Archive for the ‘networking’ Category

concentrated technology

Sunday, October 18th, 2015

If you were to launch a new mail server right now, many networks would simply refuse to speak to you. The problem: reputation.

Email today is dominated by a handful of major services. […] It’s become increasingly unusual for individuals or businesses to host their own mail, to the point that new servers are viewed with suspicion.

And so it goes for most technology discussions: decision-making power ends up concentrated in the hands of a small handful of organisations, often to a point where those who would like to broaden their horizons are unable to.

The experience with email merely demonstrates that it’s not just an issue of standards compliance.

operations as an endangered species

Wednesday, August 12th, 2015

Back in 2007, I took a change in role away from UNIX type systems administration toward network engineering focused roles. This was for a multitude of reasons, not least of which was it better matched my interests. A consideration however was that virtualisation was well into changing the world of systems administration, and with that it was clear that the market for system administration generalists was going to become more, rather than less, limited with time. Essentially as virtualisation took hold, it was my prediction that one system administration generalist could likely be expected to support an order of magnitude more applications; while this isn’t a bad thing, it certainly limited the career scope of working in related spaces. It was my guess that working in networking would be a little safer, being that irrespective of what happened to compute, there’d likely always be a need for managed network connectivity (more on that later; suffice to say I no longer believe this either).

Roll on 2015. If anything, this forecast has demonstrated itself to to be underoptimistic; while Amazon’s EC2 started making itself felt in around 2008, I and many others failed to second-guess that shared infrastructure compute would become the centrepiece of businesses’ deployment strategies so soon; I would have suggested at the time that relying on EC2 and its ilk for mainstream business needs was — somehow — inappropriate governance.

Late 2008 saw the global financial crisis took hold. I don’t think it’s an accident that business interest in gaining efficiencies by relying on X-as-a-service offerings really took hold in its wake; managing business services in-house can be expensive, and short of overt outsourcing of all aspects of a business’ IT needs, using as-a-service offerings allows a reasonable compromise between a tailored solution and a low-cost, one-size-fits-all one. The GFC caused many businesses to search for efficiencies, and going to fully virtualised platforms is a logical way forward.

With X-as-a-service has come the disappearance of highly skilled, highly focused specialists: these are now hired by, and work for, the businesses delivering the service. In a sense, the ranks of generalists has also diminished somewhat; the sense that there’s a trend here is unmistakable.

Information Technology in all its forms is now becoming more like a utility, insofar as everyone has to have a basic understanding of how to operate all aspects of it that are relevant to them, and a very very few — specialists — actually touch any of the moving parts. This isn’t a short lived trend, and the average CxO *wants* the trend to continue; they don’t want to hire people into generic IT operations roles. IT operations roles have been derided as janitorial for quite some time; the disappearance of operations generalists is the net result.

Nor is this a bad thing. Information Technology — almost more than any other career path — is defined by disruption; it’s driven disruption in every other industry it’s touched, and with that disruption comes changes in the very nature of IT itself.

Back to networking. In 2007 I was of the belief that networking would be relatively immune to this; after all, no matter where the compute is housed, people need access to it. There’s an underlying assumption here: that the nature of networking wouldn’t change along with compute and storage — an assumption that is, naturally, wrong. Network-as-a-service, simplified and automated to the point where a skilled network generalist is no longer required in the business itself, is clearly in the near term future for many businesses.

None of this is to say that generalist operations people are now irrelevant: there are still times where a generalist is needed. However what is changing is the need for multitudes of such staff, hired for and working within a business which treats IT as a supporting function. Instead, a small number, possibly working for multiple businesses — in the same way that a business might have maintenance staff come in once per week, or an electrician on-call for light-duty ad-hoc work — is a more likely outcome.


Friday, June 26th, 2015

On hardware commoditisation:

The IT industry has turned into a commodity business of high volume, lower margin products and services. The days of selling a $250,000 system for $1,000,000 and passing around big commission checks are gone.

True; now, particularly in the communications space, it’s a $25,000 system — including any R&D costs, and more on those later — for $90,000. (Look up the major listed vendors’ margins, all of which are public.)

