I had absolutely no idea that AWS in its contemporary form came into existence in 2006, right around the time I started at Cisco and my first venture into the network industry. I was aware of AWS as a platform a few years later but like many (and with my lack of experience and insight) didn’t realise the impact or potential of it. Having worked in networking for 10-years now (Oct 2006-2016) and seen the dramatic change from old C6500 switching to modern SoC-based/merchant-silicon, as well as the more recent influx of ‘SDx’ technologies, I can see clearly now that platforms like AWS and Azure are quickly becoming the de-facto choice for future IT strategies for both infrastructure and services.
With this in mind, it’s time to upshift the skill set and move on. I had originally planned to complete the VCDX-NV qualification and I may well still do this over the long term but, in the short-term I’m going to focus on retaining my CCIE R&S until it becomes Emeritus and put significant efforts into training for AWS, Azure and some more general architecture specialisations such as TOGAF.
2017 will be the year of Architecture for me.
In an article titled “Places the CCIE can’t take me”, Ethan Banks recently wrote that network engineers need more and more to be aware of ‘the complete stack’; in my eyes this means the compute, the storage, the virtualisation, the applications and the management.
I’ve been lucky in that I was introduced to VMware in 2002 – you know, before ESX and vSphere, when you still had to compile Workstation from source. So when Cisco dropped the UCS bomb in 2009, setting up vSphere wasn’t alien to me – I was one of a few network engineers who could understand the interaction between all the components. It was a good time to be an engineer!
This wholistic knowledge I’ve carried forward today; I am a network engineer at heart and will always start there but I talk to other engineers and customers about all the other components too; what are you running on the network, how is it hosted, what hypervisor or bare-metal OS are you using, what type of storage is it and how is it accessed and a 100 other questions that lead me to some idea of what is trying to be achieved.
In the last few years I’ve also started to ask the questions around managing infrastructure; what do you monitor and how? How do you control and backup configuration? These questions have been spawned from exposure to financial customers, where availability, integrity and latency are high on the agenda. Infrastructure engineers have been scripting configuration tools for years, but now application developers are trying to do it as well and they get called DevOps.
In the future, I think there’ll still be a need for the specialist engineers we have today; network engineers, storage engineers; compute guys etc – but they’re all going to need to understand a more about the wider picture than they do now. The scariest thing for me, recently; talking to a DC network guy who doesn’t know the damnedest about vSwitches and in the same five minutes a Nutanix engineer who didn’t know if he needed a port-channel for his vSwitch uplinks or not.
Well, doesn’t time fly when you’re in a new job! I’ve finally settled down into my new role and been badged at “Technical Architect” – I’m not yet totally convinced that I’m there yet but it’s something I aspire to be.
I’ve done a lot of on-site consulting and design work in recent months and with a break in the work stack I finally have time to spending ‘solutioneering’ and more importantly going on training and catching up on today’s network technologies. Not that I was being left behind, I’ve still been watching twitter and reading blogs, but I haven’t been able to see theory in practice.
Recent weeks have been a flurry of vendor activities, and I hope to put a few thoughts to paper shortly for each:
– CMNA 1-day Training – learning the fundamentals of Meraki
– Cisco UCS / ACI Integration – a pilot course, but prompted a lot of discussion between engineers
– VMware NSX for Internetworking Experts Fast Track – pretty much says it in the title.
In the mean-time, I need to work out a solution for getting notes from Evernote into WordPress!
Based on and in partnership with ZenOSS – Cisco are releasing a new product called UCS Performance Manager. There’s a tech talk on Cisco’s website which, if you can get past the waffling at the beginning and get onto the screen demo, looks pretty good. Sure, it’s a cobbled ZenOSS, but the idea is good – it brings together a complete visual of the utilisation of UCS, something I haven’t see anywhere else. It can include not only UCS infrastructure (Fabs, interface utilisation, blade usage etc) but also probe external switching infrastructure as well as the virtualisation layer (currently vSphere or Hyper-V).
I left Cisco back in 2011 to go contracting, and I promised myself “to do a few years” and see how I got on. The experience has been eye-opening, to say the least. I’ve had some up’s and downs, both professionally and personally during this time and I think it’s hardened me up a little for the better.
I’ve seen how some businesses are well integrated, have great processes and work hard to keep business continuity. I’ve also seen total calamities. In the process I’ve been exposed to other Vendors’ kit (and some of it’s pretty darn good!) as well as the Cisco-Customer relationship that, at times, can be fretful in places.
In all, I’ve enjoyed the last few years of being outside the Cisco bubble. I’ve made great use of my skills, learnt plenty new ones, and met some great engineers and designers. But now it’s time to work on the next phase of my career progression – I’ve always wanted to become a “Solutions Architect”. Yes, I’ll admit it’s a bit of a fluffy title, but it’s the one I’m after. I’m going to be joining a VAR (Value added reseller) next week and developing a role where I can work on both the high level and the low-level of building end-to-end network solutions.
Like a lot of things in life, we try and try to start afresh and go as we mean to go on, but it doesn’t always work. Well, here’s attempt number three at getting myself to blog or write… back shortly.