Cisco Live 2014 CAE – A Canuck Connection!

Pretty much every year, the Cisco Live Team post a poll on the Cisco Live web site to potential registrants asking which band they would like to see for the Customer Appreciation Event (CAE). I’m not sure if the polls are a short list of potential performers or if they are just gauging interest in a particular genre of entertainment, but the options all seem to cover a fairly wide range of tastes.

Before attending my first Cisco Live I can remember watching a few YouTube videos of some earlier CAEs, one of which featured none other than KISS. My I was stunned and excited by the opportunity to be relatively up close and personal with a private show by one of the world’s greatest entertainment groups.

The poll one year included Lenny Kravitz, who I voted for, and the results seemed to be largely in favor of him being the CAE performer. Alas that year Kravitz was not ultimately the chosen act, but another great CAE was enjoyed by all in attendance nonetheless. (I had heard rumor that Kravitz had been lined up that year, but a scheduling conflict forced him to back out and another band was selected)

This year I am very excited about the announcement of the entertainment for the CAE. As a proud Canadian, there is a very special link with the artist and my country, even though he resides in the United States. I also know that many of my fellow Cisco Live attendees, bloggers and #CiscoChampions have all been begging for him to be the CAE headliner.

Ladies and Gentlemen, this years Customer Appreciation Event headliner:    JUSTIN BIEBER!

beiber

I may have to turn comments *off* for this post.

Okay, it’s not The Biebs, although I know there are some of you who are disappointed. The actual CAE artist does have a Canadian connection however in that he recorded an excellent cover of The Guess Who’s “American Woman” in 2000.  The Guess Who, not to be confused with England’s “The Who”, are from my hometown of Winnipeg, Manitoba, and I list them among Canada’s greatest accomplishments along with poutine, Pamela Anderson Dan Ackroyd, and The Canadarm.

This year in San Francisco for the 25th Anniversary, the CAE headliner will in fact be Lenny Kravitz at AT&T Park – Home of the San Francisco Giants!

Kravitz is a pure entertainer and an extremely talented artist. Not only as a musician but more recently as an actor. Kravitz is multi-talented singing lead and backup vocals and in many cases recording guitar, bass and drums for his own albums. As a hack musician drummer myself for many years, it’s easy to truly appreciate the dedication to one’s art that this diversity of skill requires.

As networkers and IT professionals, we are all equally dedicated to our own “art” and in the constantly changing world of data networking, we too must continue to develop additional skills and ‘learn new instruments’ as it were, in order to continue to be the best in our fields.

This year at Cisco Live and at the CAE, we are provided not only an opportunity to connect, reconnect, and learn from each other, but to sit back, relax, and enjoy some down time with our peers and colleagues, while enjoying what will likely be an evening of epic entertainment that could easily rival all previous CAEs.

Not to be overlooked is this years special guest – Imagine Dragons! Their 2012 debut release “Night Visions” has had phenomenal success and afforded the band many accolades in 2013, including “Breakthrough Band of 2013″ by Billboard and their hit “Radioactive” named “the biggest rock hit of the year” by Rolling Stone.

If you haven’t already, head over to the Cisco Live US page and get registered. Trust me when I say it’s an event you do not want to miss!

This announcement totally makes up for my accomodations!

Winsor Hotel

Note: This is not an official Cisco Live hotel, but I’m traveling on my own dime this year and the San Francisco hotels are pricey

I look forward to seeing you there!

One Way Audio on Cisco 7925G Wireless Phones

Knock Knock.

Who’s there?

Voice over Wireless LAN.

Voice over Wireless LAN who?

….

….

Hello?

….

Hello?

Working with a multitude of different technologies is great. I love it, for the most part. That being said sometimes it can be really frustrating as well. I am neither an expert in voice nor wireless technologies, but I am often times the primary ‘go-to’ person for both of these subjects at work. Now I like working with voice, it’s fun and presents its own interesting challenges sometimes, but for the size of our VoIP deployment, it pretty much just works. Wireless, while still fun to play around with, tends to be my nemesis, as I just haven’t had enough time to really delve into its deeper mysteries. Now, on that rare occasion when the problem is related to both voice AND wireless, things start to get really interesting.

