Wednesday, December 31, 2008

New Year

New year. New hopes. New dreams. New goals. New friends. New purposes. New challenges. New adventures.


New year. New team. New home base. New mobile number. New apartment to find. New car to buy. New bank. New credit cards*

Happy new year 2009.

*nope, they are not my new year wishes ;) those are some of the challenges and issues I have to deal with due to my relocation

Friday, December 12, 2008

Write From Heart

A friend of mine asked me a question: how come it's possible for me to write my blog in between my busy schedule? He wants to follow my path in blogging so he needs to know how to start and to maintain consistency in writing. He claimed it was just a simple question that requires a simple answer. Yet it took me few days to reply.

First, I thought it's because the nature of my job requires me to always write to make documentation, to communicate via emails, to propose plan and so on. So I have to keep writing even outside my work to maintain the flow. Remember Newton's first law of motion: the object that is in motion will be in the same state with the same velocity until a force acts upon it.

Then I was thinking perhaps it's because I write to release the tension. Every time I feel under pressure from my work, I try to divert my mind by writing about something else. Something completely different with what I'm currently doing.
It always works, at least for me.

I also like to utilize my time, for example during the transit between flights, to write. I prefer to do this instead of sitting in the airport watching the people moving around, even I have to admit it is fun to do as well especially in big airport like Dubai or Singapore. I almost missed my flights few times because I was so focus with my writing.

Or perhaps I still can maintain my blog because I don't write that much. In average I write only 4 or 5 entries per month, and most of them are not technical.

And I only write what I see, what I know, what I have done. Even when I write something technical, I usually don't spend much time to check with the references. I write only as I understand, as I have experienced, and I use my own words to describe something that may have been described differently in the references.

My only issue with writing something technical in blog is I need to be careful not to disclose confidential information from my company. Whatever topic I want to write, I always have to honor my company's non-disclosure agreement.

Last but not least, maybe I can keep writing because I never worry if anyone will read it or not. I will continue to write in this blog even if I'm the only one on earth who reads it. I really use this blog as my life journal. Something to review my life and decisions I made in the past. I read the blog to evaluate myself and to make me always remember what I have been through to reach my current state. Freedom in writing. I think this is the most important.

Finally I found the ultimate answer. Probably it's just because I always write from the heart. I don't feel any pressure to write. I can write whenever I feel it, and whatever I feel inside my heart.

So, want to write a blog? Just do it. Start writing. Move the object. Then we don't even need to put additional force to maintain the flow, unless we want to change the velocity or make it stop.

Write for ourselves, and write from the heart.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

I Don't Want To See My Future

I believe I can see the future, Trent Reznor from Nine Inch Nails said. Not because he is a psychic or something, but 'cause I repeat the same routine'. I think I used to have a purpose. But then again, that might have been a dream.

When we are trapped in the same routine everyday, we get bored. We are bored because we know how this will end. Looking at the future is just like looking at the mirror. Everything keeps get repeated and no changes.

Even for someone who travel 80% to do work can still feel bored. Because everything is becoming the same routine. Project, meeting over web, fly to the destination country, lead a workshop, do presentation in front of the customer, make documentation, conference call, replying emails, testing in the lab, onsite implementation, project hand over, move on to the next country.

For those who have not done this before may find it looks compelling and challenging. But for those who always live with that, different projects, customers even new countries can form the same pattern. Repetitive tasks, that can bring boredom. First it requires skills that we need to learn, but eventually it has become second nature.

That's the reason I like to break the rules. Do the unexpected.
I don't want to use the provided template or follow a defined business flow. I always make my own template.

The purpose is to kill the boredom. To escape the pattern.

What have you done lately to break your routine?

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

When We Move

Today is my second day in Dubai. I landed yesterday morning without any hotel reservation at all. Thanks God, I still have my UAE driving license so I can book a rental car online and it has been waiting for me in the airport the moment I arrived. I guess in Dubai having a car is more important then having a hotel room :) I reached Dubai a bit too early, 4 am in the morning, so I spent time to drive around the city and beyond. I even drove a bit too far I almost reached the capital city, then I decided to go back and went to Cisco office directly. We need to do this some time. It's good to remember the old days when I used to drive 180 km/h in Sheik Zayed Road, and to enjoy the sun rise while listening to my favorite radio channel. It’s good for my mojo, and to start a brand new day in Dubai.

My mission during my short visit to Dubai this time is simple: to try to get my working visa. Then it becomes expanded since I must continue with the visa for my family. And then the kid school issue comes up. O yes, I have to find a temporary apartment that I can pay monthly until everything is settled down. I also need to open a bank account otherwise I would not be able to get my first month salary on time. And last but not least, when I was in my country on my way to the airport I received a message from my team that I need to work on some project while I'm in Dubai.

Anyway, it will be interesting to meet old friends and my former customers when I used to work here. It gives kind of funny feeling to come back to Cisco office as employee compare to when I was still working for a partner company. To meet the guys that I used to worship ;) because hey, at that time they were Cisco and I was outsider, so they're always right!

When we move, it's just our trail we left behind. It's just our name and reputation we left behind. The impression in others' memory on how good or bad we are. When we move we leave a story.
Let's see how is my trail that I left in here couple of years ago.

Welcome home, my best friend greet me.

Friday, November 14, 2008

The Better Traveler Continuous

The world's economy is still sinking, and I believe we all must take part to be more efficient and help reducing unnecessary expense. Again, I can't cut the number of my travels since nowadays I only travel to deliver onsite work and to meet the customers. But as I mentioned in my previous post I should be able to minimize my expense during any travel using all the 10 Points from the Himawan's Way to a Better (and cheaper) Business Traveler.

Currently I'm counting my expense that I spent in my last trip to Bratislava from Nov 2 to Nov 13 and for total 11 days travel in average I spent 20.41 Euros per day for food, taxi and so on (exclude the hotel and flight fare). It's still higher than the last time which is 18.6 Euros per day. Most probably it's because this time my flight reached only up to Vienna and I must use taxi from Vienna airport to Bratislava. But even thought the taxi from Vienna to Bratislava costs me 90 Euros, the flight fare from Singapore to Vienna via Dubai is much cheaper compared to a flight from Singapore to Bratislava via Munich. The flight via Dubai took longer time due to 4 hours in transit but this is something that I'm willing to take to save about 500 Euros different in flight fare.

Unfortunately I can't use any other hotels other than the one listed in my company's preferred hotels. Otherwise I may really go to the extreme just to cut my expense. Well, I guess we have to start from something first. The amount that we can save today may look small, but it may make the difference eventually. And we should always have this frugality in our mind as part of the culture, and not because it is forced by company policy.

Will try to do better in my next travel.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Six Times As Fast Lane

6.4 Terabits per second,
400 Gbps per slot,
Power as you grow,
Reduce your carbon footprint,
99.999% reliability with IOS XR,
Designed to deliver Video content,
6 slots and 10 slots.
Beautifully engineered for whatever may lie ahead.

It's finally released to public. This is not the product to replace the current Cisco 7600 or GSR. More information to come later. For now, please just enjoy the video first.

Welcome to life in the six-times-as fast lane.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Bangkok Dangerous

"My job takes me to a lot of places.
It's got its downsides.
I sleep alone. I eat alone.
I'm used to it though.
I'd like to meet someone.
But it's tough when you live out of a suitcase.
I go where I'm told. Do what I'm told.
I shouldn't complain.
The work is steady,
The money's good.
But it's not for everyone.."

Why does it sound very familiar? Anyway, I'm watching the High Definition version of this movie over the Internet on some website that provide hundreds of online movies for free. We are really close to say good bye to regular TV forever. TV is still evil. But on-demand TV is not. And the new platform from Cisco Systems can provide solid infrastructure to support huge demand of bandwidth for that.

Only one day left. Get ready.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

First There Was CRS-1

In about 5 days Cisco will release a new carrier class product that I personally consider revolutionary. I'm not allowed to give any more information here, I can say that I have been following the news internally for quite some time now. And actually we have two new products for this segment, one has been released to a very selected customer without public announcement and the other one that will be announced next week. Don't ask me the reason for that, and even I know it I would not be able to make my comments here.

Why now? Why more products for Carrier or Service Provider? Well, I believe it all started with CRS-1. It took Cisco several years to do the research and when it was released in 2004 CRS really set the new standard for a carrier-class and next-generation routers. It's been several years now and there are so many successful deployment of CRS-1 in the market. CRS is positioned to be a Core router in the network, so the next step is obviously to utilize the technology and new features invented during the research for CRS-1 to develop new products for different segment or different position in the network.

