech attendees, cal.smith and some of his team were on-site, allowing us to run the first ever beta exam of the latest iteration of the revamped SCP!

A number of sessions ran over the course of the week, but some personal highlights include:

And of course, there may have been some well-earned après-boot camp entertainment as well.

Classroom resized.jpg

Our partners prepping for the SCP beta


Sounds Awesome! What’s next?

We’re already going through feedback on what worked well – break-out workshops for sales, yeah! – and what didn’t work so well – some minor tech issues with the hands-on labs on the first day, boo!*


Of course, as with our products, we really take feedback to heart and are already planning some further evolution of the boot camp, both in terms of tech content and how we deliver it, as well as improvements in other areas as well. Stayed tuned for info on future sessions, but in the meantime you can view some of what happened over on #SWChannelBootcamp


Tech rainers.jpg

Here I am (left) with Cal (right) and tech trainers, Cheryl and Ed (centre).



*in our defense, we were victims of our own success in that we had about double the number of people we had planned for, but we got there in the end.

It sounds obvious, perhaps, but without configurations, our network, compute, and storage environments won't do very much for us. Configurations develop over time as we add new equipment, change architectures, improve our standards, and deploy new technologies. The sum of knowledge within a given configuration is quite high. Despite that, many companies still don't have any kind of configuration management in place, so in this article, I will outline some reasons why configuration management is a must, and look at a some of the benefits that come with having it.


Recovery from total loss

As THWACK users, I think we're all pretty technically savvy, yet if I were to ask right now if you had an up-to-date backup of your computer and its critical data, what would the answer be? If your laptop's hard drive died right now, how much data would be lost after you replaced it?


Our infrastructure devices are no different. Every now and then a device will die without warning, and the replacement hardware will need to have the same configuration that the (now dead) old device had. Where's that configuration coming from?


Total loss is perhaps the most obvious reason to have a system of configuration backups in place. Configuration management is an insurance policy against the worst eventuality, and it's something we should all have in place. Potential ways to achieve this include:



At a minimum, having the current configuration safely stored on another system is of value. Some related thoughts on this:


  • Make sure you can get to the backup system when a device has failed.
  • Back up / mirror / help ensure redundancy of your backup system.
  • If "rolling your own scripts," make sure that, say, a failed login attempt doesn't overwrite a valid configuration file (he said, speaking from experience). In other words, some basic validation is required to make sure that the script output is actually a configuration file and not an error message.



Better than a copy of the current configurations, a configuration archive tracks all -- or some number of -- the previous configurations for a device.


An archive gives us the ability to see what changes occurred to the configuration and when. If a device doesn't support configuration rollback natively, it may be possible to create a kind of rollback script based on the difference between the two latest configurations. If the configuration management tool (or other systems) can react to SNMP traps to indicate a configuration change, the archive can be kept very current by triggering a grab of the configuration as soon as a change is noted.


Further, home-grown scripts or configuration management products can easily identify device changes and generate notifications and alerts when changes occur. This can provide an early warning of unauthorized configurations or changes made outside scheduled maintenance windows.


Compliance / Audit

Internal Memo

We need confirmation that all your devices are sending their syslogs to these seventeen IP addresses.


-- love from, Your Friendly Internal Security Group xxx

"Putting the 'no' in Innovation since 2003"


A request like this can be approached in a couple of different ways. Without configuration management, it's necessary to log in to each device and check the syslog server configuration. With a collection of stored configurations, however, checking this becomes a matter of processing configurations files. Even grepping them could extract the necessary information. I've written my own tools to do the same thing, using configuration templates to allow support for the varying configuration stanzas used by different flavors of vendor and OS to achieve the same thing.


Some tools — Solarwinds NCM is one of them — can also compare the latest configuration against a configuration snippet and report back on compliance. This kind of capability makes configuration audits extremely simple.


Even without a security group making requests, the ability to audit configurations against defined standards is an important capability to have. Having discussed the importance of configuration consistency, it seems like a no-brainer to want a tool of some sort to help ensure that the carefully crafted standards have been applied everywhere.


Pushing configuration to devices

I'm never quite sure whether the ability to issue configuration commands to devices falls under automation or configuration management, but I'll mention it briefly here since NCM includes this capability. I believe I've said in a previous Geek Speak post that it's abstractions that are most useful to most of us. I don't want to write the code to log into a device and deal with all the different prompts and error conditions. Instead, I'd much rather hand off to a tool that somebody else wrote and say, Send this. Lemme know how it goes. If you have the ability to do that and you aren't the one who has to support it, take that as a win. And while you're enjoying the golden trophy, give some consideration to my next point.


Where is your one true configuration source?

Why do we fall into the trap of using hardware devices as the definitive source of each configuration? Bearing in mind that most of us claim that we're working toward building a software-defined network of some sort, it does seem odd that the configuration sits on the device. Why does it not sit in a database or other managed repository that has been programmed based on the latest approved configuration in that repo?


