Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Slowing Down

As the end of the year is approaching, few days ago I started my personal review process by looking at the things that I have done in the past. I finally joined Cisco Systems Advanced Services 3 years ago, as per my previous target in life, and it’s been more than a year since I moved to a WWSP practice team that focuses on the NGN Infrastructure and Solutions to cover Emerging Markets. This is the team that I always dreamed to join. This is the place that I wanted to be, at least for now, and I may stick around for a bit longer.

From time to time I like to put a personal target, and I like to visualize it. For example, long before I passed my first CCIE, I already had the picture in my mind about what I would do the day I really got my number. Before I joined Cisco, I used to visualize myself as Advanced Services team member who must provide the best solution to the customers even during a challenging situation. It may sound silly but sometime it can really help in maintaining my motivation to achieve the target.

So while waiting for the year to change in the next few days, I dare myself to put my target-in-visual and share it here, which I may add the version number 2.0 to it to differentiate with the previous one I made in the past.

Wait. No more certifications like CCDE, Cisco Certified Architect etc just as in my previous target? Yup. All those certifications (except the one from another vendor, you know what I mean) are written as my target from the company I currently work for. This means I have to do it anyway and for sure I will get it someday.

No newer product line like the Cisco ASR9K?
I don’t think it’s necessary. My team is dealing with the NGN solutions, so once any customer under the team’s coverage countries starts buying the ASR, the project will come to us eventually. So even without setting up a target, there will be a point in time where I have to deal with it and master the product.

No place as the new destination to live?
I believe home is where the heart is. And my heart belongs to any place where I can be together with my family. So it doesn’t matter if it’s in Dubai, my hometown, San Jose, or even Johannesburg (exclude District 9). Having said that, I don’t think I should mark any place as a new target to live.

My new visualized targets contain all the skills I want to learn, or things that I’ve been doing so far but now I want to put more focus on them. From snowboarding, ability to drive in multiple terrains, photography, playing drum (and forming a rock band?), travelling and a black box that I designate for the target that I can’t share in here because it’s too personal. None of them shows any items that I currently own or I want to have in possession. The pictures illustrate what kind of skills I want to excel, so all the items in there are just the tools to achieve the target.

And the best thing from all my new targets, I can do most of them together with my first kid. No more selfish target.

How about the target I want/have to achieve at work? I still have them, but I don’t consider as my personal targets since they are written anyway and always get reviewed during my company’s annual review process.

I’m slowing down in term of work. It doesn’t mean I will start deteriorating the quality of my work and delivering only rubbish. But it means I will allocate only 40 hours of my time per week to work. Just as what I was asked to do. If I do more in some week, because sometime I have to comply with the project schedule, I will compensate myself on some other week. This makes me able to allocate at least 40 hours per week too to spend with my family. And I can use the rest of the time to achieve my personal targets.

With this mindset, I’m ready for 2010.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Yet Another CCDE Attempt

I've just done my second attempt of CCDE practical exam. It's still a very long, painful 8 hours and frustrating exam. But even I spent only few hours last night to prepare for it I was much happier this time. Probably because I know what to expect.

As part of the NDA that I signed, obviously I can't share much information about the exam content here. But there are several notes I want to highlight from this attempt:

- There are more candidates taking the test in London, 26 compare to only 16 in August, and the administrator told me the testing center is actually capable to hold up to 39 candidates. Is this a sign that CCDE becoming more popular? I don't know.

- At the same time I heard the exam in Hong Kong was canceled due to the lack of demand. It was canceled over there as well on August with the same reason. So the exam is not that popular in the region where english is not the native language? Probably. Probably because this exam requires a lot of reading and number of questions (all in english) that we need to analyze in 8 hours.

- I feel like there were some modification in the questions. No more unnecessary jokes in the email conversation. And the questions are more straight forward. There are still some confusing questions that made me want to bang my head to the computer screen, but the number is much less compared to the previous attempt. Confusing because I can't agree with the options provided in the questions to improve the design. But hey, it was not a real world challenge. It was just an exam, and any exam is meant to be confusing.

- During this attempt I've just realized that this is the most 'vendor neutral' exam from Cisco. The only sign that showing it's an Cisco exam is only the router icon and lots of EIGRP questions! But the focus of the exam is the analytical thinking to provide the high level network design and to solve the problems caused by design flaw. No product limitation discussion. No specific hardware related to Cisco. No Cisco IOS configuration. I believe the skill to pass the exam can be useful and applicable even for another vendors as well.

-What make it difficult for a design engineer to pass this Design Expert exam is: because when we see the scenario in the questions we tend to relate it with the real world design challenge and start getting into detail. I believe that's not what it is expected by the exam maker. The technical scope in the exam is a broad and high level. The most important, I believe, is the ability to analyze the questions and select the answer from the options available.

- Lunch provided by the testing center in London is better than the previous attempt. At least now they have the tuna and vegetarian sandwich instead of ham only. For this attempt I was more prepared: I slept for 7 hours. I had a good breakfast in the morning. I didn't eat much during lunch because it would make me sleepy during the second half of the exam. Remember, we need to stay focus and maintain our sanity for 8 hours.

- Security in the testing center was really tight. Not only I had to show 2 government-issued documents to prove my identity, I needed to sign, got my picture taken, and both of my palm were scanned multiple times! And I thought a simple fingerprint scan was adequate, or perhaps because there are already so many movies showing how we can beat the fingerprint scan easily?

- Last but not least, there were 2 female among the candidates. Good. Another proof that the computer networking world is not solely dominated by men!

Well, the long and painful 8 hours is done.
Now comes the hardest part.
Waiting 8-12 weeks for the result.

Friday, December 04, 2009

Project London II

I got the CCDE result yesterday and it's negative. There are several things that I hate around the result other than the fact that I failed:

- It took about 3 months to get the result
- The result was delivered using a hardcopy letter (what happens to online result? Now I can see the status: Fail in Vue website but no email notification like in CCIE)
- The result only shows the percentage for few generic design tasks: gather and clarify requirement, develop network design etc.
So it does not list in detail the result per technology or per scenario that I believe will make it difficult for a candidate to know his weakness. Getting 50% in develop network design section, for example, I believe it's not a clear feedback in order to be more prepared for the next attempt
- And as per today I can't find any official statement that saying the minimum percentage to pass the CCDE exam. Is it 80% like in CCIE?

Indeed I have booked for another attempt on next Tuesday in London. But at the end of next week I have to submit lots of documents for the project I'm currently working on. And this weekend I have already planned to go camping with the kids.

I don't think I can give up either one for CCDE. So I will just walk in to the testing center and try to stay awake for 8 hours, and rely solely on my common sense.

Let's see.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Career Path

There is no such thing as career path.

I’m talking about a career path for an engineer, or those who want to focus and stay technical in computer networking field, for example, for the rest of his work life.

In some organization this can be seen as crystal clear. There isn’t any path at all for technical person. It just doesn’t exist, especially in an organization where IT is considered as secondary team, formed just to support the mainstream of the company’s business. Once an engineer becomes senior and wants to go to higher level he needs to switch to a managerial level, let’s say by becoming a technical manager. And this means he needs to start dealing with other stuff outside the engineering scope: manage people, budget, P&L per head in his team and so on. In this type of organization if one is keen to stay with the current scope as engineer, then he’s going nowhere. It may be even worst since some organization prefers to “refresh” the engineering division aka removing the old timers and put the younger workforces in order to lowering the monthly pay slip.

How about the technology solution company? It has been said many times that the engineering division is the core key of such company. Technical solution by engineer leads to sales that brought the income to the company hence it must be a haven for engineers to work for such organization? Not necessarily. The key here is still the ‘sales that brought the income’. We need to understand that it’s difficult to quantify an engineering work and get promoted. For example, as sales person in the company one can be given a number of annual targets of sales and if he can achieve or even over achieve the number within several years in the row, the promotion certainly awaits. How can we measure how successful an engineer is using a similar measurement? By looking at the number of US patents he produces or IETF RFC’s he has been involved each year? I’m talking about the engineers who work in the field in general to support computer network systems, as many of us are not that lucky and able to sit in the lab to invent the new technology.

So is there a way for an engineer to have career path?

Yes, there is. Some technology innovation company perceives the importance of keeping good engineers to support the business by making higher technical position is always available. This is the company where an engineer can stay technical and yes he can always climb a higher level until he is called “Distinguished” engineer or even “Fellow”. But still in order to achieve such level in engineering one needs to take control and build his own path, and even may need to compromise.
And as far as I know, a good engineer never compromises :)

First of all, the engineer needs to compromise to accept the fact that the technical team is less likely to be involved in any business decision, like an organization changes. Suddenly the company decided to change the model of the way they do business, including restructuring the engineering team, and let’s just inform the engineers at a very late state. One may comeback from a nice weekend just to find out he now needs to work for another team or to report to another manager. And if it’s not enough with the difficulty of an engineer for being recognized for the works he has done, how about moving him to the new team or asking him to suddenly report to new manager, where he has to start over?

Second, the engineer may needs to compromise by manipulating a technical fact in order to support the business. A solution that may not fit the requirement is proposed due to some other reasons including the political and other non-technical stuff, and now it’s time for the technical person to make it works somehow. A young and fresh engineer may just say NO because he still likes to work with the plain truth, just as what being engineer is all about. But if one wants to climb the ladder in the organization, from an engineer moves to senior level, then to become architect, then to a position called as technical lead, or distinguished or whatever, the organization is certainly expecting him to support the business.
From the way I look at it, it’s just another compromise.

The third and the worst compromise of all, because it’s difficult to quantify and distinguish an engineer from the others, the engineer may choose the short cut by doing anything possible to stay on the spotlight. Some said, to climb the company’s ladder it’s all about making the big noise. But how if the engineer is busy making noise but not the real work? The competition among the engineers may become ugly and no real intellectual property really produced, only the noise or the efforts to be the first to announce a half-done work.

