Rick Mur

Limitless Networking

Next Generation Global Connectivity

Technologies like SDWAN have fundamentally changed the way we think about WAN infrastructures for enterprise IT environments over the past few years. Global WAN offerings are no longer a necessity as pretty much ‘any’ connectivity will do. You are no longer bound to private (MPLS-based) connections/networks. Software and smarter routing mechanisms will fix all your problems, if you talk to the SDWAN vendors, but this leaves an important piece of the puzzle missing. You still need a (large/worldwide) Service Provider to arrange this global connectivity for you.

Subscription Economy

Over the past few years we have become so used to the habit of going online, click a few times and order anything we want. People nowadays are more interested in access over ownership. When access is all that counts, than the one offering the most fluent and easy access wins! If this is the case, then why is there no neutral and independent portal, where I can look for worldwide connectivity options? This is the foundation of GNX, the new company that I co-founded!

GNX

GNX aims to become a leader in worldwide connectivity for Enterprise customers. As CTO I’m responsible for all technical aspects of our organization. From architecting our custom software, our infrastructure, heading up the development team to speaking at worldwide events about SDWAN and the impact GNX can have on offering connectivity services to Enterprises. Helping customers designing their next generation WAN. The goal of GNX is to offer an automated self service portal to quote, order, deliver, bill and support worldwide connectivity under a single contract, SLA and invoice with assistance from our fanatical inside support team that helps you with sales, but also with engineering your connectivity!

SDWAN-your-way

Combined with the power of SDWAN fully integrated in our offering, GNX offers anything from ‘just’ an Internet connection to a fully managed worldwide WAN service, but also leave the decision power with the customer. Do you want to have full control over your SDWAN solution? Sure! Do you want us to manage the migration and the first year of service? Sure! You only need connectivity for your SDWAN deployment? Sure!

I believe the next generation WAN is all about having choice. SDWAN solves the first half of the problem, GNX the second half.

Carrier Neutral

Giving choice means being completely carrier neutral in our service offering. We can offer services from hundreds of local carriers. This means that we can maintain a clear communication path from our customer to the supplier and can keep a customer much better informed about the service purchased.

Frictionless

The combined power of our full feature portal, fanatical support staff, carrier neutral services and flexible offering, means we offer customers fluent and frictionless access to global connectivity.

Why you?

The reason I got so excited for starting this company, is that I feel I can use all aspects of my experience working on many sides of the networking business. I can learn a lot from the developers that are currently working extremely hard to have our MVP finished as soon as possible so we can start our beta programs later this year. On the other hand I can re-use much of the knowledge I gained working for a VAR, Cisco and Juniper and use that to build the right tool to solve global connectivity challenges.

I honestly have never felt more excited about my work and I look forward to share that with you on this blog!

If you’d like to stay updated on the progress GNX is making or if you want to get in touch with us, visit our website: https://gnx.net

Rick Mur

[email protected]

Why leave a vendor job….twice?

Over the past few months I’ve been working hard on my new start-up company PeakFactory, it’s going really well, but for this post I want to focus on the reason why I chose to leave the companies I used to work for. I thought this was relevant, as many people have asked me why, but also in general there is a lot of discussion how to advance your career in different directions.

Why leave a comfortable and good job at all?

Back in 2013 I was working in a very good position, where I had a lot of freedom in choosing the customers I’d like to work on and was involved in all technical aspects of a project (pre-sales, proof of concepts, implementation and support). Still I had this feeling that I wanted to explore more an different areas for a wider audience. Which is why I decided to start working for a networking vendor. My main reason for choosing a vendor is that I could leverage my experience in the technology and apply it for a wider audience (maybe even worldwide)

Why work for Cisco and Juniper?

In early 2014 I got in touch with Cisco and I left my other job. I was very excited to start learning so much more about the technology and talking to customers across Europe about it. It turned out that adapting to the new ways of working, was very difficult. As a native Dutch person, I tend to have difficulty accepting authority and when you work in such a large company, there are rules to play by. This, combined with a more stricter definition of my job (pre-sales), made me never feel comfortable in the job. I never really decided to leave, until I was approached by Juniper only 2 months in my new job. I made a switch, which nobody really understood. Why work for a smaller company, when you just started working for a larger well respected company? To me it was quite clear. I like working from a position, where I have to convince people to look at alternative solutions to a given problem. You could also say I like working from an underdog position and prove to still win. Either way, I had a great time expanding my experience at Juniper.

Then why leave again? I thought this is what you wanted?

This was indeed what I wanted, but both my dad and granddad are/were entrepreneurs and I always felt the desire to have my own company as well. I’ve always worked as if my job was my own company and so it made sense to pursue this when the opportunity came.

