Monday, December 31, 2012

Pcap Touch: Read PCAP on iOS!

I finally joined the ranks of the iOS-enabled this Christmas, thanks to a gift of an iPod Touch.  As I was casting about for free/cheap apps (there's an inverse relationship between "number of kids" and "disposable income", and it's an exponential...), I stumbled across this gem - Pcap Touch!

It's a very basic app, in that it only displays pcap-format files; don't expect all the bells and whistles of Wireshark.  Nonetheless, a quick test drive suggests that Pcap Touch will be quite useful for taking a "quick look" at small capture files.  I can already envision using it in situations where we've already performed problem isolation and know exactly what packets are of interest in a given capture.

The only roll-your-own step is transferring the pcap files to your iOS device.  Out of sheer convenience, I used Dropbox; the Dropbox UI shows a "can't view this file" message upon download, but Pcap Touch shows up in Dropbox's "export file to app" UI automatically.

One VERY interesting side note: the app can also stream a live packet capture from a Linux system, via the open-source pcap-touch-server.  I have not tested this capability (yet), but its utility is obvious.

In summary: I wouldn't try to do full-blown capture analysis with this tool, but it's definitely going to come in handy for mobile/remote capture review on a regular basis.  The pairing of Dropbox and Pcap Touch can make the iOS platform useful to network engineers and hobbyists alike.  Have at it.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Today's Random #MPFreebie - Christmas in PDX

It's time for another in my irregular series of free music posts...this time with a regional flavor!

You may not know this, but Portland is home to a sprawling music scene; in fact, it has become so much of a music Mecca that The Oregonian now selects a Top 10 "Portland records" to give local artists their due. (Here's their #1 for 2012.)  You can hear just about anything in Portland, and XO Publicity has been bringing it home at Christmas time for 5 years now.  Each year, they pull together a holiday sampler from among their (rather large) clientele, and it's good stuff; I have found that at least one track from each year's offering has made its way into my 'standard' Christmas playlist.

"XO for the Holidays Volume 5" is no exception.  My First Listen Favorites (FLFs) would have to be Robert Burnham's uptempo White Christmas, the metal-grinding What Child of Magnuson, and Maybe Next Christmas from Blue Skies for Black Hearts.  Your mileage may vary; you'll find a good mix of genres here.

You can grab a copy of the sampler (and, if you're so inclined, its four predecessors in the series - I recommend them!) from the link below.  Time to bulk up your Christmas playlists, folks...

xo publicity - XO for the Holidays Volume 5

Friday, December 14, 2012

My All-Time Favorite Rock Christmas Song? Yep, Pretty Much...

Most of you know that I'm a TOTAL music geek.  I listen to just about everything--much to my family's frequent chagrin--and the Christmas season is no exception.  Of course, you can find Christmas music in just about any genre, but let's face it: rock is not always conducive to what we usually name "the Christmas spirit."  Well, there's at least one amazing exception to that notion, and it came out in 1963, courtesy of music industry legend Phil Spector and (now) Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Darlene Love - "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)."

The first performance of this song in my memory was Love's first performance on Late Night with David Letterman in 1986.  I immediately began searching for the original album (most non-vinyl releases were titled "A Christmas Gift For You from Phil Spector"), and was not disappointed; that may well be the greatest rock Christmas collection EVER.  Love's appearances on Late Night became a tradition that continues today, and CBS recently released this mashup covering most of Love's 24 years of performing her signature tune.  I particularly enjoy Paul Shaffer's arrangements of the song; he pays homage to Spector's "Wall of Sound" approach while incorporating instrumentation and vocals that Spector could not. 

Just as Letterman has said on numerous occasions, it isn't really Christmas until I hear Darlene Love since this song.  Enjoy.

Saturday, December 08, 2012

Technology Behind the Scenes - IP Multicast and the Stock Market

One finds network documentation in the most unusual places...

While doing a bit of research into stock market operations, I stumbled across the Consolidated Tape Association.  Basically, the CTA is the group that disseminates real-time trade and quote information for securities listed on the NYSE, NYSE Arca, NYSE MKT, and other exchanges.  Now, I had never really considered the design implications of a free-for-all environment such as securities trading; we've all seen the movies with screaming traders, paper-littered floors and the like, but how do they get their data?