I hope the three above are just my imagination, and as the result of too much smoking Shisha while chatting with old friends last night. But unfortunately, some of them are too real.

So if I knew this all along, why bother even to write it down and discuss it? Life is a matter of preference, isn’t it?

It’s true.

The reason why I brought this up is so all of those like me who think and plan to spend the rest of our time focusing on technical, can set our expectation right. Once we choose to go down this path then we should know the consequences. That it won’t be easy and it will be full with obstacles even to move one grade higher. We have to be ready to see those who choose to be in other department, for example in sales, may climb the company ladder faster than we do.

And I also have a secret to share here. I noticed that to get the promotion as technical person, we don’t have to do great job in every task. But we have to do an extra ordinary job in only a single task. Superb work even in only a single project, in the right time and seen by the right people, can bring us much better result. Just like one great rock show can change the world, as Dewey Finn aka Jack Black said in the School of Rock. And obviously we don’t have to be on the spotlight by claiming someone’s work even if we really desperate to get the promotion.

Will it really work?

How the heck I know? I’m a kind of guy who keeps changing the organization everytime I want more. In the past, to get more salary I moved to another organization. To get a better job profile I moved to a different team. I built my own career path by keep moving from one organization to the others. I’ve never been in the same place long enough to see if my ‘secret career advice’ can really work.

So I will tell you all the result once I really get my promotion.

Disclaimer: the writing expresses my own opinion and it has no relation what so ever with the organization I currently work for. It’s based on my own experience moving from one IT organization to the others, as well as my short experience working as contractor.
And I’m not smoking anything while writing this.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

How the Lab Exam Should Be

I have just done one lab exam to complete the internal certification from my organization. I can’t disclose more information about it, but what I can share here is my thought of how the lab exam should be done based on my experience taking that exam.

I said it once that certification means nothing without experience. Passing even a very tough lab exam such as CCIE doesn’t turn us to become real expert directly. Certification can only offers the baseline set of skills, and we should build our expertise on top of these skills, not in lieu of them.

But have you ever wondered how far is the skills tested in the lab exam compare to the ones needed in real life? For example, once you pass the CCIE SP lab, do you think you can just jump into a large SP environment or there is still a huge gap to fill in first?

Let me share my thought of how the lab exam should be done. As usual, this is just my personal opinion. And you know what they say; opinions are like arseholes, everybody’s got one.

1. Lab exam should use the real gear

If you look at the equipments in CCIE SP lab, you will notice that they are not the real Service Provider gears. Cisco 7200 is good, but not as P router! As well as the 2800 and 2600 that are still being used in some lab.

SP lab exam should use high end routers such as CRS, ASR and 7600. As P node, if multiple CRS is considered too expensive, a single CRS with physical partition using Secure Domain Routing can do the job as well. And we all know most of the SP core networks use IOS XR, so at least GSR with IOS XR must be available if getting CRS is not an option. For PE node, if the latest ASR9K is still out of reach at least use 7600 with RSP and ES+ card!
Sound too ambitious? Perhaps. But those are the real equipments being used in most Service Provider networks nowadays.

It’s the same case with CCIE Routing & Switching lab. If this track is supposed to simulate a large Enterprise network, at least Cisco 6500 should be available in the lab.

2. Lab exam should simulate the real scenarios

Okay, you are done with the configuration of the device, and then what? Run a ping test? Verify the config? Run the show commands? It’s not enough!

The lab exam should use traffic generator to simulate the traffic. Once we have the traffic in the network we can verify, for example, if the Quality of Services features really work. The lab should ask the candidate to verify the failover scenario. How we can be sure if the fast convergence feature is already configured properly? By checking the BFD neighbors from show commands? By looking at the NSF and GR config only? Yeah, right.

Why can’t we just run the traffic generator and see the impact of the configuration, or failover scenarios, to the traffic? Even the skill to understand and set the traffic generator is necessary to do the job in real world later on.

3. Lab exam should test the knowledge in proper way

It’s not enough to ask the candidate to configure or troubleshoot something in the lab. Some guys can just get the lab questions from somewhere and memorize the configuration to answer them.

The best way to test the in-depth knowledge of the candidates is by asking them to do the verification and explain the output. For example, during fast convergence test, let’s ask the candidate to provide the convergence time for link failure and ask them to explain why the time can be different between link down and link up (restoration) state. Can they explain why the convergence time can be different if the PE router crashes compare to if the failure happens in P router?

Tricky questions like in current CCIE lab are still important. Troubleshooting skills are still required to be tested in the lab too. But the candidate is expected to be able to explain more ‘WHY’. Not only why it’s configured this way or that way, but as well as why the traffic behaves in certain way when some features are configured or when the failure occurs

I know most of the time it’s unfair to do the comparison between my “ideal” lab exam with the known certification like CCIE.

Take the lab equipments, for example. The real gears aren’t cheap. So a vendor may have only 1 or 2 complete labs that can replicate the real world’s equipment to serve all candidates around the globe. My view on this: that’s fine. Because nowadays we don’t have to fly to sit in the lab physically, we can just do the exam remotely. And the lab exam I described above is to test the skills in specific area. I mean, Cisco may create “Advanced CCIE lab” for specific technical focus with CCIE as the prerequisite, and there are so many tracks available (CCIE SP-NGN, CCIE SP-IPTV, CCIE SP-Wimax and so on). With many options of advanced track available, a candidate can choose which one is suitable to support his daily work so the number of candidates will be distributed to all the tracks.

If time permits, all the explanation should be done with short interview, not only in written. How if English is not the native language of the candidates? That’s fine. With remote lab, more locations can conduct the exam and the candidate can have the proctor who can speak the same language. And the lab exam can take 2-days format just like back there in 2001. Day 1 can be allocated to build the network, Day 2 morning can be used to run the traffic generator and verify the setup. Day 2 afternoon is for troubleshooting section. At the end of each section the candidate is expected to explain what have been done, and the behavior of the traffic in several different scenarios.

Obviously with this new and advanced CCIE track the main objective is to prepare the candidates to able to do the job the next day after they pass the lab, and not to chase the quantity of people to pass it.

Is it possible to have that kind of lab or can it be done only in our dream? Heck, who knows? One day a vendor like Cisco may really create a new certification track beyond CCIE, and they may take all the points above into their consideration.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Ode To The Contractors

"Himawan Nugroho spent his time between jobs last year as a contractor…and discovered it offered a level of control and empowerment that he’d never had before..."

The quote above is taken from an article in this site. It refers to my previous writing about Contractor Wannabe. Well, it's good to know that someone is actually reading that kind of stuff that I wrote :)

I was a contractor, even for only few months. It was during the time when I had resigned from my previous company and before I joined Cisco. Yes, indeed, the article describes exactly how I felt at that time. And I'm discussing again this topic because during the past few projects I've worked with many contractors, and some of them are really helpful.

In this part of the world it's not easy to hire a permanent employee. It takes time and lots of paper work at least for the visa process. And once the project is rewarded we have to start the work immediately, while the process to get someone on board won't be able to catch up. The solution? Hire contractors. They are skillful and available, almost, anytime. How about the working visa? They usually will be involved for short term so business visa should be fine. How about the skill? We can look at their previous experience and even call for quick interview. And once the work has started how if the guy has issue or we are not happy with him? Get the replacement. Easy and no headache. As long as we hire the guy with the right skill and we can allocate the proper work to him, the decision to use the contractors can be really rewarding.

Once I met a guy. He may be the right description of my answer if you'd ask: what do you want to be when you grow old? Single fighter, working for short term, keep moving from one place to another. Living from one hotel to another. His car is always from rental company. He carries his gadgets and magic luggage contains all the stuff he needs to live away from home for months. He got my respect because of the expertise. Got reputation and years of experience. Jason Bourne kind of guy. My kind of guy.

So will I go back to that kind of life style? Not now, at least. Currently I work in a place that I wanted to be. Working in the right team, surrounded by the most talented people. And I have something from my current work that I can't exchange even with a freestyler contractor life: deep level access to the product and technology.

Anyway, I was just trying to build a list of what it takes to become a successful contractor (in network engineering area or technical consulting). With my limited experience as contractor, here it is:

1. Build the reputation. The most important, I believe, are the integrity and responsibility
2. Result oriented. The work must be done successfully no matter what, within the agreed timeline
3. Adaptable, flexible, able to handle the pressure and sudden changes in the project
4. Possess extensive experience in different types of project with multiple roles
5. Able to work independently, but at the same time able to work as part of the team
6. Good communication skill and can easily blend with customers from any types, anywhere, in any circumstances
7. Specialize and focus in one technology area but know other stuff to certain level. For example, expert in Core IP/MPLS network but understand as well the access layer, security, physical layer, data center and so on
8. Able to work as multiple roles: engineer, consultant, architect, project manager etc
9. Always update the skills, fast and continuous learner. Willing to invest on skill update, lab, and any tools that can assist in delivering the work
10. Know how to market yourself: social networking, keep the contacts with previous customers, always update the CV, etc

When I look at the list above, I started to think that the list is a must not only to become a contractor, but as well as to stay competitive in the market even as permanent employee! It may be the one that keep our job during the financial crisis like today. I wouldn't know for sure, but it seems like I will bookmark this post to remind me that even a Triple CCIE can be replaced anytime. And the only ones that can save my job are those 10 points.