Picture this for example:


  • Configurations are stored in a git repo
  • Network engineers fork the repo so they have a local copy
  • When a change is required, the engineer makes the necessary changes to their fork, then issues a pull request back to the main repo.
  • Pull requests can be reviewed as part of the Change Control process, and if approved, the pull-request is accepted and merged into the configuration.
  • The repo update triggers the changes to be propagated to the end device


Such a process would give us a configuration archive with a complete (and commented) audit trail for each change made. Additionally, if the device fails, the latest configuration is in the git repo, not on the device, so by definition, it's available for use when setting up the replacement device. If you're really on the ball, it may be possible to do some form of integration testing/syntax validation of the change prior to accepting the pull request.


There are some gotchas with this, not the least of which is that going from a configuration diff to something you can safely deploy on a device may not be as straightforward as it first appears. That said, thanks to commands like Junos' load replace and load override and IOS XR's commit replace, such things are made a little easier.


The point of this is not really to get into the implementation details, but more to raise the question of how we think about network device configurations in particular. Compute teams get it; using tools like Puppet and Chef to build and maintain the state of a server OS, it's possible to rebuild an identical server. The same applies to building images in Docker. The configuration should not be within the image becuase it's housed in the Dockerfile. So why not network devices, too? I'm sure you'll tell me, and I welcome it.


Get. Configuration. Management. Don't risk being the person everybody feels pity for after their hard drive crashes.

By Joe Kim, SolarWinds EVP, Engineering and Global CTO


Ensuring that deployed U.S. troops can communicate and exchange information is critical to the military’s missions. That said, there are numerous challenges in deploying the high-speed tactical networks that make this communication possible. How, for example, do you make sure these networks are available when needed? What is the best way to maintain data integrity? The accuracy of the data—such as troop location—is just as important as network availability.


Network security is, of course, critical as well. Particularly with tactical Wi-Fi networks, it is crucial to ensure that our military personnel are the only ones accessing the network, and that there is no exfiltration going undetected.


Network Setup

In-field networks often are a simple series of antennas on trucks that create a local Wi-Fi network. Through this local Wi-Fi network the trucks “talk” to one another, as do the troops. How, then, does the federal IT professional help ensure availability, data integrity, security, and more? The answer? Advanced network monitoring, implemented through the integration of three distinct, critical capabilities.


Capability #1: Network performance monitoring

This is essentially monitoring the network infrastructure for performance, latency, network saturation, and more. In the event of a latency issue, managers must discern if the problem stems from the network or an application to help ensure continued, uninterrupted connections.


Be sure the network monitoring tool provides a physical map overlay feature, particularly important in a tactical Wi-Fi scenario, to indicate where the best network coverage is located. With this ability, someone on the move remains connected no matter what. In fact, with the addition of a heat map overlay, managers can see where coverage might be lacking and whether, for example, a truck with an antenna should move over a hill to get a better connection.


Capability #2: User device tracking

Within any network environment, but especially within a tactical situation, the IT team must be able to see where users are going and what applications they’re trying to access. This information dramatically enhances security, particularly data integrity, by helping ensure that exfiltration is not an issue. More advanced user device tracking also allows managers to turn devices on and turn off that might be causing bigger-picture network or latency issues.


Capability #3: Event monitoring and logging

Real-time logging of all network activity is critical. IT administrators must know who is accessing the network and where they’re going at all times. If an infiltration incident occurs, this is where to find it and stop it—automatically, in some cases. Event monitoring and logging gives the ability to log all events and track correlation from an infrastructure as well as a physical location, which is especially important in the field.


One view

Finally, but perhaps most important, be sure you can see all of the information provided from the three previous capabilities through a single integrated view. The intersection of the information received—network data AND user data AND log data—will provide the needed intelligence to make the most informed decisions during the most critical missions.


Find the full article on Federal News Radio.


What's in an IT title?

Posted by kong.yang Employee Jul 21, 2017

Continuous integration. Continuous delivery. Cloud. Containers. Microservices. Serverless. IoT. Buzzworthy tech constructs and concepts are signaling a change for IT professionals. As IT pros adapt and evolve, the application remains the center of the change storm. More importantly, the end goal for IT remains essentially the same as it always has been: keep the revenue-impacting applications performing as optimally as possible. Fundamental principles remain constant below the surface of anything new, disruptive, and innovative. This applies to IT titles and responsibilities as well.


Take, for example, the role of site reliability engineer (SRE), which was Ben Treynor’s 2003 creation at Google. He describes it as what happens when you ask a software engineer to perform an operations function. Google lists it as a discipline that combines software and systems engineering to build and run large-scale, massively distributed, fault-tolerant systems. Even before the coining of the term SRE, there were IT professionals who came before and built out massively distributed, fault-tolerant, large-scale systems. They just weren’t called SREs. Fast forward to 2008, and another title started to gain momentum: DevOps engineer aka the continuous integration/continuous delivery engineer. Regardless of their titles, core competencies remain fundamentally similar. 


Speaking of IT titles. How do you identify yourself with respect to your professional title? I've been a lab monitor, a systems engineer, a member of technical staff, a senior consultant, a practice leader, and now a Head GeekTM. Does your title bring you value? Let me know in the comment section below.

Every good engineer/administrator knows that data without context is useless data. Take income, for instance. Let’s say you are offered a position that pays $3,000 USD a month. Without context, you cannot discern whether this is a good salary for your industry, etc. Without knowing the location, the average income in your area and various tax rates that dollar amount doesn’t tell you much. Adding context to your original data set provides needed insights and perspective. This salary likely wouldn’t cover rent in San Francisco or London, but $3,000 USD would allow you to live quite comfortably in other parts of the world.