Following are several new characteristics introduced by CRS-1 that may become the basic requirement and standard for any new products designed for carrier and service providers:

Distributed Architecture - we have moved very far from a centralized architecture where a central CPU must do all the work to distributed architecture. In distributed architecture the Route Processor is used just for control plane: to set up routing protocol adjacencies with the neighbor routers, build the routing table, build the forwarding table, then push this forwarding table to the line card. So all packet forwarding or data plane is handled by Line Card. RP should be free from the task to forward packet except in some special cases. Btw, different with most of the previous products, in CRS number of RP can be more than two in a single chassis and that will be useful for some new features will be explained later. And RP functionality is even more reduced because there are dedicated fan controllers to control the cooling system and dedicated alarm module.

High Availability - RP must be redundant and this is not something new actually. Once the primary RP fails the secondary RP should kick in. The different now is: there should not be any packet loss during the process. Since the forwarding table has been pushed to Line Card, during the RP failover the line card should be able to continue forwarding the packet even with only the last state of the table before the failover. But how about the switch fabric? This is the connector between one line card to another, and RP must always communicate with the the fabric and line card. There was a case with the old router that even there is no packet drop during RP failover but when the new RP needs to restore the communication to the fabric it has to drop some of the packets. This is not an issue with CRS. And obviously the fabric itself is redundant.

Modular Line Card = PLIM + MSC - CRS introduce the new type of line card as one line card is formed by two different cards connected via passive midplane. The first is the physical layer called PLIM where we have the physical ports and necessary hardware to do framing, and the second is the intelligent card called MSC that can connect to any different kind of PLIM. MSC is the one who does lookup to forwarding table, apply QoS and Access Control List and so on. Without MSC the PLIM can be considered a dump hardware with physical ports only. Without PLIM, MSC can be considered a smart brain without any arms and legs to interact with outside world. This is a very important concept because now we can start with buying a low speed PLIM and later on we can upgrade to a powerful PLIM without upgrading the MSC. And vice versa, if one day we need to upgrade the capacity of the MSC we don't have to re-patch all the cables that are currently connected to the PLIM.

Non-blocking ports, non-blocking fabric - so the current hardware can provide 40Gbps in a single port. And it has to be a real 40Gbps input and output linerate aka non-blocking at all. This can be achieved in PLIM/MSC because there are different ASIC to handle ingress and egress packet forwarding. This is a very important to know because with different ASIC means anything that can overload the ASIC to process the ingress traffic won't disturb the other ASIC to process egress traffic. And don't forget the fabric. Non-blocking linecard should be supported by non-blocking switch fabric. The fabric in previous products was started with bus technology until cross-bar fabric where the packet must be scheduled and linecard must wait its turn before it can access the switch fabric. Now it's completely different as every line card can access the fabric anytime. Btw, when the packet is sent to the fabric it will be transformed into a cell with a fixed size that is more efficient to be processed by the switch fabric instead of various sizes of regular packets.

Multicast replication - multicast has become a very important aspect in our life especially because of the high demand of IPTV and multicast streaming traffic. Any router should be able to handle multicast traffic, but the question is can the router handle a really huge number of multicast traffic? The replication of multicast packet should be done not only on interface level but as well as inside the switch fabric. So the idea is when the ingress interface receives multicast packet and sends it to the fabric, the fabric must do the replication to ensure the egress linecard where there are subscribers can get the packet. Then the egress linecard may have different ports where the subscribers are connected, so the packet must be replicated again here. And don't forget to have a different queue for unicast and multicast because we don't want one can kill the other. Most of the providers normally run unicast traffic as well as multicast streaming so each should work up to its maximum performance without disturbing the other.

QoS in every aspect - the next generation carrier-class product is built with QoS mindset. If in previous product QoS is only in ingress and egress interface buffer, now there must be mechanism to differentiate the packet in case there is congestion in the switch fabric. Well, it's actually very difficult to congest the switch fabric due to its huge capacity. But the congestion may occur on the queue from the fabric to the egress interface. So even the class of service to differentiate the traffic in fabric may not be extensive as in interface buffer, we should be able to mark high priority packet to ensure it will not get dropped when the fabric queue is full. When there is congestion in fabric queue, there is a back pressure mechanism to inform the ingress interface so ingress interface can slow down sending out traffic to fabric by either buffering or dropping the ingress packets.

Multi chassis - this is a break-through concept where routers can be connected together and work just as a single chassis. It is very useful to increase the capacity of the overall system, more efficient because some resources can be shared, and introduce new concept of router collocation or router hosting with Secure Domain Routers (SDR) technology that will be discussed next. With multi-chassis system there is a chassis designated as switch fabric chassis. So the ingress linecard from each chassis will send the traffic to the first part of the fabric still in the same chassis, then the packet (already cell now) will be sent to the fabric chassis where all the lookup and necessary replication are done, then it will be sent to the destination egress linecard in different chassis or even in the same chassis with the ingress linecard.

Zoning Power System - the previous redundant power supply system where we have two or more power modules to provide 1+1 redundancy is not enough. CRS-1 16-slot introduce a zoning power system where there are two power shelves contain three power modules each and one power shelf is divide into 6 zones. So all the 16 slots for line card are powered as per the zones. Zone 1 may power the first 4 slots, and zone 6 power a different 4 slots. There are 2 zones that powered the RP, Switch Fabric and Fan Controller. With this zoning system in mind, we can plug two connections to the same destination in two different line card in different power zone.

IOS XR for carrier-class router - be ready to deal with IOS XR whether you like it or not! This is the next generation software for new carrier-class router and completely different with IOS. Well, many guys ask me why IOS size is getting bigger and bigger, why IOS has so many different family name, why there are many bugs listed in bug tool and so on. First of all, all software must have bug. If the vendor don't release the bug list because they claim the software has no bug, they lie. And be ready to get surprised and unknown behaviors that we might be able to avoid if we have the list of the previous known bugs. Second, IOS was built long time ago to accommodate any types of customer with different requirement of the features. There was a version of IOS that can run desktop protocol at the same time it has new MPLS features for Service Providers. So if one software tries to have all the features obviously its size becomes really big. And more features mean more chance to hit bugs. When you accumulate all the bugs and put it in the list, even some bugs are only for specific feature that may not be enabled, the list can become really long. Now Cisco has tried to split IOS for different segment completely even for the same hardware platform, for example IOS SR for 7600 is targeted for Service Provider while IOS SX for 6500 is targeted for Enterprise (6500/7600 used to be very similar and can run the same IOS)

Micro kernel, modular and self-healing - the very first different between IOS XR to IOS is IOS XR use micro-kernel and modular while IOS considered as monolithic where one big file handles everything. With XR, micro kernel is the heart of the software then we can add subsystems, software modules and applications on top of it. So Control Plane, Data Plane and Management Plane are completely handled by different subsystems. With this modularity, the terminology of self-healing becomes make sense because if there is a problem in one subsystem it should not affect the others. And each process owns its own protected address space in virtual memory, so issue with a process can be fixed automatically and will not disturb the other processes. The process like OSPF can be restarted without impacting the BGP process. That's what I call true modular software.

In Service Software Upgrade - ISSU becomes a very popular term for many customers. But many people still mistakenly think that ISSU means the real software upgrade without any downtime at all in any circumstances. We need to think like this: even the software has already modular with micro kernel, but same as any other operating system there are some basic processes that are required in order to have the system up and running. So even we can do hitless upgrade without any packet drop for some subsystems because it requires only process restart but for some other subsystems this is not possible to achieve without a full restart. And as far as I know until now there is no router vendor can achieve software upgrade for major version without any restart at all. So ask the vendor more specifically if you have ISSU requirement. And as I have mentioned the architecture is distributed so even the RP is restarted the data plane may still work using the previous state before the RP restart. But how if we need to upgrade the firmware of the linecard itself? I'm not saying the ISSU is not perfect, I'm just saying we just need to see it more specifically and look at the feature for different kind of circumstances and compare it with our own requirements

IOS XR was built for CRS - yes this is true. And when one new software is tested and considered successful, definitely the next step is to re-use it for another hardware platform. So even the GSR can run IOS XR but it's a different software file with the one for CRS because the hardware architecture is different. It's understandable, just as there are Linux for 32-bit and 64-bit with different files. What matters is there is only one IOS XR for Service Provider core network, with the same CLI and no more different type of software families as in IOS. Having said that, it's still IOS XR even the software for CRS and GSR (and the new products to come) is different and sometime the features provided with the same version is slightly different. Btw, for those who already familiar with IOS be ready to be shocked when the first time using the IOS XR CLI. Eveything that we ever wish for to be fixed in IOS has already accommodated by XR. From small thing like using / instead of full subnet mask in IP address, configuration changes won't be applied until it's committed, feature to rollback the config to new features such as admin plane config mode and always-on debug. Try to get one XR machine and see it yourself.