I recently deployed some Cisco 7925G Wireless IP Phones to a number of our sites’ custodians as a replacement for cellular phones. They need to be mobile around the facility in order to troubleshoot issues in places that don’t have a hard line, but don’t require a full-blown cell phone.

Now some caveats; we don’t have sufficient AP coverage for a full-blown VoWLAN deployment, and during testing with the 7925G I did notice some interruption in the call stream when roaming from AP to AP. We also no longer have Cisco as our wireless vendor so I thought there may be some interoperability issues, but felt that 802.11 was after all, a standard right? What could possibly go wrong?

First Reports

The first rumblings of a problem came from some of the custodians saying they had ‘intermittent’ audio. I assumed (somewhat incorrectly) that this meant they were trying to wander around the building or even outside, treating the phone as a cell-phone, and losing sufficient signal from a nearby AP to maintain the call.

I explained to anyone with issues that these were not in fact cellular phones and they needed to stay within reasonable range of an AP to keep their call going. We would add capacity to the wireless as needed in the future, but for now it was the best we could do.

Sent Back

Next I received one of the phones, and it’s charger, in inter-office mail with a sticky note saying simply: “doesn’t work”. I tested the phone with a few different numbers and it seemed fine. I sent it back to the person who mailed it with a note: “works fine”.

As it turns out, I was wrong.

Definitely Broken

I next heard from another analyst who said all calls from the phone at one site were completely dropping. No audio at all. We tested and found that audio coming from the 7925′s was fine, but they were having problems receiving audio.  The initial call setup seemed fine and there were a few seconds of clear two-way audio, but almost immediately the receiving audio was failing.

One-way audio – the bane of any voice engineer’s existence. Coupled with the fact that these were wireless phones as well, made troubleshooting the issue even more complicated.

I had initially thought this might be a QoS issue but the wired phones at the site were fine. Wireshark confirmed QoS wasn’t an issue but I could clearly see in the captures that the RTP to the handsets stopped shortly after calls began, resulting in one-way audio.

Viewing the Call Statistics on the phone also confirmed there was definitely some sort of problem. Jitter was extremely high, Receiver lost Packets were many, and the MOS was around 2.

7925G-Before

Settings

I began playing around with the WLAN settings on the 7925G handsets, trying to find what might be causing the issue. Some suggestions from folks on Twitter pointed at forcing the phones to use 2.4 GHz only, while others insisted they would work fine on 5 GHz. Hard setting the frequency didn’t appear to resolve anything, so I continued the ever popular troubleshooting technique of randomly turning options on and off.

I came across the setting labeled “Call Power Save Mode” which was set by default to “U-APSD/PS-Poll” and also presented the option “None”.

Now, I had no idea what this option did, but I set it to “None” and performed a test call. Lo and behold, the issue appeared to go away. Two way audio persisted through the entire call, and call statistics on the handset were dramatically improved. Jitter was down to 2/22, only 2 dropped packets, and MOS was up to 4.5.

7925G-After

U-APSD/PS-Poll

So what exactly does this option do? U-APSD or Unscheduled Asynchronous Power Save Delivery is a mechanism that allows frames to be queued on a wireless access point in order to save power on a wireless client. When there is no data for the client to receive, it can go back into standby mode, allowing it to save power and battery life.

From Cisco’s Voice over Wireless LAN Design Guide:

The primary benefit of U-APSD is that it allows the voice client to synchronize the transmission and reception of voice frames with the AP, thereby allowing the client to go into power-save mode between the transmission/reception of each voice frame tuple. The WLAN client frame transmission in the access categories supporting U-APSD triggers the AP to send any data frames queued for that WLAN client in that AC. A U-APSD client remains listening to the AP until it receives a frame from the AP with an end-of-service period (EOSP) bit set. This tells the client that it can now go back into its power-save mode. This triggering mechanism is considered a more efficient use of client power than the regular listening for beacons method, at a period controlled by the delivery traffic indication map (DTIM) interval, because the latency and jitter requirements of voice are such that a WVoIP client would either not be in power-save mode during a call, resulting in reduced talk times, or would use a short DTIM interval, resulting in reduced standby times. The use of U-APSD allows the use of long DTIM intervals to maximize standby time without sacrificing call quality. The U-APSD feature can be applied individually across access categories, allowing U-APSD can be applied to the voice ACs in the AP, but the other ACs still use the standard power save feature.