Can we extrapolate this example to IT systems? Imagine that a user complains that application X is performing slowly. You log into your systems and see that CPU usage on one of the servers is at 100%. If that is not the usual load on this server, you know that something is amiss. You can start looking at your virtualization environment and determine if something unusual is going on. But still, is that enough context?


SolarWinds Orion and PerfStack: Layering and Collating Monitoring Data in Real-time

With SolarWinds® Orion® Platform and the new PerfStack™ functionality, you can contextualize reported slow response issues with other events happening in real-time in your environment. You can, for example, look at concurrent network throughput, database transactions, and I/O load on the storage subsystem to help determine whether any I/O bottlenecks are contributing to the high load and low application performance. If you need to add or remove metrics, you can do so via drag-and-drop methods that provide instant visibility with real-time correlation.


The major advantage of SolarWinds Orion Platform is the wide spectrum of technology stacks that are covered when products are plugged into Orion. You are no longer limited to virtual infrastructure monitoring or storage vendor management tools. You can correlate data from various technology silos (database, storage, network, virtualization, etc.), select the relevant metrics from each of these stacks, and put them together in the PerfStack dashboard. You get a comprehensive overview and understanding of a given issue in your environment, while also having the ability to monitor the evolution of the situation in real-time.


Ready for Hybrid IT

PerfStack is also well-equipped to handle the modern challenges posed by hybrid IT. As enterprise, IT, and business entities embrace the cloud in its diversity, traditional operational challenges will have to change due to added complexities. Whether applications run fully in the cloud or are a mix of cloud and on-premises application components, additional stacks and network hops are added. If we look at Amazon Web Services™ (AWS®), we may have to handle not only our Amazon EC2® virtual machine instances but also, eventually, Simple Storage Service (S3™) buckets and all the network components in between. PerfStack is the perfect tool to help you discover which hybrid IT stack component is causing your performance issues.


An Ice-breaker for Infrastructure Silos

The fact that PerfStack leverages data from various sources helps contribute to the increase of enterprise cross-team collaboration. PerfStack becomes the central source of monitoring data, which helps bring teams together and helps break down the natural boundaries (technological, organizational, and social) between infrastructure silos. PerfStack assists service lines to help pin down the root cause of an abnormal event. Beyond that, the irrefutability and objectivity of multiple sources of data layered together stops the finger-pointing and bounce-back of support tickets between infrastructure teams. Finally, many IT professionals have had to deal with intermittent issues that nobody can resolve. PerfStack helps track these transient Probe Effect / Heisenbug issues, which affect application performance but are not easily traceable.


Today, the focus is more on applications. That means uptime is critical, so reducing downtime is essential to any IT department involved in supporting business functions. It adds value to organizations by dramatically reducing the time to resolution of operational incidents.


Whether your apps support critical lifesaving systems, financial functions, or manufacturing lines, PerfStack is a precious ally to IT professionals who are willing to make their IT department move from a cost center to a positive asset.


Author: Max Mortillaro, an independent data center consultant specializing in virtualization and storage technologies. Max is a four-time VMware vExpert and a Tech Field Day delegate.

I may be dating myself, but anyone else remember when MTV® played music videos? The first one they ever played was The Buggle's "Video Killed the Radio Star."  The synth-pop feel of the song seemed so out of place with the words, which outlined the demise of the age of the radio personality. Thinking back, this was the first time I can remember thinking about one new technology completely supplanting another. The corollary to this concept is that radio stars are now antiquated and unneeded.


Fast forward a few decades and I'm entrenched in IT. I'm happily doing my job and I hear about a new technology: virtualization. At first, I discounted it as a fad (as I'm sure many of us old-school technologists did). Then it matured, stabilized, and gained a foothold.


One technology again supplanted another and virtualization killed the physical server star. Did this really kill off physical servers entirely? Of course not. No more so than video killed radio. It just added a level of abstraction. Application owners no longer needed to worry about the physical hardware, just the operating system and their applications. Two things happened:

1.       Application owners had less to worry about

2.       A need for people with virtualization experience developed


From that point on, every new person who entered IT understood virtualization as a part of the IT stack.  It was a technology that became accepted and direct knowledge of physical servers was relegated to secondary or specialized knowledge. Having knowledge about firmware and drivers was suddenly so "retro."


Virtualization matured and continued to flourish, and with it, new vendors and capabilities entered the market, but dark clouds were on the horizon. Or perhaps they weren't dark-just "clouds" on the horizon. As in private clouds, hybrid clouds, public clouds, fill-in-the-blank clouds. The first vendor I remember really pushing the cloud was Amazon® with their Amazon Web ServicesTM (AWS®).


Thinking back, this seemed like history repeating itself. After all, according to many, Amazon nearly destroyed all brick and mortar bookstores. It looked like they were trying to do the same for on-premises virtualization. After all, why worry about the hardware and storage yourself when you can pay someone else to worry about it, right?


This seems reminiscent of the what happened with virtualization. You didn't worry about the physical server anymore-it became someone else's problem. You just cared about your virtual machine.