Say goodbye to route-map - Next generation routers need next generation way to control Route Policy. Hence come the Route Policy Language (RPL) to replace route-map in IOS XR. It's actually a new programming language embedded in IOS XR to achieve the purpose of controlling route policy with scalability in mind. Just as any programming language it has the conditional operators like if, if-then, if-else and so on, Booleans and Compound Booleans expression. We can use parameter and variable, we can nest the policy, and the best is we can re-use some policy over and over again by calling it in the function for different kind of other policies. It looks complicated in the beginning but once you start to use it it's difficult to go back to route-map.

Secure Domain Routers, beyond virtual routers - I have seen more and more Service Provider customers use this capability in live network. With SDR we can make partition of a single chassis into several completely different routers. It's not the same with virtual router since each router in SDR has its own RP, line card and its own memory space. Anything happen in one SDR doesn't disturb the other SDR at all. What is shared just the chassis and the switch fabric. For this we need to have RP for the whole chassis called the admin SDR and Distributed RP (DRP) that consumes one slot of line card. Then from the admin plane config mode we can allocate that DRP along with few linecards as part of one SDR. Admin SDR can create and remove the SDR but it doesn't know what is going on inside one SDR. Even the communication from one SDR to another SDR in the same chassis must use external connection. This idea brings new terminology of router collocation since one physical chassis can become several completely different routers to be positioned in different spot in the network. How about router hosting? Those who have the chassis can rent the SDR to the customers just as server hosting. The possibility to invent new way during the implementation of this feature is endless.

Control Plane Policing with Local Packet Transport Services - some types of traffic are still processed by Route Processor. For example the control plane traffic such as routing protocol or network management. RP must also process the packet with destination to RP itself, for example packets destined to loopback IP address or the IP address of the physical interface in the router. And if for some reason someone decides to turn of the CEF switching and want to use packet switching, all packets will pass through the RP for packet forwarding process. This is not recommended but it happens once in life, especially if we have a very skeptical guy in the team. So it is clear that the RP must be protected from all the packets that must be processed by the RP. The first reason obviously to protect the RP from Denial of Service attack when some smart guy can try to send lots of TCP Syn packet destined to RP IP address, for example. And the second is to make sure even the legitimate traffic such as routing protocol and network management must be limited from consuming the whole resources of the RP. This is where the Local Packet Transport Services kick in and it's enabled by default to protect the RP by limiting number of packets can reach the RP.

So it's true, just as in School of Rock "One great rock show can change the world", I guess one great product can change the world too. Make one revolutionary product, and the rest is just history.

Get Ready.

Friday, October 10, 2008

A Better Business Traveler

The world's economy is sinking.
Wall street is dead. Global recession.

I have been hearing those words for the past two weeks. The reason was because in the several countries I have been into all the hotels have only CNN or BBC News channel in English, while the other channels are already translated to local language. So it forced me to watch only the news channel before I slept and those words always pop up. Yes I know it is a real thing. It is really bad out there. I know perhaps as the analysts keep saying on TV the worst is yet to come. But this is not a reason why I made a decision recently to try to minimize the expense during my business trip. The nature of my job requires me to travel extensively. I can't control the number of travels so I can't save the environment and contribute in making a greener world by reducing the number of flying with airplane. But obviously I can do something to reduce the travel cost. So when I was on my way to Brussels last month as the beginning of my 4-weeks Eurotrip I made a commitment to myself that during this trip I want to spend as low as possible.

In Cisco Systems we have a culture called frugality. It can be understood in many different ways but in this company it means reassessing everything we do to ensure we place the greatest number of resources in areas that have the greatest profit potential. In another word: don't spend unnecessary on non-productive areas. If we can achieve the same goal with cheaper way, why not to try that path? And I completely agree with it. I get decent pay by the company, I got my annual bonus, and I don't have major financial issue. In summary I'm not in bad situation and if I can cut unnecessary expense as part of the culture and as my contribution to bigger community, even the amount looks small, I decided to do so.

During my trip I invented some ways that I think can cut my travel cost and I have tried my best to always apply them. I even tried to cut some unnecessary expense even those are completely allowed and not against the company policy at all. There are few things that I can't control, for example hotel and flight since I must use company's preferred hotel and airline, but I found that there are many other things that I can do to minimize the expense.

So I have been traveling for about a month. I left my home on Sept 14, and today is Oct 10 I'm in Singapore calculating how much total I spent exclude the flight ticket and hotel. And the result, for 26 days traveling in Europe I spent only 482.72 Euros. It means in average I spent only 18.6 Euros per day for food, transport, visa fee, internet, tips etc. And I was traveling in Europe that is known to be more expensive than Asia. Try to beat that!

I'm really proud with the result. And I like to do this. I like to challenge myself and set my own target. I like to do things in different way everytime. So if I used to be one of the top spenders for travel and expense, this time I tried to be a better business traveler. I can do the same thing as previously I used to do, to spend in regular way since it's allowed and as long as the amount is below the company policy, or I can try to do it differently. And I don't do this to get reward whatsoever. It always gives me a highest satisfaction if I set a goal and I can achieve it or even exceed my own expectation.

So here it is, with proud, I presented the Himawan's Way to a Better (and cheaper) Business Traveler:

1. Book the flight as soon as we know the schedule of the trip. In Cisco if we book 14 days in advance we get special rate. It's more difficult in the projects since customer may change the schedule or confirm the date close to the time but for internal meeting and training the flight must be booked no less than 14 days in advance

2. Get a hotel that is closed to office, so no cost for transport between hotel to office. If we know we will spend most of the time in customer than book a hotel that is closed to their office instead

3. If we work with another team member try to go together to hotel/airport/customer/office to share the taxi cost. If possible use public transport or subway instead of taxi. Try to use shuttle bus from airport to hotel, and from hotel to airport (in some hotel it's free, if it's not at least it will be much cheaper than taxi)

4. Avoid to use Internet in the hotel if it's not free, go to office and finish the work there instead. And this is good since once we come back from the office in the evening we can have social life to explore the city instead of working from the hotel room. But if you are a real geek and can't live without getting hooked to the Internet than book the hotel that provides one for free

5. Avoid to eat in the hotel unless it's included in room charge (i.e. breakfast). Get used to eat food in local restaurant which normally cheaper than foreign food and it's always good to learn new culture or taste local food. Or just try to find McDonald around ;) Bring noodle cup in case we get hungry in the late evening

6. Hotel minibar is evil. Go to grocery to buy water and all snacks for late evening stock. Bring water, soft drink and any available free food from the office. Utilize water cooker provided in the room

7. Avoid to do laundry in the hotel, so bring enough clothes. Or do it yourself in the bath tub, and use ironing tools provided in the room to iron your clothes

8. If you work in project, let the Project Manager or local team to pay for dinner :) Make friends with local colleague in the office to get free ride to customer/hotel or even airport. If you are lucky they may even treat you for dinner or buy you drink

9. Apply for frequent flyer program and hotel membership, and use the advantage to use free business lounge in the airport. So if there is a day between flights, we can sleep in the airport or office. I did this many times in Changi airport I'm afraid if they start checking and ask for some fees next time I sleep over there :) If we stay in the same hotel frequently we may get free stay as rewards from the hotel membership so it can be utilized for a day between flights.

10. Use IP phone to call our family back home. Use hotel fixed line or office phone to join teleconference. Use callback facility in webex to call our IP phone instead of our mobile to avoid roaming charges

Friday, October 03, 2008

Oktoberfest Quotes

I have just arrived in Bratislava. For those who are too lazy to open the google map, it's the capital city of Slovakia, one country in eastern Europe. This afternoon I was still in Munich where I spent 3 days to attend several meetings with my new team and the other WWSP teams who cover the same Europe and Emerging Markets (EUEM) but for different technologies. Finally I had a chance to meet my new boss in person, meet his boss, introduce my self and meet half of my team members, and to learn and understand more about one of the Cisco AS organizations that I joined about a month ago.

So I work for World Wide Service Provider Carrier Ethernet practice team. We focus on solution and technology that involve the products related to end-to-end carrier ethernet network. That means it can be the whole solution or portion of it from core network where CRS-1 is taking the main role, multi-service aggregation network, user facing aggregation, to access layer until the last mile technology such as DSL or Wimax. And we don't only lead the deployment in this technology but we also have to write leading practice documents afterward to share our experience and ensure the knowledge gained can be replicated in other projects within our team, by another team and even a bigger community.

The best moment for me is when I realized that I work for a team who not only responsible to lead carrier ethernet deployment for EUEM area, but we also have global responsibility in our technology focus since there is only one carrier ethernet practice team in the whole Cisco organization. That is actually really cool, well, at least for me. Finally I'm in the spotlight just as what I have always wanted to.

There were lots of meetings and discussion and I heard some guys mentioned about the following quotes that I think they are really good so I put them here:

- During the discussion about mobility

We don't "go" to work anymore, we work

- During the discussion about workload

We are all burned out from work, but the tolerance from each person is the one that makes the difference

- During the discussion about work-life balance

It's not a question of "can you do it?" but "when can you do it?"

