Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Time to Get Prepping for the F5 Certification 201 Exam

Less than a month after gaining some cred (and relief) from passing the F5 Certification 101 exam, the DevCentral team is now embarking on our 201-TMOS Administration journey. The 201-TMOS Administration exam is the second exam required to achieve F5 Certified BIG-IP Administrator status. You see, the 101 is simply a gauge - a benchmark – to determine if you qualify to take the next exam to officially become F5 Certified. The 201 exam focuses on the TMOS operating system, the day-to-day operation and basic troubleshooting of BIG-IP devices. 

You won’t need to install the software but you do need to understand how to administer and troubleshoot it once it is running. You'll also need to understand how (and what) to provide accurate and appropriate information for senior engineers and/or F5 support. This exam is not so much 'what do you know' but more about 'how do you do it.' Theory plus experience.

The DevCentral team is taking the same preparation approach as we did for the 101. We’re doing weekly team study sessions with each person taking a section and presenting to the team. This allows us to share knowledge, experience and discuss the potential questions around a certain topic. We found this very successful while prepping for the 101. Plus it was a good excuse to get together to talk shop. In addition, we'll need to spend some hands-on time (at least I do) doing real GUI-click stuff.

The good news is there seems to be a lot of 201 resources available. Of course there is F5’s own Eric Mitchell’s comprehensive 201 Certification Study Guide along with the TMOS Administration Exam Blueprint.

Outside of F5, Rich Hill put together a great click-read-learn journey with the various exam sections and the corresponding links to F5 support, DevCentral and other resources. Funzune has a fantastic F5 BIG IP – 201 exam – TMOS administration (Tips and tricks) along with a how to set up F5 BIG-IP lab at home. This is critical since (as mentioned earlier) the 201 exam does require BIG-IP hands on participation.

You can pass the 101 by studying the material but you need actual experience to ace the 201.

TomsITPro has a good overview and career path article for F5 Certifications and there’s a nifty flash-card based 201 Study Guide on Cram.com which delivers 80 potential questions along with the answers. Like the 101, candidates need to answer 80 questions in 90 minutes so nail the ones you know and come back for the more difficult questions. And don’t forget to flag those so it is easier to review with 10 minutes left. Another great resource is the F5 Certified Professionals LinkedIn group. A very active group that always has good tips as members work their way through the process.

Lastly, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention TheF5Guy’s 5 reasons to become F5 Certified. As Nathan Abbott puts it, ‘Reason #1 – I’m “The F5 Guy”, I have to do my best to live up to my name!  Hehehe…

The one theme that runs through many of the 201 certification prep articles is that this exam is not something to take lightly. It is much more challenging than the 101. While the 101 has a 70% pass rate, the 201 hovers around 67%. 69% correct is a pass. And if you do pass you will be awarded the credential of F5 Certified BIG-IP Administrator.

That’s what we’re aiming for.


Tuesday, August 23, 2016

The Intruders of Things

Gartner predicts that by 2020, IoT security will make up 20 percent of annual security budgets.

2020 seems to be an important milestone for the Internet of Things. That’s the year that Cisco says there will be 50 billion connected devices and also the year Gartner notes that over 50% of major new business processes and systems will incorporate some element of the Internet of Things.
That’s the good news.

A recent Symantec Internet Security Threat Report says there are 25 connected devices per 100 inhabitants in the US. Minimum 25 entry points to your personal information, not counting your front door, personal computers, compromised ATMs and other data sources. As your connected devices grow, so will your exposure. And with no clear methods of identifying and authenticating connected devices, enterprises will have a challenging time getting a handle on how many employee shirts, shoes, fitness trackers, and smartwatches are connected to the corporate network. And more importantly, what do they have access to?

The sneaky spreadsheet macro malware will soon be a spoofed critical alert requiring instant attention.

Healthcare is a prime target for IoT attacks and researchers have already compromised several devices revealing personal info and worse, causing the devices to malfunction. ‘Hey, why isn’t my heart beating any……

The chaos on the feature first consumer side can be frustrating but nothing compared to industrial and manufacturing.

The Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) focuses on industrial control systems, device to network access and all the other connective sensor capabilities. These attacks are less frequent, at least today, but the consequences can be huge – taking out industrial plants, buildings, tractors, and even entire cities.

If you think data protection and privacy are hot now, just wait until 2020. Like BYOD, security pros need to be ready for the inevitable not just the potential of a breach. While the gadgets get all the interest, it’ll be the back end data center infrastructure that will take the brunt of the traffic – good and bad.

Organizations need an infrastructure that can both withstand the traffic growth and defend against attacks. Over on F5’s Newsroom, Lori MacVittie talks about the 3 Things the Network Must Provide for IoT – delivery, security and visibility. Things that can communicate securely with back-end apps, ADC’s that can understand the languages of things (like MQTT) and the ability to see what is going on with the things.

According to TechTarget, ensuring high availability of the IoT services will rely on boosting traffic management and monitoring. This will both mitigate business continuity risks, and prevent potential losses. From a project planning standpoint, organizations need to do capacity planning and watch the growth rate of the network so that the increased demand for the required bandwidth can be met.

If you already have BIG-IP in your back yard, you’re well on your way to being IoT ready. You got the network security to protect against inbound attacks; you can offload SSL to improve the performance of the IoT application servers; you can extend your data centers to the cloud to support IoT deployments; scale IoT applications beyond the data center when required and both encrypt and accelerate IoT connections to the cloud.

A pair of BIG-IPs in the DMZ terminates the connection. They, in turn, intelligently distribute the client request to a pool (multiple) of IoT application servers, which then query the database servers for the appropriate content. Each tier has redundant servers so in the event of a server outage, the others take the load and the system stays available.

The BIG-IP tuning may vary but it is still all about nodes, hosts, members, pools, virtual servers and the profiles and services applied. The BIG-IP platform is application and location agnostic, meaning the type of application or where the application lives does not matter. As long as you tell the BIG-IP where to find the IoT application, the BIG-IP platform will deliver it.



Tuesday, August 16, 2016

I'm Sorry Sir, You're Obsolete

Is the rate of obsolescence proportionate to the rate of technology advances?

A few years ago, those little iHome alarm clocks started to appear in hotel rooms. Cool gadgets that you could mount your mobile phone to battery charge or play the music on the device. We also had a few in our home. They worked perfectly for the iPhone4 since the connector was that 1 inch protruding plug. When I got the iPhone6, those clocks instantly became useless. Obsolete. At least the phone connector part lost its value.

I’ve been thinking about this for a while.

The rate of obsolescence. The state when an object, technology, service or practice is no longer needed or wanted…even though it still may be in good working order. E-waste is the fastest growing segment of the waste stream. With the technological advances, not only are we buying the latest and greatest electronics but we’re also dumping perfectly good, working devices at silly rates. There was even a story about a Central Park mugger who rejected a flip phone during a heist.

Sure, the new gadget is shiny, faster, better or does stuff the other one couldn’t. All commercial things have the typical emerging, growth, maturity and decline model and I started wondering if the rate of obsolescence is proportionate to the rate of technology advances.

Moore’s Law and Wright’s Law are generally regarded as the best formulas for predicting how rapidly technology will advance. They offer approximations of the pace of technological progress. Moore’s Law (1965) describes the rate of improvement in the power of computer chips – essentially, the number of components doubles every 18 months. Generally, the principle can be applied to any technology and says that, depending on the technology, the rate of improvement will increase exponentially over time.

Wright’s Law (1936), says that progress increases with experience. Meaning that each percent increase in cumulative production (in a given industry) results in a fixed percentage improvement in production efficiency.

A simple web search of ‘rate of technological advancement’ returns scores of images that show a huge ramp going up:

But is there the same rapid decline chart for ‘out of date, lost freshness’ technologies gone by?

Nothing with a laptop falling off a cliff but there are certainly charts showing the rate of e-waste:

The climb is not as dramatic as technology advances (yet) but it is still growing rapidly.

So there doesn’t seem to be (or I simply can’t find it) a direct correlation or chart that incorporates both technology advances and resulting obsoleteness. There are plenty of articles that do cover things that will be obsolete in the next few years (DVD players, landlines, clock radios); the jobs that will be obsolete (travel agent, taxi driver); and the things that became obsolete over the last decade.