So, did cloud kill the virtualization star, which previously killed the server star? Of course not. For the foreseeable future, cloud will not supplant the virtualization specialist, no more so than virtualization supplanted the server specialist. It's now just a different specialization within the IT landscape.


What does this mean for us in IT? Most importantly, keep abreast of emerging technologies. Look to where you can extend your knowledge and become more valuable, but don't "forget" your roots.


You never know-one day you may be asked to update server firmware.

This is a cross-post from a post with the same name on the VMBlog.

Back from the beach and back in the saddle again. It was good to get away from the world for a week and sit by the lake or at the beach and just listen to the sound of the water. But, it's also good to get back to the keyboard, too.


As always, here are some links from the Intertubz that I hope will hold your interest. Enjoy!


Consumer Routers Report Concludes: It's a Market of Lemons

It's not just routers. It's every Wi-Fi-enabled appliance and device on the planet. For the folks who design and build such devices, security is not a top priority.


Azure Network Watcher

Microsoft dips its toes into the world of network monitoring. Hanselman says, "Networking people are going to go nuts over this." I'll let you decide.


Every Total Solar Eclipse in your Lifetime

In case you didn't know, or might not make, the one happening next month here in the United States.


Microsoft to employ unused TV channels to offer rural broadband

I've often commented about how Microsoft is becoming a utility company by providing a suite of cloud services. I'm now taking wagers on if they get into electricity or water next.


Here’s How Azure Stack Will Integrate into Your Data Center

Still concerned about putting your data in a public cloud? Worry no more! You can now have Azure in your own data center!


More on the NSA's Use of Traffic Shaping

I found this article interesting as I just finished the book Code Warriors while on vacation. I highly recommend it, especially for folks interested in the history of the NSA.


Keep security in mind on your summer vacation

Good tips, and not just for vacation. For anyone that travels frequently, or even decides to work from Starbuck's now and then.


Around here, it's not officially summertime until you have some Del's:



To Cloud, or Not to Cloud

Posted by scuff Jul 18, 2017

Before cloud was a thing, I looked after servers that I could physically touch. In some cities, those servers were in the buildings owned by the organization I worked for. My nation’s capital was also the IT capital at the time, and my first IT role was on the same floor as our server room and mainframe (yes, showing my age but that’s banking for you). In other cities, we rented space in someone else’s data center, complete with impressive physical access security. I have fond memories of overnight change windows as we replaced disks or upgraded operating systems. Now that I'm in the SMB world, I often miss false floors, flickering LEDs, the white noise of servers, and the constant chill of air conditioning.


I saw the mainframe slowly disappear and both server consolidation and virtualization shrunk our server hardware footprint. All of that was pre-cloud.


Now the vendors have pivoted, with a massive shift in their revenue streams to everything “as a Service.” And boy, are they letting us know. Adobe is a really interesting case study on that shift, stating that their move away from expensive, perpetually licensed box software has reinvigorated the company and assured their survival. They could have quite easily gone the way of Kodak. The vendors are laughing all the way to the bank, as their licensing peaks are flattened out into glorious, monthly recurring revenue. They couldn’t be happier.


But where does it leave us, the customer?


I want to put aside the technical aspects of the cloud (we’ll get to those in the next article) and explore other aspects of being a cloud customer. For starters, that’s a big financial shift for us. We now need less capital expenditure and more operational expenditure, which in my town means more tax deductions. Even that has pros and cons, though. Are you better off investing in IT infrastructure during the good times, not having to keep paying for it in the lean months? (This is a polarizing point of view on purpose. I'm digging for comments, so please chime in below.)


What about vendor lock-in? Are we comfortable with the idea that we could take our virtual servers and associated management tools from AWS and move them to Microsoft Azure, or does our reliance on a vendor’s cloud kill other options in the future? It feels a little like renegotiating that Microsoft Enterprise Agreement. Say "no" and rip out all of our Microsoft software? Does the cloud change that, or not?


In some areas, do we even have a choice? We can’t buy a Slack or Microsoft Teams collaboration package outright and install it on an on-premises server. Correct me if I’m wrong here, but maybe you’ve found an open source alternative?


So, with the technical details aside, what are our hang-ups with a cloud consumption model? Would the vendors even listen, or do they have an answer for every objection? Tell me why the cloud makes no sense or why we should all agree that it's okay that this model has become so normal.


Viva la cloud!

By Joe Kim, SolarWinds EVP, Engineering and Global CTO


In last year’s third annual SolarWinds Federal Cybersecurity Survey, 38 percent of respondents indicated that the increasing use of smart cards is the primary reason why federal agencies have become less vulnerable to cyberattacks than a year ago. This 2016 survey also revealed that nearly three-fourths of federal IT professionals employ the use of smart cards as a means of network protection. And more than half of those federal IT professionals surveyed noted that smart cards are the most valuable product when it comes to network security.


Indeed, thanks to their versatility, prevalence, and overall effectiveness, there’s no denying that smart cards play a crucial role in providing a defensive layer to protect networks from breaches. Case in point, the attack upon the Office of Personnel Management that exposed more than 21 million personnel records. The use of smart cards could have perhaps provided sufficient security to deter such an attack.


But there’s increasing evidence that the federal government may be moving on from identity cards sooner than you may think. Department of Defense (DoD) Chief Information Officer Terry Halvorsen has said that he plans to phase out secure identity cards over the next two years in favor of more agile, multi-factor authentication.


