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Infrastructure readiness for Phase-2 of the Cisco Developer Contest

As the Cisco judging team continues to navigate through the numerous proposals received for Phase-1 of the Cisco ‘Think Inside the Box’ Developer contest, a parallel engineering team is hard at work getting the development lab set up for the Phase-2 finalists-to-be. While we could not showcase the hosted lab infrastructure with the humming routers, we did the next best thing. We got Anurag Gurtu, one of the Technical Marketing Engineers to whiteboard the setup. We’ve received a few queries on the access mode, developmental aids etc., and thought this conversation would help our contestents get mentally prepared should they become finalists. Read More »

Nurse Aida and the Human Network Effect

I came off my medical checkup last Friday with a smile on my lips. My cholesterol level was mildly high as were my Glucose levels. Since the testing was random, and I had had a coffee a little while ago, it wasn’t something to be alarmed about. My BMI was a couple of units off from ideal but no cause for immediate concern. Overall, I was a healthy male advised to continue to diet and exercise and this medical checkup was no different from any of the previous ones the last few years.Except it was. Dr.Wilson was in Los Angeles. I was in San Jose on Cisco campus. We were doing this over a Telepresence session at the Cisco Healthpresence virtual clinic, with Registered Nurse Aida doing the honors locally. Now, it wasn’t as if this were my first Telepresence experience and that I was wowed by it. Far from it, being at Cisco, I’ve been exposed to it so many times over the past year or so that I’ve almost taken it for granted. imageIt was like one of those times when your three year old asks you a question about something that you’ve stopped noticing, like today morning’s “why don’t birds have ears?”, that you pause and re-look at things afresh, sometimes from a totally different perspective. And so it was with me this time. Hearing about Telepresence from an excited “non-techie” RN Aida who showed me how Dr. Wilson sitting in Los Angeles could peek into my ear with the probe she had in her hand, or check my skin, while all the time talking about how cool the technology was, made me stop being oblivious to the whole setup and sit up and enjoy the experience. I was her last patient on the Friday, and she had a long day, but we conversed about video, medicine and Unified communications -- even as she pricked me for a blood draw observing that I didn’t wince as much as some of the other guys did, and how women were better geared to handle pain than men. She asked me if I was one of the engineers who developed the technology. I told her no. Perhaps I was one who helped subtly market it at some level, but for the most part, like her, I was an user. After she finished taking my vitals, she initiated the Telepresence session with Dr.Wilson, checking with him first on Instant Messenger to make sure he wasn’t on the phone. Dr. Wilson appeared and even as he walked me through my test results and answered my queries and took a no-nonsense approach on my pitiful BMI defense (“sympathy weight gain”), he also managed to troubleshoot a technical glitch from one of the sensors, guiding Nurse Aida to re-calibrate it remotely, including re-configuring a Cisco IP phone while I looked on and was perhaps enjoying a doctor’s visit for the first time.After Dr. Wilson hung up, I thanked her for de-numbing me from technology and told her I’d blog about it. Come to think of it, it is only 10 years ago that I held my first mobile phone, it was less than 4 years ago that I started using Tivo or an iPoD, and it is just an year since I started using Telepresence. Yet I took these for granted. As I drove back home in the Friday commute traffic, I started to relate this experience to how I sometimes take my family for granted and don’t pause to be thankful that I have a lovely wife or a precocious three year old whose inquisitive mind keeps mine sharp. It’s good to re-live the feeling of joy and wonderment that you experience something for the first time. Your first bike. Your first car. Your first love. Your first child. I resolved to consciously stop and “smell the flowers” more often. Read More »