To all contractors, this post is for you.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

3 Types of Network Designer

The following writing is still related with the CCDE Practical exam that I took recently. IMHO, there are three types of designer for network infrastructure solution:

Designer for Solution: the one normally focuses on the high level solution, by considering customer business model, future growth and other non-technical stuff. The coverage of the design is usually broad, but not too deep, and the solution is for a complete infrastructure with all the supporting components, including the operational process and the operation management. Solution designer should be able to provide the high level topology network infrastructure with the technology to be used and the features need to be enabled, but neither is required to provide the details nor the exact hardware to be used. Characteristic and the features required from the hardware can be mentioned though, to make it easier for the hardware selection by later designer.

Designer for Pre-sales: similar with solution designer, but the coverage normally is less broad and more detail to support the sales activity. As example, while the solution designer may covers the whole infrastructure including the operational process, the pre-sales designer may cover only the data center but can provide the detailed topology for it. The pre-sales designer is the one who involves in the hardware selection, and she must ensure the hardware chosen can run the technology or features required in the solution. If there is capacity and future growth requirement in the design, it has to be considered as well during the hardware selection. The output expected from a pre-sales designer is high level design with the list of hardware required called Bill of Material.

Designer for Implementation: the one who focuses on the in-depth and bit level details of the design. Implementation designer must provide the low level design and make sure the solution can really be implemented using the hardware available. The list of hardware may have been decided by previous designer, so now it's time to make the solution really works. The coverage of the implementation designer can start from the physical topology and connection, module allocation in the hardware, IP addressing scheme, software to be used, up to the detailed configuration of each hardware. The technology and the features chosen may need to be adjusted accordingly based on the limitation from the hardware or the software architecture. And the configuration or the way to implement the technology or features is usually based on the best practices, lab testing or the previous experience in another networks.

One example when to use the different types of network designer is as follow: a solution designer is the one who builds the Request For Proposal (RFP) document for a complete solution including the operational support. So he stands on the customer side. A group of pre-sales designers, stand on the vendor side, can work to answer this RFP and each designer must provide the list of hardware for specific area that complies with the requirement. It is required for the pre-sales designer to submit the proposal explaining the high level design and how the proposed hardware can deliver the solution. And once the proposal is agreed, the hardware need to be ordered, and now it is time for the implementation designer to really make the solution works.

Which one of the designers is better? It depends.

As in the above example I mentioned, we can be the ones who set the direction of the new network infrastructure solution and technology to be used without having to know too much detail but instead must cover broader technology, we can be the ones who select the hardware and provide high level design to support the sales, or we can be the ones who work in low level design to implement the solution and configure the devices.

Sometimes a person must work as solution designer and pre-sales designer at the same time. And sometimes a person must even work as those three types!

Before I joined Cisco, I used to work as the solution designer, pre-sales and implementation designer role and my role may changed from one project to the other. Obviously at that time, as solution designer I gain benefit being outside Cisco because I was able to work even with the hardware from multiple vendors. But as implementation designer, I was not able to go deeper because I didn't have access to the detailed hardware and software architecture.

Since I joined Cisco Advanced Services about 3 years ago most of the time my focus has been in the implementation or after the list of hardware has been confirmed by the pre-sales designer. I must deal with the design limitation due to the hardware or software architecture. Most of my customers are Internet Service Provider or from Telecommunication industry. And in my last several projects I had to focus on the migration from the existing infrastructure to the new one, which means I have to deal more with the right methodology and the detailed procedures to transform the network without impacting the daily business of the customer.

The CCDE exam that I took few days ago covers the knowledge owned by the solution designer, and part of the pre-sales designer. It deals with the high level solution design. It is not required to know the limitation from the hardware, nor it is required to choose the hardware like what the pre-sales designer does. CCDE contents cover the different type of customer networks from different industry, from ISP to Retail, Financial, Media and so on. We don't need to know the in-depth and bit level details of the technology but we must know the reason why a particular technology is chosen in the solution.

So looking at the above facts, please allow me to make this statement even I haven't passed the exam to prove it: it is actually possible to just walk in to CCDE practical lab, without preparation, and pass it. As long as we have extensive experience with high level design for different type of networks. Plus we need the problem solving minded, the ability to capture only the related and important information, and a good stamina to stay focus with lots and lost of reading within 8 hours.

For me, if I really failed this attempt and need to take the exam again, at least now I know what to do. I need to get out from my current mindset that follows my current work where it is expected for me to focus in a very low level and detailed design, with a narrow technology area. I need to return back to my previous experience before I joined Cisco, when I used to support the pre-sales activities, and when I used to work with high level solution of multiple customer networks from different types of industry. Since my current work deals only with Service Provider networks, I may need to find some best practices documents, but not the in-depth implementation practices, but more like the high level design solution for different type of customer networks.

All of those will be necessary once I get the report 6-8 weeks from now, stating that I really fail. So let's just wait and see.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

CCDE Practical, What (I Think) We Need To Pass It

I've just taken the CCDE Practical exam. The result will come only after 6-8 weeks, and frankly I don't know if I will pass or not due to the way the questions are presented. Mind you there are many questions require to drag-and-drop, fill in the table/matrix, re-ordering, and adding device/link into the existing network diagram, and in CCDE exam partial credit is possible.

For me, the content and coverage of the exam were a bit unexpected. So I wrote the following based on my own experience taking the exam today.

We Need a Very Good Stamina
- Surprisingly for the CCDE I found the time is not the main issue, 8 hours should be enough because we can't go back to the previous questions or re-check our work anyway. We just need to make sure to do each scenario within the average time allocated (if there are 10 scenarios, just divide 8 hours with 10 to get the average time we have per scenario)
- But what we really need is good stamina to be able to stay focus and concentrate after reading multiple different scenarios and hundreds of questions!
- Nice sleep and good dinner/breakfast is compulsory (in my case, lunch provided at testing center was horrible! And I was unlucky, I didn't have breakfast in the morning)

We Need to Have Broad "Design Experience"
- I believe there won't be any book or training to face this exam, the best practices design document or case studies may help
- We really need to have design experience and analytical skills, not as low level designer but more like as 'high level' solution designer
- Our experience and knowledge should cover the design for different type of customer network and industry, from ISP to Enterprise like Retail, Financial, Media etc in order to understand not only the challenges with the design of certain network type, but as well as type of the applications run and the network requirements of those applications that may affect the design decision

We Need to Understand What They Want
- Even we have extensive and broad design experience, our logic must sync with what the exam authors wanted
- Sometime there is more than one right way to solve the requirement, but we need to know which one is the expected answer based on the information provided
- Similarly, for re-ordering question, we need to make the order based on related information and which is the most correct (and for me it's still difficult to figure out the "right" order since I believe there is more than one possibility of the orders as the answer)
- CCDE Practical Exam Demo can show a brief example, the Networkers 2009 slides from Russ White can even provide closer view of the real practical exam

We Need to be Able to Relate Only the Important Information
- There are lots and lots of information provided, sometime half of the information is not important (but we still need to read and screen it at least during the first reading)
- But sometime the information can be very minimum, for example, for some application it's assumed that we know how it works
- This is the point where we need the good stamina so we can still focus especially in the last few hours, we also need the ability to capture only the important and the keywords from the overwhelmed information provided, and possess a broad and high level design experience in different type of network and industry to make us familiar with the challenges

We Need to Do "High Level" Troubleshooting Too
- It seems like the exam maker thought it was not enough with only the number of design decisions we must do, we also need to do some "high level" troubleshooting
- We may be asked to figure out what's wrong with the network or design flaw causing network issues, and instead of doing debug we must analyze it from series of information provided (sometime we need to choose which questions and further information to ask to the customer)
- Again, I believe for this part we have to rely on the experience with high level design, the logic and ability to capture only the necessary information, and possess the knowledge of technology overview instead of in depth/bit level details since we can't do any debug

And In the End, When We Fail
- Unfortunately even if we fail we may not able to be more prepared in the next attempt
- At least in CCIE lab if we can't ping definitely there is something wrong with our setup, and after we fail in CCIE we are presented with the break-down score for each technology section so we know which part is our weakness
- The CCDE exam contains multiple scenarios and bunch of questions for each scenario. From one scenario the questions may cover the routing, security, tunneling, management and Quality of Services technology areas and personally I'm not sure how I can figure out on which part is my weakness if I really fail (unless the score report can break it down per technology area for each scenario)

In summary, I fully support the statement of CCDE practical exam is as difficult as CCIE lab, even their coverage is not in the same context. And it may be more difficult if we consider the fact that we won't know for sure if we make mistakes. Even I feel like the design knowledge required to pass is more on the high level, but the most important things to have are the designer logic, broad knowledge of technology areas and the ability to capture only the necessary information before making any design decision.

So I think we need the above points I mentioned to pass this exam. But I can be sure only after I got my CCDE number, either in this attempt or the next.

Here is a link to CCDE practical tips from another test taker.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Confession From London

I'm not ready.
I hate to admit but that's the fact.

I don't like to make excuse but let me try it once at least for this: after I got back from the previous project to Dubai last week I had only 6 days before the exam. And I used the first two days, obviously, to sleep and watch several HD movies, to compensate what I have missed during that hectic project.

So I had roughly only three days to review and read some books, and I was still managing the project remotely at the same time (it means lots of emails, webex meetings, phone calls, remote SSH session etc). Then this morning I took 8 hours flight to London.

As I said before, yes I'm really lack in my preparation but I'm not lack of confidence at all. But I guess I have to rely solely on my project experiences in the past and the knowledge I've gathered from the previous certifications.

Let's see how it goes.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Project Riyadh

- Vēnī, vīdī, vīcī. I came, I saw, I conquered.

This is my sixth week in Project Riyadh and hopefully the last. When I was told to be involved in the project the scope was: to lead the team to fix some design issues by migrating 15000 VPN customers in 3 weeks. My mind at that time was so focused to that number, and with a simple math considering the team can work continuously without a break it means we have to do 700 customers per night.