Smart cards may be an effective first line of that defense, but they should be complemented by other security measures that create a deep and strong security posture. First, federal IT professionals should incorporate Security Information and Event Management (SIEM) into the mix. Through SIEM, managers can obtain instantaneous log-based alerts regarding suspicious network activity, while SIEM tools provide automated responses that can mitigate potential threats. It’s a surefire line of defense that must not be overlooked.


Federal IT professionals may also want to consider implementing network configuration management software. These tools can help improve network security and compliance by automatically detecting and preventing out-of-process changes that can disrupt network operations. Users will be able to more easily monitor and audit the myriad devices hitting their networks, and configurations can be assessed for compliance and known vulnerabilities can be easily addressed. It’s another layer of protection that goes beyond simple smart cards.


At the end of the day, no single tool or technology has the capability to provide the impenetrable defense that our IT networks need to prevent a breach or attack. And technology over time is continually changing. It is the duty of every federal IT professional to stay up on the latest tools and technologies out there that can make our networks safer.


Be sure to look at the entire puzzle when it comes to your network’s security. Know your options and employ multiple tools and technologies so that you have a well-fortified network that goes beyond identification tools that may soon be outdated anyway. That’s the really smart thing to do.


  Find the full article on GovLoop.

The concern for individual privacy has been growing since the 19th century when the mass dissemination of newspapers and photography became commonplace. The concerns we had then -- the right to be left alone and the right to keep private what we choose to keep private -- are now echoed in conversations carried on today about data security and privacy carried on today


The contemporary conversation about privacy has centered on, and ironically also has been promulgated by, the technology that’s become part of our daily life. Computer technology in particular, including the internet, mobile devices, and the development of machine learning, has enriched our lives in many ways. However, the advances of these and other technologies have grown partly due to the collection of enormous amounts of personal information. Today we must ask if the benefits, both individual and societal, are worth the loss of some semblance of individual privacy on a large scale.


Keep in mind that privacy is not the same as secrecy. When we use the bathroom, everyone knows what we're doing, so there's no secret. However, our use of the bathroom is still very much a private matter. On the other hand, credit card information, for most people, is considered a secret. Though some of the data that's commonly collected today might not necessarily be secret, we still must grapple with issues of privacy, or, in other words, we must grapple with the right to share or keep hidden information about ourselves.


An exhaustive look at the rights of the individual with regard to privacy would take volumes to analyze it's cultural, legal, and deeply philosophical foundation, but today we find ourselves doing just that. Our favorite technology services collect a tremendous amount of information about us with what we hope are well-intentioned motives. Sometimes this is done unwittingly, such as when browsing our history, or when our IP address is recorded. Sometimes these services invite us to share information, such as when we are asked to complete an online profile for a social media website.


Seeking to provide better products and services to customers is a worthy endeavor for a company, but concerns arise when a company doesn't secure our personal information, which puts our cherished privacy at risk. In terms of government entities and nation-states, the issue becomes more complex. The balance between privacy and security, between the rights of the individual and the safety of a society, has been the cause of great strife and even war.


Today's technology exacerbates this concern and fuels the fire of debate. We're typically very willing to share personal information with social media websites and in the case of retail institutions, such as e-commerce websites and online banks, secret information. Though this is data we choose to give, we do so with an element of trust that these institutions will handle our information in such a way as to sufficiently ensure its safety and our privacy.


Therein lies the problem. It's not that we're unwilling to share information, necessarily. The problem is with the security of that information.


In recent years, we’ve seen financial institutions, retail giants, hospitals, e-commerce companies, and the like all fall prey to cyber attacks that put our private and sometimes secret information at risk of compromise.


Netflix knows our credit card information.


Facebook knows our birthday, religion, sexual preference, and what we look like.


Google knows the content of our email.


Many mobile app makers know our exact geographic location.


Mortgage lenders know our military history and our disability status.


Our nations know our voting history and political affiliation.


We almost need to share this information to function in today's society. Sure, we could drop off the grid, but except for that sort of dramatic lifestyle change, we've come to rely on email, e-commerce, electronic medical records, online banking, government collection of data, and even social media.


Today, organizations, including our own employers, store information of all types, including our personal information, in distributed databases sometimes over the world. This brings in another layer of complexity. With globally distributed information, we must deal with competing cultures, values, and laws that govern the information stored within and traversing national borders.


The security of our information, and therefore the control of our privacy, is now almost completely out of our hands, and it's getting worse.


Those of us working in technology might respond by investing in secure, encrypted email services, utilizing password best practices, and choosing to avoid websites that require significant personal information. But even we, as technology professionals, use online banking, hand over tremendous private and secret information to our employers, and live in nations in which our governments collect, store, and analyze personal data on a consistent basis.


The larger society seems to behave similarly. There may be a moment of hesitation when entering our social security number in an online application; nevertheless, we enter and submit it. Private and public institutions have reacted to this by developing both policy and technological solutions to mitigate the risk associated with putting our personal information out there. Major components of HIPAA seek to protect individuals' medical information. PCI-DSS was created to protect individuals' credit card information in an effort to reduce credit card fraud. Many websites are moving away from unencrypted HTTP to encrypted HTTPS.