Best Intentions

So why did turning this feature off resolve the one-way audio problem? It seems this is a technology that should help rather than hinder a wireless VoIP call. In this case it appears to do nothing but cause problems.

I can only speculate here because my understanding of this particular mechanism is limited, but I would suspect that even though U-APSD is a standard as part of IEEE 802.11e, the implementations may be somewhat disparate across vendors. Cisco in this case makes the phone and the wireless network is Ruckus. I suspect if I were using Cisco wireless gear, this wouldn’t be an issue. That’s not to blame Ruckus for the problem of course, it just seems to be one of those minor differences in how vendors implement certain technologies.

This brings about an entirely different topic of discussion, but if this is the case, can anything be done to hold vendors accountable for the little tweaks and changes to technologies that are supposed to be standards designed to improve, not prevent interoperability?

VMware VCA – Hit or Miss?

VCA-DCV Logo

9/16/13 Update – VMware is now offering these exams for *free* using the discount code VCA501 until September 30th.

On August 26th, VMware announced their new Associate level certifications. These consist of:

  • VMware Certified Associate – Data Center Virtualization
  • VMware Certified Associate – Cloud
  • VMware Certified Associate – Workforce Mobility
  • VMware Certified Associate – Network Virtualization*

To date, VMware’s primary certification has been the VMware Certified Professional – or VCP. A longstanding contention with the VCP has been the requirement to attend an approved and official VMware training course.

There are several options available to meet the course requirement:

The least expensive of these courses is $3845 USD. As Tom Hollingsworth (@Networkingnerd) has pointed out, this is almost the same cost as two CCIE lab attempts. For those working for a VMware partner or an organization with a robust training budget, this might not be a burden. For those (like myself) who bear the majority of the cost associated with certification and training, this is a requirement that makes pursuing the VCP near impossible.

These new VCA certifications on the other hand do not have any required class. In fact, the recommended training is available completely free through the VMware training portal in the form of e-learning videos that run about 3 hours in length. Combined with some hands-on experience with vSphere, these new certifications are readily attainable.

Heck, why not?

My studies are primarily focused on networking, as are the contents of this blog, however I do have some interest and experience with virtualization. It’s practically a requirement if you want to delve deep into networking because of the current trend towards virtualization and Stuff-As-A-Service™ (StaaS). If you want to stay relevant as a network administrator, designer, or engineer, you need to know and understand VMware and virtualization technologies in general.

I’d love to have my VCP certification, but I simply don’t have the funds to attend the requisite class. VMware appears to have been listening to those vocal about the cost of the class and the requirements for the VCP. Perhaps the VCA might be a step in the right direction.

VMware is also offering a 50% discount on the VCA exams as a launch promotion, and $60 is a reasonable price for an exam. I quickly decided to give one of the VCA certifications a test run and added the VCA – Data Center Virtualization to my VMware training enrollments and proceeded to watch the video.

The e-learning video was fairly well done, paced evenly and concise. That being said it was fairly short – only one 3 hour video. It covered features and fundamentals of vSphere, but didn’t go into a lot of detail technically. It seemed to have more of a marketing spin, and generally came across as very basic, touching only the surface of many of the key features of vSphere. I wondered if I might need some additional self-study to take the exam.

The “What’s Next” section of the training video explained all that would be needed after the video was some hands-on experience with VMware – which I already had both at my day job and at home in my lab.

The exam itself is available through Pearson and is a web-based exam. No traveling to the nearest exam center required.

The exam consists of 50 questions and timed at 75 minutes. It is scored on a scale of 200-500 with a passing score of 300. Unlike Cisco exams, you can go back to prior questions.

I completed the exam in about 35 minutes, having gone back to the beginning to review the entire exam from question 1, and was rewarded with a passing score of 420.

Disappointed

I can’t speak for the entirety of the VCA line of certifications, but the Data Center Virtualization track at least seemed to me a high-level, and very basic view of VMware and vSphere in particular. It has very little technical content to be honest, and the simple fact that I was able to pass it with only a 3 hour video, along with a minor amount of hands-on experience with VMware, says a lot about the simplicity of this certification.

