Internet on the Road, part 2 – how to optimize your travel connectivity

rsts11 note: This is the second of a two-part series featuring mobile internet routers. The first part is posted over on rsts11travel.com, as it is a bit milder technology. The second part appears on #rsts11 since it’s a bit more POHO than random travel, and will be cross-promoted on the travel side. 

When you travel, you probably have a number of devices that demand connectivity.

Many venues limit your allowed devices, and maybe you don’t want your devices out on the open network. Additionally, you may want to use streaming devices or shared storage in your room, and that may not work with typical public network setups. Last time we looked at some battery powered routers with charging functions and other network features.

Today on rsts11 we’ll look at some choices for sharing a wired connection as well as a cellular modem. We’ll briefly revisit the Hootoo and Ravpower routers from part 1, and then dive into Meraki, Peplink, and Cradlepoint devices for the higher-power user.  Continue reading

Internet on the Road part 1 – A crossover with #rsts11travel

rsts11 note: This is the first of a two-part series started on #rsts11travel, featuring mobile internet routers. The second part will appear here on #rsts11 since it’s a bit more POHO than random travel, and will be cross-promoted on the travel side. 

When you travel, you probably have a number of devices that demand connectivity. However, a lot of venues limit your allowed devices, and maybe you don’t want your devices out on the open network. Additionally, you may want to use streaming devices or shared storage in your room, and that may not work with typical public network setups.

Today on rsts11travel we’ll look at a couple of options for aggregating, optimizing, and even protecting your connectivity on a public hotspot, hotel network, or even on your own cellular connection.

There are three schemes we’ll consider in this series.

  1. Connecting multiple devices to wifi
  2. Connecting multiple devices to a wired network
  3. Connecting multiple devices through a mobile hotspot/cellular modem

A caveat up front with regard to security and obfuscation: Not all of these options offer the same level of security for your devices, and most will not limit visibility of your connectivity as far as the facility staff, the ISP, or others on your network is concerned. Nothing in this series should be taken as replacing your OS and application updates, antivirus and anti-malware/anti-spyware software, and of course realization that security is subjective.

Read more at rsts11travel.com

When speeds and feeds really matter – NBase-T and the Modern Office part 1

Welcome back to rsts11. With the conference season on pause for a bit, we’ll be catching up on some coverage from last fall. Look for fresh homelab posts, a couple of device reviews, and more. The who-I-work-for disclosure is at the end of the post.

What is NBase-T and Why Do I Care?

Before I get into my story, let’s cover a couple of the basics.

NBase-T is a technology standard that allows faster-than-gigabit but not-necessarily-10-gigabit connectivity over Cat5e or Cat6 cabling. The NBase-T Alliance website says “close to 100%” of enterprises run Cat5e or Cat6 as their cabling plant. So with this technology, many to most enterprises can grow beyond Gigabit Ethernet at typical building cable run distances without upgrading to Cat6A. Continue reading

I’ve been called certifiable before – a sysadmin’s developing thoughts on certification

I’ve been a system administrator in some form or another since, I suppose, Summer 1988 when I provided ad hoc support for the RSTS/11 system at my college. I made a few bucks doing it as a lab assistant for two years, but I was probably too much of a proto-BOFH to stay on the payroll. I still fielded more questions than most of the lab assistants, and it prepared me moderately well for the following 25 years of user, system, and platform support.

One thing I’ve rarely ever done is get formally trained, or even less often, certified in a technology. I was three classes short of a computer science undergrad major just for fun, which should tell you I’m certifiable (didn’t take RPG, COBOL, or Calculus, but I did a bit of recreational Discrete Mathematics and two doses of Machine Structures).

Around the turn of the century, I took the Legato Certified Administrator (Data Protection) class and exam, and got certified on a technology I’d been deploying and managing for a few years at the time. In 2010 I took the Cloudera Hadoop Administrator course. I almost passed the certification exam then, but didn’t have time to go back and retake it before the retake offer expired. And that’s the extent of my formal training to date.

So what’s changed now?

Having been welcomed into the communities around Cisco’s datacenter technology and VMware’s virtualization platforms, I’m feeling an unnatural desire to work toward certifications in both of those areas. I have the 200-120 box set for CCNA Routing & Switching, although I’ve been leaning toward the datacenter path. I’m still trying to figure out what path to take with VMware, but we’ll have to see.

I was reading the Cisco Learning Network post “6 Reasons Employers Value Cisco Certifications” and it made me think about my aversion to certification over the last few years. So what’s wrong with certification, and what might be right about it?

What could possibly go wrong?

