October 2005 Archives

If you are going to be at the USENIX/SAGE LISA conference in San Diego in early December, I've scheduled a Network Automation BoF (Birds of a Feather session, where folks interested in a particular topic get together to chat about it) for Thursday night, 8 December 2005, 8:00-9:00pm (right after the conference reception). Right now, they've got us scheduled in Garden Salon 1, but that's subject to change, so check the scheduling board at the conference. I hope to see you there!

BoF info:

Automating Network Configuration & Management

Organizer/Moderator: Brent Chapman, Great Circle Associates
Thursday, 8 December 2005, 8:00 pm-9:00 pm, Garden Salon 1

What's the state of the art for automated network configuration and management? What systems and tools are available, either freely or commercially? Where are these issues being considered and discussed?

Over the last 15 years or so, much of the research in the system administration field has focused on automation. It's now well accepted that a well-run operation doesn't manage 10,000 servers individually, but rather uses tools like cfengine to manage definitions of those servers and then create instances of those servers as needed. In the networking world, though, most of us seem to be still manually configuring (and reconfiguring) every device.

Further info:

Besides my professional work in the networking field, I do a lot of volunteer emergency services work. For example, I'm one of only about 40 fully-qualified air search and rescue Incident Commanders in the California Wing of the Civil Air Patrol, and I help teach community disaster preparedness classes for the Mountain View Fire Department. So, I have a fair understanding of the tools (methods, structures, and principles) that such agencies use to organize themselves to deal with emergencies, and I've long pondered how some of those tools could be applied to emergencies in information technology.

I've been invited to give a 90 minute talk on the topic at the USENIX/SAGE LISA Conference in San Diego on Thursday, 8 December 2005, and I'll be giving a preview of the talk at the BayLISA meeting on Thursday, 20 October 2005:

Incident Command for IT: What We Can Learn from the Fire Department

Have you ever wondered how fire departments organize themselves on the fly to deal with a major incident? How they quickly and effectively coordinate the efforts of multiple agencies? How they evolve the organization as the incident changes in scope, scale, or focus? They accomplish all this by using the Incident Command System (ICS), a standardized organizational structure and set of operating principles adopted by most emergency agencies nationwide. In this talk, Brent will introduce the concepts and principles of ICS, and discuss how these can be applied to IT events, such as security incidents and service outages.

Please join me for one or both of these talks!

Slides from the BayLISA talk on Thursday, 20 October 2005:

I just returned from a very unique experience: 2 weeks on the Gulf Coast of Mississippi, helping design and deploy a wireless network to provide free Internet connectivity to communities that were devastated by Hurricane Katrina. The work was very challenging and very rewarding, and I strongly encourage anyone who can to consider going down and helping out for a week or two.

I was working with Radio Response, which is an ad hoc group formed in the wake of Katrina, mostly out of the WiFi ISP industry. There's a lot on their web site about what they've done, and what they still want to do; in particular, check out some of the press clippings about the organization.

Networking in a disaster zone is a fascinating challenge. You have to figure out how to make the best of what you've got, because getting more (whether it's equipment, service, or personnel) can be very difficult. There are all sorts of unique obstacles (logistical, safety, infrastructure, political, environmental) to overcome or bypass. On the other hand, you can pretty immediately see positive results from your work.

One thing that surprised me (but probably shouldn't have) was the extent to which we ended up serving other volunteer groups, rather than the victims directly. We were able to provide Internet connectivity to multiple volunteer groups who were running kitchens feeding thousands of people a day, a mobile trauma hospital, the main warehouse distributing donated food and other relief supplies throughout the area where we were operating, a couple of FEMA Urban Search and Rescue (USAR) Task Forces, and various other organizations. Most of these organizations had other, more limited methods of Internet access, but by providing them with connectivity that was generally faster and of higher bandwidth, we were able to make their jobs that much easier (by more easily allowing them to far more easily coordinate with their support organizations outside the disaster area, for example), which meant they could provide that much more and better service to the victims of the disaster.

Anyway, as I said, the work was both very challenging and very rewarding, and I encourage you to consider donating time or resources to Radio Response or other organizations who are doing relief work. The level of devastation in the region is simply staggering; entire communities have been wiped out, and are being rebuilt from the ground up. New Orleans tends to get the vast majority of the public's attention, but it's far from the only area to be devastated by Katrina and Rita.