- During the discussion about inventing new solution

We don't sell solution to reduce Capex anymore, because there is no Capex! We need to sell solution that can generate revenue

Then there were two quotes that I personally made during the night when I had a chance to go to Oktoberfest:

I can't believe there are so many people get drunk at the same time in the same place and no fight

I'm hungry like hungary

Those two, of course, can be safely ignored :)

"Heid is so a schena Dog - lala lal la la!"

Sunday, September 28, 2008

A Good Day

Today I'm really happy. Early morning CET time I watched Valentino Rossi clinched his sixth MotoGP world championship (eight including 250cc and 125cc) with victory in the Japanese Grand Prix at Motegi.

Then in the afternoon I watched Fernando Alonso scored a surprise success in one of the most eagerly anticipated Grand Prix in Formula One history, under the lights of Singapore.

I know, there is the first Formula One night race in history happening in Singapore but I'm here in Prague, Czech Republic. But still I'm so happy with the achievement from both guys.

This must be a good day for me. It's been amazing two weeks in Prague. I'm going out to walk now to enjoy the city.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Life Would Be A Mistake

So here I am in Prague, Czech Republic, to do yet another CRS-1 migration project. Frankly speaking the project can run smoothly because the customer is very knowledgeable and they know exactly what they want. I was leading the migration and I built the plan, but they really contributed and did most of the verifications. So I was grateful because it's almost over and so far the plan is successful. Only when the migration is done my boss told me this is the first production network to implement Secure Domain Routing and IPv6 over MPLS (6PE) in the world running the latest IOS XR software. Salute to the Czechs!

I would not have a chance to witness this if I didn't take decision to leave my senior position in previous team to join the WWSP team. I would not be here if I didn't make decision to join Cisco AS from Dubai to Singapore. Even at that time I had to ditch all the stable life in Dubai and change into travel freak. Further more, I may not be able to work in one of the most beautiful cities in the world today if I didn't make tough decision to leave my comfort life in my country to start working abroad about 7 years ago.

Valentino Rossi once said, what if he had never tried it. What would happen if he had never raced motorbikes. Well, I'm sure a talented and focus minded guy like him can be successful in any type of sports that he chooses. But he got the point. Thing can't only be said, it has to be done. Knowing the path is not enough, we must walk the path.

I may be able to say similar thing like him someday. But for now I would just say that everyone must take risk to live the life to the fullest. Let's get out from our small cubicle and see the world. Everyone must travel to enjoy life. Let's visit new places and accept any new challenges. Let's make tough decisions for a chance to see better days. Let's risk what we have in hand for a chance to see the brighter future. Go where there is no path and leave the trail.

So I'm almost done here in Prague. I'm heading to Munich, then Madrid next. Or perhaps I may go to Bratislava, Slovakia instead.
New adventure here I come.

Without traveling, life would be a mistake.
Without taking risks, life would be a mistake.
Without tough decisions, life would be a mistake.

Monday, September 08, 2008

Interview @ CCIE Lab

"On August 27, Cisco will introduce a pilot for the CCIE Routing and Switching lab exam in Beijing, China. The pilot will add a 10-minute interview that will assess the candidate's ability to apply expert-level networking skills and knowledge to networking problems that are encountered on the job. After the lab orientation, a panel of three experts will conduct a verbal interview with each candidate, asking a series of expert-level networking questions. The ability to correctly answer these questions will affect the exam score. After completing the interview, the candidate will have the complete 8 hours to complete the lab portion of the exam. These scores will then be added up and then combined for a total score which will decide a pass or a fail."

There was a discussion in Internetwork Expert's CCIE Blog with regard to the above announcement. It's not published officially in Cisco website, even I saw it in our internal web as well, and that message is only being sent through email to any CCIE candidate registers for the lab in Beijing. So it's true that they add interview section in CCIE lab. Why only in Beijing? At least for now. And I know most of you have known the answer.

What I want to add here is that the interview concept is actually not something new in CCIE lab. I took the lab before October 2001 and at that time the format was still 2-days exam. So first day is for building the infrastructure, with 45 total points. We need at least to get 30 points minimum to pass to the second day. Then second day morning is for advance features and hell lots of tricks that we may have never seen or heard about it before, and it can give us maximum 30 points. Only if we can get at least 55 points we can proceed to the last section which is troubleshooting.

Within my two attempts with both 2-days format, in two different location Brussels and Tokyo, after the first day the proctor asked each candidate one at a time to get into the lab and sit next to him. Then he would check my work and ask question such as why I did it that way, can I explain in more detail about this technology, is there any other way to do this etc. In Brussels I still remember I even had to do whiteboard presentation to explain the Frame-relay flow control mechanism. But there was no interview for second day morning. Normally after finish up the morning section we had to wait for a bit while since once the proctor found out that we are eligible to continue to the next section, he would start putting the troubleshooting questions into our rack immediately. You know, something likes screw up the cabling, modify IP address, change the password up until the most difficult tricks and usually there were 25 problems that can give us 25 points maximum.

But wait, it's not over yet even after we finish the troubleshooting successfully. My proctor in Tokyo still asked questions about how did I find the problem, which debug commands I run, how did I fix the issue and so on. In Brussels, I needed to find the whole 25 problems to pass and I didn't so the proctor said he doesn't have to check my work. When I took the lab, the interview in both sections, -after first day- and -after troubleshooting- , took much longer than 10 minutes. And my proctor in Brussels that time mentioned even I can get the configuration right but if I can't explain it he would not hesitate to deduct my points.

So as you see, the idea of this interview in the lab is not new. And it should not be something to be afraid of as any CCIE candidate who's ready to take the lab, and willing to pay USD 1400 plus all the travels, should be able to pass such interview easily. I still believe the interview should be done like those old days, so after the candidate finishes the whole lab, to explain why he did the configuration the way he did or just ask for more clarification about particular technology related to the questions. So the proctor can just run the script first to check who's above or at least quite close to the passing point, and only those candidates will have to go through the interview. I don't think those candidates would mind to stay for another hour extra, if that can give them the number they been chasing for. What do you think?

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

The Road Less Traveled

Last Saturday I gave a free lecture in my former university with the topic "How to compete in global networking market by becoming a CCIE". I was invited first just to give information on how to become CCIE, pretty much to deliver the same presentation I did in Networkers Indonesia early this year. But then I thought most of the audiences are students, even though the lecture is opened for professionals too, and they may need more information about the career in networking field instead. So I called some of my CCIE colleagues to come and tell the story about their career – how did they start, what drives them to continue, how they got support to finance their CCIE lab, where are they today as CCIE, and so on – which I believe it’s more important for those students to hear.

So I started the lecture by introducing myself and share the story about my life and how I started my journey. I also mentioned that the tipping point of my life was after I passed my first CCIE lab. That made me able to start moving around and competing in the global networking market from Asia to Middle East, and finally I’m able to join Cisco Advanced Services as what I always want to. My friend who works in Cisco product development team in San Jose, who happened to be in country for vacation, shared his story about how he had to drop his master degree to pursue CCIE. But it was worth it, though. Once he passed, he’d been working in large scale projects ever since until he decided to take the offer to go to US though consulting agency. And now he has worked for Cisco Systems San Jose in few different business units. One other friend told the story of what he had to give up to finance his CCIE lab: his home. It was definitely a very hard decision since he’s married with few kids. But he took the risk, passed the exam, and moved to a bigger company that can return him his investment. The last friend shared his experience in passing CCIE lab in first attempt, then decided to stick in the same company until he became senior manager, one option that may be taken by any CCIE after they get bored abusing networking gears.

I didn’t stop only with stories. I shared my point of view of the career in networking in general, then the engineering career in Cisco Systems as what I see, I hear and I have been through. Once I believe the class has got clear picture about it, and definitely I didn’t forget to mention one way to boost the career is by passing CCIE lab, I also shared my opinion about How to Become Engineer ++, which explains on few things that every engineer should have and the way to distinguish ourselves in the global competition. Before I repeated my slide on How to Become CCIE, I did few slides on How to Start Your Career in Networking which I believe is important too since most of the time the first step to begin is the most difficult step. Those are actually based on my writings in my other blog in native language.

Does it sound lame to you? Well, for them who have seen and done many, it’s kinda waste of time to listen to such thing. But for those students who don’t know what the career in real networking world is all about , or professionals who want to switch their career to networking, the lecture may be a good information and as something to begin with. The class was full, by the way. Those folks who arrange this event must even rejected some guys to enter the class since there is no more space available even they still insist to join. And even the lecture was recorded, and it was broadcasted as well to other universities in my country, I know it’s still can’t beat the experience to have a discussion directly with the presenters. Especially since I brought some merchandises from Cisco for the raffle draw in the end of the lecture. Well, students are the same everywhere. They need free goodies :). That may be the only reason why most of them stayed for 4 hours that day.