So it seems the climate of data security doesn't seem to be centered much on limiting the collection of information. The benefit we gain from data collection and analysis precludes our willingness to stop sharing our personal and secret information. Instead, attention is given to securing information and developing cultural best practices to protect ourselves from malicious people and insecure technology. The reaction, by and large, hasn't been to share less, but to better protect what we share.


In mid-2017, we see reports of cyber attacks and data breeches almost daily. These are the high-profile attacks that make the headlines, so imagine how much malicious activity is actually going on. It's clear that the current state of data security and therefore our privacy is in a state of peril. Cyber attacks and their subsequent breeches are so commonplace that they've become part of our popular culture.


That aspect of data security is getting worse exponentially, and since we're mostly unwilling or unable to stop sharing personal information, we must ensure that our technology and cultural practices also develop exponentially to mitigate that risk.







This version of the Actuator comes from the beaches of Rhode Island where the biggest security threat we face are sea gulls trying to steal our bacon snacks.


As always, here are some links from the Intertubz that I hope will hold your interest. Enjoy!


Someone's phishing US nuke power stations

“We don’t want you to panic, but here’s a headline to an article to make you panic.”


Critical Infrastructure Defenses Woefully Weak

If only there were warning signs that someone was actively trying to hack in.


Black Hat Survey: Security Pros Expect Major Breaches in Next Two Years

Oh, I doubt it will take a full two years for another major breach.


MIT researchers used a $150 Microsoft Kinect to 3D scan a giant T. rex skull

“Ferb, I know what we’re gonna do today.”


Tesla Loses 'Most Valuable U.S. Carmaker' Crown As Stock Takes $12 Billion Hit

I liked the original title better: Tesla stock at bargain prices!”. It’s OK Elon, just keep telling yourself that it wasn’t real money…yet.


Salary Gossip

Well, this stood out: “DO NOT WASTE MONEY ON AN MBA. You will make 2X more on average as an engineer.”


Wikipedia: The Text Adventure

This is both brilliant and horrible. If you are anything like me, you will spend 30 minutes traveling from the Statue of Liberty through lower Manhattan.


Just a regular night at the beach:

FullSizeRender 2.jpg

As a network engineer, I don't think I've ever had the pleasure of having every device configured consistently in a network. But what does that even mean? What is consistency when we're potentially talking about multiple vendors and models of equipment?


There Can Only Be One (Operating System)


Claim: For any given model of hardware there should be one approved version of code deployed on that hardware everywhere across an organization.


Response: And if that version has a bug, then all your devices have that bug. This is the same basic security paradigm that leads us to have multiple firewall tiers comprising different vendors for extra protection against bugs in one vendor's code. I get it, but it just isn't practical. The reality is that it's hard enough upgrading device software to keep up with critical security patches, let alone doing so while maintaining multiple versions of code.

Why do we care? Because different versions of code can behave differently. Default command options can change between versions; previously unavailable options and features are added in new versions. Basically, having a consistent revision of code running means that you have a consistent platform on which to make changes. In most cases, that is probably worth the relatively rare occasions on which a serious enough bug forces an emergency code upgrade.


Corollary: The approved code version should be changing over time, as necessitated by feature requirements, stability improvements, and critical bugs. To that end, developing a repeatable method by which to upgrade code is kind of important.


Consistency in Device Management


Claim: Every device type should have a baseline template that implements a consistent management and administration configuration, with specific localized changes as necessary. For example, a template might include:


  • NTP / time zone
  • Syslog
  • SNMP configuration
  • Management interface ACLs
  • Control plane policing
  • AAA (authentication, authorization, and accounting) configuration
  • Local account if AAA authentication server fails*


(*) There are those who would argue, quite successfully, that such a local account should have a password unique to each device. The password would be extracted from a secure location (a break glass type of repository) on demand when needed and changed immediately afterward to prevent reuse of the local account. The argument is that if the password is compromised, it will leave all devices susceptible to accessibility. I agree, and I tip my hat to anybody who successfully implements this.


Response: Local accounts are for emergency access only because we all use a centralized authentication service, right? If not, why not? Local accounts for users are a terrible idea, and have a habit of being left in place for years after a user has left the organization.


NTP is a must for all devices so that syslog/SNMP timestamps are synced up. Choose one timezone (I suggest UTC) and implement it on your devices worldwide. Using a local time zone is a guaranteed way to mess up log analysis the first time a problem spans time zones; whatever time zone makes the most sense, use it, and use it everywhere. The same time zone should be configured in all network management and alerting software.


Other elements of the template are there to make sure that the same access is available to every device. Why wouldn't you want to do that?


Corollary: Each device and software version could have its own limitations, so multiple templates will be needed, adapted to the capabilities of each device.


Naming Standards


Claim: Pick a device naming standard and stick with it. If it's necessary to change it, go back and change all the existing devices as well.


Response: I feel my hat tipping again, but in principle this is a really good idea. I did work for one company where all servers were given six-letter dictionary words as their names, a policy driven by the security group who worried that any kind of semantically meaningful naming policy would reveal too much to an attacker. Fair play, but having to remember that the syslog servers are called WINDOW, BELFRY, CUPPED, and ORANGE is not exactly friendly. Particularly in office space, it can really help to be able to identify which floor or closet a device is in. I personally lean toward naming devices by role (e.g. leaf, access, core, etc.) and never by device model. How many places have switches called Chicago-6500-01 or similar? And when you upgrade that switch, what happens? And is that 6500 a core, distribution, access, or maybe a service-module switch?