There is a patent, US7949581 B2, which describes a method of determining an obsolescence rate of a technology yet that looks more at the life of a technology patent and its eventual decay and depreciation rate. Less citations over the years means patent decay. This is more about the depreciation of a specific patent rather than how society embraces and then ultimately tosses the technology.

The funny thing is that nowadays vintage items and antiques seem to be hot markets. Nostalgia is a big seller. Longing for the simpler times I guess.

And lastly, the rate of World IQ over time. Is there a connection with technology?

If you feel your infrastructure is becoming obsolete with all that cloudy talk, F5 can certainly help by providing the critical application delivery services consistently across all your data centers - private clouds, public clouds, and hybrid deployments - so you can enjoy the same availability, security and performance you've come to expect.



E-waste image courtesy: www.slideshare.net/SuharshHarsha

World IQ image courtesy: http://uhaweb.hartford.edu/BRBAKER/

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

I Am an Application Delivery Fundamentalist!

Fun and a little mental.

If you’ve been following along the DevCentral team’s journey toward F5 Certification, then you may be aware that we were in Chicago last week for F5’s Agility 2016 conference and took our 101 Application Delivery Fundamentals exam. I am happy to report that all of us, Jason, John, Chase and I, passed our exams. I gotta tell you, it’s a relief since I didn’t want to title this article, 'Two Out of Three Ain’t Bad.' Good song but wanted to avoid that.

We started this excursion back in April (me in March) with the team deciding to create a study group. Each week we’d tackle a topic with the guidance of Eric Mitchell’s excellent Study Guide. We worked through the sections and decided to test our luck with the Certification Team’s mobile testing center...with the pressure of passing during an F5 event. Imagine the slight pre-test anxiety going through our minds if we didn’t pass. ‘How long have you been at F5?’ the questions would have started. My mouth covering, embarrassing, face-palming, muffled response of, ’12 years,’ would not have been sufficient.

As Ken told us on the way into the exam room, ‘I tell people it is either pass or fail…so don’t worry about your overall score.’ But he also added specifically to me, ‘You know if you fail, I will give you grief.’ No Pressure.

Well, we were prepared and we all passed!

Jason, John and I took the exam Tuesday morning. After registering and scheduling with Pearson Vue, we arrived at the mobile test center. You need to sign in and present two forms of ID, one with your picture. Even though the Certification team knew all of us, we still needed to follow the procedure, no exceptions. We liked that we had no special treatment – other than the ‘hello’ hugs – and had to process and pass fair and square.

We were seated in different areas since the exam room was fairly full when we entered. The moderator helped each of us get to the proper test associated with our registration and the timer started. For the 101, you have 90 minutes to answer 80 questions. At 23 minutes in, Jason got up and was finished. ‘Wa?!?’ as I look up seeing him walk by, ‘I’m only on question 28!’ I lamented. At least John was still there and I kept an eye on my time and question count the rest of the way. But I also told myself, ‘I’m in no hurry and if I need the full 90 minutes, I’ll take it to the last tick.’

John finished about a 40 minutes later and I was left for the last 30 to myself. With 10 minutes left, I was done but took that remaining time to review my answers. One tip: you can flag questions for review during the test or make comments for yourself as you move along. Close out the ones you know and go back for the more challenging questions. In the end I think I changed 3 answers. No idea if it swayed the results either way.

When you are done, you walk back to the registration room and your preliminary results are already waiting. I felt a quiver when Heidi glanced at my results and gave that ‘I’m sorry,’ look. But that was soon turned to glee as I read, ‘you have Passed.’ We were 3 for 3. Chase took the test on Wednesday and also passed.

I feel it was a very fair test to determine one’s basic application delivery knowledge. Some networking, some security, some infrastructure. And although we did prepare, it was still a challenging test. These exams are not supposed to be cake-walks but a good way to measure your knowledge around a certain topic.

While we passed and may be certifiable in our own right, we are not ‘officially’ F5 Certified. That comes with the 201 exam. The 201-TMOS Administration exam is the second exam required to achieve Certified F5 BIG-IP Administrator status. Candidates must have passed the 101-Application Delivery Fundamentals exam in order to be eligible for the 201 exam.

