Thursday, January 19, 2017

2016 Year in Review

Every beginning of the year I usually review what I have done the past one year, make notes, and build the plan for the upcoming year. I made many mistakes in the past, did things I’m not proud of, however I use them as opportunity to learn and try to be better next time.


Early 2016 I found that my startup company was competing directly against Cisco (that was still my employer at that time). That was quite surprising. I founded that company in 2012 initially as my pet project, the lab for my MBA, where I can practice whatever I learned from the business school. My pitch for the startup was simple: we do what Cisco (or Cisco Services) will not do. We built online learning platform to learn Cisco certification using group mentoring system. We run physical network audit. We did system integration projects to interoperate Cisco products with any other vendors.

However, since late 2014 the engineering team in my company have evolved. They grew skills in network programming. The team put more focus on Software Defined Networking (SDN). They built lab to validate Network Function Virtualization (NFV). And then the team started to develop our own SDN Controller and Network Automation platform.

Then customers started to come. Customers wanted SDN solution, NFV infrastructure and network automation, but the ones that are vendor-agnostic. They came to my company. They asked the team to bid in the project. That’s when finally Cisco started to notice because they were bidding too.

Early April I decided to resign from Cisco to run my own company as full time CEO.



Mid 2016 I received an offer from Google to join them in Zürich, Switzerland. From April I have built company vision for my startup and laid multi-year strategy, and I knew they can be executed under the current leadership team even without me. I also have personal reason to move my family to Europe. So I agreed to leave Dubai and started working at Google from July.

Even before I joined Google, I already made a plan of what I will learn in the company. Google is the right place to learn so many interesting things, but for 2016 I just wanted to focus on three things:

1. Learn how to build great product

“Behind every great product, there is a great product manager” - Marty Cagan

Google has created 7 great products with more than a billion users using each. And as Ben Horowitz wrote: a good Product Manager is the CEO of the product. A Product Manager combines business, technology, and design in order to discover a product that is valuable, feasible, and usable.


Product Management is above all else a business function, focused on maximising business value from a product. A Product Manager understands the technology stack from the product, and most importantly understanding the level of effort involved is crucial to making the right decisions. And Product Manager is the voice of the user inside the business and must be passionate about the user experience.

2. Continue to learn about SDN, but the scalable ones

Deep down inside I’m still a network engineer. I’ve been focusing on SDN & NFV since 2014 when I was in Cisco. Google has been using software-based solution in its network infrastructure even before the world called it SDN. However, I’m currently interested with highly scaled SDN solution using cloud based platform.


And I’m very interested with transformation path for any Enterprise company to evolve towards a fully automated network operation. I even built the five levels of Autonomous Network, mimicking the levels in Autonomous Vehicle, and currently working on the fifth level: intent-based, policy-driven, zero touch networking.

3. Learn Data Analysis to Machine Learning

Google is the best place to learn Data Science. Period. With Google Brain and DeepMind as part of the Alphabet group, this is the only company I know that puts Machine Learning first in every aspect of its products. Currently I'm focusing to learn about data analysis, data vizualisation and predictive analysis using machine learning.


The three things above are still my valid learning plan for 2017.
How about you? What is your learning plan this year?

Build great product.
Cloud based SDN solution.
With data analytics and machine learning.
“Building the network of the future”. Got it?

Friday, April 15, 2016

I'm Leaving You


No. It’s not you.
It’s me. It’s always been me.

I remember the first time we met. It was early 2000.
I was young and just graduated from Mechanical Engineering.
I didn’t have any job.
I was desperate. That’s when I met you.
It was like love at first sight.
I spent sleepless nights just to know you.
And more and more I spent time with you, more and more I love you.

I spent time with several others, but my mind and heart were always be with you.
I knew I have to get to you, at any cost.
Even if I had to sacrifice.
Even if I had to leave my home in Dubai.
Even if I had to leave all my friends behind.

Finally in 2006 we were officially together.
I remember it was November, in Singapore.
I couldn’t describe how happy I was.

I traveled many countries in Asia Pacific for you.
I never asked questions. I was a very happy man.
And you invited me several times to visit your home in California.
I was living my dream.

You asked me to move back to Dubai with you in 2008.
A request that I didn’t refuse nor question at once.
You made me travel to many countries in Europe and Middle East.
You made me witness the beauty of African countries.
Once you even asked me to spend time in Central and South America.
You gave me chances to show myself at your special events.
You made me happier.
You made me a better man.

