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.