Once I arrived in Riyadh on the second week of July I realized the main challenge of the project is not to migrate the customers, no matter how many per night. There was lack of information and no documentation provided of the existing network and services. Network migration project relies on the information. Information of the existing network. Information of what the new network is going to be. Then we need to build a bridge between the existing and the new network. We need to build the methodology and procedure to ensure we can have a smooth transition period. The correct approach to make the migration process will not impact the daily business.

Without proper information, it's really difficult to come up with the right procedure. Without the right information, the methodology and the process can be misleading. No information, no bridge.

Fortunately I was and I am still surrounded by the best and talented engineers in the team. I remember Harry Stamper once said "I'm only the best because I work with the best". Like the Joe's, when all else fails, we don't. When any other team may refuse to continue working with a very less resource, lack of information and a very tight schedule, my team and I decided to continue the best we could.

We made mistakes in the first week but by making mistakes we learn more and more about the existing network. The customer environment is very unique so there is no way to finalize the migration process in the lab environment. We have to execute the migration and build the procedure at the same time. We are learning about how to migrate the network by doing it. Most of the team members worked more than 16 hours a day. And after few weeks, I was able to finalize the process, methodology and procedures, and I have all of those documented properly. Having a proper document of the migration process means anyone can continue my work even if I'm already out of the country.

This project may not make the top in my preferred projects list but I'm still happy because my team and I are able to accomplish something that was considered impossible. Yes I was not able to complete it in 3 weeks. Most probably it will be completed only by next week. But I communicated this frankly with the customer that due to the lack of information we have to share the risk. And one of the risks is we need more time to complete the project, especially I found there are many other services need to be migrated not only the VPN customers. I'm a kind of guy who doesn't like to make excuses. So to me what's important is to be clear and communicate all the challenges with the customer. And by working together as one team, anything is possible.

Yesterday was the independence day of my country. I hope my independence day from this project is coming soon too.

Those who have been following my blog should know that I have another important thing to do next week. Due to the high pressure from Project Riyadh, I didn't have time to prepare for it. But I will just try the best as usual.

Lack of preparation, yes. Lack of confidence, no no.

Project London, here I come.

Friday, July 31, 2009

CCIE, The Missing Points

In the next couple of weeks I will be celebrating the 8th anniversary of my first CCIE lab attempt. I took the first CCIE lab for Routing & Switching track in Brussels on August 13, 8 years ago. I failed at that time even I was able to reach the troubleshooting section on Day 2. Exactly one month after that day, I took the second attempt in Tokyo on September 13, and I passed. So I guess the number 13 can be associated as both bad luck and good luck for me.

I have worked, and lived, as CCIE for about 8 years now. Early 2005 I decided to go public by writing my first post in this blog, to share my life, my thoughts and my experience living as CCIE to everyone. Sometimes I wrote about my experience doing project with the customers. I shared how I passed the two other CCIEs in Security and Service Provider track. Once I wrote a post about how being CCIE is not that easy. I even wrote about my journey to join Cisco AS, all the way until I reached my current state in the WWSP team now. I shared my view about how I was so desperate to move to Cisco but I didn't have a chance at all. I was one of the hopeless crowd.

I wrote those things because sometimes I like to go back and read about it. It reminds me of those good old days, and I always laugh from time to time reading it.

But even with my continuous effort to transparently share about CCIE and the life of CCIE (at least mine), I feel like there is still some missing information. I still read and receive many comments regarding CCIE, and I believe those who made ones are missing the points. So here it is, I'm writing some of the points that I believe missing from people perspective about CCIE.

# CCIE is not worth anymore due to the high number

I saw the CCIE number of some guy who passed recently is already beyond 25000. CCIE number is started from 1025, so we can say at that time I'm writing this there are more than 24000 CCIEs out there. That's the reason why some people told me it's not worth to pursue CCIE anymore.

Man, you are missing the point. What is your purpose to take CCIE? Who cares about the number if we want to take CCIE to learn the technology covered in the lab in a structured way? If someone wants to take CCIE because he wants to ensure he has a solid foundation of the networking knowledge that he needs to work in the real life, why bother with the number? And you will see in my later point, it's not the number that matters. It's the experience, it's what you have done, it's the reputation, that matter.

And it's very rare you see CCIE with low number working in the field anymore. It means, even CCIEs are moving on. Some of the old CCIE have moved out from technical field. Some have become manager or even VP in the company. Some have invented their own company. Some may have retired and play in the rock band. Who knows? The point here is we always need regeneration process to get the new network consultant or new architect or new engineer. There is always a room for the new CCIE.

# Comparing school degree with CCIE

It's actually a ridiculous way to compare, since they are completely different! Professional certification like CCIE is good for practical knowledge. Do we need the regular school degree to do networking job? It depends. Someone who works in networking area as solution design consultant or implementation project architect won't need the degree. What they need is the experience and the technical knowledge. That's the spot where the professional certification can fill in, to help building a solid knowledge. But most of knowledge we learn from professional certification is a practical knowledge.

Based on my own experience, I never use my bachelor degree (and the knowledge I learned in the university, remember, I graduated as Mechanical Engineer) except when it comes to apply for work permit.

My point here: those two can't be compared apple to apple. Ones can go to school until they reach PhD level, only to find they can't design the solution for the customer in the project. This is obvious, because those knowledge are not the ones they learned at school. The PhDs are fit to do some other stuff, for example in depth research of new networking technology or protocol.

So ask yourself, what you want to be? If you want to work in practical implementation like myself, it's obvious you need the knowledge that can be learned by taking CCIE. Even if someday my kid decides to ditch the school because he wants to focus on practical computer or networking knowledge aka geeking out all the time, I can fully understand his decision. I hope.

# If you really need the !@#$%^&* comparison

I know, the answer above may not satisfy some of you, as until now I still receive the email asking for the comparison between school degree and professional/Cisco certifications. I will provide the answer here, and please be informed this is just my personal view.

CCIE is becoming the basic standard of networking engineer. And personally I do agree to become a solid networking specialist (level III in my previous post) one needs to have the knowledge covered in CCIE. So in Networking Engineering, I believe CCIE is the first level or Bachelor degree.

Having said the above, focusing in design mindset by taking CCDE, or by taking multiple CCIEs should be the Master degree. I really want to say that the next level should be CCIE with extensive experience. But if someone can pass CCIE and CCDE, or CCIE from multiple tracks, even without experience, he deserves the Master degree. Well, at least from me.

So you may guess the PhD level in my School of Networking Engineering: Cisco Certified Architect. While the PhD in real school must be achieved by extensive research, the Architect can be obtained only by extensive experience (10 years at least based on the Cisco Certified Architect requirement).

# The argument about CCIE vs. experience

By now you should know that there should not be any argument at all! CCIE is worth nothing without experience. Period. Do you think in real life the customer will be impressed if you pass CCIE lab with 100% score, but in the project you fail to deliver because you have no experience?

Whether you like it or not, CCIE won't be able to replicate the challenges in real world. It is a hands on exam originally designed for Cisco TAC engineer, to ensure they all have the same quality to help troubleshooting the network. It's not a design exam, even there are some design aspects you can learn from it. So obviously it won't be able to give you the simulation of real world where you have to deal with real customers, real projects, and real problems. The real world is just way too complicated to be simulated in 1 day exam (even until now Cisco is still trying by announcing the CCDE and the new Cisco Certified Architect level)

But think like this: when you are stuck with the same boring job, and you are so desperate to move but you face my 2 Law of Desperate Workers (you can't get the job because you don't have the experience, and you can't get the experience because your current job is too sucky) you may think about getting the certification as CCIE. Yes, you have to admit that you still won't have the experience. But at least by taking CCIE you can show that you have the solid foundation of the knowledge, and your willingness to learn new stuff.

# It's getting easier to cheat in CCIE

Some people said, if you want to pass CCIE just go to China! Some other said, all CCIE questions are flying around on the Internet. Some may said, many CCIEs and CCIE candidates don't respect the NDA anymore as they exchange the lab questions freely.

Please remember the previous point: CCIE is worth nothing without experience. If you don't have the experience yet, at least you can build a solid foundation of the knowledge by taking CCIE. So what's the point to become CCIE, if you don't have experience and you still need to cheat to pass?

I personally have met few CCIEs, some of them even have two CCIEs, and in five minutes I can figure out they don't have what they should have as CCIE. I'm not saying they must have passed the lab by cheating. I'm just saying even with their CCIE they don't have what it takes to do the work in real world. And if someone like me can figure that out easily, don't you think the company who wants to hire can't get the same impression during the interview process? They may be able to join the company eventually if they know how to trick the interview process, but the truth will show clearly the moment they really have to deliver the work.

So don't bother to cheat. No one can tell or accuse if you really cheat. But once you have the number, you should be ready to bear the consequences. You should be ready to show that you really have what it takes to be a CCIE.

# After CCIE we must live happily ever after

One guy called me as a Triple CCIE who never writes about CCIE anymore. He meant, I never write about the technical discussion around CCIE. My reply, what should I? If you are looking for CCIE technical discussion, you can join the groupstudy mailing list. Or you can read the Internetwork Expert blog. Unless I work for CCIE training institute, so I deal with the development of CCIE scenarios, after passing the lab I won't bother to focus with CCIE anymore as I have to work and deal with challenges in the real world project.

And if you follow my blog, you know I don't write the technical stuff for CCIE because the are many other websites, especially from the CCIE training institute, have done it very well. Instead I write about how to set our mindset to pass the CCIE. I share my journey to pass CCIE so those willing to do it can know how to live within the time of preparation. The CCIE wannabe can understand what kind of things we have to lose during CCIE preparation: social life, our hobby, relationship etc. I believe it's easy to find the technical information about CCIE, but only a few willing to tell you how does the life during preparation, and how it feel like to live and be a CCIE.