Corollary: Think the naming standard through carefully, including giving thought to future changes.


Why Do This?


There are more areas that could and should be consistent. Maybe consider things like:


  • an interface naming standard
  • standard login banners
  • routing protocol process numbers
  • vlan assignments
  • BFD parameters
  • MTU (oh my goodness, yes, MTU)


But why bother? Consistency brings a number of obvious operational benefits.


  • Configuring a new device using a standard template means a security baseline is built into the deployment process
  • Consistent administrative configuration reduces the number of devices which, at a critical moment in troubleshooting, turn out to be inaccessible
  • Logs and events are consistently and accurately timestamped
  • Things work, in general, the same way everywhere
  • Every device looks familiar when connecting
  • Devices are accessible, so configurations can be backed up into a configuration management tool, and changes can be pushed out, too
  • Configuration audit becomes easier


The only way to know if the configurations are consistent is to define a standard and then audit against it. If things are set up well, such an audit could even be automated. After a software upgrade, run the audit tool again to help ensure that nothing was lost or altered during the process.


What does your network look like? Is it consistent, or is it, shall we say, a product of organic growth? What are the upsides -- or downsides -- to consistency like this?

By Joe Kim, SolarWinds EVP, Engineering and Global CTO


Last year, hybrid IT was the new black, at least according to the SolarWinds 2016 Public Sector IT Trends Report. In surveying 116 public sector IT professionals, we found that agencies are actively moving much of their infrastructure to the cloud, while still keeping a significant number of applications in-house. They want the many benefits of the cloud (cost efficiency, agility) without the perceived drawbacks (security, compliance).


Perceptions in general have evolved since our 2015 report, where 17 percent of respondents said that new technologies were “extremely important” for their agencies’ long-term successes; in 2016, that number jumped to 26 percent. Conversely, in 2015 45 percent of survey respondents cited “lack of skills needed to implement/manage” new technologies as a primary barrier to cloud adoption; in 2016, only 30 percent of respondents cited that as a problem, indicating that cloud skill sets may have improved.


In line with these trends, an astounding 41 percent of respondents in this year’s survey believe that 50 percent or more of their organizations’ total IT infrastructure will be in the cloud within the next three to five years. This supports the evidence that since the United States introduced the Federal Cloud Computing Strategy in 2011, there’s been an unquestionable shift toward cloud services within government IT. We even saw evidence of that way back in 2014, when that year’s IT Trends Report indicated that more than 21 percent of public sector IT professionals felt that cloud computing was the most important technology for their agencies to remain competitive.


However, there remain growing concerns over security and compliance. Agencies love the idea of gaining agility and greater cost efficiencies, but some data is simply too proprietary to hand over to an offsite hosted services provider, even one that is Federal Risk and Authorization Management Program (FedRAMP)-compliant. This has led many organizations to hedge their bets on which applications and how much data they wish to migrate. As such, many agency IT administrators have made the conscious decision to keep at least portions of their infrastructures on-premises. According to our research, it’s very likely that these portions will never be migrated to the cloud.


Thus, some applications are hosted, while others continue to be maintained within the agencies themselves, creating a hybrid IT environment that can present management challenges. When an agency has applications existing in multiple places, it creates a visibility gap that makes it difficult for federal IT professionals to completely understand what’s happening with those applications. A blind spot is created between applications hosted offsite and those maintained in-house. Administrators are generally only able to monitor internally or externally. As a result, they can’t tell what’s happening with their applications as data passes from one location to another.


That’s a problem in a world where applications are the government’s lifeblood, and where administrators have invested a lot of time and resources into getting a comprehensive picture of application performance. For them, it’s imperative that they implement solutions and strategies that allow them to map hybrid IT paths from source to destination. This can involve “spoofing” application traffic to get a better picture of how on-site and hosted applications are working together. Then, they can deploy security and event management tools to monitor what’s going on with the data as it passes through the hybrid infrastructure.


In fact, in our 2016 survey, we found that monitoring and management tools and metrics are in high demand in today’s IT environment. Forty-eight percent of our respondents recognized this combination as critically important to managing a hybrid IT infrastructure. According to them, it’s the most important skill set they need to develop at this point.


Next year, when we do our updated report, we’ll probably see different results, but I’m willing to bet that cloud migration will still be at the top of public sector IT managers’ to-do lists. Like polo shirts and cashmere sweaters, it’s something that won’t be going out of style anytime soon.


Find the full article on Federal Technology Insider.


After a week with over 27,000 network nerds (and another week to recover), I'm here to tell you about who and what I saw (and who/what I missed) at Cisco Live US 2017.


The View From the Booth

Monday morning the doors opened and WE WERE MOBBED. Here are some pictures:

20170626_100259.jpg 20170626_100350.jpg


Our backpack promotion was a HUGE crowd pleaser and we ran out almost immediately. For those who made it in time, you've got a collector's item on your hands. For those who didn't, we're truly sorry that we couldn't bring about a million with us, although I feel like it still wouldn't have been enough.