I have to admit as much as I enjoy giving speech in public to try to convince others, deep inside I like to do this to convince myself too. I mean my journey in networking field is getting harder and harder, and I have moved to new position several times when I have reached the top level in my current position. Everytime I get comfortable, I move. And it’s not as easy as it looks like. I have to start from beginning, understand the process and build the relationship again. So giving free lecture like this offers mutual benefits; for others to hear about all decisions I took to reach my level today and learn from all my mistakes, and for me to convince myself that I have to carry on so I can continue to spread the information.

Robert Frost once wrote, I took the one (road) less traveled by, and that has made all the difference. So no matter how hard it is, somebody has to do this journey. Somebody must take the risk. And one who has done it should share the story to others. To share the information. To make the history. And, to be immortalized.

I hereby offer to anyone interested, everytime I travel and when I have spare time, I’m opened for the invitation to give similar lecture in any location to anyone without exceptions. Obviously as time goes by my story will grow longer and longer, even How to Become CCIE will still be the main part. Everyone likes to hear story and they want to get the most updated one. The most challenging, the break through, and full of new adventures as eye-opener. This mean I must not stop the journey. I should not stay in my comfort zone. I shall continue to go where there is no path and leave the trail. And in order to support this idea, I will post my schedule in the Where Am I? sidebar of this blog so anyone willing to arrange the class can get the idea of the best time to do so. For example, I will be in Brussels in mid September then Czech Republic until end of the month, then I will be in Spain during the first week of October. I'm willing to give the lecture to anyone and in any location, but please remember I can do it only in English, or in my native language of course.

I’m a pioneer. A dreamer, a blogger, a traveler.
I’m a storyteller, and this is my story.

So, free lecture, anyone?

- The things taught in schools and colleges are not an education, but the means to an education. (Ralph Waldo Emerson)

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Jason's Path

Related to my previous post, I modified my targets-in-visual to reflect the new path: Believed-in-product, certification-to-take, wannabe-like, places-to-visit, bike-must-have, real-world-skill.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Being Independent

Yesterday was the independence day for my country. I must be grateful since I don’t have to go to war anymore like my ancestors just to get my freedom. I like to be free. I love being independent. I think one of the best moments in my life is when I was working as independent consultant in Dubai to do several projects with my previous customers. I was able to give my advice during vendor selection process without any pressure. I compared all the products and produced the most honest report since I had no interest or attached to any vendor.

So independency is important for me in so many aspects. And I use it as main consideration when I have to choose my next career. In working hours and working place, for example. I love to be given a freedom to choose my own working hours and the place to work. I can sleep in a day and stay awake the whole night to do the project from my own bed room. I may drive to a coffee shop that has cozy couch and fast Internet connection just to reply my email. I don’t mind to make documents inside the airplane, or build presentation slides during the transit between flights. With the meeting place technology from Cisco, I can have a meeting over the phone or share my desktop to present my design. With webex I can even take control my customer’s PC and use it to connect to the router console, and this can still be done even if he’s behind the firewall with private IP address. In summary, it’s the result that matters regardless of how it is delivered.

When I told my current boss several weeks ago that my time is up and I want to join a different team, he asked me which team I would like to go. Due to a good relationship and my sacrifice in the past to jump over to any pain-in-the-arse projects that seem to impress him, he offered me full recommendation and willing to call the next team’s manager to support me. What a great man. I’m so blessed and proud to have a manager like him. Even though I didn’t reply at that time but my mind actually had only one answer: to follow Jason Bourne’s path.

Jason Charles Bourne (real name David Webb) is a fictional character of Robert Ludlum novels and he first appeared in The Bourne Identity (1980). This novel was adapted for a film by the same name starring Matt Damon in 2002, and subsequent film adaptations for two other films, The Bourne Supremacy (2004) and The Bourne Ultimatum (2007). He’s a highly trained assassin, expert in martial art, can turn almost anything into lethal weapon, and travel many countries to do his task. And he always finishes his task without any question. Well, at least until he got shot and lost his memory. Once he discovered his true identity as a killer, he decided to change his faith even though he must face his previous organization that wants to get rid of him.

So I want to be Jason Bourne in many ways: highly skill, finish the task without question, travel around the world. All except the assassination stuff. I want to visit the places he’s been up to during his journey to discover his true identity. And I don’t want just to do so as tourist. I want to capture the requirements from the customers in Moscow. I want to assess the network in Madrid. I want to stand before the customers in Morocco to defend my design. Conduct the workshop in London. Give knowledge transfer in Berlin. And even it was not within Jason’s path in his movies, I want to be involved in large scale deployment projects in South Africa.

Sound too optimistic? Too ambitious?
Well, just consider it as a dream. A dream worth fighting for.

I have been leading high-risk migration projects in Vietnam. I stood in the middle of Petronas Twin Towers Skybridge during the project in Malaysia. I have done the 1st CRS implementation project in Singapore. I optimized the network for the largest mobile provider in Indonesia. I was watching the sunset from Taipei 101, world's tallest building, while doing survey in Taiwan. I pushed our hardware to the limit in Proof-of-Concept lab in Sydney. I conducted a training in Bangkok in a day, then took the flight to Hongkong to have my dinner. I helped my team when they were stuck in Philippine.
Even with all those, I still feel that it's not enough.

With those things in mind I applied to Cisco Advanced Services – World Wide Service Provider team that covers Europe, Middle East and Africa. I got phone interviews with the experts that have seen and done many projects that I could only imagine in the past. And they called me from various locations in EMEA: UK, Slovenia, Germany, Spain. I have a friend in that team who lives in Brussels. My new boss is based in Sweden. I may be based in either South Africa due to lots of projects there, or Dubai considering its location is in the middle of the team’s coverage. And, again, thanks God I have cleared all the interview process and got accepted in the team. So now I’m just waiting the transition process from my current team to the new one. Waiting with full of excitement. I don’t know what will happen next, I don’t know whether I can fulfill my dream and be the best among others, but it’s the opportunity to chase the dream that can make life becomes more exciting.

How about US? How about your previous dream to join the development team in San Jose? Well, as I said previously, I need my independency in working hours and ability to choose the place to work. So I’m not ready yet to give up those even to join the elite team who develops the high end router from Cisco. And until now I still can’t imagine myself to deal with interesting stuff but without any chance to face the customer directly. But it was your dream too, right? It was one of the reasons that kept you awake at night for years to try to catch up with the knowledge required? Yes, it was. And I may still chase it later. Perhaps one day, but not now.
As Juba said to his dead friend Maximus in Gladiator: I will see you again... but not yet... Not yet!

Let me be Jason Bourne first.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

Not Only What You Know

Do you believe in numbers? Some people do. In China, the word for “eight” in Mandarin sounds similar to the word which means “prosper” or “wealth”. They really believe on this so even the Beijing Olympic was opened on August 8, 2008 at 8 seconds and 8 minutes past 8 pm. 8-8-8-8-8-8. Amazing. For me, I failed and passed CCIE lab both in August 13th. So it seems like the “unlucky number 13” can give me both failure and success. And where was I during the lucky day 08/08/08 yesterday? Ah, yes. I remember now. I was stuck in one of our priority customers due to some serious network issue.

Regardless, this week has been an amazing week for me. First of all, because I have just come back from a very special place in Saudi Arabia. Second, because couple of weeks ago I told my boss that I want to go beyond my current team, beyond my existing customers, beyond the South East Asia that I have been dealing with for almost 2 years. I started having a feeling that I’m already in my comfort zone, so I need to get out. I want to go to a bigger pond. And I know there is no certain future out there compare to what I currently have right now. But it’s the uncertainty that makes me feel alive.

So after I informed my boss, I contacted few guys I used to work with in the past. They are part of the practice team that develop the network design blueprint with broader coverage, and the team consists only architects and very senior consulting engineers. Lucky me, my folks provided recommendation and direct contact to their boss. Without further due, he arranged several interviews for me and this week, thanks God, I have done all the interviews and I got the offer to join the new team. I still can’t disclose which team in specific, but it’s still within Cisco. So please all of you from recruitment agency, stop chasing me with your offers to move to competitors! Everything I know about networking I learned it from Cisco, so I’m planning to stay here for a little while.

I must said that the interviews were quite difficult. Those folks are all very far beyond my skills and experiences. One has a very low CCIE number, most have done many large scale and complex projects, and all of them really know about the protocol and hardware architecture very well. Some asked about deep technical questions. Some interested to know about my past experience in detail. Some wanted to see my previous works. And the one that really help was the recommendation from my current boss, with a performance report of my activity since last year that is accessible by the new boss. Remind you this is the process to move internally from one team to another within Cisco, so you can imagine the process for outsiders to get into this team.

