First and foremost, and this is not meant to be a slam on Munich, I had an amazing time just BEING in Barcelona. Sure it was a little warmer. Sure, I speak a little Spanish as opposed to zero German. And sure, there were three kosher restaurants instead of the one in Munich. But even beyond that, the pace, the layout, and even the FEEL of the place was different for me in a very enjoyable way. I was incredibly happy to hear that CLEUR will be in Barcelona again next year, and hope that I get to be part of the "away team" again.
The Big Ideas
At every convention, I try to suss out the big themes, ideas, and even products that make a splash at the show. Here's what I found this time:
DevNet! DevNet! DevNet!
I think I talk about DevNet after every CiscoLive, but gosh darn if it's not noteworthy each time. This year, my fellow Head Geek Patrick Hubbard rightly called out the announcement about IBN. No, read it again: NOT big blue. Intent-Based Networking: https://blogs.cisco.com/datacenter/introducing-the-cisco-network-assurance-engine. The upshot of this announcement is that the network is about to get smarter than ever, using data, modeling, and (of course) built-in tools to understand and then ensure the "intent" of the networking you have in place. And how will you interact with this brave new intent-based world? Code.
Every year (since 2014) I've been trying to figure out how SDN fits into the enterprise. Usually when I talk to a group, I give it a shot:
- "How many of you are thinking about SDN" (usually, most of the hands go up)
- "How many are using SDN in the lab?" (in most cases, one-half to two-thirds of the hands go down)
- "How many are using it in prod?" (typically all but three hands go down, leaving just the folks who work for ISPs)
This time I had a ton of people--enterprise folks--coming and asking about SDN and Cisco ACI support, which tells me that we have hit a tipping point. I have a theory why (grist for another article), but it boils down to two main things. First, Cisco has done a kick-ass job pushing "DevNet" and teaching network folks of all stripes not to fear the code. People came to the booth asking "does this support python scripting?" Scripting wasn't an afterthought; it was a key feature they needed. Second, SDN experience has filtered down from networking engineers at ISPs to mid-level technicians, and companies are now able to enumerate the value of this technology both on a technical and business level. Thus, the great corporate adoption of SDN is now starting.
Being a NetVet is every bit as cool as I thought it would be
Besides causing vendors to stare at your badge for an extra two seconds, the biggest benefit of being a NetVet is the lounge. It is quiet. It has comfy couches. It has it's own coffee machine. It. Has. My. Name. On. It.
The View from the Booth
So that sums up the major things I saw at the show. But what about the interactions in the SolarWinds booth? SO MUCH was packed into the three days that it's hard to pick just a few, but here goes.
TNG, and I don't mean Star Trek
One of the fun things about a show like CiscoLive is getting to show off new features and even whole new solutions. Three years ago I got to stand on stage with Chris O'Brien and show off "something we've been playing with in the lab," which turned out to be NetPath. This time, we had a chance to get initial reactions to a new command line tool that would perform traceroute-like functions, but without ICMP's annoying habit of being blocked by... well, just about everything. While we're still putting on the final coat of paint, the forthcoming free "Traceroute NG" tool will perform route analysis via TCP or traditional ICMP, show you route changes if the path changes during scanning, supports IPv4 and IPv6 networks, and more. Attendees who saw it were blown away.
Hands Up for BackUp!
We also got to take the lid off an entirely new offering: cloud-based backup for your important systems. (https://www.solarwinds.com/backup) This isn't some "xcopy my files to the cloud" kludge. Using block-based backup techniques for screaming fast (and bandwidth-friendly) results; a simple deployment strategy that supports Windows and Linux-based systems; granular permissions; and a dashboard that lets you know the disposition of every system, regardless of the size of your deployment.
A great part of booth conversations is comparing experiences and discovering how frequently they match up. This frequently comes out as a kind of IT version of Mad Libs.
- I was discussing alerts and alert actions with an attendee who was clearly part of "Team Linux." After pointing out that alerts should extend far beyond emails or opening tickets, I threw out, "If your IIS-based website is having problems, what's the first thing you do?" Without even a pause they said, "You restart the app pool." That's when I showed SAM's built-in alert actions. (Afterward we both agreed that "install Apache" was an equally viable answer.)
- When Patrick asked a group of four longtime SolarWinds users to guess the most downloaded SolarWinds product, the response was immediate and emphatic: "TFTP Server." I could only laugh at how well our customers know us.
As I have noted in the past, CiscoLive Europe may be smaller (14k attendees versus ~27k in the United States), but the demos go longer and the questions are far more intense. There is a much stronger sense of purpose when someone comes to our booth. They have things they need to find out, design choices they want to confirm, and they don't need another T-shirt, thank you very much. Which isn't to say we had swag left at the end. It was all gone. But it took until the last day.
More Parselmouth's than at a Slytherin Convention
This year I was surprised by how often someone opened their questions with, "Do these solutions support Python?" (For the record, the answer is yes: https://github.com/solarwinds/orionsdk-python) Not that I was surprised to be asked about language support in general. What got me was how often this happened to be the opening question. As I said earlier, Cisco's DevNet has done an incredible job of encouraging the leap to code, and it is now framing many networking professional's design choices and world view. I see this as a good thing.
La Vida Barcelona
Outside of the hustle and bustle of the convention center, a whole world awaited us. As a polyglot wannabe, the blend of languages was multicultural music to my ears. But there wasn't much time to really see the sites or soak up the Spanish culture because the convention was demanding so much of my day.
Which is why I decided to spend an extra week in-country. My wife and I traveled from Barcelona to Madrid, and even spent a day in Seville to visit the apartment where she was born and spent the first few months of her life.
We saw some amazing sites:
Including some views that GoT fans like jennebarbour will find familiar:
Ate some incredible food:
And generally just enjoyed all that Spain had to offer. The only hiccough was the weather. It was kind of like this.
For Clevelanders like us, it's pretty normal. But I'm pretty sure the locals suspected we brought our weather with us, and were glad to see the back of me when we finally packed up and headed back home.
Until next year (which will be in Barcelona again), and until the next trip.
(pictured: patrick.hubbard, ding, andre.domingues, and the inimitable Silvia Siva.)
What a nice story! Thank you, Leon, for brightening our day when the news and politics seem so depressing.
"Intent-based networking" is a great buzz-phrase and bit of jargon.
Boss: "Why did we get ransomware inside the network? I thought the firewalls and Anti-virus/anti-malware solution were…
Yeah this AI stuff is getting out of control now. I get the idea and it may eventually bear some fruit but so far most of it to me is semi-vapor ware.