Also in short supply were the THWACK socks in old and new designs.



These were instant crowd pleasers and I'm happy to say that if you couldn't make it to our booth (or to the show in general), you can still score a pair on the THWACK store for a very affordable 6,000 points.


Over four days, our team of 15 people was able to hang out with over 5,000 attendees who stopped by to ask questions, find out what's new with SolarWinds, and share their own experiences, stories, and experiences from the front lines of the IT world.


More than ever, I believe that monitoring experts need to take a moment to look at some of the "smaller" tools that SolarWinds has to offer. While none of our sales staff will be able to buy that yacht off the commission, these won't-break-the-bank solutions pack a lot of power.


  • Network Topology Mapper - No, this is not just "Network Atlas" as a separate product. It not only discovers the network, it also identifies aspects of the network that network atlas doesn't catch (like channel-bonded circuits). But most of all, it MAPS the discovery automatically. And it will use industry standard icons to represent those devices on the map. No more scanning your visio diagram and then placing little green dots on the page.
  • Kiwi Syslog - My love for this tool knows no bounds. I wrote about it recently and probably drew the diagram to implement a "network filtration layer" over a dozen times on the whiteboards built into our booth.
  • Engineer's Toolkit - Visitors to the booth - both existing customers and people new to SolarWinds - were blown away when they discovered that installing this on the polling engine allows it to drill down to near-real-time monitoring of elements for intense data collection, analysis, and troubleshooting.


There are more tools - including the free tools - but you get the point. Small-but-mighty is still "a thing" in the world of monitoring.


More people were interested in addressing their hybrid IT challenges this year than I can remember in the past, including just six months ago at Cisco Live Europe. That meant we talked a lot about NetPath, PerfStack, and even the cloud-enabled aspects of SAM and VMan. At a networking show. Convergence is a real thing and it's happening, folks.


Also, we had in-booth representation for the SolarWinds MSP solutions that garnered a fair share of interest among the attendees, whether they thought of themselves as MSPs, or simply wanted a cloud-native solution to monitor and manage their own remote sites.


All Work And No Play


But, of course, Cisco Live is about more than the booth. My other focus this year was preparing for and taking the Cisco CCNA exam. How did I do? You'll just have to wait until the July 12th episode of SolarWinds Lab to find out.


But what I did discover is that taking an exam at a convention is a unique experience. The testing center is HUGE, with hundreds of test-takers at all hours of the day. This environment comes with certain advantages. You have plenty of people to study and -- if things don't go well -- commiserate with. But I also felt that the ambient test anxiety took its toll. I saw one man, in his nervousness to get to the test site, take a tumble down the escalator. Then he refused anything except a couple of Band Aids because he "just wanted to get this done."


In the end, my feeling is that sitting for certification exams at Cisco Live is an interesting experience, but one I'll skip from now on. I prefer the relative quiet and comfort of my local testing center, and juggling my responsibilities in the booth AND trying to ensure I had studied enough was a huge distraction.


What I Missed

While I got to take a few quick walks around the vendor area this year, I missed out on keynotes and sessions, another casualty of preparing for the exam. So I missed any of the big announcements or trends that may have been happening out of the line of site of booth #1111.


And while I tried to catch up with folks who have become part of this yearly pilgramage, I missed catching up with Lauren Friedman (@Lauren), Amy ____ (), and even Roddie Hassan (@Eiddor), who I apparently missed by about 20 minutes Thursday as I left for my flight.


So... That's It?

Nah, there's more. My amazing wife came with me again this year, which made this trip more like a vacation than work. While Las Vegas is no Israel in terms of food, we DID manage to have a couple of nice meals.



It was also a smart move: Not only did she win us some extra cash:



...she also saved my proverbial butt. I typically leave my wallet in the hotel room for the whole conference. I only realized my mistake as the bus dropped us OFF at the test center. It would have meant an hour there-and-back and missing my scheduled time to go get it. But my wife had the presence of mind to stick my wallet in her bag before we left, so the crisis was averted before I had suffered a major heart attack.


So if my wife and I were in Vegas, where were the kids?


They were back home. Trolling me.


Apparently the plans began a month ago, and pictures started posting to Twitter before our plane had even landed. Here are a few samples. You have to give them credit, they were creative.

tweet1.png tweet2.png tweet3.png


tweet4.png tweet5.png tweet6.png


But I got the last laugh. Their antics caught the attention of the Cisco Live social media team, who kept egging them on all week. Then, on Wednesday, they presented me with early entry passes to the Bruno Mars concert.

20170628_175227.jpg IMG_20170628_195602.jpg


My daughter took it all in stride:




Looking Ahead

Cisco Live is now firmly one of the high points of my yearly travel schedule. I'm incredibly excited for Cisco Live Europe, which will be in Barcelona this year .

But I got the ultimate revenge on my kids when it was announced that Cisco Live US 2018 will be in... Orlando. Yep, I'M GOING TO DISNEY!!


Outside of the Cisco Live circuit, I'll also be attending Microsoft Ignite in September, and re:Invent in November.


So stay tuned for more updates as they happen!

Filter Blog

By date: By tag:

SolarWinds uses cookies on its websites to make your online experience easier and better. By using our website, you consent to our use of cookies. For more information on cookies, see our cookie policy.