As the years went by, something changed.
Something inside me wanted to be unleashed.
I wanted more.
I’m still in love with you, but I wanted to do more.
I wanted to go out and meet others.
I wanted to be more useful, wanted to make greater impact.
I grew impatient and wanted new things to happen quicker.
I wanted to use my spare time to talk to others, to try to inspire.
Wanted to share my enthusiasm with others.
And even though whenever I went out I always spoke about how wonderful you are, I could feel that you started noticing that something has changed.

We’ve been together for quite some time.
We’ve been through some high and low time together.
Knowing how far we have reached together, I should be able to handle such thing like this.
I was supposed to be able to convince you how much I love you.
I was supposed to tell you I’m still the same person, nothing has changed.
I was supposed to be a better man.

However, this time I let myself to make a different decision.
I wanted to break free from the relationship.
I admitted I was scared at beginning.
I was scared to make the change.
But I believe it’s necessary.

It always hurts to say goodbye.
But this is the right thing to do.
This is the best for both of us.

I’m leaving you, Cisco.

Thank you for our time together the past 10 years.
Thank you for giving me the special feeling the past 16 years.

It’s time for me to move on.
To chase my destiny. To build my own legacy.

You were, and will continue to be, my special one.
Goodbye for now.

Monday, March 21, 2016

Big Data vs. SDN

During one Software Defined Networking (SDN) workshop I hosted in Jakarta early this year, my friend was presenting a session with thought provoking title: Big Data vs. SDN. He is the CEO of a Deep Packet Inspection (DPI) and Data Analytic company that relies on Big Data technologies, so I can understand why he brought up such topic. But just like the new movie Batman vs. Superman that will be released this week, should the two heroes are fighting each other? Should the two are competing between each other? Big Data and SDN obviously solve different problems. And the way I look at it, they are actually closer to work together to deliver platform to help business with CAPEX reduction, OPEX reduction and agility in delivering new services.


The most natural approach to define Big Data is with the bigness. However according to Gartner, Big Data is defined as “high volume, high velocity and/or high variety information assets” that can be used to improve decision making and provide better insights.The majority of raw data, particularly Big Data, does not offer a lot of value in its unprocessed state. Big Data Analytic is the process of examining Big Data to uncover hidden patterns, unknown correlations and other useful information that can be used to make better decisions.

SDN paradigm to separate control plane and data plane has objective to create network abstraction for faster innovation. We can create new network applications without any need to interact directly with the actual network devices, instead our applications just need to consume the APIs provided by SDN controllers. SDN can be coupled with NFV, Network Function Virtualization, to run network functions and software on any open standard-based hardware to reduce CAPEX, OPEX, power and space. The orchestration of the network based on SDN and NFV can automate, provision, and interconnect all physical and virtual network resources.


Last year Gartner showed in their Hype Cycle that SDN & NFV is moving from hype to reality. The hype reached the peak on mid 2013 when most people thought that central controller using OpenFlow would control basic network devices completely, all network functions would transition to run on x86 platforms, and this paradigm would apply across to all aspects of networking. However, by mid 2015 most people understood that SDN & NFV implementation will use hybrid control plane consisting of a mix of distributed and centralized control plane, the network will consist of a mix of physical and virtual network functions, and SDN solutions are based on specific requirements / features and use-cases driven approach.

How can SDN & NFV be connected to Big Data & Analytic?
SDN applications must be responsive to the world in which they exist. If we are going to use SDN technologies to auto-provision network services, and turn the network to be truly dynamic, we will need to have feedback loops to ensure the desired behavior is actually occurring after a change is made. The natural progression from manual to automated will pass first through network analytics. As Michael Bushong wrote for Infoworld: "Ultimately, the promise of SDN will be inherently tied to the information that surrounds the network and drives the decisions that make SDN applications interesting. With more and more endpoints driving increasing traffic to a growing number of users, that adds up to big data."


Two weeks ago I was in Brussels to try Cisco WAN Automation Engine (WAE), a sample implementation of network analytic for Wide Area Network. To many network operators and service providers, WAN are oceans of uncertainty. Resource-constrained and multivendor, WANs produce delays and outages in far-flung and sometimes remote areas, posing a special set of issues that are distinct from those we see in data centers and access networks. WAN bandwidth is the most expensive bandwidth in the network and failure impacts are large.