I write about how to live as CCIE.
I write about the challenges for CCIE.

And for me, if anyone bother to ask: am I happy with my current situation? My answer would be: I'm exactly where I'm supposed to be. At least for now. I work for the organization that taught me the very first knowledge of networking technology. Now I just need to pursue the targets in my life.

Currently I'm trying to get the best of both worlds: to work my dream job with the dream profile I have always wanted to have, while still have a happy family life and do other stuff like snowboarding, desert offroading, racing the bike and playing with my drum at home.

And it was all started from CCIE.

Saturday, July 04, 2009

Rock your world, I will

I can't rewind the time to go back to the past. And I won't do that even if I could. But frankly there was a time when life was so simple. High school. The time when I didn't think too much. The time I spent the most to practice playing drum. No CCIE, network, NGN, or Internet whatsoever. It was only me and my drum. And the everyday's effort to impress the girls at school. And the great feeling when I was able to take my dad's car without his permission to drive around the city. High school time is one of the greatest time, isn't it?

But despite all those fun I still don't want to become 17 again. What should I? Now I'm more mature. I am what I am today because of all decisions I made in the past. My mindset is shaped during the journey I have been through in life. I have traveled many places. I have seen different cultures. And now obviously I can afford a brand new Yamaha DTX electronic drum kit.

In between the pressure of my current project assignment, the upcoming CCDE exam, and some challenges in my personal life I got my self the drum kit this evening. This is not my effort to go back in time. This is real. Trying to excel my skill in drumming to match Lars Ulrich is one of my new targets in life. Well, most probably I won't be able to reach the target. But who cares? As long as I can play the new drum everytime I have a chance it will make me happy for sure. Electronic kit means I can play anytime since I can redirect the audio output to the earphone.

And I'm currently hiring too. I have several openings in my new rock band. If you can play electric guitar or bass, or if you can sing, and you don't mind to play Matchbox 20, Goo Goo Dolls, The Killers, U2 and Metallica sometime, you can send your resume to me. My ultimate goal is to try to perform in Networkers! If I'm not good enough to become a technical presenter there at least I can make some noise with my band.

Ah yes, I almost forget: CCIE is preferred but not compulsory to apply :) As long as you know the BGP packet format, or IPv6 addressing or at least understand the RFC 2547, you are more welcome to join.

Rock your world, I will.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Cisco Certified Architect

You might be surprised, but many people have come to me to seek advice about the career in networking area. Yes, I know, I know. Who am I to give the advice, right? But despite the fact that I have only 10 years experience, that I don't have any computer related degree, and I have actually written down how I climbed the steps starting from the day I learned to spell 'Cisco' until where I stand today in my blog, I still get such question over the emails.

So in order for me to save the energy to write the answer over and over again, and to save the bandwidth required to exchange the emails, please allow me to introduce the levels of networking engineers career I made that I called as "Network Engineer Technical Skill Transformation". Obviously the engineer won't transform to Camaro even if the Allspark aka cube did really exist.

Please be warned that everything I write here is based on my own experience. If you don't like it, just try to do it your way and make your own levels! You don't have to agree or follow my levels. I won't give you any rewards or certifications even if you do. All I want to do is to provide some kind like brief information based on what I have been through and I have seen on my way to reach my current position. And it may be useful for those who want to start or move their career to networking area but still clueless about the path.

To make it more fascinating, I tried to link the levels with the Cisco certification program.

Level 1: Configurator
The other name for this level is Config T engineer, where ones only know how to put the configuration without having deep understanding about the concept and the reason behind it. What it takes just the ability to copy paste the configuration from Cisco website to enable the protocols or features.
If I may compare it with Cisco certification program, this level can be considered as CCNA.

Level 2: Troubleshooter
Those who don't know the concept won't be able to troubleshoot. At this level ones know how to configure the protocols/features, and the concept behind it in order to troubleshoot when there is any issue during implementation.
If I may compare it with Cisco certification program, this level shall be the CCNP or other mid-level certifications.

Level 3: Specialist

At this level, the engineers are willing to focus on a particular area in networking. This is not a pure specialist role since most probably those still have to do the common routing and switching stuff, but now they are capable to work on other technology too where they put more focus to learn.
I shall put CCIE at this level. Even those who have CCIE in Routing & Switching track can fall to this level since they put their focus on the scope of the track.

Level 4: Designer

After focusing on one particular area at the previous level, at this level ones must learn more general and broad knowledge again. The other name of this level is System Integrator, where it is required to possess the ability to combine different technology solutions, sometime it even requires to combine the products from different vendors. As a network designer, one must be able to build a complete infrastructure solution from routing and switching, security, voice, wireless etc. And it is normal for a designer to have the knowledge beyond networking: Server Operating System, Database, physical Data Center and so on.
I don't think there is certification for this level. Well, CCDE may provide the foundation of the knowledge for this. But I would say it's like CCIE with project experiences to build a complete infrastructure.

Level 5: Architect
This is the next level of System Integrator, where ones know how to build a complete infrastructure, and understand the customer business requirements, and can make sure the technology and solution provided to answer the requirements incorporate the customer business model. From technical perspective, the architects understand hardware architecture and the way the protocols work in detail, in order to know the limitation of solution can be provided. They know the standard of the protocols and fully aware about different implementation from different vendors, so they are able to fully interop the products from multiple vendors.
This is like a CCIE who likes to read the protocol standards, understand the hardware architecture, able to interop products from multiple vendors, and has extensive project experiences with important role in both technical and non-technical aspect.

Level 6: Expert
The last transformation is to the expert level, after being the architect with extensive project experience, capable to build a complex and complete infrastructure from different vendors, and understand customer business requirements and the linkage to the technology and solution provided. At this level, ones are getting specialized again. Having extensive experiences and broad knowledge, the experts now can focus on one or a few particular technology in order to contribute to the development of that technology. Experts communicate to each other to develop the standard of networking, translate a difficult concept into the words that can be understood by ordinary people, and share the knowledge and information to the others.
At this level, the possession of any certification doesn't matter anymore. The most important is to have all what the Architect level has, with focus on one of few technology in deep detail, willing to contribute to the development of the technology, and share the knowledge and information to the others.

I have to remind you again, the above levels are mine. And the linkage to the Cisco certification program is based on my own definition. I have actually written down these levels definition since few weeks ago in my other blog.

Today, Cisco announced the new certification and the highest level ever called Cisco Certified Architect. If you look at the description of this certification, it's similar with my Architect level. You need at least 10 years experience. You need to apply and must be accepted to take the exam. The format is board exam, where you have to present your solution in front of several engineers, and must be able to change it on the fly based on the additional requirements on the board. And there is a rumor flying around saying that the engineers who will sit there to test you are Cisco Distinguished Engineers :)

I took my first CCIE when it was still two days exam. I enjoyed the last 2.5 hours dedicated for troubleshooting section. And I won't forget the time after the exam to explain to the proctor why I configured something the way I did it, sometime I even needed to draw in the white board to explain. The CCIE exam today, I believe, lack those two (troubleshooting and explaining the reason of the configuration) in order to claim as the highest level for network engineers to implement and deploy the solution. CCIE is not a design exam, and there is no design aspect tested in the lab. That's why Cisco then came up with CCDE. But still with this design exam, even I haven't taken it, but I feel like it's missing some designer knowledge. For example, there is no way to test the ability to capture the requirements from the initial meeting with the customer. Or the skills to lead the design workshop. And the CCDE exam for sure will not test the designer skill to adjust the solution if the customer modify or add additional requirements in the middle of the project. That's where Cisco Certified Architect can fill the gap.

Still though, even you can pass the Cisco Certified Architect exam or get the 'Architect' as job title, I believe your life is not completed if you haven't transformed to the highest level. The expert level. This is something that everyone in this field must put his goal at. We all must aim to reach this level, to be recognized as those who help the world developing the technology.

The expert level is something that must be earned.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

World Without Borders

I spent half of my time since last week to apply for entry visa to visit several countries. I may hold the most lame passport in the world, as I must apply for entry visa every time I want to travel. Well, this was not the case when I was still based in Singapore since my passport can enter any ASEAN countries, which I was supporting at that time, without visa. But now I'm covering Europe, Middle East and Africa. And every assignment outside Dubai forces me to deal with the lengthy procedures to get the visa, visa, and visa.

So this is my current situation: I'm running out of passport pages despite the fact that I just renewed it on mid 2007. I have only 3 pages left and I still need to apply for 2 more entry visas to enter 2 countries during the next couple of months. It's 44 pages in total. And I haven't traveled outside the country since I moved to Dubai early this year. This means I spent 2.5 pages in average every month within one and half year.

When I looked at my passport closely, I can see that I'm running out of pages because I have so many entry visas that normally take the whole one page. So far I have entry visa for US, Japan, Australia, Schengen/Europe (two times), Africa, Saudi (for umrah), Turkey, two pages for Singapore Employment Pass, UAE work permit and visa to Taiwan. Those have already consumed about one third of my passport! Not to mention some countries who don't like to put the immigration stamp in order. So one page may contain only maximum 4 stamps (it means one visit to a country: 1 to go out from home base, 1 to enter the country, 1 to exit the country, and 1 to go back to home base) due to the habit of some officers in the border to stamp randomly and consume the pages unnecessary.

Now at this hour, 2 hours past midnight, during the weekend in Dubai, when I'm still awake for no reason, I can't help my mind to start wondering: why on earth we need the entry visa to enter one country? They said, to ensure only eligible person can enter the country. Okay, but I was able to get a visa to US, it means I was consider "eligible" by US government, and yet I still need to apply for entry visa for another countries? Why can't we have a single check in the beginning that can be used by every government in this world?
Aren't we all connected already? Aren't our profiles available and accessible from anywhere? Don't we have a 'bar code' behind our neck that can be scanned to identify us, and contain the information about our history hence can define the eligibility to enter any countries? What about the conspiracy theory that states the government is watching everyone? That the government has the database of every human being in the planet?