And here comes the main point of my writing today: one friend of mine told me once that to get a new job it’s not because What You Know anymore, but Who You Know. After what I have been through, I can’t disagree with that but I want to add: it’s Not Only What You Know. First, I need to have a contact for the job I want to apply, this is where the Who You Know takes part. Then, I still had technical interview so I still need to use What You Know. And last, my experience in the past, my performance report, and recommendation from my current boss mean What You Have Done in the past is counted as well.

So for those who don’t have contact in their next job, try to get one! And you still need to excel your knowledge for technical interview, I believe. And remember to get involved in high exposure projects and maintain relationship with your current boss. You never know one day you may need all three to move to your dream job.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

CCDE Practical

Okay, I have to make a confession first. I’ve just realized that I need license to ride two-wheel vehicle. I need license to ride my Ninja! Can you believe that? Yeah, it is true, even in this part of the world it’s still true. And the worst part, without the street license I can’t apply to get a special license that will allow me to ride my bike inside the circuit. Instead of learning how to turn in high speed corner just like Valentino Rossi, now I have to face the fact that I can’t even ride my Ninja outside my neighborhood.

So in between my boring time to just ride around my home every morning and evening, I start looking at what I should do for my personal development in networking. As you can see from my previous post, I need to catch up and re-fresh my knowledge to keep me in shape as consulting engineer. I used to think that I should take Jxxxx certification just for fun. Well, another reasons are to keep me busy as well and to re-learn anything I may miss during the previous CCIE lab.

But then CCDE came into the picture.

I wrote it once that I know it will be difficult to measure design skill of someone, so I would love to see how the CCDE team is going to do it. And looking at what they have prepared so far and tested as beta exam, it seems like they may be able to nail it down.

Let’s start with the written test. Okay, it’s just regular as another Cisco computer-based test. Think about CCIE written. Or, since CCDE folks said there won’t be any configuration nor bit-level questions in the test, and it will be focused on the design implication, I guess it will be similar as the ARCH in CCDP exams. Perhaps much deeper and the coverage is wider since CCDE is for large-scale networks. Oh come on, just read the blueprint! What is worth to discuss from the written test for me is passing it will re-certify my CCIE. Nice.

Now about the Practice exam. It’s 8 hours just like CCIE lab. But no, it’s not a lab. In fact, it’s a computer-based exam. Disappointed? Wait, there are more. It’s scenario based. It starts with some information, document and email conversation from the customer. Then based on those, we need to dig more information by asking the right question. Have you seen iRobot movie? Where the detective must ask the right question or the hologram of Dr. Lanning would say "I'm sorry. My responses are limited. You must ask the right questions." Well, it’s a bit similar like that. Or not.

That’s just the beginning. Once we get more and more information, we need to answer a series of question related to the scenario. We must choose the right features to accommodate the requirements. And we always have to think about the implications. So no configuration. But it will really test the knowledge how to make a design to answer real problems. And we have to integrate business problems into it too.

Sound easy? Let’s just wait until we have a chance to do this test. Remember, it’s an 8 hours exam. There are several different types of questions: multiple right questions, drag and drop network diagram, ordering a list, match two lists. And if you check the reading list, the coverage looks heavy. Remember, the exam is developed by the team consist of senior design engineers who have been working for many years in Cisco. So they know what kind of challenges normally any designer must deal with and they have done many designs from beginning until implementation.

Another reminder, passing the exam doesn’t guarantee that we are a damn good designer. Just like CCIE lab, we must build our expertise on top of that. Passing the exam is, as always, just a beginning. Our design skill can really be tested once we have to meet the customer in real world, deliver the design that can satisfy the requirements, and make sure it can be implemented smoothly.

So I think the good side about CCDE practical exam format is it can really test the knowledge of each candidate in analyzing, making design, knowing the implication, and justifying the decision of the design and features. It requires broad technical knowledge, even there won’t be any configuration, and integrate all pieces into a useful whole. It also means each candidate must be able to understand the relation of customer’s business in every design and decision when choosing the features to be implemented. O yeah, CCDE team mentioned the exam can be considered as vendor neutral. So I guess there won’t be any specific question related to Cisco hardware there.

The bad side, there is no other aspect of designer skills tested in the lab. Skill in leading a requirements workshop to gather information, for example. Based on my experience some customers are not quite open until I gather all departments and meet them and try to find the missing information by initiating the discussion. And no test of presentation skill either. It is required during requirement workshop as well as design workshop when normally designer must explain, justify, and defend the design. Last but not least, it’s a computer-based exam. I mean, unless the CCDE team has a huge bank of scenarios the questions may become popular and repeatable after some time and people may pass by just memorizing the answers. I hope they find a way to tweak and modify the scenarios quite often so this won’t happen.

Btw, from where I got all this information? Some Networkers 2008 slides. I think it was presented last month. And if you have registered to Cisco Learning Network you can get more information, and you can even enjoy the discussion with the CCDE team directly. If you are not lazy enough, you can also find some example of CCDE practical exam. Oh yeah, some folk even put link to my blog somewhere there.

I think this CCDE practical exam can set the benchmark of minimum knowledge required to become a network designer. Just as CCIE has become a benchmark for any network engineer nowadays. And I really think it’s worth to take it. I can’t wait for them to release the practical exam world wide.

Monday, July 07, 2008

What Would I Miss? Part Two

I have been busy riding.

Perhaps I watch MotoGP and Superbike on TV a little bit too much so sometime last month I decided to order the new 2008 Kawasaki Ninja 250R. It has only 250 cc and 33 bhp but it’s red, it’s surely pretty and it’s in my garage now. I guess my next step is to learn how to do cornering and trail braking so I know what Valentino Rossi feels every time he does it.

But even I’m busy with the new Ninja it doesn’t mean I stop thinking and re-evaluating my life. Since I finished several projects last month I have more time to do so. And when I looked back my last post: 'What Would I Miss?' I feel like I need to add more into it, especially the part when I should compare what I have already had in hand right now and what I may have in the future.

I currently work for Cisco Advanced Services team as Consulting Engineer. This is a unique position because I have to act as both consultant and engineer. As consultant when I have to talk to executive to present the brief idea of the design, to learn about customer business in order to understand the requirements truthfully, use my interpersonal skill to build relationship with the customers, and to make the high level design and implementation strategy. As engineer when I have to really turn the design on paper into a working infrastructure, write down the low level design and implementation plan, build the configuration and interconnection in detail, test the interoperability and proof of concept, execute the migration plan to ensure it can be done within the agreed downtime window. So the coverage is beyond consultant and engineer as individual. To add more into it, in some scenarios I must use my leadership skill to set the direction for the team, help the sales team in some pre-sales activities, build deployment approach, assign tasks and manage resources with my project management expertise.

In summary, the role is started when the sales team has sold the product to the customer based on the high level requirement and it is time to drill down the requirement to more detail and put all the puzzle to one piece of working solution. And as per my comment above, sometime it is required to be involved during pre-sales process, to help define the scope of work, to verify the Bill of Material before it gets ordered, and to convince the customer that even we have yet to build the low level implementation design and plan but the project can be done and executed seamlessly.

Well, those stuff are actually not new to me. I have been doing similar tasks even before I joined Cisco. In fact, if I count since the first day I must work in a team to deliver project, I have already had more than 10 years experience.

Indeed, this role is not the same role with those who develop the products. Consulting Engineers are not required to write code. But this doesn’t mean we are not involved in product development!

See, we are the one who deploys the products and interact with the customers directly. If someone asks my opinion I would say that Advanced Services through the Consulting Engineers are the one who gets the real world feedback and know the requirements and challenges during deployment and operation of the products. I have seen many people from the team who may not know the language to write the code but have been contributing to product and protocols development. The key here is to understand the architecture of the hardware, software and the protocols by heart. Combine with real world experience and feedback from the field, AS engineers hold the key for the improvement of those and must be part of the discussions. Not everything can be tested only in the lab as normally development team does. And we also have Practice team who normally consists those with extensive deployment experiences combine with heavy lab testing results to provide Best Practices, Deployment Guides and obviously feedbacks to the developer.

So even I’m not part of the team who develops the product directly but I still have an important role. And I like to do so. And I have been doing this for many years.

Hence I think it’s fair enough to write down What Would I Miss if one day I decide to leave this role. Perhaps because of more money, more challenging roles or higher level position. I need to write this down to make it easier for me in making decision by comparing the new role with the existing that I have.

- The excitement when my design or my plan really works

In one life cycle of a product, it starts with the development by Business Unit, then sales team must fit the product specification with the requirement, then Advanced Services must deploy the products and make a working solution. So it’s in the end of the cycle before the customer can really utilize the products. For me, nothing can beat the excitement when all pieces are finally combined together and the design really turns to a working network. It is always good to see a new and shine production network based on my design or migration plan. Some projects can take several months, even years, to complete. But when it does, seeing the happy customers can fully utilize the products and the infrastructure can really give me full satisfaction.