WAE allows service providers to respond to overall traffic growth in terms of keeping the whole network stable and not just provisioning to traffic peaks. WAE offers what-if scenarios and failure analysis, empower the customer to be able to examine the impact of network failures in more detail, and was able to adopt a new policy by only upgrading links that were in danger of dropping packets on single-circuit failures. Using predictive analytics capabilities of WAE, we can build a powerful SDN solution that allows us to deploy and optimize innovative new services, such as global load balancing, bandwidth calendaring, bandwidth on demand, and premium network routing.


So we have seen how Big Data (Batman) and SDN (Superman) can work together, who should be the Wonder Woman in this story? It is obvious, isn't it? Internet of Things.

IoT and Big Data relationship forms Fog Computing, that uses one or a collaborative multitude of end-user clients or near-user edge devices to carry out a substantial amount of storage, communication and control, configuration, measurement and management. Fog computing can be perceived both in large cloud systems and big data structures, making reference to the growing difficulties in accessing information objectively.

With IoT it means everything is now connected. With huge explosion of number of endpoints, IoT will require a network that is not only self-provisioned, but as well as adaptive, dynamic and responsive that can be achieved with SDN. The network must provide broad and deep visibility into network traffic flow patterns too, the network must become the sensors, and this information can be used in different implementation such as for network security where by leveraging rich threat intelligence information allows for more rapid identification of security threats.



When the three superheroes are together, what should we call them?
Introducing AI @ Computer Networking. JP Vasseur, a Cisco Fellow, during Cisco Live Milan last year presented this as Self Learning Networks. Ex-Cisco CEO John Chambers mentioned this terminology in his keynote for Cisco Live 2014. Packet Pushers call this Machine Learning for Networks.

Artificial Intelligence, a singular consciousness that spawned an entire race of machines, as Morpheus explained to Neo in The Matrix back in 1999, is coming to unexpected places like computer networking. David Meyer, CTO & Chief Scientist at Brocade and formerly at Cisco, wrote the following notes: "it doesn’t take a lot of imagination to see how sophisticated unsupervised machine learning will revolutionize many of the more complex network tasks that are solved today in (much) less dynamic ways. For example, problems such as data center orchestration could benefit greatly from this technology. Clearly functionality that we’re talking about in networking these days, including Network Function Virtualization, Service Function Chaining, Mobility and the like are great candidates for treatment by Deep Learning. More generally, orchestration and optimization of Compute, Storage, Networking, Security and Energy (CSNSE) are prime candidates for consideration by Deep Learning technology. And consider what DevOps-style automation might look like when combined with Deep Learning."

Even IBM believes Watson, not SDN, is the future of networking. IBM's cognitive system demonstrates the power of artificial intelligence which will run our networks and transform IT management. They even come up with another cool name: AI-defined networks. And it won’t be about automating routine tasks, programmatically managing networks or providing a platform where humans create evermore clever access policies. Instead, we will teach machines that watch our network traffic, monitor our applications and cognitively recognize novel behavior on our firewalls.

So SDN is not the future of networking. And I agree. It is simply part of network evolution that is happening right now. If your network has not embraced SDN & NFV technologies, it is not a question of If but When. SDN will happen eventually.

The future of networking lies on the combination between SDN & NFV with Big Data & Analytics, and IoT. The three superheroes are working together and we may call them Self Learning Network, or Self Managing Network, or AI @ Computer Networking, or AI-defined Network.

Now let's just enjoy Batman vs. Superman movie.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

SDN Warriors All-In-One VM

SDN Warriors open community Facebook group today is releasing All-In-One VM v1.0, a Virtual Machine that anyone can run in PC or laptop to learn SDN & NFV skills. The VM runs Ubuntu OS and contains pre-installed OpenStack, OpenFlow network simulated by mininet with OpenDaylight controller, physical router simulated by dynamips, simple web portal and Network Manager written in python created by Riftadi SDN Warriors group admin. The VM is not created nor endorsed by Cisco, Canonical, ONF, Linux Foundation or OpenStack community, so please don’t ask for any support whatsoever from them. One way to use the VM is: by using only a single click in web portal we can provision automatically new vrouter VNF as OpenStack VM, configure OpenFlow network to connect physical router and vrouter, then configure OSPF routing in both physical and vrouter. You can start with this simple use case, then expand it as part of your learning. The VM is free to download and available here: https://facebook.com/groups/sdnwarriors/


Thursday, February 18, 2016

What a Week at Cisco Live Berlin!