And why we need to define if someone is eligible and permitted to enter the country? Because we are afraid that people will move around? There are so many security checks in the country border. But I can't stop laughing when one of my customer who has offices in two countries that have been in conflict for many years. It is so difficult for an employee in one country to get a visa to go to the other country for a business meeting, and vice versa. The customer then decided to use Cisco TelePresence to overcome the situation. They can have the meeting as many as they want, in 1:1 scale and real time, without any hassle to get the visa just for physical visit.

We don't move physically anymore. But we roam easily to any country over the Internet. Physically the person stays in his spot, but all the data and information are flying around crossing the borders.

I'm dreaming about a world without entry visa. Better yet, a world without borders. Where everyone can physically visit any spot in this planet without any restriction.
So one world, one nation? Or let's simply make it a world with much easier procedure to enter any country.

I guess I'd better sleep now.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Video Kills the Radio Star

Jack Black in School of Rock once said, one great rock show can change the world! I guess the same principle applies for networking industry: one great product can really change the world.

When Cisco Systems developed the first commercial router for public use, it was intended to serve multiple protocols. There was no intention to split the products for a different segment, for example between Service Provider and Enterprise network. The result at that time was a full line of products without clear separation in the products specification between a different market segment. They were all running the same legacy IOS and every product can support the full set of features whether it is required or not.

Thankfully Cisco realized that there is no one product to serve all. A classified project was started at the end of the 90's to come up with the next generation router with the new hardware architecture and the new software. When Cisco CRS-1 was unveiled in May 2004, it can be seen clearly that this product is the answer of the requirements from service providers to have a robust, high performance and scalable core router. And the product that just celebrated its five year anniversary last month continues to beat the expectation and currently has been deployed in more than 300 providers in the world.

So once you have a successful product, what's next? Try to replicate the success story and the technology for another products, obviously. The proven hardware architecture and the new true-modular IOS XR have been re-used in other products including the new release Cisco ASR9000 series. I'm very excited about this product because not only Cisco was able to release it during global financial crisis time (there are few products that have been developed for years but must be canceled due to the crisis, and we may need to wait until the financial situation recovers for new inovation) but ASR9000 comes with the similar hardware architecture with CRS-1 that has been proven in many production networks.

Enough with the history lesson, here comes the main point of my writing today.

As we all know the demand of Video services has become the main factor of so many technology developments. We live in High Definition era where even DVD quality is not enough. And we all want the video to be delivered to our TV at home through the network. We used to be grateful to YouTube, but now we want more. We ask for higher quality. We want for a full movie. We want to be in control of when and where we want to watch the movie. It has to be available anytime, anywhere, as long as we are connected to the network.

This means we need a high performance network infrastructure to deliver the video services. We need to ensure the digital packets of the video can be switched as fast as possible. We need more storage to keep all the videos. And not to forget the Video traffic must compete with other type of traffic in the network. This means the Quality of Services must be enforced for different type of network traffic to guarantee the services.

The Buggles were not wrong when they said Video Killed the Radio Star. But these days Video also kills our bandwidth, chokes our routers, and fills up our storage quickly. And Cisco is the leading company that has a complete line of products that are proven to deliver the Video service end-to-end.

While other companies are still busy marketing how fast they can bring new independent features to the market, Cisco has done more. They not only can cover all the required products to build a complete solution, they also show how to do it with a proven test result conducted by third-party testing vendor.

Light Reading and EANTC just released a report yesterday on how they test the Cisco's IP Video Services Delivery network. The tests covered the high availability with sub-second failover time for all network services, in-line video quality monitoring, massive scalability of IP video services and storage area network solutions and virtualization. The products involved are Cisco CRS-1, ASR9000, Cisco 7600-S, and Nexus.

In summary, Cisco’s IP Video solution showed excellent results:

- 8,188 multicast groups were replicated across 240 egress ports in a point of presence (PoP), showing that Cisco could serve 1.96 million IP video subscribers in a single metro PoP
- Accurate in-line video monitoring was demonstrated for video distribution and contribution over IP
- Sub-50 millisecond failover and recovery times were shown for video distribution and secondary distribution networks using, for the first time in a public test of Cisco equipment, point-to-multipoint RSVP-TE
- No video quality degradation in the face of realistic packet loss in the network
- Excellent quality of service (QoS) enforcement in Cisco’s new ASR 9010 router for both fabric oversubscription and head-of-line blocking
- Hitless control plane failover for converged network

As I said once, TV is evil. But on-demand TV is not. Simply because now we are in control of our TV.

Take control your TV. Take control your life.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

When I Make Mistake

In any projects I have been involved, it is very common to make a mistake. Or mistakes, if that matters. This is a good sign. Making mistake is one way to remind us that we are still human.

The question is: what should we learn from the mistakes? Try to avoid to repeat the same, obviously. But for me, I want to move further by writing down all my mistakes and sharing it to others. And in my current team, it's part of our responsibilities to replicate any knowledge that we have to another team. That's why they call us the 'practices' team.

So I'm trying to write down all my mistakes that I made during the deployment and implementation of all my previous projects. It is quite rare for me to be involved in a brand new network infrastructure known as 'green field'. Most of time I have to build and deploy the new setup by upgrading the existing setup. And most of the time the process of doing so is not straight forward.

So the output will be the strategy and detailed approaches that I (with all my team mates) took in handling the different type of deployment scenarios. I hope the information can be useful.

I know I may not be a good writer. I'm a blogger and the way I write may not be acceptable by my company's high standard of documentation. But I will make sure it will be published somehow, within my internal organization and public. At least, I can make sure it will be available in this blog.

Expect less blog entries while I'm doing this.

Friday, May 01, 2009

Against BlackBerry

"I wake up every evening with a big smile on my face,
And it never feels out of place,
And you’re still probably working at a 9 to 5 pace,
I wonder how bad that tastes.."
- All American Rejects, Gives You Hell -

This is the era where we don't need to "go to work" anymore. We simply work. From anywhere, at anytime. And we live in the world without boundaries. The concept of country during online meeting only comes up when it requires to synchronize the meeting time.

I have been considered as a mobile worker for several years now. It means I can work with flexible working hours from any place as long as I have connection to my company.

If I'm not at customer site, or on the way to the customer, then I would prefer to work from home. Working from home means I don't have to spend time to travel to the office. It means I contribute to the greener environment by burning less fuel :) , my company doesn't have to rent a big office to accommodate all the employees, and I can manage my work-life balance and I feel like I can work more efficient. And the best from all, I have all the collaboration tools to support me.

My company is behind this Work 2.0 phenomenon, if that's how we call it. I'm normally connected to the Internet and to my company using secure connection for about 12 hours a day. I use WebEx to communicate with the customer. I use the same collaboration tool for my team's weekly meeting. The team members live in different part of Europe and Middle East countries, but I can have regular virtual coffee with them, a team meeting using TelePresence, at least once or twice a month. I watch the training video and read the books online from the internal company database. I store the document in progress in WebEx Connect so my team mates can put their review and the system will track the version changes automatically. Once the document is done and accepted by the customer, it has to be uploaded to my company internal repository where it is available and searchable using the search engine. I have one-on-one discussion with my manager to track my career progress using TelePresence, just as if I had it in the same room with him. Sometime I use WebEx to control my customer's PC in order to connect to the network devices. Other time I let my customer to control my PC using the same tool to connect to our internal lab. We have our own Instant Messaging system which is the real-time communication I use the most to communicate to anyone within my company.

All those stuff may sound cool and awesome, especially for those who never try them before. But the point here is not the "coolness" or the "awesomeness" on how we deliver the work. The main point is still the work itself. For example, the focus of my work is the network design or the migration plan I build to help the customer to enhance their business. I use all the collaboration tools to make it easier to communicate with the customer and my team mates in order to complete the work. So I use the tools to help me to deliver my work, and not to make the process looks cool. I know I would be able to deliver with the same quality without all those tools, even it may take me longer time to complete or it can cost more. The tools are there to make the process more efficient.

So this is the reason why until now I have no BlackBerry, neither I have plan to get one. For a simple reason: I believe I don't need it. I can do my work without it. I can still be efficient enough without it. I simply can live without it.

I just use the required tools and whenever only it is necessary. I don't want to get addicted and start using the tools to turn myself to become inefficient. After connected 12 hours a day to the Internet and to my company, do I still need to receive email anytime, anywhere? I don't think so. Do I still need to browse the Internet while on the move? No, I don't. Do I need to update my Facebook status or Twitter every minute? Oh, come on.

I prefer to spend my spare time after work to enjoy my life. Now I have a garden in the backyard that I need to take care of. I live close to the small lake so I like to spend time to walk around it. I have a list of things-to-do-before-I-die and I would prefer to chase them instead of trying to keep my status online all the time on the Internet. It's better to learn a new skill in life instead sitting in front of my computer. I'm connected to the Internet only when I need to do my work. And when I'm unplugged and not connected, I still have my old mobile phone. It does voice and SMS perfectly so I believe it's more than enough.

Against BlackBerry. You may think I'm dumb to say such thing in this world where many people believe we must all be connected all the time and must use this latest technology.
I don't want to. It's just not for me.

I'm not against the technology, nor the product. I'm against the excessive usage of this kind of technology that make me not become more efficient but only to get addicted to the Internet and waste my time unnecessary. If you need BlackBerry to support your work then you use it. But for me I don't have to. I can live happily without it. And if you want to contact me when I'm offline, a simple phone call or SMS would be suffice.