As it turns out, they use IP multicast.  This makes sense, since we're talking about data streams from a single authoritative source with no need for responses from recipients.  (Think about it - stock quotes are a one-way stream, right?)  Well, the Securities Industry Automation Corporation (now NYSE Technologies) has published a complete specification for the National Market Systems Common IP Multicast Distribution Network, and it's an interesting read for any IT/networking person.  It's interesting to see that flood of market data broken down into individual multicast streams, specified provider multicast IPs and specific UDP port numbers.  There's also a prepositioned/predefined disaster recovery addressing scheme, which may be of interest to those of you planning/gaming your own corporate DR scenario.  Those of you familiar with market operations might find it interesting to see "circuit breakers", open/close prices, and bid/offer semantics implemented as network messages, which you'll find in the CQS and CTS specifications on the page linked below.

All in all, I found this an interesting exercise in "double vision" - seeing financial & market imperatives (and raw data) defined in terms of data protocols really gave me a different perspective on the daily operations of the markets.  For the networking professional, this provides an interesting look into one of the most far-reaching IP multicast implementations you're likely to find.  If you're a networking geek, it's worth a look.

NYXdata > CTA

Thursday, December 06, 2012

Counting Down to IBM Connect 2013! (With JavaScript)

Well, today was an exciting day in the community, as all the folks who submitted abstracts for presentations at IBM Connect 2013 learned their fate.  It was, as usual, a highly competitive process with hundreds of great entries; those accepted can rightfully be excited about taking the stage at a fantastic conference.

For me, this day always starts the official "clock is ticking" mindset, so I decided to add a countdown timer to my blog.  For those of you who may want to do the same, it's a simple thing to do.  If you're using Blogger, just add the "HTML/Javascript" gadget to your layout, give it a nice title (I went with the simple "Countdown to IBM Connect 2013"), and insert the following Javascript:
<script language="JavaScript">TargetDate = "01/27/2013 10:00 AM";
BackColor = "white";ForeColor = "#ff6600";
CountActive = true;CountStepper = -1;
LeadingZero = true;DisplayFormat = "%%D%% Days, %%H%% Hrs, %%M%% Min, %%S%% Secs.";
FinishMessage = "It is finally here!"; </script>
<script language="JavaScript" src=""></script>

A big thanks to Robert Hashemian for making his countdown script publicly available!

Friday, November 09, 2012

The Tech Side of #SocBiz - Working with DB2 Databases

All right, so you're doing the Social Business and/or mobile thing.  You're talking about deploying (or may have already deployed) Sametime, Connections, Lotus Mobile Connect, Lotus Notes Traveler, and/or Websphere Portal.  Well, there's something behind the scenes that you should know - you're going to be, at least in part, a.....wait for it....database analyst!

Surprised?  Well, all of these products depend upon database services provided by IBM's DB2 database product.  Sure, DB2 has been around for quite some time, but it's likely that you (as an "applications team" person) never really had to step into that world of tables, elements and SQL.  That's going to change, if for no other reason that your own vested interests in performance tuning, system monitoring and other typical admin tasks.  For instance, Sametime meeting rooms are now (as of the 8.5 release) nothing more than database constructs; just about everything that goes on in a Sametime meeting room is stored in the backend DB2 database.  (That's how you get the "always on" feature!)  Ditto for the content in Connections.  So, you'll need to dip your toes into the DB2 water and get a feel for things.

Well, IBM has a few tools that can help you get up to speed before you ever start that first deployment.  Best of all, they're FREE!

Obviously, most of us don't have a "spare server" laying about on which to install DB2 in all its glory...but there's an easier way to get started.  DB2 Express-C is a fully functional "mini-DB2" database product; basically, its limitations are a single install (i.e. no clustering/failover facility) and throttled horsepower (it will only use up to 2 CPU cores and 4GB of RAM).  It's available for Windows (32- and 64-bit), Linux (32-/64-bit Intel and POWER), Solaris X86-64 and Mac OS X.  (Yes, you can run DB2 on your Mac!)  DB2 Express-C will let you try your hand at just about anything you'll need to do in a production DB2 environment, including developing your own stored SQL procedures and implementing a DB2 security model.  Why, an enterprising person might even take the database creation scripts from a Sametime install CD and create that exact same environment in DB2 Express-C!  (Yes, that's a hint...)  There's even a free "Getting Started with DB2 Express-C" book available for download, so there's no reason not to jump on board.

