Author: Phil Gervasi

Phil is currently the senior network security engineer at a pharmaceutical company in upstate New York. Before working in internal IT, he worked for Cisco partners where he honed his skills and developed a love for continuing education. Phil also teaches Cisco networking and Windows Server courses at a local community college and has a passion for helping others become better engineers. Follow him on Twitter @network_phil and read his blog at

How Do You Know That’s True?

About a thousand years ago, rather than configure routers, I taught high school English.

One day, instead of unpacking our favorite Shakespearean sonnet, I was sidetracked by a student who asked me how we know anything about electrons and how they orbit the nucleus of an atom. Apparently he asked his physics teacher the period before and got a pithy “electrons are the essence of a negativity.”

That made no sense at all to my student. It didn’t to me either. It didn’t answer the question, and in and of itself is a ridiculous statement. After making a Zoolander-esque joke about electrons being the essence of negativity, and negativity being the essence of Mr. Treuber’s physics class, he asked me the same question. So I went on for a minute about mathematical equations I didn’t understand and how it’s more an electron cloud than electron orbits. I didn’t know how to answer, either.

Because English class can lend itself to discussions of philosophy, metaphysics, human nature, and the more profound questions of life, my students were accustom to this kind of departure from whatever literature we were studying. I enjoyed it, too, but saw it as an opportunity to encourage them to respectfully ask their teachers how they came to their conclusions and how some indelible nugget of truth came to be known. I encouraged my students to respectfully ask their teachers, “how do you know that’s true?”

Many moons later, I program routers and play with computers all day. I read a lot of blogs, browse through reddit once in a while, and follow several technology publications. I also get to participate in an amazing social community of network engineers and technology professionals.

The community likes to joke about vendor hype which is both fun and poignant because it makes you think critically about the marketing from all our favorite technology companies. But the community also likes to make evaluations and predictions of its own. I tend to take these more seriously because, by and large, these are engineers writing for other engineers. I feel there is less marketing hype and a level of technical expertise that legitimizes the arguments.

But remember that people in any social environment come to conclusions based partly on the communal narrative. For the networking community, this means there are strong statements being made that everyone sort of just goes along with without question.

Therein lies the problem for me. I clearly remember encouraging my class to ask their teachers “how do you know that’s true?” However, I don’t often apply that to the networking community which is made up of, what I consider, some of the best teachers I’ve ever had.

A few years ago I came across a long twitter thread on why having one access point per classroom was bad design. There was no reasoning I could see, just everyone agreeing in rant form how bad a design it is. I asked the person who tweeted first why he believed this, and his reaction was to defend himself. I immediately told him I was not a wireless expert and was genuinely curious how he came to that conclusion. Rather than tell me that “access points are the essence of wireless”, he sent me a whitepaper he wrote on the topic thoroughly explaining his argument using RF math (which I barely understood) and several case studies.

Now I know why wireless engineers believe one access point per classroom designs are a bad idea.

When an entire social community rallies around a set of bullet points, I get a little skeptical. Where did this come from, and how do I know if this is true? Apply this to the blogs you read and tweets that come across your screen. Rather than blindly jumping on the bandwagon, don’t be afraid to politely and respectfully ask a blogger how he or she knows what they say is true.

Be prepared, but not afraid, to explain your position as well. This is our community’s way of iron sharpening iron. 




My Network Cutover Soundtrack

Here’s a list of carefully thought-out pairings of songs for specific types of network activities like cutovers, refresh projects, and typical pain-in-the-butt network tasks.

Click on the network-y activity to listen, and make sure to have your sound at a decent volume. Most of these tasks take longer than the length of one typical song, so usually I’m listening to the entire album.



Trust But Verify: Lossless End-To-End Visibility from Ixia

Tap everywhere. Tap everything. Trustworthy visibility is the key to network monitoring and security.

This is Ixia’s approach for how networking professionals can get an accurate picture of what’s really going in the network, and this was the theme of Ixia’s presentation at Networking Field Day 13.



Apstra: The Intent-Driven Cure for Network Blindness

Apstra, Incorporated isn’t focused on new features, more advanced silicon, or some new widget. Instead, they’re offering a different way to look at networking. Apstra offers an early form of intent-driven networking that abstracts network programmability and allows network engineers to configure intent rather than device features. We expect the network to behave in a specific way, so we configure our intent accordingly. I was very excited to meet the Apstra team at Networking Field Day 13, and they didn’t disappoint.



SD-WAN with VeloCloud at Networking Field Day 13

It looks like we’re going to have some SD-WAN goodness next week at Networking Field Day 13. I love the technology itself because of the real-world use case and practical benefits a good SD-WAN solution can offer.  Many of the SDN-labeled offerings out there are still a little immature, but adding intelligence to the WAN edge is something that is already being adopted wholeheartedly in even small enterprises.