Call me old school.
But I just want to live my life the way I remember it used to be.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Just Another Day @ Work

I woke up after only 2 hours sleep. There was no time for taking shower nor breakfast. Still wearing the same short I opened the IP/MPLS Core Low Level Design document that I have just completed several hours before. The design was based on extensive online meetings and conference calls with the customer and my team mates. I applied best practices and optimal design to ensure it has answered all the customer requirements. My presentation slides were ready. I read both documents for the last time just to ensure I didn’t misspell anything.

I grabbed a Red Bull from the fridge. My laptop was still connected to my company using a secure and encrypted connection. I’ve been spending my time every night until 5 or 6 in the morning for about a month to complete the design. I usually worked on the document in my own bedroom. It gave me a pleasant feeling and put me close with my family. I started working on it after they went to bed, because in a day I would be busy with all the relocation issues and helping my wife to take care of the kids. And working at night from my place would match the time with the folks in US due to a different timezone. My internal company's Instant Messaging system was ready and still blinking as I received the answer to all my queries related to the hardware in the design from the developers in San Jose.

All the hard work was done, and today was the presentation day.

I finished up the energy drink that has been keeping me awake for the past several weeks. I login to the WebEx to prepare the session. I fired up the WebEx Connect to ensure I have uploaded all the documents and to check if my team mate puts his latest review of the design there. I used the callback function to dial my IP phone, which I put it on speaker so I could talk at the same time sharing my slides or drawing something on the application that I shared on WebEx. I could share my desktop so the customer can connect to the internal lab from my PC to verify the configuration of the devices that I used to simulate the design. I also wanted to show my face to the customer on the camera while presenting, but after only 2 hours sleep and no shower I would guess it might not be in their best interest to see me.

I sent message to my mate using IM to check if he was able to see my slides on WebEx. In a few minutes, the other parties would come and join us.

I was presenting the Low Level Design from my bedroom in Dubai to the customer somewhere in Africa. My team mates were in Spain and Hungary. The Project Manager was sitting at her home in Nigeria.

Some people say this is how to work in Internet era. Some people call it true Collaboration. Some would say this is how all the web-based collaboration tools leverage the Web 2.0 concept. Others name this as Work 2.0.

But for me, it was just another day at work.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

CCDE Practical Exam Registration is Open!

The next CCDE Practical exam registration is open. There are only three locations around the world: Chicago, London and Hong Kong, and the exam will take place on 26th August 2009.

The way to register was not very clear too me, so let me share it here in case you are confused too just like I was.

1. You need to pass the CCDE qualification 352-001 exam first
2. You need to have an account in pearsonvue.com (you should have it by now, since you must create an account there to register for the qualification exam)
3. Go to Cisco Learning Network, CCDE, Practical Exam tab.
Or just click this link.

4. Click on one of the locations in Registration Steps point no.2.
5. The location you select will take you to pearsonvue.com website, login, then select the 352-011 CCDE practical exam. Follow the procedure to pay the exam.

I believe the seat is quite limited so please hurry if you are interested. And if you want to take it with me, please select London :)

Monday, March 23, 2009


Many people have asked my opinion about CCIE vs. CCDE from time to time. Which one is better? Should I take CCIE, or CCDE with some mid-level professional certification such as CCNP/CCIP? Which certification will give me more chance to get a job? And so on.

I don’t have CCDE yet, so my answer below can be considered partial. You know, I’m a kind of guy who thinks I should have done or completed something first before I can give my full review about it. Been there, done that, then write a review. But that’s just me.

This afternoon I passed the CCDE written exam. I didn’t spend much time to prepare. I was busy writing a low level design, network migration plan and pre-sales document for customers in three different countries. And I currently have personal issue that makes me really run out of time, so studying CCDE was my lowest priority.

No time to study, no practice test, no reading books at all.

What I did: looked at the CCDE written blueprint and realized I have done and implemented most of the technologies listed either in real world networks or during my previous CCIE labs. So I just spent a couple of hours during the weekend to read Networkers presentation to refresh my memory for some specific technology, then walked to the testing center. Networkers slides are priceless, since they explain in detail about the technology with implementation case study and best practice. Now the material is available for public called Cisco Networkers Virtual with only €200 for annual subscription.

I don’t know if it’s possible to do the same for CCDE lab later on. Ah, it is not a real lab actually, but computer based exam instead. I guess if in CCDE written the questions are just about the implication of the protocols or design as separate different questions that are not related one to another, CCDE lab should provide more like scenario-based questions where there are series of questions that we have to answer to build or improve the design. So knowing the implication of running one protocol is not enough, we must know the implication in specific topology and scenario, where there are different requirements and other protocols running too. And the scenario in CCDE lab will start from gathering information about the requirements, before we can decide which design can fit to answer the requirements.

There is a practical exam demo in Cisco Learning Network, as well as some sample questions in Networkers presentation. I encourage you to check the slides and do the demo.

So here is the fact: CCIE was made with main focus on building a complex network with practical implementation in the lab, and troubleshoot the issues during the process. We can only troubleshoot something if we know how it works in normal operation. So by studying CCIE can make us understand how the protocol works in detail, know the limitation and implication of running multiple protocols at the same time, give us hands-on experience to implement them, and able to decide what is the best way to enable the protocols or features to answer the requirements.
But it is not a design exam.

The requirement stated in CCIE questions is not to test the design skill, but to ensure the candidates have deep understanding of the topic. What kind of design we can do with less than 10 routers anyway? We will surely utilize all the lab routers to enable the required protocols and features, without having to know the best practice design and the implications of running those chosen protocols in real world scenarios.
That is where the CCDE comes into play.

Most of the folks who built the CCDE program have CCIE and started their career as TAC engineers, who know how exactly the protocol works and how to implement it, as well as have seen how the network fails, before they all moved to become design engineers. They got design knowledge by implementing and troubleshooting the real world networks, with different topology and requirements. And personally, I believe this is the best way to become a real design expert.

So what is my answer to the original question? Which one is better, CCIE or CCDE? Well, it depends, as always :). To get a job in current situation you may want to get CCIE or multiple mid certifications such as CCNP/CCIP as well as other vendor certifications, depending on the requirement listed in the job description. Especially since CCDE lab will still need time before it’s available world wide. But if you really want to become a network designer with a solid knowledge and experience, why don’t you follow the path that was taken by most network designers, including those who made the CCDE program: take the CCIE first, get implementation and design experience from the real world, and then take CCDE in the end to backfill the missing knowledge, or to certify our skills as network designer, or just for fun.

I suggest you to read the Networkers slides about CCDE or check out the Cisco Learning Network to get more information.

If you had asked me a different question: which one is better, CCIE or IE certification from other vendors such as the JxxIE or HxIE? The answer would be easy and straight forward: CCIE! Why, you may ask? Well, because those vendors even when they are hiring most of the time they write: CCIE preferable.

With that, I rest my case.

Saturday, March 07, 2009

Deep Diving Router Architecture, Part III

In the previous two parts we have discussed a lot about the hardware architecture. So where do we go from here? Let’s now discuss the features and the applications running on top of the hardware architecture that we have been discussing so far. I’m running out of the pictures that are available and can be found in google to explain this topic. And obviously I can’t use the picture from my company’s internal document. So let this part be the picture-less discussion.

The following are few sample features and applications that are required from a modern and next generation router:

High Availability (HA) and Fast Convergence
Router fails eventually. The failure may happen on the route processor module, the power supply, the switch fabric, the line card, or the whole chassis somehow. The key point here is not on how to avoid the failure, but how to manage during the failure to minimize time required to switch the traffic to redundant path or module.

For most of us who like to see a network as a collection of nodes connected to each other, the failure might be only in either link or node failure. For these two cases, router vendors have been introducing Fast Convergence (FC) features in the product such as IGP FC and MPLS TE Fast Re-Route (FRR) to reduce the network convergence time to minimal. And the key point for this type of failure is to detect the failure as soon as possible. If the nodes are connected with direct link, the Loss of Signal (LoS) may be used to inform the failure to the upper layer protocol such as IGP. If it is not direct link, we may use a feature called Bidirectional Forwarding Detection (BFD) which basically sends hello packet from one end to the other.

When the hardware fails, we expect to see packet loss for fragment of time. In most cases this is inevitable and the only thing we can do is to minimize the packet loss or to reduce the convergence time. For a router with redundant route processor, let’s say the primary route processor fails and it has to switch over to the secondary route processor, it can use a feature called Non-Stop Forwarding (NSF) during the switch over time until the secondary route processor is ready to completely take over, to avoid any packet loss. NSF offers some degree of transparency, since the failure node can inform its neighbors that it’s going to down :) but make promises it will go back online again so please all neighbors don’t flush the routes from the routing table for certain period of time, and please keep forwarding the traffic to the failure node.

The failure node itself must use modular concept as explained in previous discussion. So the forwarding plane should be done in other location but the route processor, for example in the line cards. Before the failure, the router must run the Stateful Switchover (SSO) feature to ensure the redundant route processor is synchronized with the primary route processor, fabric and the line card. During the switch over, while waiting for initialization process of the secondary route processor to take over completely, forwarding packet is still done in the line card by using the last state of local forwarding table before the failure. So if the failure node can still forwarding the packet to the neighbors, even it uses the last forwarding table state before failure, and the neighbors are willing to continue forwarding the packet to the failure node because they have been informed it will go back online again soon, then we should not have any packet loss at all. Later the SSO/NSF feature should be able to return the forwarding table to the recent state once the secondary route processor has taken over completely.

The new HA feature has been pushed recently is the Non Stop Router (NSR). NSR is expected to offer full transparency to the neighbors. For NSF during the failure the IGP relationship is tear down, even the neighbors will continue using the routes from the failure node during the agreed period of time. With NSR, the IGP relationship should remain up during the switch over.