Turning 30

I’ve worked full-time in companies on network infrastructure since I was 19. Turning 30 made me realize that if I wanted to make a switch and pursue own projects, this was the time. Combined with an opportunity to start PeakFactory with others, where I feel that our skill sets compliment each other in all aspects. Starting PeakFactory and working full-time on projects that you are almost solely responsible for is another challenging task that I have never had. Over the past few months I have learned more than ever before, but this time not 100% technology. I’ve learned about myself, how to get from nothing to something, how to sell/market new ideas to potential customers, how much is needed to be able to create a new product or service to the market and so much more. Making the decision to work full-time on my own ideas, has been the greatest jump I have ever made in ‘learning’.

The future

Nobody knows what future brings, but I’m sure I’ll keep looking for new and exciting opportunities to explore new ideas and learn more about anything. Where and how you can do this, depends on which surrounding you need to be able to achieve your goals. To conclude I’d like to say that it is very important to always keep exploring and keep asking questions to yourself if you are still in love with what you do every day.

Rick Mur

What is P4?

Recently I attended a workshop organised by the Open NFP organisation about Data Plane acceleration. The primary goal of the workshop was to get students and researchers (why was I there you may think) familiar with the P4 programming language.

P4 is a programming language created to simplify writing data planes for networking use cases.  Recently the P4-16 spec was released and could be considered a mature version of the language.

Now I’m not a hardcore developer. I know my way around in Python, GoLang and C#, but I never wrote anything more low level like C. P4 is created a little bit like GoLang, where I do not mean it as comparison, but as an architecture. P4 is designed so you only need to focus on the actual networking features that you want to make available on the hardware you are programming it for. Then when you compile it, it will generate runtime code for your hardware. Or as the creators explain it:

At one level, P4 is just a simple language for declaring how packets are to be processed. At another level, P4 turns network system design on its head.

There is no need to worry on low level memory management or other things that would slow down your development for that specific feature that nobody has in their platforms.

Now this is a major advantage. Full freedom in writing anything you’d like right? The downside is that very little (basic) functionality is not present when you start pushing code to a piece of hardware. You really have to do everything yourself. Which I think is  underestimated. P4 does help you in giving you some standard functionality in their spec that vendors should implement when they offer P4 capabilities, like basic switching or load balancing (ECMP) functionality.

Who supports it?

P4 is relatively new and therefore hardware support is not very common. I was able to find 2 products to support the full P4 spec at this moment.

Barefoot Tofino chip

Barefoot is the inventor of the P4 language and they have created a very fast ASIC like chipset. The chipset does not use a proprietary SDK like Broadcom, Cavium or silicon from large network vendors, but is fully open due to the support of P4.

They are partnering with white box vendors to create switches (32 port 100GBE) that are currently shipping.

Netronome Agilio SmartNIC

Netronome was one of the organizers of the workshop I attended and they have a shipping product. Their SmartNIC products are standard PCIe NIC’s with various connections that support offloading data plane functionality to the NIC rather than letting applications or the kernel spend a lot of CPU on it.

These products are not your typical switch or NIC, they basically do not have a default feature set available to use. The Barefoot switch for example, does not come with an operating system (NOS) and the NIC always needs to be programmed before any functionality works.

What about OpenFlow?

The most typically asked question would be: Is P4 the successor of OpenFlow? The answer to that is really simple: No! In some cases P4 may even use OpenFlow to program it’s forwarding table(s). Diagram courtesy of P4.org:

The P4 language is designed to program your networking hardware (or even software components). P4 does not contain a control-plane protocol to learn about forwarding table entries (that could be learned through a traditional or home grown routing protocol).  In other words: you have to write your own forwarding table programming protocol/application or use an existing one (like OpenFlow).

What about existing vendors?

There are rumours that major networking vendors (Cisco, Juniper, Nokia, etc.) could start supporting (parts of) P4 on their own silicon or implement the Barefoot Tofino chip in products, but no announcements have been made at time of this writing. Vendors are starting to open up their operating systems via programmability features (see Juniper’s Extension Toolkit JET for example), but this does not allow to directly program new features into the hardware (which is programmable in some cases like Juniper MX).

Summary

P4 will open up a lot of features that are currently unknown or don’t exist. It allows for a fully open and programmable data-plane. The use case for this technology would, as always, be the web-scale companies, who want to free up as much CPU resources to perform other tasks and leave the networking hardware to perform all networking functions.

For lower scale deployments, my opinion would be that, tools like DPDK, XDP or eBPF would already free up sufficient CPU resources and optimise user space or kernel networking enough for most people.

For more information on all the mentioned acronyms and tools, click the links in this blog.

One noticeable fun fact was that during the workshop I attended, I was able to spot one person on a Mac, two corporate Windows machines and all others running Linux 🙂

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