Curtain comes down on Phase-1 of the Cisco Developer Contest

We urged you to think outside the box, for the Cisco ‘Think Inside the Box’ contest, and you did. After a little over 4 months, the curtain came down on the proposal submission phase of the contest (a.k.a Phase-1) on the 27th Feb. The deadline was 11.59PM PST and we had proposals coming in till the very last minute, literally, and beyond.With registrations from 75 countries, the honor of being the first to get a proposal in goes to Team GNU Telephony of USA coming in on Oct 20th, while the ‘just-in-the-nick-of-time’ distinction is a tie-in between two proposals coming in from Team Jaadoo and Team Enhancers, both from India. Their proposals came in at 11.59PM. Obviously, coming in neither first nor last makes any impact on the actual judging process, as they’re all considered to be within the timeline for consideration into Phase-2. We did see a majority of the proposals being submitted by teams, rather than individuals over the duration of Phase-1. Our recommendation was also along similar lines to help leverage the power of the team.So, what happens next?Now, the fun part begins. We go through the judging part in a tiered manner to short list the best proposals in the coming weeks. Due to the number of proposals that have come in, and the requirement to comply with legal requirements etc., we should be announcing the finalists around the end of April/early May 2009, as we indicated before. While the finalists will shortlisted by a panel of Cisco internal experts, we have solicited and will be bringing in industry experts to help determine the final winners later in the year.For all those contestants who have invested their efforts into this contest, coming up with innovative ideas either as invidiuals or as part of a team, here’s a big THANK YOU! The organizing team also extends its heartfelt thanks to all the Cisco members and our internal and external agencies who have supported the evolution of this contest, thus far. While this initially began as a moonlighting activity, it has drawn considerable time investment from our team as we’ve worked with various internal and external constituents to ensure the smooth operation of the contest.Contest updates as we move into Phase-2Registrants and contest aficionados -- Staytuned for updates on the Innovation Blog. image Read More »

24 Hours to go – Clock’s Tickin’ as Proposals Surge

Hey, all. Another day to go for Phase-1 to close. Tomorrow is it (I’m writing from a PST timezeone and it is not midnight yet).Boy -- do people wait for a deadline to really get going. We’ve seen a tremendous surge of proposals come in during the last 72 hours. We’ll summarize some of the statistics and thoughts from the contest early next week, but looks like our contestents are keeping themselves busy and are planning to keep us busy the next few months . Over the past 4 months we’ve had an exponential rise in registrations and proposal submissions, and we’re bracing ourselves for the exciting time when we begin evaluating the proposals, determining finalists and sharing with the judging committee. We’re also getting a cross-section of judges with diverse industry experience to help evaluate. It’s going to be fun.But more on that later. For now, if you’re still working on the proposal, keep an eye on the clock and make sure it comes in before the deadline tomorrow -- February 27th, 2009. All proposals coming in after the deadline, will, unfortunately have to be rejected.

Security – more than just a stateful firewall!

Security is hot. It has always been. It will always be. If you look at IT-related spending security budget allocations usually tend to be among the highest. However, having spent nearly 15 years directly and indirectly in various security-related roles, I’ve observed it to be among the most misunderstood areas of technology as well one with the most number of preconceived notions.Interestingly, many organizations start taking their security requirements more seriously when they’ve been exposed to an attack of sorts. It could be a virus attack, denial-of-service, data compromise or theft. Though never an afterthought, security considerations are given more prominence after exposure to risk. Sometime back, while speaking at a Roadshow, I ran an impromptu survey with the attending audience in three cities before beginning my session. These were a random cross-section of customers from different verticals, varying business sizes and mostly those making business decisions. They were asked to provide a true/false response to the questions below. Some words were purposely bolded, to add a blind and make the responder think:- My organization is completely secure because I have a stateful firewall- Most security threats originate from outside the network and can be prevented by installing a firewall at every ingress path- Installing an self-updating anti-virus package on laptops is sufficient to prevent internal security breaches- Securing my IP data network, helps provide Secure voice-over-IP- Mobile phones cannot transmit viruses as they have to pass through service provider firewallsAny guesses what a majority of respondents answered? Interestingly, the bolded words which were incorporated as placebos threw most people off-track. Everybody had a hearty laugh when they saw the results. With so many organizations (including Cisco) spending millions of marketing dollars over a decade or more, creating security awareness, one would think people get what pervasive security is all about. They don’t, at least not yet. Organic education takes time, as opposed to threat-based education that provides shock value. You may see continued spending of these millions of marketing dollars over the next decade…:-)As Jimmy Ray Purser states in one of his earlier videos for the Cisco Developer contest, calling application developers to think secure,”security is a lot more than just a firewall”. As always, Jimmy Ray stimulates grey cells as only he can.The truth is -the nature, source and complexity of threats is evolving as we adopt different media for communication and bring different types of devices into the”network”. Today, in an IP-based environment, where mobile phones, microwave owens and video cameras are all different network-addressable devices jostling for attention, anything could be a source of threat, and should be treated accordingly. And there are other extremes. These are the people who just don’t trust anything. Here’s an anecdote. For most of us, AES may be inherently secure and widely adopted. However, a number of institutions are mandated not to believe it. They still have their own proprietary encryption algorithms, which they believe provide superior security. It is interesting to recollect that one of the reasons Cisco considered opening their routers, was a Eastern European government outfit requesting permission to port their own security algorithm on the Integrated Services Router instead of the standards-based ones that Cisco supports by default. They didn’t trust AES. Read More »