I don’t see these certifications gaining much traction, nor do I see them becoming viable options for those who cannot afford the VCP training. They may become a quick and inexpensive way to pad your resume with some certification logos to at least show potential employers that you have a basic understanding of VMware, but I wouldn’t suggest that someone with a VCA would even be proficient at installing ESXi on bare-metal hardware, let alone actually implementing some of the more detailed options that vSphere offers.

Ultimately at first glance, these certs do nothing to resolve the issue of the overpriced training required by VMware, nor do they truly represent a technical certification in the virtualization arena. They aren’t even prerequisites for the VCP, so they truly stand alone as Associate level certifications. Contrast this to most of the certifications with Cisco, Microsoft, HP and Juniper, where Associate level certifications are step one towards higher offerings.

I don’t truly understand what purpose they serve.

VMware Certification – Still Broken

While the new line of VCA certifications will allow candidates to demonstrate some fundamental understanding of virtualization and VMware products, VMware has not addressed the core issue with their primary certification program, the VCP. The cost for the requisite training course remains prohibitive for potential candidates who are not fortunate enough to have an employer who is willing to pay for the training.

VMware needs to address this or continue to lose out on a large potential crop of VMware proponents and evangelists.

Troubleshooting MTU size over IPSEC VPN

I recently deployed a couple of wireless access points to two sites that connect to our main office over IPSEC VPN. After a recent firmware update to the wireless controller both access points got stuck in a provisioning loop and appeared to have difficulty communicating with the controller. Both AP’s repeatedly disconnected due to a “heartbeats lost” error.

Connectivity between the main office and the remote sites appeared fine. Both access points were reachable via ping and ssh. I set up a packet debug on both sites’ firewalls and saw traffic going back and forth between the access points and the controller, and both access points appeared on the controller status window, alternating between “Provisioning” and “Disconnected”.

Needless to say I was slightly baffled.

I opened a ticket with the wireless vendor and (very quickly) received an answer. The MTU for CAPWAP traffic between the access points and the controller is hard set by the controller to 1500*. With these sites connected via IPSEC, that was going to cause some fragmentation due to the overhead that IPSEC was going to add onto the traffic going between sites.

I needed to lower the MTU size on the controller, but to what value? IPSEC doesn’t seem to have a ‘fixed’ header size due to the different encryption options that can be used. So how do I find out exactly how much our particular IPSEC configuration is adding?

ping -f

The -f flag from a Windows command prompt prevents an ICMP packet from being fragmented. This, combined with the -l flag allows you to set the size of the ICMP packet being sent.

So, assuming a standard ethernet MTU of 1500, and accounting for an 8-byte ICMP header, and 20-byte IP header, I should be able to send an ICMP packet sized to 1472 bytes, but 1473 should be too large:

C:\Users\netcanuck>ping 172.16.32.1 -f -l 1472

Pinging 172.16.32.1 with 1472 bytes of data:
Reply from 172.16.32.1: bytes=1472 time=3ms TTL=251
Reply from 172.16.32.1: bytes=1472 time=4ms TTL=251
Reply from 172.16.32.1: bytes=1472 time=4ms TTL=251
Reply from 172.16.32.1: bytes=1472 time=3ms TTL=251

C:\Users\netcanuck>ping 172.16.32.1 -f -l 1473

Pinging 172.16.32.1 with 1473 bytes of data:
Packet needs to be fragmented but DF set.
Packet needs to be fragmented but DF set.
Packet needs to be fragmented but DF set.
Packet needs to be fragmented but DF set.

Excellent! So now to test across our IPSEC tunnel:

C:\Users\netcanuck>ping 172.16.68.1 -f -l 1472

Pinging 172.16.68.1 with 1472 bytes of data:
Packet needs to be fragmented but DF set.
Packet needs to be fragmented but DF set.
Packet needs to be fragmented but DF set.
Packet needs to be fragmented but DF set.

Now this makes sense. The MTU size does not account for the IPSEC overhead.