And wouldn’t you know it, we’re all now shooting for the 201. We plan on doing the team study again but we’ll also need to dig into some on box time for this one. I plan on keeping you posted for the 201 but for now, I’ll just bask in my 101 glory.



Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Q/A with SpringCM's Joel Newton - DevCentral's Featured Member for August

 Joel Newton is a Senior DevOps System Engineer at SpringCM, a current DevCentral MVP and DevCentral’s Featured Member for August!

SpringCM believes in leveraging technology to deliver immediate savings by automating and accelerating business processes – essentially, bringing the power of the cloud to contract and document management. SpringCM was using BIG-IP LTM to load-balance their application servers when Joel started there four years ago, and he stepped into the role of being the primary BIG-IP admin, managing the VIPs, pools, and iRules. In addition to managing the BIG-IP LTM, he’s also an architect of their continuous delivery and configuration management systems. Outside of work, he enjoys philosophy, genealogy, spending time with his family, and being a craft beer evangelist (as well as drinking craft beer).
DevCentral got a chance to talk with Joel about his work, life and how DevOps & DevCentral have more in common than just the word ‘Dev.’

DevCentral: Hi Joel, thanks for your time! You are a current DevCentral MVP and have been a tremendous contributor to our community over the years. What keeps you involved?

Joel: I think it’s that DevCentral is a very active community, with a lot of smart people trying to solve a lot of interesting problems. Just perusing the most recent questions can be a great way to learn things.
My initial interest in DevCentral was sparked by Joe Pruitt’s docs on iControl and all the PowerShell knowledge and examples he provided. After a while, I realized that having a PowerShell module to manage LTMs might be beneficial, so I developed that and shared it with the community.

DC: Tell us a little about the areas of BIG-IP expertise you have.

JN: SpringCM primarily uses the BIG-IP LTM module and iControl REST. We built and host a large, complex, public-facing web application, and as such we have hundreds of servers that require load balancing. Since we have so many servers, our goal is to do as much of the administration as possible via scripts and command line, which is where iControl REST comes in. With PowerShell and iControl REST, we’re able to configure virtual servers, pools, pool members and iRules.

DC: You are part of a DevOps team at SpringCM. Can you explain how DevCentral helps with DevOps challenges?

JN: I think DevOps is just a fancy term for the attempt to achieve better system process automation and better system visibility. Anything that allows one to programmatically change settings and retrieve information about one’s systems (such as iControl and iControl REST, and all the PowerShell /Perl /python snippets shared on DevCentral) aids people doing DevOps.

DC: Describe one of your biggest IT challenges and how DevCentral helped in that situation.

JN: SpringCM has wanted to do continuous delivery for a while. Instead of doing monolithic quarterly deployments of the entire production environment, we want to get to where we’re deploying to select servers during the day with zero downtime, as needed. A big part of this is being able to automate the management of BIG-IP pool members.

We’ve been doing zero-downtime deployments to production on a smaller scale to dozens of servers, but just recently, we accomplished our first “hot” (zero-downtime) deployment of our entire production environment (around 350 servers). This was only possible because we were able to use iControl REST and PowerShell scripts to have pool members disable themselves, wait until their connections dropped below a defined threshold, update their code, and re-enable themselves in their pool.

DC: We’re in your hometown, Chicago, this week for F5 Agility 2016. What are you looking forward to at Agility?

JN: I’ve signed up for some iRules labs, as well as one on BIG-IQ. We have some iRules that I inherited and have tweaked as needed, but I don’t feel that I’ve yet got a comprehensive picture on all that I could be using iRules for in our application. I’m looking forward to that, as well as getting a good intro to BIG-IQ.

DC: Lastly, if you weren’t an IT admin – what would be your dream job? Or better, when you were a kid – what did you want to be when you grew up?

JN: Probably a full-time craft beer evangelist.

DC: Thanks Joel! Check out all of Joel’s DevCentral contributions and follow him on GitHub or connect on LinkedIn. And follow SpringCM: @springcm