In late January I attended Cisco Live Europe in Barcelona, it certainly made a nice change going to a winter Cisco Live without having to bring several layers of clothing.
Like most people I’m generally too busy the rest of the year to make classroom lead training courses so Cisco live for me is a great opportunity to refresh my knowledge and skills, catch up with what’s new and learn first-hand from some of the best techies in the industry.
But just as importantly I get a chance to catch-up with my peers in other firms and chat about what they are up to, as a strong believer in communities, for the most part I don’t see “competitor’s” just “friends who happen to work for other companies”.
A wise man once said “A day without learning, is a day wasted”
So here’s what I got up to at Cisco Live!
Walk-In Self-Paced Labs
One of my favourite resources at Cisco Live is the Walk-In Self-Paced Labs (WISP Labs) these are guided labs many of which are not available on Ciscos dCloud. These maybe an introduction to a recent addition to the Cisco portfolio or a pre-designed scenario on a particular product or solution. As its name suggests you do not need to pre-book these just wander up and pick your lab. Another great aspect of the WISP labs is that the actual author of the lab is there to assist you and answer any questions.
One of the WISP labs I found really useful was on automating Cisco ACI with Python, now I’m no programmer so it was great to have a chance to do a guided lab on tools that are available to bring network programmability skills to the “traditional networker” Tools like the Cobra SDK which is a set of Python utilities for interfacing with the APIC. If you would like to have a play with automating Cisco ACI with tools like Python or Ansible then a great resource is the ACI Programmability lab on Cisco DEVNET Learning Labs.
Ciscos UCS based HyperFlex, received a welcome update to version 3.0 under the strap line: Any App, Any Cloud, Any Scale.
Notable updates being around scale, both upwards and downwards as HyperFlex now supports up to 64 nodes per cluster as well as allowing those clusters to be stretched between sites. But just as importantly for those smaller use cases such as remote office/branch office (ROBO), air gapped DMZs, plus anywhere that compute power needs to be closer to users, there is now an option with HyperFlex Edge of a 3 node cluster without the need for the fabric interconnects so a very cost effective solution. While all being centrally managed either on premises or via Cisco cloud offering Intersight.
Network Assurance Engine
Working a lot as I do with Cisco ACI I really liked the look of Cisco’s Network Assurance Engine (code name Candid). Now those of you who have worked with Cisco ACI will know that the alerting may not be as human friendly as it could be. Plus it is not always obvious that your Cisco ACI configuration meets both a best practice as well as your own corporate policies and constraints. Well the Network Assurance Engine does just that, by ensuring your Cisco ACI implementation is adhering to both your Security and Networking compliance.
You define your policies, intent and compliancy requirements in very user friendly rules, the Network Assurance Engine then evaluates your Cisco ACI configuration and identifies any policy violations or configuration issues and reports them back in very easily to interpret smart alerts. The smart alerts then hyperlink you to exactly the configuration or lack of that is violating your defined policy and recommends the remedial action.
Network Assurance Engine can also predict the impact of any changes significantly reducing risk of human error or induced network failures. Gone are the days of “I don’t think this will impact production services”
Cisco champions tour of the innovation lounge
This was certainly one of the highlights and a great benefit of the Cisco champions program, where the champions, after a briefing about, no cameras, or blogging on the details of what we may see or hear, were given access to the innovation lounge, an area where the actual Cisco engineers were demonstrating the products and concepts currently in development. Walking round I certainly felt like the children exploring Willy Wonkers chocolate room! with pure imagination and innovation at every turn.
For my part having a keen interest in crypto currencies it was great to see what Cisco was doing around blockchain technology. Like Clouds blockchains can be public, private or community. Anyone can create a blockchain, the open source software is freely available. The essence of a blockchain being that there are no servers only clients and that each have a full copy of the database (distributed ledger) and then by the use of cryptography maintain a consensus that the database has not been tampered with or fraudulently altered.
The demo that was being shown was the use of a distributed ledger (blockchain) for asset tracking, in this case 2 Cisco gbics which looked identical were scanned, one of which was immediately validated by a blockchain lookup but the other declared counterfeit. For the valid gbic every stage (transaction) in its life cycle could then be seen from manufacture to delivery and all stages between. Imagine being able to scan a joint of beef in your local supermarket with your mobile phone and see the complete history of that animal from its birth to putting on the shelf in front of you. Just one use for blockchain technology.
One things for sure blockchain brings a level of trust to digital business unheard of til now.
And as you can imagine in a topology where there are no servers and all traffic is peer to peer (east/west) with potentially millions of nodes, this will require a complete rethink on application management, control, orchestration and the need to push security and policy right to the edge of the network.
As a bit of a metal head I grew up listening to bands like Iron Maiden, Metalica and Pantera, so imagine my surprise to hear that the guest keymote speaker was due to be none other than Bruce Dickinson the lead singer with Iron Maiden! Now that was a keynote I was not going to miss. And another awesome benefit was that as a Cisco champion we all had prime reserved ringside seating.
While I had no expectation of what Bruce would be like as a speaker, he was far from the heavy metal stereotype many would expect. A very intelligent, funny and entertaining guy, with some great road stories. He explained that he had always wanted to tour Australia but the logistics of plane hires and getting all the band and kit to the other side of the world was always cost prohibitive. So he decided to train as a pilot, ended up working for commercial airlines for 10 years and then had the idea of renting a jumbo jet in the off season (many jumbos are parked up and stored in off peak seasons) so it was relatively cheap, bundled the whole band, kit and crew in it and flew it himself to Australia, and treated it as their own “flying carpet” The running theme of Bruce’s talk was innovation and entrepreneurialism, as he had developed several business out of renting these “stored aircrafts” he even has a company that manufactures edible drones, that can be flown in to deliver the first aid to a disaster zone even before human aid can get there, all in all a great speaker and I would thoroughly recommend him as a keynote speaker.
Hope to see you all back in Barcelona next year!