Wednesday, July 18, 2007

The Lore of Trip Reports

During the early days of cisco when people took a business trip they came back and wrote up a quick trip report to send to the entire company. The trip reports were a way for us all to keep in touch with the many moving parts of our growing company. The reports were usually a few paragraphs long and described the business trip activities with some inevitable humorous travel-related anecdotes. The trip report always included one other item - a fairly detailed description of every meal and foreign food encounter. Restaurant reviews, menus, detailed descriptions of plates and food and prices were required material. As you might expect, some folks were better writers and had more fun with this activity than others (I do recall one exceptionally long trip report that detailed a meal in Paris that I still want to duplicate). Regardless of the skill of the writer, I really enjoyed reading about the trips and the food.

I'm not really sure who did the first trip report - they were already part of the cisco lore when I joined the company in 1990 - but I quickly realized that there was an implicit rule that if I went on a business trip I had to write a report and it had to include the lurid details of my meals. This was not in an employee handbook or written down anywhere, it was just common knowledge - and I relished in the opportunity to contribute to my company and my team. As I think back to those days, I know I wrote a few trip reports but I'm really not sure if they were humorous or memorable, but I know I tried.... I do recall leaving the my cube one day headed out for the airport and hearing someone yell after me, "Don't forget to take notes on the food!"

Then one day, I'm not sure when exactly, I stopped receiving trip reports from my fellow team members. Cisco was booming, growing up culturally, and we were all running as fast as we could to keep up. Trip reports didn't fit in to the culture of Cisco with a capital 'C' as much as they did in the old days when the company was just cisco. Of course, Cisco as a company is a monumental business success story. The lack of trip reports clearly did not hurt the company financially.

At subsequent small companies where I have worked I've tried to start up the culture of trip reports again, usually centered on business and food. To me, it was both fun and nostalgic. Yet, somehow, they never took on the life of their own as we had at cisco.

So, imagine my surprise when I opened up my Vyatta email the other day and saw a trip report from one of our team members (I'll withhold her name now to protect the innocent from embarrassment :-). This trip report was a bit different because she went on vacation to London and met up with a few Vyatta customers on her own time! The trip report included some great feedback from her customer meetings and also some fun anecdotes on what shows to see in London (apparently Spamalot is great) and what are the best tube routes for traversing the city. Even though there was no mention of food, the style of the trip report really brought me back to the early days of Cisco.

I sent her an email thanking her for bringing back great memories and for writing up her trip report (and for taking time on her vacation to meet with customers!). Surprisingly, she was not from cisco (or Cisco :) and did not know about the lore of the old trip reports. She just wanted to share her experiences with her team. As it turns out, she's also empowered to help us build the Vyatta culture. As it should be at a fast growing small company!

So, trip reports for all who choose to write them and thanks again Kirsten for the memories!

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Vyatta + Virtualization = new FEP?

For those of you who were not around for the glory days of networking, back when IBM ruled the roost, the term FEP is more than likely a new one. A FEP is a Front End Processor, a device that was built to sit in front of a mainframe to handle peripherals and network connections because the CPU cycles of the mainframe were too valuable to be spent on moving bits. These were also the days when the mainframe has less CPU cycles than your average modern PC, so it made sense to offload networking and other functions. IBM made a killing on sellng FEPs with model numbers such as 3705, 3745 and 3746.

Today, no-one gives a thought to a PC using the Intel x86 architecture being used for both computational and networking functions. As we've shown at Vyatta, this architecture can handle both functions and achieve a very nice price/performance ratio. In fact, in many networking environments, the CPU has many spare computational cycles to burn - and this has led to many people using Vyatta in combination with a virtual machine environment such as VMWare or XenSource.

And, that got me thinking a bit.... Let's imagine that you build a PC with a 3Ghz CPU (or faster), add a couple of 10Gigabit/sec Ethernet cards, load it with a few gigabytes of memory and then run a virtual machine with Vyatta and other networking/telephony software (Asterisk comes to mind as an example). Given the right software, this PC could do a lot of networking functions in a single box (routing, firewall, vpn, call routing, voicemail, SSL termination, load balancing, anti-spam, and so forth) and reduce the processing load on application servers in a given environment.

So - is a PC running many different networking applications on a very fast LAN connection in front of application servers really any different architecturally than a FEP? Probably not - it should be interesting to see if networks do evolve back to the future.