After some testing with different packet sizes I hit on the magic number: 1384 bytes. At 1385 the packets were again rejected as being too large. So some quick math:

ICMP payload: 1384 bytes

ICMP header: 8 bytes

IP header: 20 bytes

Subtotal: 1412 bytes

This leaves 88 bytes as the IPSEC header. I should be able to set the MTU size on the controller to 1412 and the access points should resume functioning normally.

I did in fact set the MTU to 1400 – I like nice, round numbers – and sure enough both access points resumed proper communication with the controller.

What I Learned Today

Sometimes the simple tools are easy to overlook. Using a standard Windows command prompt and ping using the -f  flag is a quick and easy way to diagnose MTU and fragmentation issues across a VPN tunnel.

* It appears from the support documentation for this particular wireless vendor that the MTU size should be 1450 by default which should take into account at least some overhead and explains why these access points were working fine until now. The firmware update seems to have changed this to 1500.

The Problem With “Free”.

It’s rare to have a day go by during which I don’t hear or read about some product that a vendor is now ‘giving away’ or moving to a ‘freemium’ model. In some of the more contentious verticals in the IT industry this seems to be a key tactic for winning new customers and providing value-add for existing ones.

I’m not in marketing or sales, so I can only assume here that the premise behind these gratuitous offerings is to have new, potential customers try the product, fall in love with it, and want to then add more of that company’s products to their infrastructure. There is also a tiny voice in my head that suggests perhaps these organizations might also want their ‘free’ product to become so critical to your operation, that should they decide to charge a fee or licensing for said product at some point in the future, that you’d be forced to pay because it has become something you simply couldn’t live without.

Ultimately the short or long-term goal of offering these products doesn’t really matter. What matters is there is a very big problem with these free products:

They’re free.

They don’t generate revenue, at least directly, for the vendor providing them. This means they are, in all aspects, simply a cost center…a money sink. An expense that perhaps proves the old saying that “you have to spend money to make money”. But the real issue here for you or I as a potential user, or implementer of these products, is that it is very difficult to get any support.

Hello, Bonjour

This particular rant blog post is centered around one such product that everybody seems to be racing to give away. If you, like me, work in an environment that is moving to support the BYOD craze and have anything other than one large, flat network, then Apple’s Bonjour is probably driving you nuts and causing you to sprout gray hair, if you have any left.

Because this particular protocol and all of it’s relatives (mDNS, Zeroconf) can’t communicate across layer 3 boundaries (they have a TTL of 1) when someone on your BYOD wifi wants to talk to the Apple TV on your corporate wifi, you need something to broker that connection.  Enter the Bonjour Gateway (BG).

Aerohive was first to announce and make available their BG product in early 2012. It is built into their HiveOS on any Aerohive access point, or as a virtual machine that will run on VMware. It’s free up to 2 instances of the virtual appliance. I don’t know what the cost might be for anyone wishing to use more than 2, but I would imagine this is an opportunity to sell actual Aerohive hardware to a potential customer.

Cisco has included it as part of their Wireless Lan Controller (WLC) software beginning with version 7.4.  This isn’t free, per se, but is obviously a valuable addition for any existing customer.

Ruckus announced in January 2013 their SmartWay™ technology as “beyond bonjour bridging”, and would be available Q2. Again, this is only free in the sense that existing customers would not have to pay for the software upgrade to their existing controllers.

A quick Google search at some other vendor offerings show that pretty much everyone in the wireless space is offering support for Bonjour in some way.

I may be wrong about this but it seems to me that providing a solution for this issue in enterprise networks is/was a priority for each of these vendors. Why then has my experience with getting one of these platforms working been such a disaster?

Aerohive

If you don’t already follow Andrew von Nagy on Twitter (@revolutionwifi), you should. He is a true wifi evangelist and an excellent resource for keeping up-to-date on all things 802.11. His twitter feed was very active with the announcement of the release of Aerohive’s BG.

Working in a K-12 education environment we had already identified this as a need. Staff and students wanted to take advantage of AirPrint and AirPlay and we had to find a solution. I quickly signed up for my free Aerohive BG and HiveManager account.  Installation was easy as it comes in the form of an OVA. It’s pretty much ‘drop it into VMware’ and you are ready to go.

