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IT Blogger Spotlight: Ethan Banks of Ethan Banks on Networking and Packet Pushers

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Last month, we shined our IT blogger spotlight on Michael Stump, who was one of the delegates at the recent Tech Field Day Extra at VMworld. This month, I figured why not keep it up? So, I tracked down the renowned Mr. Ethan Banks (@ecbanks), who also participated in the event. Without further ado, here’s what he had to say.

SW: First of all, it seems like I see your name just about everywhere. When it comes to blogging, where do you call home, so to speak?

EB: I blog in several places these days. My personal hub site is Ethan Banks on Networking, which is devoted to networking and closely related topics. I also write many of the blog posts that accompany the podcast I co-host over at Packet Pushers, a media company that discusses the networking industry with engineers and architects from around the globe. On top of that, I blog roughly once a month or so for Network Computing. Somewhat less frequently, an article of mine will be published by Network World or one of the TechTarget sites. If you poke around, you can find a few other places my writing has appeared as well, including here on thwack.

SW: Wow! It sounds like you’re staying busy. And someplace in there I’m sure you find time for a day job, and not to mention a hobby or two, I hope.

EB: I have two day jobs, actually. I’m lucky enough that the one is my blogging. I’m known to many in the networking industry as a writer, podcaster, and co-founder of Packet Pushers. In addition, I’m also the senior network architect for Carenection. Carenection is a technology company that connects medical facilities to medical services such as real-time, video-over-IP language translation via our ever-expanding network covering the US.

As far as hobbies go, I enjoy backpacking in the wilderness very much. I do my best to get out on the trails three or four times a month and stomp out some scenic miles in the mountains. I’m lucky enough to live in New Hampshire where there is a great outdoor culture and rich heritage of trails—over 1,400 miles of them in the White Mountain National Forest. My goal is to hike all of those miles. I’ve bagged over 22 percent so far!

SW: It’s fantastic that you’re able to count your writing and podcast efforts as a day job. How did that all get started?

EB: I started blogging in January 2007 when I committed to Cisco’s notoriously difficult CCIE program. Blogging was part of my study process. I’d read or lab, then blog about the important information I was learning. Blogging forced me to take the information in, understand it and then write it down in a way that someone else could understand it.

SW: And I guess it just grew from there. What are some of your most popular topics?

EB: The most popular post I’ve written this year was about my home virtualization lab. The post described in detail my choice of server and network gear, and offered pictures and links so that folks could jump off of my experience to explore their own server builds. Reddit found the article early on and has continued to drive an incredible amount of interest months later.

Other popular articles are related to career. People like to know what the future might hold for them in the networking space, which has been changing rapidly in recently years.

Yet other popular articles are “how to” explanations of common technical tasks. For example, I've spent some time with Juniper network devices running Junos, which are very different to configure than Cisco devices running IOS or NX-OS. These articles do well simply because of SEO—people with the same pain point I had find my article via Google, and can use it to help them with their configuration tasks.

SW: In between it all, are there any other bloggers you find the time to follow?

EB: There are far too many to name, to be fair. I subscribe to several dozen blogs, and usually spend the first 60-90 minutes of my day reading new content. A few that are worth Googling are Etherealmind (broad, insightful networking perspectives by my friend and podcast co-host Greg Ferro), the CloudFlare blog (these guys are doing some amazing things and describe how they push the envelope), Keeping It Classless (my friend Matt Oswalt is on the cutting edge of networking and writes outstanding content), Network Heresy (a blog by some folks working in the networking industry and thinking outside the box), and The Borg Queen (networking perspectives from Lisa Caywood, of one of the most interesting people in IT I know).

SW: So, we talked about how you got started with blogging, but how did a life in IT begin for you?

EB: In a sense, I got into IT out of desperation. I have a CS degree that was focused on programming, but my early jobs out of college were not doing development work. Instead, I spent a year as a school teacher and a year in banking. After a cross-country move to be closer to family, I couldn't find a job in banking in the area I'd moved to. At that time, the banking industry was consolidating, and getting work was very hard. So, I took out a loan and enrolled in a school that taught official Novell Netware training. I quickly became a Certified Netware 3 Administrator, landed a contract supporting a company in my area, and never looked back.

SW: Being an IT management company, I of course always like to ask guys like you who’ve been in IT for a good while about what tools they can’t live without. What are some of yours?

EB: Any tool that can track historical routing table topology information is a favorite of mine. I’m sometimes called on to find out what changed in the middle of the night that caused that 10 second blip. That’s impossible to do without the right tool. Packet Design’s Route Explorer, a product I admittedly haven’t used in a few years as I’ve changed jobs, is such a tool that knows exactly the state of the network, and could rewind to any historical point in time. Fabulous tool.

Over the years, I’ve also used SolarWinds NPM, NTA, NCM, VNQM, Kiwi CatTools, and the Engineer’s Toolset. I’ve also spent time with SAM and UDT. My favorites have to be the tools that let me get at any sort of SNMP OID I want. So, NPM is the SolarWinds tool I’ve spent the most time with and gotten the most from, including NPM’s Universal Device Poller feature and Network Atlas. Along the same lines, the Engineer’s Toolkit is a great resource. I’ve saved myself lots of time with the Switchport Mapper and also caught bandwidth events in action using the real-time gauges. These are simple tools, but reliably useful and practical.

SW: To finish us off, tell me a few of the things you’re seeing happen in the industry that will impact the future of IT.

EB: There are three trends that I think are key for IT professionals to watch over the next several years.

First, hyperconvergence. Entrants like VMware’s EVO:RAIL are joining the fray with the likes of upstarts Nutanix and Simplivity, and with good reason. The promise of an easy-to-deploy, fully integrated IT platform is resonating well with enterprises. Hyperconvergence makes a lot of sense, obscuring many of the details of complex IT infrastructure, making it easier to deliver applications to an organization.

Second, automation. Configuring IT systems by hand has been on the way out for a long time now, with networking finally heading into the automated realm. Automation is pushing IT pros to learn scripting, scheduling, APIs, and orchestration. The trick here is that automation is bringing together IT silos so that all engineers from all IT disciplines work together to build unified systems. This is not the way most IT has been building systems, but it appears to be the standard way all IT systems will be built in the coming years.

Finally, the move from public to private cloud. There’s been lots of noise about organizations moving their internal IT resources out to the public cloud, right? But another trend that's starting to show some legs is the move back. Issues of cost and security in the public cloud are causing organizations to take a second look at building their own private clouds instead of outsourcing entire IT applications. This bodes well for IT folks employed by enterprises, but also means that they need to skill up. Building a private cloud is a different sort of infrastructure than the traditional rack and stack enterprise.