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Tuesday, May 10, 2022

Network Field Day 28 - Recap and Review

  I had the opportunity to participate as a delegate at Network Field Day 28, and I wanted to share my experience.

What is Network Field Day?

Network Field Day is one of the Tech Field Day events put on by Gestalt IT where sponsoring vendors present to a panel of delegates.  Network Field Day is specifically focused on networking solutions, and there are other events including Security Field Day and Storage Field Day with content that aligns to the respective categories.

There are usually about twelve delegates per event, with each one being invite-only.  Each delegate is independent (not employed by a vendor, or an industry analyst), is active in the community through things like blogs, podcasts, social media, etc, and could be considered a subject matter expert on the event topic.

There's a lot of information on how TFD works at their "About" page - https://techfieldday.com/about/ I recommend checking out the infographic, and reading through the FAQ to get a better understanding of what the event is about.

Want to find out more about the presenters or delegates?  Want to watch the recorded sessions?  Go to the NFD28 page to get all that and more!

Vendor Presentations

The event spanned three days, with 9 presenters, with 13.5 hours of presentations and 4.5 hours of off-camera conversations.  Plus there were plenty of conversations with other delegates throughout the event.  That said, this isn't an exhaustive review of everything.  I'll be working on putting more detailed posts together soon.


Day 1


Juniper https://www.juniper.net/

Juniper had two 1.5 hour sessions, so there was a lot of information to cover.  There were a couple specific areas that they talked about extensively - Marvis and Apstra.

Marvis is Juniper's AI that is used to help improve network operations.  One of the use cases would be streamlined anomaly detection, even to the point of potentially predicting issues before they occur.  There was a lot of discussion around Full Stack AIOps, along with a demo.  Another use case they presented was around wireless performance.  By collecting wireless performance data Marvis can recommend adding or moving APs to improve coverage.

Apstra is a solution that allows network teams to build out templates for data center deployments.  The cool thing that Apstra does is it disassociates the template from the underlying devices.  A single template could be deployed against Juniper, Cisco, and Arista hardware (among others) without needing to make any changes.  It takes the concept of intent-based networking and applies it in a mostly vendor agnostic way.  One of the use cases that was easy to see was environments that are being forced to look to different hardware vendors due to supply chain shortages.


Arista https://www.arista.com/

During their 2 hour session Arista covered several topics, what's new, software quality, NetOps automation, and networking for AI workloads.

Ken Duda's presentation on Arista's software quality was impressive.  You can definitely feel the passion he has for quality.  Having worked with numerous vendors, both within the networking space as well as other companies, I am well aware of the impact poor software quality can have.  I've never known much about Arista, but just hearing what Ken had to say was enough to make me want to start learning more about Arista.

Their presentation continued with a demo of CloudVision, showing how it can collect a huge amount of data to quickly identify problems.  Additionally, it can be used to automate the management and operations of the environment.  The automation has a built-in change control process, and it can integrate with other change control systems.  Overall, it's a really powerful tool, and considering how powerful it is, it doesn't look overly complicated.

The final portion of Arista's presentation covered everything that is being done at a hardware level to support AI workloads across a network.  They covered the importance of deep buffers, low latency, and advanced QoS to allow workloads to run as efficiently as possible.  I'll admit, some of this was over my head, so I'll be going back through and watching the presentation again to try to better understand it.

NetrisAI https://www.netris.ai/

Netris was one of the presenters that I hadn't heard about prior to NFD28, but I'm glad I know about them now.  They had the final hour of our first day, and they presented on how they can make on-prem networking feel like cloud networking.

The premise of making on-premises networking feel like cloud networking seemed odd to me at first.  However, after seeing Alex go through a demo I realized how cool this could be.  Normally, with on-prem networking anything needed by a DevOps team needs to come to the network team, and then that needs to be implemented.  Sure, much of this can be automated, but not in a way that feels native for a DevOps engineer that spends most the day using cloud provider APIs.  Netris creates an API interface for DevOps engineers to self-provision network resources without needing to reach out to the network team.  Instead, the network team creates pools of resources that can be requested, and then the platform takes care of the rest.


Day 2


NetBeez https://netbeez.net/

At the start of 2020 there was a huge shift to remote work as the world grappled with the pandemic.  That created a long list of headaches for network teams.  One of the big ones being network monitoring.  Now, with users' home internet service, network, and wifi it made troubleshooting the infamous "it's slow" nearly impossible.  Enter NetBeez.  An agent is deployed on an endpoint, and then is configured to run different tests including iPerf and HTTP GET requests.  Using these tests NetBeez can identify network performance issues, even when they occur outside the corporate network.

The benefits of a tool like this should be easily apparent.  Being able to quickly identify if there is a problem, and if so, pinpoint it on a network would be a huge help.  It can shorten both the time to detection, and the time to remediation, which ultimately mean reduced impact to the end user, and improved customer experience.

One of the other things that was impressive was the licensing model.  The model only uses the deployed agent count instead of usage-based licensing that can be cumbersome to understand and manage.

PathSolutions https://www.pathsolutions.com/

If you've noticed a trend with monitoring tools, well it's time to add another to the list.  PathSolutions is a network monitoring solution that's loaded with features.  One of the main points during the presentation was how PathSolutions can identify around 140 different problems, and provide actionable insight into how to resolve it.  That means tickets don't need to be escalated to the most senior engineers on the team for resolution.  Instead, those issues can be identified and resolved with fewer escalations.  The downline impacts would be more first-call resolutions, faster resolutions, and ultimately improved customer experience.

One of the things I thought was really cool was the ability for an end-user to run a wifi analysis at home.  This allows the help desk staff to get a better understanding of how the user's home wifi could be contributing to network issues.