For one, some people collect certifications the way I collect old computers and soho routers. The cert may be representative of being able to complete a vendor’s exam, but may not reflect feet-on-the-ground (or hands-on-the-keyboard) skills, much less big picture architectural thinking. This was common when we were searching for a full year for a network admin at one job a few years back. No matter how many network certs you have, if you can’t at least give a shot to explaining subnetting, you’re probably not ready for the real world.

Another issue is that most certifications are vendor-specific, and may impart an undue bias toward that vendor over others. I’d like to think this isn’t the case, and a truly good network administrator/architect would know a broad swath of the market and be able to fit technology to an identified and triaged problem/business need, rather than trying to squeeze the business need into a given technology.

But what’s right?

For one, there are different skill levels and foci, and tiered/niched certifications can give a hint as to what level someone is. If I come in to an interview with a CCNA R&S, for example, I probably won’t be asked to provide in-depth explanations of SS7 or 802.11ac. There will always be bad interviewers, like the guy a few years ago who wanted me to explain in depth how BGP worked, after I had said twice that I wasn’t a network engineer and had only worked on LANs. So this isn’t foolproof on either end.

More important to me, now that I’m thinking about the process, is that pursuing a certification gives you a roadmap to study and prepare, and a somewhat finite goal to achieve. I never learned Perl because I didn’t really have a scope or a fixed goal. Making a personal goal to “learn me some networking,” alas, probably won’t get me anywhere.

Having a goal to, say, “take the CCNA DC exam at Cisco Live in May” gives me a framework and a finite goal. I can set aside time every week, study some of the Cisco Learning Network materials, watch some Pluralsight programs with Chris Wahl, and have a fixed time frame for preparation for the exam.

So where do we go from here?

For one, I think that box set of the 200-120 CCNA R&S library will probably sit in the closet for a few more months. It was on sale with an extra coupon at Barnes and Noble last summer, so I don’t feel too bad about it.

I will be plotting out my Cisco Certification Written Exam at Cisco Live in May, as hinted above. I blew off the free exam last year, which was probably good considering I’d had Tech Field Day 9 the week before (Tech Field Day events are great for scrambling the brain, and the 90-100F temperatures were leaning toward poaching my brain along with it).

I’m going to get more involved with Cisco Learning Network, as I’m sure Matt Saunders won’t let me slip on this. Hopefully some of my fellow Cisco Champions will cheer, jeer, prod, or otherwise support me on the journey as well.

And I’ll be sure to share my adventure with you fine readers… feel free to poke at me here if you have suggestions or haven’t heard from me on the certification path in a while.

Do share any certification feedback, suggestions for me, or warnings for other readers… in the comments below. 

Sorta Sad Panda – End Of Support Life for Some Netscreen/SSG routers

I was just looking up some Juniper gear I saw in a local auction… and discovered that the wheels of progress are indeed rolling along.

According to the Hardware EOS Milestone page, the NetScreen 5XT and 5GT, cute little firewall/vpn boxes that seem to be all over the place, reach their end of support life on June 30th and December 31st, 2013, respectively. Considering they were announced as EOL about 5 years ago, this isn’t a big surprise.

I was a bit concerned when the same page reported that the replacement products, the SSG-5 and SSG-20, had their EOL announced in December 2011, and their “Last Date to Convert Warranty” and “Same Day Support Discontinued” date is April 29th of this year (4 weeks away). But it looks like this only applies to the Japan, Korea, and Taiwan versions. Whew.

However, some further digging… and I see ScreenOS is on its own End Of Life path… 6.1 is gone, 6.2 has through the end of 2013, and 6.3 is gone at the end of 2015.

I actually use an SSG-20 with the ADSL2+ PIM for my store’s Internet connection… and while it’s not under warranty and I don’t expect to need support, this did make me wonder what I should consider for my next CPE need.

I’d be tempted to put together an SRX240 with DOCSIS and ADSL2+, but best price I can imagine for that is $2k or so, which is more than I want to spend on this project. So maybe I’ll drive the SSG-20 into the ground, and deal with the problem when it arises. There’s always a spare ADSL2+ modem in the cabinet just in case…

Why so blue, panda bear?

I’m not all that sad, to be honest. But I have a habit of going with old technology until it no longer does what I need. Or until it’s cheaper to replace than to maintain, which can be the same thing.

Heck, I have actually installed Windows XP in the past month… and it stops getting updates any day now. And I’m used to far worse support prognoses–I’m looking at you, Cisco Linksys, with the “it’s a year old? Oh, no updates for you!” policies on a lot of your home network gear (wouldn’t be so bad if it was stuff that can run DD-WRT or OpenWRT… but RV042 and the like aren’t a fit there).

Anyway, this gear has had a good run, in the market and in my own environment. So I’ll keep an eye out for new and better gear within a minimal budget, and see where the world takes my networks.