The level of satisfaction increases as the project getting larger and complex, and has more components involved. I have been in the worst time and under very high pressure to submit the plan within short time or during limited downtime window to do migration. But once it has been done successfully and I look back I can only laugh happily and wish to repeat the moments.

- Freedom to do my work anytime, anywhere
I have disengaged from 8-to-5 type of work since several years ago. I’m a result oriented kind of person so how it is done sometime it is not relevant. And that’s what exactly provided by my existing role. What matters is if the project can be done successfully. The process is good as learning curve but in the end it’s the result that matters. I don’t even have to go to the office since I can work from anywhere as long as I have Internet and secure VPN connection to the closest access server. I can choose my working hours. I can decide to work beyond 70 hours this week so I can deliver as per the target but then work less than 20 hours next week to recover.

My role as consulting engineer with coverage in Asia Pacific countries, mostly in South East Asia, also mean I have to travel and do projects in different country. It was fun in the beginning due to the new experience and eventually I feel like getting addicted to it. I like to be challenged with different customer types with different habit. I like to visit new places and work with people from different culture.

- Deeper access to all Business Units and knowledge base
Due to the close relationship with development team, Advanced Services has more access and privileges compare to other non-developer teams in Cisco. We can read and follow a product or feature development process. We provide feedback from real world experience and we can re-use the information the development team gains from extensive lab testing. We get notified first if the development team finds discrepancy in the code and may impact the deployment in the field.

I have also met well known Cisco people since we are normally talking the same language: either we share similar deployment experience or we would like to exchange the real world experience with the knowledge gained during the testing in the lab. I enjoy listening to the discussion when the deployment team explains why and how the new features are developed, as much as I enjoy listening to the other AS team that has deployed the features in the real network and provide best practices and the feedbacks.

So I have all those above in hand. They are real.
They are what I normally do in daily life.
They, currently, are part of my life.

"It's not who you are underneath, it's what you do that defines you"
- Batman Begins

Monday, June 30, 2008

Euro 2008

This June is an interesting month for me since I have to finish 2 migration projects while doing another 3 projects in 5 different countries. Thanks God it's over. I mean finally I completed the 2 migration projects and handed over 1 project to my team mate after completing the initial phases. It was tough time, but it was fun too at the same time. And fortunately there was Euro 2008 on TV for almost 1 month. It has no relationship with my projects but it sure helped me to pass through the tough time. I tried to watch all the games even in the middle of my busy time. And sometime I even had to watch in the Airport during my transit from one country to another.

So here is the list of places where I watched Euro 2008:

Final - in Hotel, Kuala Lumpur
Semi Final - 1 in Changi Airport and 1 in Hotel, Taiwan
Quarter Final - 1 in Changi Airport, 1 in Customer site (during migration), 2 in Hotel, Saigon
Qualification - 4 in friend’s home, 4 in the office (Internet TV), 1 in Hard Rock Cafe KL, 3 in hotel in KL, 1 in Changi Airport, rest either at own home or didn’t watch

Just FYI, Euro 2008 game normally started around 1.45 or 2.45 am in South East Asia countries. So high pressure from projects combined with less sleep. Perfect.

Looking forward for new challenges (and new excitements) on July.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Inspired by Many

When I put on my suit, get on my bike and make my way to the start line, my brain is free of every single thought apart from those directly linked to my riding of the bike. I can isolate everything else, nerves don't bother me, I don't even think, once that visor comes down, that my reputation, or my title, or even my career might be at stake.

That quote was taken from Valentino Rossi's autobiography. He's an Italian professional motorcycle racer and multiple MotoGP World Champion. He is one of the most successful motorcycle racers of all time, with 7 Grand Prix World Championships to his name.

Rossi’s record in the motorcycle road racing World Championship is supreme. First in the ultra-competitive 125 class starting in 1996; then in the 250 class only to graduate shortly thereafter to the big league of the 500s. In 2002 the premier class switched direction moving from 500 cc two-strokes to 990 cc four-strokes from then on to be known as MotoGP. Rossi rides for Honda and wins. He wins on a Honda the next year and then switches to Yamaha, to every race fans’ surprise, and wins against all odds. He wins again in 2005. No one is close. No one is faster. And all at speeds which approach 200 mph.

I like to read the story of people's life to know how they deal with challenges or make crucial decisions. It's best to try everything by ourselves but sometime it's wiser to learn from someone's experience. On that quote Rossi teaches us the true meaning of focus. There are always challenges and external factors that can disturb our mind, but when it is time to race, we should be able to isolate everything else. This is similar with the concept I ever mentioned before, in the moment, where we should focus on what we have in hand even we have so many options and plans for the future.

Taken from Kung Fu Panda: 'Yesterday is history. Tomorrow is a mystery. But today is a gift. That is why they call it a present.'

So for those who will take your CCIE lab, even you are not going to race beyond 200 mph but during the lab day you should forget all the pressures such as "company has paid for three times", "please pass this time or you need to find another job", "baby we have withdrawn all our savings for this attempt" "how come he's much younger and he passed in first attempt only" and so on. To be frank, I was in this situation once where I had to pass or the company may kick me out, or at least wouldn't give me another chance.
Thinking about those during the lab day won't help at all. It's better to put the visor down and just start racing.

And btw, Rossi's decision to move from Honda in the end of 2003, where he has won three world title with them, to Yamaha team is still considered as one of the most brave decision in history. He didn't like the fact people started thinking that to win the title you need to ride superior Honda, and he proved it by moving to a lame Yamaha team at that time and won another two world champions.
Now that's really inspiring.

I recommend to read his book even you don't know what the heck MotoGP is.

"Just think, what if I had never raced motorbikes. How things would have been so different. Just think, what if I had never tried it." - Valentino Rossi

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Enlightened Will

I was planning to write something technical in my blog. But I have been busy leading a migration project for one of the largest ISP in Vietnam since two weeks ago. So I thought I'd rather share some of my new thoughts as I gained the experience in Vietnam instead.

So the story began when my team was appointed to finish a migration project that has been delayed for quite some time by another team. At that time no one knew what the reason of the delay, nor the complexity of the project so two Consulting Engineers from my team was sent onsite to investigate and hopefully we can close the project once and for all. I was not involved, but I asked my boss to put me in. Perhaps it's because the advice I got recently to do something extra, even though I have already had four projects in hand in four different countries. Or perhaps I was just curious and want to know how come my company failed to complete the project so I decided to volunteer myself.

My involvement was unplanned so there was no budget for me. I accepted the condition to share a hotel room with one of my team mates. For me it's not a big deal since every time I do projects in any country I normally spend most of the time in customer site and go back to the hotel just to take shower and sleep. I feel like I have to help my team to finish this project at any cost, especially after my team mates told me the migration project is quite challenging. It involves three data center in three different cities in Vietnam. We have to migrate the infrastructure of the ISP's Next Generation Networks. We have to re-patch the cables, move EIGRP to OSPF, re-configure LDP, MP-BGP, Cache, BGP with complex policy and what makes it more challenging is we have only two hours downtime. Two hours downtime means my team has only one hour to do the job as we need spare time in case we must rollback the network to the previous state. And the previous migration plan from another team was far from complete and cannot be executed blindly.

To make the story short, it's been a damn good experience for the past two weeks. First, we had to analyze the network and build our new migration plan from the scratch. Then we had to move to three different sites every few days to migrate the network. Downtime means hell. There were just so many things to do within very short time. But we made it. We finally migrated the network even under the very high pressure and we need to open P2 TAC cases to help us in some hardware problems. Even with all those pressures, I won't forget some of the best moments in Vietnam when I had a chance to enjoy five-star resort next to the sea in Danang, or chill out in a bar that stands over the water in the middle of Hanoi West Lake.

It still left me a big question though, how come my company was not able to deliver in the first place? In other words, how come did we screw up before? I thought I'm in the best company that can deliver superb results every time.

My brain took me to my last few days before I left Dubai to join this company. At that time my best friend asked me why I was so keen to join the company and willing to leave everything I used to have in Dubai behind. Frankly speaking, to join the company I had to move my life to a completely new country and accept lower paycheck that I used to get. My friend even offered me a job with the salary that I could only dream of before if I decided to change my mind.

I remember what I told him as my reply: I need to join this company since they can teach me how to be a proper networking professional. This is the company that makes the products, and the very same company that can deliver superb services. They have already had everything in place: procedure, templates, process, tools, knowledge base etc. It's not about the money. It's about moving to a place where I can learn how to do things properly. I have been doing all my consulting works before based only on my own ideas and past experiences, and this is the place that can teach me how to do it better. I must join to be the best in network consulting.

Obviously I was mistaken.