What a week at Cisco Live Berlin! First time presenting BRKSDN-4005 in front of 180 people, many are CCIEs. Brought one talented Indonesian who demonstrated All-in-one VM to learn SDN & NFV at home, using a single click on web portal to auto provision physical router, openflow with ODL, router VNF on OpenStack KVM, from Network Manager he wrote in python. And btw he has 2x CCIEs ;-)

Thursday, January 28, 2016

CCIE Skill Transformation to SDN Survey

I’m conducting “CCIE Skill Transformation to SDN” survey, to capture the perceived impact of SDN & NFV to CCIEs, as well as to understand how CCIEs think about their readiness to these new technologies. The result will be presented during my session at Cisco Live Berlin (BRKSDN-4005) on 16 February 2016. Only those who have passed CCIE lab can participate in the survey (regardless of your current CCIE status e.g. inactive or Emeritus). The information you provide is confidential and will not be disclosed as individual answer. No personal data will be exposed and shared to any parties. Thank you in advance for your support
https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/ccie-to-sdn

Friday, January 15, 2016

Hackathon and New Way of Hiring

I’ve been very busy the past 6 months. I was juggling between my work at Cisco, my personal activities in Indonesia, SDN warriors group, my MBA final semester, traveling, my SDN & NFV skill transformation, family issues, and all other tasks. I don’t believe in multi-tasking, so what I did was actually task-switching. Make priority list of all the tasks, keep switching from one task to another, re-prioritize the list, continue switching and so on. And unfortunately updating this blog was never the top priority in the list.


Anyway, during August 2015 I was leading my team to host SDN Hackathon event in Jakarta, Indonesia. It was 3-day event, started with 8-hour SDN Workshop to explain the technology from the architecture, SDN & NFV use cases in real world, up to the discussion about the skills we must develop to become Network Programmability Engineer and Network DevOps. The Hackathon happened after the workshop where we challenge group of students for 30 hours straight to develop SDN solution ground-up, from setting up physical network infrastructure, virtual infrastructure, all the way to workflow automation to provision network services using Web User Interface.


I won’t talk in detail about the event. It’s been a while so I don’t even remember many things that happened anymore. But I know for sure that it was the first SDN Hackathon ever in Indonesia. And I think it was the first SDN Hackathon in the world that asks to build SDN solution to perform end-to-end network services provisioning. So one magic button on the web interface can start the VM in OpenStack compute, configure the VM until it can provide Internet service, monitor the VM lifecycle, at the same time auto configure all the physical and virtual network, and deploy the network policy such as Access Control List and QoS. Fully automated and no human interaction during the process. It was an interesting experience and to my surprise the students were doing well, even they didn’t know much about SDN before the event, and half of the group was able to finish the challenge.


I did several presentations to explain about SDN solution during the workshop, then I watched the students closely during the 30 hours Hackathon. Most of them didn’t sleep. We provided all the food and drink for free, but no one seems to enjoy it. Everyone was busy. Busy discussing the technical solution. Busy coding. Busy modifying config files in Linux. Everyone was so focus to answer the list of challenges within the time limit.

Then it struck me. This kind of event is actually a perfect place to find good candidates to get hired by companies. And I will tell you why:

1. They have to work under pressure
To work on new and difficult task in 30 hours non-stop, obviously provide lots of pressure to every candidate. Only the strong survives

2. They have to solve non-familiar challenge
Almost all of them came to the event with a very little background about SDN. Yes we tried to help by explaining the solution during the workshop prior to the Hackathon, but it can still be considered an alien task

3. They have to work with strangers
We mixed the students to avoid one group with members from the same school. So they have to work with strangers to solve hard challenge within short time

4. Their communication skill is still crucial
It’s important for them to communicate within the team, and at the end of the event we also asked them to present their work, along with the thought process

5. Their unique ability will rise
We witnessed several candidates that show their leadership skill to lead the discussion or even to lead the team to tackle the challenge

Instead of taking CV and call the candidate one by one, by hosting one Hackathon event I would be able to get several good candidates at once. I would be able to see how they work under pressure, how they handle non-familiar task, how they work with people from different background, the way they communicate, to see if they are team player and even to judge their leadership skill.


If I was to hire someone to become SDN & NFV Consultant or Architect, beyond the skill and personality I would look at her experience, her reputation in the market, her network and contacts, and what others say about her. But if I want to hire fresh graduates or even someone with less experience, who most likely has not built reputation or network, so my focus is mainly on the skill, ability to deliver outcome and a team player, I believe this is the best way. I don’t need to create multiple hiring process, come up with long list of interview questions, and I don’t need to build simulated environment to analyze candidate’s ability.

Next time I was going to hire someone, I would rather host a Hackathon event.