Now that you have a DB2 server, you'll want a tool with which to "go explore."  Enter IBM Data Studio.  This Eclipse application has guided steps for most of the common database activities, so it's a simple thing from the start.   You can do everything from direct database management (e.g. dropping/creating databases, modifying tables) to health monitoring and job management (with the add-on Web Console component).  I found Data Studio exceptionally simple to use, and was doing production work within roughly 15 minutes of installation.  It's available for Red Hat Linux, SUSE Linux, and Windows, and there's also a free "Getting Started with IBM Data Studio" book to be had as well.

Whether you're planning for a specific deployment, learning DB2 for the first time, or just wanting to know enough to speak with your database team in their native language, these DB2 tools should be more then enough to send you on your way.


The Tech Side of #SocBiz - What Do You Need to Know?

OK, so you've read the analyst reports, scanned the press releases, dug into the latest IBM study ("The Business of Social Business", from Eric Lesser and IBM's Institute for Business Value)...and Social Business is shaping up to be a big part of your company's strategic plan.

That's all well and good, but we're techies; our concerns are often (if not usually) more tactical and immediate than those seen in analyst reports, press releases and research studies.  We're the nuts-and-bolts folks, so we want to know what will be expected of us, so that we can take stock of our knowledge and improve upon it where necessary.  It's a question that deals with more than just installation and configuration; we may need to open up to "big picture" thinking in ways the typical (if you'll pardon the term) "paradigm shift" does not require.

So, the question is simple - what do you need to know and understand to make your transition to Social Business easier?  Hopefully, this blog can start providing answers.  In the weeks to come, you'll be seeing a series of articles titled "The Tech Side of #SocBiz", in which I'll explore what IBM products, capabilities and/or technologies can add information and skills to your arsenal.  Some (as you'll see this weekend, in the very first article) will be free tools that you can use to build your chops without a significant investment in hardware or software; others will be capabilities that already exist within the various products, but go unnoticed and unused by many admins.  We'll talk about the entire process, from planning to deployment to troubleshooting and maintenance.

I'll tell you this much right now - I do NOT have a particular agenda, and I don't have a long list of topics ready to go.  My goal here is to identify what you need, go find the resources that can help you, and bring them back to this blog.  To that end, PLEASE take the time to drop a comment on this article (or any others in the series) to let me know what aspects of "The Tech Side of #SocBiz" you want (or need) to explore further.

Hang on - this will probably be a wild ride.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Moving Your Server Room - Tips, Tricks, Perils, Pitfalls?

This is a short and simple request.  One of my Twitter acquaintances is taking the first steps in what can be a very tricky endeavor - moving his server-room/data-center to a completely new location.  He'll be able to design and plan from the ground up, since the new location has been completely gutted.

I'm sure that many of us have gone through this ever-so-special experience, so my request is simple: Please share your tips, tricks, perils and pitfalls from, shall we say, the Ghosts of ServerMoves Past in the comments.  What saved you significant time or effort?  What did you miss that came back to bite you?  Was animal sacrifice required?  Let us know...

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Cool Tool - Anonymizing Network Captures with Bit-Twist

I spend a great deal of my professional time working with network data captures (in other words, grabbing network packets off the wire and looking at them), and my tool of choice is Wireshark, the open-source network analyzer.  I've been encountering a particular problem recently, however, and Wireshark just can't do the job.  Tonight, I found an answer.

Obviously, network data is chock-full of sensitive data, so I'm rarely able to share my work with folks outside my company.  Even the IP addresses of particular systems would be useful information crackers, cyberbullies or other nefarious types.  So, then, how to "anonymize" network data captures so that I might share them more openly, use them in presentations, etc.?

Bit-Twist does the job.  It's a generalized Ethernet packet generator, and it uses the same libpcap libraries as do Wireshark, tcpdump and any number of network capture/analysis packages.  Its intended use is to "replay" capture files back onto the network, in order to facilitate testing processes...BUT it also includes the capability of rewriting IP addresses in capture files.  This makes total sense from a testing standpoint, in that one might wish to direct the same network stream(s) against multiple test systems, but it also means that one's capture files can be safely anonymized!  It's a two-step process that, given an original file named weirdstuff.cap, looks like this:

bittwiste -I weirdstuff.cap -O tmp.cap -T ip -s ip1,new-ip1 -d ip1,new-ip1 
bittwiste -I tmp.cap -O anonymized-weirdstuff.cap -T ip -s ip2,new-ip2 -d ip2,new-ip2

Yes, it takes two passes, but it allows me to change the same IP address in both source and destination fields.  That's a win!

Bit-Twist is free, open-source, and available for Mac, Linux and Windows from Sourceforge.  Grab it!

Bit-Twist: Libpcap-based Ethernet packet generator