On Why I'm Shifting my Career Focus to Software

For the past few months I've been involved in a case study project with some colleagues at Cisco where we've been researching what the most relevant software skills are that Cisco's pre-sales engineers could benefit from. We're all freaking experts at Outlook of course (that's a joke ?) but we were interested in the areas of programming, automation, orchestration, databases, analytics, and so on. The end goal of the project was to identify what those relevant skills are, have a plan to identify the current skillset in the field, do that gap analysis and then put forward recommendations on how to close the gap.

This probably sounds really boring and dry, and I don't blame you for thinking that, but I actually chose this case study topic from a list of 8 or so. My motivation was largely selfish: I wanted to see first-hand the outcome of this project because I wanted to know how best to align my own training, study, and career in the software arena. I already believed that to stay relevant as my career moves along that software skills would be essential. It was just a question of what type of skills and in which specific areas.

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The Anatomy of a Cisco Spark Bot

I spent a long time creating my first Spark bot, Zpark. The first commit was in August and the first release was posted in January. So, six months elapsed time. It's also over-engineered. I mean, all it does is post messages back and forth between a back-end system and some Spark spaces and I ended up with something so complex that I had to draw a damn block diagram in the user guide to give people a fighting chance at comprehending how it works.

Its internals could've been much simpler. But that was part of the point of creating the bot: examining the proper architecture for a scalable application, learning about new technologies for building my own API, learning about message brokers, pulling my hair out over git's eccentricities and ultimately, having enough material to write this blog post.

In this post I'm going to break down the different functional components of Zpark, discuss what each does, and why-or not-that component is necessary. If I can achieve one goal, it will be to retire to a tropical island ASAP. If I can achieve a second goal, it will be to give aspiring bot creaters (like yourself, presumably) a strong mental model of a Spark bot to aid their development.

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Explain Cisco ETA to Me in a Way That Even My Neighbor Can Understand It

Cisco Encrypted Traffic Analytics (ETA) sounds just a little bit like magic the first time you hear about it. Cisco is basically proposing that when you turn on ETA, your network can (magically!) detect malicious traffic (ie, malware, trojans, ransomware, etc) inside encrypted flows. Further, Cisco proposes that ETA can differentiate legitimate encrypted traffic from malicious encrypted traffic.

Uhmm, how?

The immediate mental model that springs to mind is that of a web proxy that intercepts HTTP traffic. In order to intercept TLS-encrypted HTTPS traffic, there's a complicated dance that has to happen around building a Certificate Authority, distributing the CA's public certificate to every device that will connect through the proxy and then actually configuring the endpoints and/or network to push the HTTPS traffic to the proxy. This is often referred to as "man-in-the-middle" (MiTM) because the proxy actually breaks into the encrypted session between the client and the server. In the end, the proxy has access to the clear-text communication.

Is ETA using a similar method and breaking into the encrypted session?

In this article, I'm going to use an analogy to describe how ETA does what it does. Afterwards, you should feel more comfortable about how ETA works and not be worried about any magic taking place in your network. ?

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Say Hello to Zpark, my Cisco Spark Bot

For a long while now I've been brainstorming how I could leverage the API that's present in the Cisco Spark collaboration platform to create a bot. There are lots of goofy and fun examples of bots (ie, Gifbot) that I might be able to draw inspiration from, but I wanted to create something that would provide high value to myself and anyone else that choose to download and use it. The idea finally hit me after I started using Zabbix for system monitoring. Since Zabbix also has a feature-rich API, all the pieces were in place to create a bot that would act as a bit of middle-ware between Zabbix and Spark. I call the bot: Zpark.

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Lifting the Hood on Cisco Software Defined Access

If you're an IT professional and you have at least a minimal awareness of what Cisco is doing in the market and you don't live under a rock, you would've heard about the major launch that took place in June: "The network. Intuitive." The anchor solution to this launch is Cisco's Software Defined Access (SDA) in which the campus network becomes automated, highly secure, and highly scalable.

The launch of SDA is what's called a "Tier 1" launch where Cisco's corporate marketing muscle is fully exercised in order to generate as much attention and interest as possible. As a result, there's a lot of good high-level material floating around right now around SDA. What I'm going to do in this post is lift the hood on the solution and explain what makes the SDA network fabric actually work.

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Troubleshooting Cisco Network Elements with the USE Method

I want to draw some attention to a new document I've written titled "Troubleshooting Cisco Network Elements with the USE Method". In it, I explain how I've taken a model for troubleshooting a complex system-the USE Method, by Brendan Gregg-and applied it to Cisco network devices. By applying the USE Method, a network engineer can perform methodical troubleshooting of a network element in order to determine why the NE is not performing/acting/functioning as it should.
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L3 vPC Support on Nexus 5k

So... I'm a little embarrased to admit this but I only very recently found out that there are significant differences in how Virtual Port Channels (vPC) behave on the Nexus 5k vs the Nexus 7k when it comes to forming routing adjacencies over the vPC.

Take the title literally!

I've read the vPC Best Practice whitepaper and have often referred

others to it and also referred back to it myself from time to time. What I failed to realize is that I should've been taking the title of this paper more literally: it is 100% specific to the Nexus 7k. The behaviors the paper describes, particularly around the data plane loop prevention protections for packets crossing the vPC peer-link, are specific to the n7k and are not necessarily repeated on the n5k.

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Cisco DevNet Scavenger Hunt at GSX 17

At Cisco's GSX conference at the start of FY17, the DevNet team made a programming scavenger hunt by posting daily challenges that required using things like containers, Cisco Shipped, Python, and RESTful APIs in Cisco software in order to solve puzzles. In order to submit an answer, the team created an API that contestants had to use (in effect creating another challenge that contestants had to solve).

This post contains the artifacts I created while solving some of the challenges.

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NSF and GR on Nexus 5000

NSF and GR are two features in Layer 3 network elements (NEs) that allows two adjacent elements to work together when one of them undergoes a control plane switchover or control plane restart.

The benefit is that when a control plane switchover/restart occurs, the impact to network traffic is kept to a minimum and in most cases, to zero.

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BRKARC-3300 -- IOS-XE: Enabling the Digital Network Architecture

Presented by Muhammad A Imam, Sr Manager Technical Marketing Engineering

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