Even these 60% to 70% margins are soon to be a thing of the past. When all you’re doing is, bluntly, a form of assembly, claiming high-value, high-margin is disingenuous at best.

As the market moves to Intel servers, anyone can become a big player. […] The quality of “services” is so terrible right now the market is hungry for a better provider.

Substitute Intel for, say, Broadcom or Marvell, and you’ve got the trending state of play in the Ethernet world. Even ‘specialist’ switching platforms — the ones that supposedly have a lot of R&D baked into them, justifying higher pricing — are getting to a point where they’re all based on the same merchant silicon, implying that any point of differentiation relies on either having something smarter above the hardware (i.e. software), or providing some service that others cannot.

And with open source software — OpenDaylight for example, as one of the reasons vendors give for relying on merchant silicon — this means that services alone become the differentiator.

The “good” thing about this is that it reduces RRPs of the tin, as there’s less R&D to justify a higher price; the bad being that it means one vendor’s black box is basically the same as everyone else’s. Which, of course, is the very definition of a commodity.

Even though, in the networking world, we’re only part-way there, customers already realise this trend is underway, which is why — in the absence of any real value-add — they invariably ask for (often steep) discounts. And they know they’ll get them, because if they don’t, they’ll go to the next vendor down the road who will oblige.

on content blocking

Wednesday, June 24th, 2015

Australia now has an Internet filter.

Moreover, it’s one which gives the courts the right to determine the method of and scope of a block, and deny anyone other than an ISP the right or ability to challenge this.

The net effect of this: if the court orders a block based on, say, IP address, then any innocent websites that happen to be collocated with the target become collateral damage; a fact that these impacted websites have no recourse to. Only an ISP can do so.

We’ve been here before, and apparently learned nothing from it.

Remember this when it comes time to vote again. Remember, too, that both the Labor opposition and Coalition government waved it through in this form.

internet censorship

Sunday, February 2nd, 2014

The Australian Government is once again pushing legislation to censor the internet. And the sky is up, the grass is green and there’s nothing new under the sun.

This time, Canberra is angling to appoint a new e-safety commissioner and create new legislation in a supposed crusade against online bullying. To that end, the Government is proposing new powers for the rapid takedown of offensive material published on social media networks.

It should barely need to be said again: you can assume that you’ll be as successful in censoring the Internet reliably, as you can be in censoring individuals’ thoughts reliably.

This ain’t 1984.

the future of networking

Monday, January 27th, 2014

Predictions are dangerous things. We — humans, that is — are notoriously terrible at predicting the future, and continually get caught out by retroactively “obvious” developments.

Having said that, I’m reasonably comfortable that software-defined networking has a place in the future world of network equipment, and that as a result, the role of a network engineer will morph from being skilled in one or more vendor platforms to being skilled in one or more vendor platforms and a programming language, such as Python. In fact the best network engineers will likely have a role that looks more like business analysis than e-plumber. Python, and languages like it, will likely provide a means to that end.

Software-defined networking doesn’t really deal with moving bits fast: equipment from a range of vendors already does that, and does it pretty well. In fact, SDN doesn’t really provide anything that can’t be done with existing equipment; what SDN provides is (theoretically, at least) a simpler way to provide a given business solution.

I also predict that — as a side-effect of this trend — the average network engineer will have to become a lot more comfortable with commodity operating environments, and in particular, Linux. While SDN controller software runs quite well in a range of environments (that being part of its point, after all!), Linux is apparently becoming a default choice for a range of related environments, including OpenStack and several virtual (and real!) routing and switching platforms.


Saturday, January 4th, 2014

Linksys and Netgear devices allow unauthenticated remote access:

A hacker has found a backdoor to wireless combination router/DSL modems that could allow an attacker to reset the router’s configuration and gain access to the administrative control panel. The attack, confirmed to work on several Linksys and Netgear DSL modems, exploits an open port accessible over the wireless local network.

The backdoor requires that the attacker be on the local network, so this isn’t something that could be used to remotely attack DSL users. However, it could be used to commandeer a wireless access point and allow an attacker to get unfettered access to local network resources.