Even in the big company as mine people can screw up. People inside the company can deliver superb result but on the other side the same group of people can make mistakes. I found that, just as any other fields in this world, it's not the company that matters. It's not the company who drives the changes. It's the people inside the company who matter. Those people who bring new values, new ideas, build new tools, and fix the process. It's the people who change the way the world works, lives, plays, and learns.

Suddenly I realized that I was so naive when I said those words to my best friend. The company can't teach me anything more. Everything that I need to know to become a top notch consultant I have learned it even before I joined the company. I'm the one who's supposed to bring the new ideas. I'm the one who should come up with new procedures, new templates, fix the process, and upgrade the tools. I'm the one who should teach others and share my experiences from the moment I joined.

Ho Chi Minh city, previously known as Saigon, was named after the founder of the country Ho Chi Minh that means "Enlightened Will". And I feel like in this city I have been enlightened.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Backpacker with Gold Privilige

"I'm not crazy, I'm just a little unwell,
I know right now you can't tell,
But stay awhile and maybe then you'll see,
A different side of me"
(Unwell - Matchbox 20)

Today is my last day in my apartment. I decided to go full mobile even in Singapore. I decided to abandon my apartment room instead of renewing the rent. Well, it's been a year and in average I sleep in that room maybe only 5-7 days a month. This month I slept there for about 2 weeks since I have a CRS migration project in Singapore but it's going to end in the next couple of days. And I'm flying to Vietnam today, I will stay for more than 2 weeks there and may fly to another country after that.

I decided to stay in the hotel everytime I need to be in my base station, most probably in a budget or backpacker hotel. According to my calculation if I need to spend only a week every month in Singapore it’s much cheaper to stay in the hotel that is closer to office than paying monthly room with taxi since my current room is on the far west side of the island. Obviously it will be more fun, and I need to keep myself busy so I can avoid my Crazy Thought to keep bugging and asking me the very same question.

Or I can just stay in the office everytime I'm in the country. This is not a new life style for me. When I started my career 8 years ago I used to sleep in the office. I did it for about 9 months. It was fun since my previous office had cable TV, air con, high speed internet, copy machine and printer that I used to abuse after midnight so nobody was there to watch, always-on coffee machine, and last but not least: live network that I could use to practice for my CCIE lab ;)

But even with my new backpacking way of life, I'm not in the bad shape since I always stay in 5-star hotel during any projects in neighboring countries, and I enjoy more privileges and benefits since I have Gold membership with the airline and hotels.
My traveling experience for the past 2 years:

Hotel: Shangri-La (80%), Hilton, Hyatt, Ritz Carlton, Intercontinental, Swissotel, Sheraton, Le Meridien, Four Season, Holiday Inn, Westin, Crown Plaza, Conrad, Sofitel, Excelsior
Airline: Singapore Air (90%), Malaysia Air, Thai Air, Air Asia, Garuda, Jet Star Asia/Valuair, Emirates Air, Vietnam Air
Membership: Singapore Air KrisFlyer/Star Alliance Elite Gold, Shangri-La Gold, Hyatt Gold, Starwood Preferred Guest
Privileges: Airport business lounge, priority check-in/luggage, upgraded hotel room, free staying in hotel, miles
Travel style: Light. First priority is for passport, wallet and mobile phone. Second priority is for Cisco badge, notebook, chargers, iPod. Third, my backpack where I keep all the rest. In fact, everything that I need for living outside the country I put it inside this backpack
Favorite airport: Changi International
Favorite cities: San Francisco, Amsterdam, Sydney, Dubai, Bangkok
Best flying experience: A380 to Sydney
Longest flying time: San Francisco - Sydney (via Hongkong and Singapore)
Longest stay in city during one visit: 3 weeks (Sydney)

I’m a traveler as well as a consulting engineer, a dreamer, a blogger, a backpacker. I'm a Triple CCIE and a storyteller too.
And this is my story.

Monday, March 31, 2008

What Would I Miss?

You wake up at Kuala Lumpur, Bangkok, Sydney. You wake up at Singapore, Bali, Hanoi. San Jose, Hongkong, Jakarta, Ho Chi Minh. Lose an hour, gain an hour. This is your life, and it's ending one minute at a time. You wake up at Changi International. If you wake up at a different time, in a different place, could you wake up as a different person?
(Fight Club, modified with the places I visited in the last few months)

I woke up this morning in Bangkok, and suddenly I had this crazy thought in mind. I travel quite often and keep changing my currency and timezone. But nope, I haven’t changed to a different person, I am still who I am. In fact, I feel like I haven’t changed at all. And that’s the problem.

I joined Cisco because I want to learn new things, I want to do something new, I want to be part of the company who are changing the way the world live, work, play and learn because I want to see from inside how they are doing it. But frankly speaking, so far I still do what I used to do. I still work to deliver projects. I still have to capture the customer requirements. I still spend time to find the solutions. I still must build the implementation and migration plan and sometime I even have to lead the migration by myself.

What’s the difference with before then? Number of customers. Project scale. High end products involved such as CRS-1. Customers in different country with different culture. More access to Cisco knowledge database. Meet well-known Cisco people. But I still do what I used to do. If in my previous work I had to present and convince the customer about my design or my plan, now with Cisco I still need to do the same thing. I still have to deliver the same type of work as before. And I don’t feel that I have made any improvements in doing it. Because I don’t have to. And I’m still survive, just as I have survived in the past.

This is not a good news. If you move to a new place, but you do exactly the same thing as what you used to do in the previous place and you still survive, it means either you have reached the highest level in whatever you do or you have entered a state of a very dangerous mindset that people call comfort zone. I don’t like to be in comfort zone as much as I don’t like to be in survival mode.

So I look back to see another reason why 1.5 years ago I decided to drop all my life in Dubai to move to Singapore, and in fact I was not moving to Singapore but to a new frequent flyer life style. I found out that among the reasons, one is because I was hoping someday I will get transferred to Cisco Business Unit in San Jose. Most probably I will work as a testing and deployment engineer there since my kungfu is not that good and I don’t speak C fluently. It’s a good reason to join Cisco, isn’t it? And as a US company Cisco can provide me L1 visa so I don’t have to compete to get H1b visa that is getting very difficult to get nowadays.

The crazy thought inside my head starts yelling: so what happen if you don’t get a chance to move to San Jose? Probably because of the current economy, or perhaps because your skillset doesn’t match what is required there. What would you miss if you fail your mission?

First, I would miss my chance to be part of the team that develops and makes decision of the next Cisco products. [crazy thought: yeah rite, even you made it to SJ, with your skillset and background experience as consultant not developer you won’t become the lead architect for the product to make such decision]

Second, I would miss my chance to be in the middle of world’s center of excellence and I would not be able to make the next Google. [crazy thought: oh, come one now. You won’t be able to make the next Google even you are in SJ now, but the right term might be ‘miss my chance to join a company that will become the next Google’, and this is only if you quit from Cisco there and join the right start-up company]

Third, I would miss my chance to work in one of my favorite cities, work 9 to 5, spend more time with my family, and ride my Ducati Monster around the city. [crazy thought: as you said, SJ is one of your favorite cities. So there are other favorite places that you can choose and offer you the same type of life style]

But then this crazy thought doesn’t want to stop, it wants me to go even further: so what happen if one day you decide that chance to move to San Jose is not worth waiting anymore, and it means there will be no point for you to stay with Cisco? What would you miss if you leave Cisco?

Hmm, so far I can think only three things:
First, I would miss all the access to Cisco knowledge database, all my chance to meet and work with Ciscopress book authors and all famous people such as Distinguished Engineers. And as NCE I can even access the repository to read the source code. I would miss all of them. [crazy thought: yeah, when did the last time you use the chance with all those access to increase your knowledge dramatically or make you a better person? Any company that makes product can offer you the same type of access]

Second, I would miss my chance to get transferred by Cisco to a better place. [crazy thought: according to your objective, your main target is SJ. If they can’t give that to you, then any other companies can offer the same chance to move to the place you want. Even so far you have received many offers from other company to do exactly the same thing with what you have been doing, with the same frequent flyer life-style but wider coverage of countries, and obviously with more money]

Third, I would miss my privilege and all respect that I receive as being part of Cisco. [crazy thought: yes, some people respect you at the first sight since they know you work for Cisco. But in the end it’s your experience and what you can do that really make people give you respect. There is other way to earn respect during the first meeting, in some places people look at you from your appearance, what car you drive, and even how much money you make. But again, eventually you have to prove and show that you are capable to really gain the true respect]

The crazy thought now is whispering to me: soooo, if you will not have your chance to move to San Jose, and you have only those three reasons to stay in Cisco, would you consider another option that can provide you happiness in such a different way? The one that provides more adventurous life and chance to do something that you have never done before? Would you start looking for that option?

Ahh, my crazy thought. It’s so difficult to predict and control, but I just can’t imagine to live without it either.
This is my life and it's ending one minute at a time.