I had some problems with devices being able to see the AirPrint and AirPlay services across subnets. After some tinkering I decided to email Aerohive at the provided “free_bonjour_support@aerohive.com” address with my issue. That email must have ended up in the bit bucket because I received no reply.  I sent out a tweet about a week later asking @Aerohive how long one could expect to wait for support for the BG.  That too was met with silence. Two weeks later I was rather frustrated and sent out another tweet, this one a little more vitriolic:

“Going nowhere fast with Aerohive’s free bonjour gateway. Anyone have alternative suggestions? (That work)”

Now it should be noted that I’m in Canada and this tweet was sent out on November 22nd, 2012 – US Thanksgiving.

Andrew von Nagy responded via twitter and helped me out with some troubleshooting. I have to throw out a big thanks to him for taking the time on a holiday to offer some support.

On that same day, I received a reply to my original email (unsure if Andrew had anything to do with this) and began working with the online support to get the BG working.

A short 10 weeks later, I had resolved the issue (on my own) and closed the support request with Aerohive.  From the original email on November 5th to resolution on January 10th….granted there are a few holidays in there…but that’s a long time to get an issue with an initial configuration resolved.

Ruckus

Just around the same time (January 2013) I managed to get that first BG working, we received word from our current wireless vendor, Ruckus, that they too were working on a BG solution. This was direct from David Callisch, VP of Marketing for Ruckus Wireless. He even offered to let us beta test the new firmware. This is great news! Being able to implement this solution on infrastructure we already own and manage should be quick and easy, right?

It’s mid May, and we still haven’t received the beta firmware.

Also, Ruckus recently pulled their latest 9.6 firmware off their support site, so I have a feeling 9.7 and SmartWay™ are going to miss their targeted Q2 release.

“Ruckus    Wireless    has    decided    to    remove    the    9.6.0.0.264    release    for    ZoneDirector    while    we    investigate    an    issue    that    was    discovered    after    the    release.”

Aerohive Revisited

In April I received an email from Aerohive that outlined some major bug fixes and enhancements to their free BG.  While I had been able to get it working with AirPlay somewhat in my previous attempt we had never been able to get AirPrint to work properly. I hoped that this news would mean we could get both pieces to function properly.

Having deleted the VM for the original installation of Aerohive’s BG, attempted to reinstall it, only to be told that my serial # had already been activated and that I could not reactivate it.  Ok, easy fix, right?  I  fired off an email to “free_bonjour_support@aerohive.com” and explained my situation and asked if I could have a new key or the original key re-enabled.

That email went out April 19th, and I have yet to get any sort of reply.

Free Should Not Mean “free from support”

If these value-added features, or in some cases, fully ‘free’ products are meant to drive potential customers to become paying customers and/or if these products are meant to keep existing customers as loyal, long-term customers with an existing vendor, then I would expect support be as agile and attentive as it would be for any other product or offering from these same vendors.

I shouldn’t be left waiting for an email that never comes, and I certainly shouldn’t have to resort to social media shaming to get action from a vendor. Sadly it seems to be the most effective method of getting things moving, but it should be a last resort not the primary method of seeking resolution.

Perhaps I’m expecting too much from a free product or feature, and I may be misinterpreting the purpose of these add-ons as marketing/sales tools. I might be naive in believing that any truly ‘free’ product is going to become a key part of my infrastructure and solve a major technical hurdle for my users. I can only hope there is actually some sort of benevolent, beneficial reason for vendors to offer these solutions, and hope that they are able to provide some better support in the future.

Otherwise, there are truly free and open products like Avahi that are able to quickly and easily deploy mDNS service discovery options across subnets. If you know a little Linux…

Note: During the writing of this post I had been contacted by our local Aerohive rep who caught wind of a Tweet I sent out yesterday about my BG issue.  He’s managed to get me a new serial # for our BG so I can happily reinstall it and give it another go.  Social media wins again!

Back On Track

passed

There nothing quite like seeing the word “Pass” come up on the screen after you finish answering that last question.  There are a few moments of tension, waiting for the computer to spit out your results;  Did I study hard enough?  Did I truly learn the material for this exam?  Did I just blow a couple hundred bucks on a failed attempt?