Gluware https://gluware.com/

Gluware's presentation focused on two concepts, no-code network automation, and low-code automation.

NetworkRPA (there was some debate among delegates if this actually constitutes RPA) uses a drag-and-drop editor to build workflows for network automation.  It's a pretty intuitive WYSISWYG format which requires no coding knowledge.  Simply drag and connect elements, add in logic where needed, and all of a sudden you have network automation ready to go.

On the low-code side there's Gluware Labs, which is an IDE that can be used to build out APIs.  The APIs can be configured to present as forms, and include pre-filed values, or drop-down lists.  It can also use and API call to get a list of options to present.  These API objects can then be made available in NetworkRPA, allowing custom calls to be executed out of NetworkRPA.

I can see Gluware being hugely beneficial in environments with minimal development skillset, but still looking to build out automation and orchestration.


Day 3


Progress https://www.progress.com/

Who would have believed it, but we had another network monitoring tool.  Progress presented on their monitoring platform What's Up Gold.  This is another feature-rich monitoring tool, and it integrates with another one of Progress' products, Flowmon.

What's Up Gold is targeted at small and mid-sized companies that need an enterprise monitoring solution, but without paying enterprise costs or dealing with complex solutions.  One of the things that surprised me while talking to them was how they are focused on the features that will be most beneficial to their customer base.  They aren't chasing the newest buzzwords because that's not what their customers want.  During an off-camera conversation when asked about a specific feature they'd responded that it was on their feature list, but they weren't seeing many customers ask for it.

Augtera https://augtera.com/

Another monitoring platform?  Yup, that's right!  Augtera is another network monitoring platform, and this time with added AI.  One of the big things that I thought Augtera did to differentiate themselves from other platforms was the completeness of what they showed.  Not only do they collect SNMP or Syslog data, but they had a list of eight different sources that they used to ingest data (and likely that wasn't a full list).  They then feed that through different AI engines to identify anomalies.  If an anomaly is detected then it correlates any other data it can find, and puts it all in a single alert.  From there, it can leverage workflows to send that data where it's needed.

Like many of the other monitoring solutions that were presented, Augtera can help reduce the time to detect issues, provide insights to get to a resolution sooner, and all of this improves the experience for everyone involved.

Pica8 https://www.pica8.com/ 

Watch their presentations

Woohoo! Not a monitoring platform (but they can do that, too) this time.  Pica8 is a Network Operating System vendor, and they presented on their PicOS and AmpCon.

PicOS (Ok, I need to say this - every time I even think about Pica8 or PicOS I can't help but think about a little lightning rodent) is an operating system that can be deployed on whitebox switches.  The thing that I've found really, really cool about this is how this reminds me of when server virtualization was new.  The technical function is different, but the concept of separating the OS and hardware is really cool.  Pica8 supports Delta, Dell, and Edge-core hardware platforms.  The same software configuration can be deployed across each platform (presuming hardware support, TCAM space, etc.) which means a configuration could be pulled of a Delta switch and deployed on an Edge-Core switch.  With the current supply chain issues being able to use different hardware would be a huge help.

AmpCon is the central management platform for Pica8.  It includes everything I'd expect from a network management platform - zero touch provisioning, monitoring, config management, etc.  It also includes some really cool automation capabilities right away.

The final thing for Pica8 was their pricing.  PicOS uses a single license per device.  It doesn't matter if it's a 1Gb switch or a 100Gb switch.  All features and functions are included.

Overall Review

This was an awesome event to be a part of!  I can't express in words how much fun I had, or how much I learned.  The Gestalt crew was great!  For being a newcomer to an established event I was worried that I wouldn't know what to do.  That was never a problem.  Things were well explained as we went, and if I had any questions they were always available to answer them.

The vendors were outstanding, each one of them.  We threw a ton of questions at them, and they were able to answer pretty much everything they asked.  To be honest, I was expecting several of the presentations to be boring, but I was wrong.  The presentations were informative, and well done.

Lastly, the other delegates were one of the highlights of the experience.  During the sessions I found other delegates asking good questions that I hadn't thought of.  We all come with different backgrounds and experiences, and that resulted in different perspectives.  Outside of the sessions were possibly more inspiring.  I had the opportunity to talk to authors and entrepreneurs, people with different skills in networking, programming, cloud, etc.  I truly appreciate the conversations I had with everyone involved.

Interested in Being a Tech Field Day Delegate?

I would recommend participating in a Tech Field Day event to anyone that's interested (and meets the requirements).  The requirements are pretty straightforward.  You have to be independent, meaning not employed by any of the presenters, or any of their competitors.  You have to contribute to the IT community.  This could be through blogs, vlogs, social media, or any other method.  All that matters is that you are an active participant.  Lastly, you have to know what you are talking about.  As a delegate you need to be knowledgeable in the topic area.  The presentations are fast, and you need to be able to keep up.

If this sounds like something you'd like to do you can fill out the form here: https://techfieldday.com/delegates/become-field-day-delegate/

Disclosure

Transparency is important.  With the Tech Field Day events they cover all event costs for delegates, including flight, hotel, transportation, food, etc.  There's some social time in the evenings where drink costs are covered, and a fun outing (this one was axe throwing) which is also covered.
Many of the vendors provide swag to the delegates, mostly in the form of logo merch including t-shirts, hats, stickers, pens, notebooks, and other tchotchkes.  There was some non-branded swag from vendors, a Forever Spin top and base, and a Mario Game & Watch.
Each delegate receives the same swag, regardless of questions asked, tweets, blogs etc.

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