If we go back to the hardware design and architecture, we can see now the first requirement is to have the secondary route processor to be synchronized always with the other route processor, fabric and the line card. If this is not possible to achieve then we should see packet loss during the switchover. Obviously we all understand that if the failure is in the line card or fabric, while there is traffic passing through it, we should expect to see packet loss regardless of any HA features we enabled. And for modular switch fabric architecture, we should have several different modules for fabric and the failure of one module should not affect the total capacity of forwarding packets in the whole switch fabric.

Quality of Services
Quality of Services (QoS) feature in order to differentiated treatment to the packet is a must have requirement especially during network congestion. Where exactly the congestion may occur?

If we use the carrier class router architecture in Part II, we can see that the congestion may happen on the following:
- Egress queue, a queue in egress line card before physical interface: while waiting for the packet to be transmitted to the physical media
- Fabric queue, a queue to receive packet from switch fabric in egress line card: since it has to normalized the packet received from fabric if the packet must be converted to fixed-size cell, for example. Or because the egress queue is congested so this queue is becoming congested too
- Ingress queue, a queue before sending packet to switch fabric in ingress line card: as consequences of the congestion in fabric queue or in the fabric, this queue can be congested as well

Congestion may happen in the switch fabric itself. But normally carrier-class router has a huge capacity in forwarding inside the switch fabric to accommodate fully loaded chassis with all line cards. Unless if the switch fabric is modular and there is failure in some of the fabric modules that will reduce the capacity.

So the key here is we should be able to differentiate services in many points inside the router. For example, if the egress physical ports are congested, we should be able to ensure the high priority packet in egress queue will be transmitted first. Same case with the fabric queue. And even inside the fabric we should be able to prioritize some packet in case the fabric queue or the fabric itself is congested. And when there is congestion in egress queue, it should inform the fabric queue, that will inform the ingress queue to slow down sending the packet to the fabric. This mechanism is known as back pressure, and the communication from fabric queue to ingress queue normally is through the bypass link, and not through the fabric since for this intelligent fabric described in Part II it has only one way direction from ingress to egress, not the other way around. And slowing down the packet sent to the fabric actually means the ingress packet engine should start dropping low priority packets, so it can send lower rate of traffic to the ingress queue.

It is clear now where we can deploy QoS tools in different points inside the router. Policing, for example, should be done in ingress packet engine. Egress queue can use shaping or queuing mechanism and congestion avoidance tools. Fabric queue may need only to be able to inform the ingress queue in case there is congestion.

Btw, the QoS marking that is used inside the router is normally derived from the marking set to the packet such as CoS, DSCP or EXP. When the packet travels within the router, the external marking is used to create internal marking that will be used in forwarding path until the packet goes out from the router. It should be the task of ingress packet engine to do the conversion.

One other important point from QoS feature is the support of the recent hierarchical QoS model. In normal network, packet that comes to the router has only one tag or identification to distinguish the priority of the packet of one given source or flow. In MPLS network, the tag will be EXP bit. In normal IP network, the identification can be CoS or DSCP. And they are all associated to only one type of source or flow so there is only one QoS action need to be done to it. But how if there are multiple tags, and it is required to provide different QoS tools to different tag? Let’s say in Carrier Ethernet environment the packet that reaches the router comes with two 802.1q tags, the S-tag to identify the provider’s aggregation point for example, and the C-tag to identify different customer VLANs (this is known as Q-in-Q). We may want to do QoS action to the packet as a unit, it means we just need to apply the QoS to the S-tag, but we also want to apply QoS based on different C-tag. This means the router must support hierarchical QoS model where the main QoS class will impact the whole packet, while the child classes can be specific based on customer tag.

In a network of multiple nodes, multicast traffic means a single packet coming from one source get replicated to multiple nodes depending on the request to join the multicast group. Now it’s our time to look in more detail and ask question: who is doing the replication inside the router?

Multicast packet can be distinguished easily from the destination multicast group address. Inside the router the replication can be in ingress line card, called ingress replication, or in egress line card, called egress replication. Using multicast control protocol such as PIM, the ingress line card should be able to know the destination line cards for any multicast group address. Let’s say we have two ports in the ingress line card, and multicast packet (S,G) is received in one port. From the lookup the ingress packet engine or network processor find out that the other port in the same line card is interested to the multicast group as well as some other line cards. Ingress line card may do ingress replication, to replicate the packet into multiple and send it to the other port in the same line card as well as to the other line cards.

Now, if we always do ingress replication there is a huge drawback in term of performance. Let say the rate of multicast packet received by ingress line card is X Gbps. And there are 10 egress ports, in different line card, that are interested to the multicast group. If ingress replication is being done, then the ingress card must multiply the packet into 10, meaning the total number of rate is 10X Gbps now, and this is the rate that is sent from the ingress line card to the switch fabric. In this scenario it’s better to use egress replication since the ingress line card just needs to send a single packet to each egress line card that is interested. And if there are multiple ports on the egress card that are interested to the same multicast group, the replication of the packets can be done by the egress line card in order to send the same packet to all those ports. This egress replication can avoid unnecessary huge number of traffic inside the ingress queue and the fabric in case of the ingress replication had been used.

In carrier-class router, the switch fabric is more intelligent it can do replication of multicast packet inside the fabric. So again, the ingress line card just need to send a single packet to the fabric, then based on interested egress line cards the fabric will replicate this packet and send it to those egress cards, then the egress line card can do another replication in case there is more than one port that is interested with the multicast group.

Performance and Scalability
Once you have reached this point, I guess now you have started asking questions in your head for any features or protocols: is it done in hardware or software? Is it done by central CPU or distributed in the line card? Is it done in ingress line card or egress? If yes, then good, finally we are making progress here.

Before I continue I would like to mention one critical component in the hardware for forwarding plane which is Ternary Content Addressable Memory (TCAM). In simple words, TCAM is a high speed memory that is used to store the entry of forwarding table or other feature such as access control list, in order to do high performance hardware switching. Remember the concept of pushing the forwarding table to the line card processor, then from the line card processor to the hardware? TCAM is used to stored the information. So now you know, we should ensure there is enough space there to keep the information, or in other words the TCAM is one limit point in forwarding path. If the route processor push more forwarding entries that the TCAM can handle, we may end up with inconsistent forwarding table between route processor and line card. This means, even the route processor knows what to do with the packet, but the hardware may not have the entry and will just drop it.

Looking at the modular architecture of next generation router, it is clear for us that in order to achieve non-blocking or line rate packet switching performance we should ensure that every components in the forwarding path should support the line rate performance. It means if we want to forward X Gbps traffic without any congestion, then the components from ingress processor and queue in ingress line card, the capacity of the fabric, the fabric queue, egress processor and egress queue in egress line card should be able to process X Gbps or even more. So if you want to know where the bottleneck inside the router, check the processing capacity of each component. If you know the capacity from the ingress line card to the fabric is only X Gbps, but you put more ports in ingress line card with total capacity more than X, it means you are doing over subscription. And by knowing the congested point you can figure out which QoS tools to be applied and where exactly you need to apply it. In this sample, using egress QoS won’t help as it is not the congestion point, since the congestion is in the queue to the fabric.

Now, why bother to keep increasing the route processor performance then, if we know the actual performance is in the forwarding plane that is done in the line cards? Well, because we still need the route processor to do the control plane function. You need a good CPU in order to process big number of IGP or BGP control packets. You still need a big memory to store the routes received from the neighbor before it can be pushed down to the hardware. You also need a good capacity for storage to keep the router software image as well as any system logging and crash dump information.

NGN Multi-Service Features and Application

It is common for an next generation network to carry multiple different services. The common applications other than multicast for IPTV, are MPLS L3VPN for business customer, Internet, L2VPN point to point and multipoint with VPLS and so on. The complexity comes when we have to combined and run the features at the same time.

For example, when we have MPLS-based network, the label imposition for the next hop is done in ingress line card. But how if we run another features such as one type of L2VPN that can be software based or performed in route processor? We may need to do the label imposition in egress line card because of this reason.

And how about if we have to do multiple lookup? For example, if we have to remove two MPLS tags on the last label switch router in case of Penultimate Hop Popping (PHP) is not being used in MPLS L3VPN network. First of all we need to do lookup to know what we need to do with the first or the topmost MPLS tag. Most probably we want to keep the top most to get the EXP bit for QoS. Then we have to do another lookup to see the VPN label on the second tag to associate it with the VRF. Last, after all the MPLS labels have been stripped off, we still need to do another lookup in IP forwarding table to know to which egress interface we should send the packet. Doing several lookups in the same location such as ingress may introduce us with the concept or recirculation, where the packet is looped inside the ingress line card. So after the first lookup the packet is not sent to the fabric but it will get the layer 2 information re-written with the destination of ingress line card itself, and the packet will be sent to the first hardware that processes incoming packet. So it looks like it’s just the next packet need to be processed by the line card.

Multicast VPN can give us a different challenge. But just to summarize, by knowing how the protocol and feature works, and the component inside the router that does specific task related to the feature, we can foreseen if any issues may occur during the implementation of the design. And we may be able to find the work around to overcome the issues.

Frankly speaking, I really can’t go to more detail discussion, for various reasons. First, it’s already 4 am in the morning now. I have been awake for almost 48 hours to write this Deep Diving trilogy and do some other things at the same time, so I’ve got to sleep. Have I mentioned how grateful I am for them who invented Red Bull? But for now, even the strongest energy drink won’t make me last forever.

Second, although I want to write more in this subject but I may not be able to do so. It’s really difficult to discuss in more detail but still able to avoid using or discussing some confidential information from my company. O well, let’s see how it goes. I may have a fresh idea after getting a proper sleep.

Good night.
End of the trilogy.