Then the score report validates everything you’ve done over the last few months with a nice four-letter-word:

Pass

It’s hard to maintain dignity and consideration for the other exam writers in the room, and knowing everything is on camera and in view of the stern watchful eyes of the exam proctor, you know you have to hold in that real celebration until you’ve gotten outside the building, or at least into the elevator.  A few fist pumps maybe, and probably a fairly Cheshire-Cat-Esque grin on your face.

642-813 – Implementing Cisco IP Switched Networks (SWITCH) – done!

Procrastination

I know I’m not alone out there. There are plenty of us studying towards certifications or other academic achievements who know they should be putting in more time reading or doing labs. In my progress towards the CCNP I could have probably passed all three exams by now had I focused a little more and spent more time learning and less time doing other things. Sometimes life gets in the way, right? It’s not an excuse, I recognize that it’s a choice for me, and it’s also something I’ll have to really think about and decide how I want to approach the next exam. Like many out there I have a job, a wife, a kid, and many other things in life that limit the amount of time that can be dedicated to studying or labbing.  If I truly plan on achieving my long term goal of “CCIE by 40″ some sacrifices will have to be made.

I left Cisco Live last year truly motivated to continue my studies. Spending a week surrounded by other networkers who have multiple certifications and great careers will do that to you. Looking back it’s hard to tell exactly how motivated I was since that was June and here it is in April with the first of three CCNP exams finally passed. It has been a good 9 months in other areas that’s for sure, and perhaps I can’t measure the success of the past 9 months by looking only at my certification progress.

As an example, I’ve also taken great strides in my health and fitness.  I’ve lost 50 pounds since July of 2012. Nothing special here really, just diet and exercise. I didn’t cut out carbs, or take any weird mail-order supplement that was the “fad diet du jour”, I simply started counting calories, got a personal trainer to kick my ass 5-6 hours a week and work out on my own 1-2 hours a week on top of that.  I feel awesome.  Clothes shopping isn’t a total hassle, and I’m finally going to be able to wear that Speedo this summer.

It’s all about the big picture, right?

What’s Next

642-902 – Implementing Cisco IP Routing (ROUTE) – is next on the agenda. I’m truly hoping to take the momentum from this pass and carry it forward into an awesome study plan for this one.  I don’t do a lot of layer 3 work in my day job so there is going to be some real fundamental learning happening here, and I’m looking forward to it.

CCNP R&S Progress-O-Meter:

SWITCH – 4/6/2013

ROUTE – Scheduled for Cisco Live 2013 in Orlando

TSHOOT

Tony’s Discount Switch Emporium

Random Acts of (dis)Connectivity

Summer time is busy time.  July and August, when all the staff and students are out enjoying their vacation, the IT department for a public school division is hard at work.  It’s one of the rare opportunities I’m allowed to unplug, replace, upgrade, reboot, and/or generally break our infrastructure, because nobody is using it.  So with a full plate of projects to complete before the end of August – when random things break “on their own” it sometimes causes some confusion.

Last week I had two wireless access points stop communicating to the controller at one of my sites.  Now, had there been people in the building I could have initially chalked this up to someone playing around in the wiring closet (we have switches in the weirdest, least secure places) or some kids throwing basketballs at them (yes, we have AP’s in the gyms), but I knew for a fact that this building was empty.  Our Facilities guys generally let us know if there is going to be some work done that is going to involve power going down, and this definitely wasn’t the case because the switch these 2 AP’s were on was up and running.

Strange Behaviour

I checked the switch and the ports that the AP’s were on showed up/up.  I could even ping their IP addresses.  What was strange was I could not ping the controller from that switch, nor could I ping the site gateway.  While the switch appeared up and functional for all intents and purposes, it appeared as though it was simply refusing to forward any traffic.  Then I checked the logs:

Aug  9 13:11:48: %ILET-1-AUTHENTICATION_FAIL: This Switch may not have been manufactured by Cisco or with Cisco’s authorization.  This product may contain software that was copied in violation of Cisco’s license terms.  If your use of this product is the cause of a support issue, Cisco may deny operation of the product, support under your warranty or under a Cisco technical support program such as Smartnet.  Please contact Cisco’s Technical Assistance Center for more information.

Dammit!  I knew that guy selling Cisco gear off the back of his unmarked white truck in the back alley was too good to be true!  His prices were so reasonable, even compared to our educational discount.  You know it’s so hard to work within an ever-decreasing hardware budget these days.

Alright in reality this batch of switches was bought from a legitimate Cisco Partner, one of Canada’s largest, and I hadn’t touched them since rolling them out a couple of summers ago.  They had the out of the box IOS 12.2(22)SE that they had shipped with, and I had about 30 of them around.  These were a batch of 2960S switches that were replacing some aging 2950 units that had calcified and grown long grey beards.

I started checking several others and quickly realized this was an isolated issue, limited to this one switch.

Licensing, Contracts, Smartnet, Oh My!

As part of our ongoing efforts to reduce expenses and save what little budget we have, we don’t get Smartnet on our access switches.  Ultimately all of the current 2xxx and 3xxx switches (sometimes referred to as the DSBU or Desktop Switching Business Unit switches) come with Cisco’s Enhanced Limited Lifetime Warranty which includes free IOS software updates.  The lifetime warranty is arguably Cisco’s response to pressure from HP’s long-standing lifetime warranty on their Procurve switches, and free IOS updates are always nice:

Software Update

Q. Can I obtain a “no additional cost” Cisco IOS® Software update for the Cisco Catalyst 2960 Series?
A. Yes. Cisco offers ongoing Cisco IOS Software updates for certain fixed-configuration and stackable Cisco Catalyst switches at no additional cost. For the life of the product, updates within the Cisco IOS Software package purchased (LAN Lite and LAN Base) will be made available.
Note that upgrades are different from updates. For example, an upgrade from the IP Base package to IP Services package provides significant new function; therefore, this upgrade requires the purchase of a software license upgrade. Updates are incremental software features and bug fixes that are released within a licensed Cisco IOS Software package.
This statement supersedes any previous warranty or software statement and is subject to change without notice.
Q. How do I get a “no additional cost” Cisco IOS Software update for the Cisco Catalyst 2960 Series?
A. Visit http://www.cisco.com, click “Downloads,” and select “Switch Software.” Downloading software requires a Cisco.com username and password. If you do not have a Cisco.com username, you can obtain one by clicking “Register” at the top of any Cisco.com Webpage.

Since we also keep a couple of spare switches around we don’t need overnight or next-business-day hardware replacement, Smartnet is an expense we can live without.  This sometimes causes issues when trying to RMA a product…

Someone Tell TAC

I found a few posts in the Cisco Support Community from folks who had run into this same issue.  It seemed a general consensus that there was no real solution.  It appears a small batch of 2xxx and 3xxx series switches were having this issue as far back as March of 2010.  There had been a Bug ID for the issue but the workaround had been to update the IOS to 12.2(44)SE or later, with no other workaround.  Since I was already past that update, I decided it would be easier to just call TAC.

Apparently nobody tells TAC about lifetime warranties or free software.  It always seems to turn into an argument with the front line support agents because as soon as they see there is no support contract, they won’t open a case.  It’s pretty binary in their world…no contract equals no support.

So how do you get support for a lifetime warranty product?  Just tell them you want to RMA the device.  Cisco is more than happy to simply drop ship a new switch than to waste time troubleshooting and that’s fine by me. I’m not a CCIE so I don’t get bumped up to a level 2 engineer right away, and I’d rather not waste time on the phone or via email with a level 1 engineer.  It’s in the best interest of everyone involved to just send me a replacement.

Good Experience

I’d have to say all of my experiences with Cisco’s RMA process have been excellent.  Even without 8×5 or NBD service, they are quick and painless to deal with.  A box arrives with a pre-paid UPS waybill and I happily ship the dead product back to them in the same box the replacement came in.  They even have a Canadian location I can ship to so I don’t have to fill out reams of Customs paperwork (I’m looking at you, Ruckus Wireless) or pay brokerage fees.

Thanks for reading.  As always feedback or comments are welcome.  I have to run, Tony is here with some deeply discounted UCS servers and Rolex watches I need to take a look at.