IT Life: The Joy Of Networking


LDEX CTO Simon Chamberlain loves networking, Cisco and sat nav but hates hackers

Simon Chamberlain is the CTO and co-founder of LDEX Connect, a London-based data centre, and has been involved in the technology industry for 26 years – more than achieving his childhood goal of working with computers. His expertise is in networking, having completed major projects for the BBC, but his favourite technology ever is his sat nav and he has no time for hackers.

Networking the Beeb

BBC - Shutterstock - Gordon Bell

What has been your favourite project so far?
To date, I have been involved with lots of interesting projects. However, the one that stands out for me was the completion of the LAN replacement for BBC Worldwide. This £500K project was a major upgrade for the BBC, and for the first time, the BBC partnered with Cisco for a major project based on around twenty Cisco 6500 switches – which were bleeding edge at the time. The benefits for the Beeb were huge – suddenly the BBC worldwide campus had an abundance of bandwidth which increased productivity no end and enabled other projects, such as IPTV multicast across the campus to begin.

What tech were you involved with ten years ago?
Predominantly Cisco router and switches. The networking side of tech has always been my favourite part of IT. I had worked for a while as a server administrator, but just wasn’t satisfied with working through a GUI that was forever changing. I wanted to understand the bit level fundamentals of networking – what really happens when traffic crosses the wire. I just loved the fact that networking is all based on Requests for Comments (RFCs) and is much more standards based with the likes of the IEEE.

BGP for example has been around for decades and if you learnt it ten years ago, it is still completely relevant today. A network engineer is constantly building on what he/she has learnt before, unlike some technologies that come and go. Ten years ago, I was working for a small ISP where I was building networks, learning all the routing protocols inside out, working through the night upgrading core infrastructure, and thoroughly enjoying every second – even if it was as stressful as hell!

The rise of IPV6

What tech do you expect to be using in ten years’ time?
I’m sure virtual networking is going to be the next logical step in networking. Cisco has already released virtual switches and firewalls, and I can only expect that this will continue. The focus will no longer be about the hardware. I anticipate generic hardware that will deliver a plethora of virtual machines together with advanced virtualised routers and switches, all in one box.  It’s already happening now to be fair – there will just be more of it.

storage area networking : Shutterstock © Eimantas BuzasWhat will be interesting for me is what will happen in the connectivity market. Transit prices and connectivity is being driven down all the time. It’s difficult to see how anyone makes any money in connectivity any more, and yet it is essential. Most of the big broadband providers have amalgamated into a small cluster and they are all providing additional services, such as on-demand TV, in order to attract customers. In terms of residential, I see a general migration over to mobile wireless technologies going forward. Tablets are here to stay and the next generation of users will access the internet via a mesh of wireless technologies working seamlessly together.

IPv6 will be the norm in ten years (at last) and everything will be connected to the internet at super-fast speeds making everything available instantly. The whole pattern of life will change, and we’ll become completely reliant on tech – if we aren’t already?

Who’s your tech hero?
Scott Morris, no question. I believe he’s a five or six times CCIE now. I had the pleasure of meeting him once in London and I can say he’s a thoroughly decent chap and someone all engineers can aspire to.

Who’s your tech villain?
There are several and they are called hackers. I have no time for them. Anyone who has worked in networking for long enough knows how easy it is to hack if you spend some time on it. There are well-known utilities that will enable you to perform a DDOS attack or look for vulnerabilities and exploits – it’s the mind set of these individuals that bothers me. While the rest of us are pushing the boundaries and creating an amazingly exciting world, there are a few that want to pull it down, usually because of insecurity issues, ironically,

What’s your favourite technology ever made? Which do you use most?
It would probably have to be my satnav – simply because of the number of arguments that it has saved me. I find it incredible that such a small device can tell you exactly where you are down to a few feet anywhere on the planet. All hooked up to an array of geo stationary satellites in near orbit. If you stop and think about it for a few seconds, its mind blowing what this system has enabled us to do.

Cisco admiration

What is your budget outlook going forward? Flat? Growing?
Our budget outlook is growing steadily. LDEX and LDEX Connect have an extremely strong and well positioned proposition for colo and networking solutions, and due to our extremely large bandwidth capacity, cost effective power, and satellite footprint, we are attracting a large number of media streaming companies. This is a big growth area and will only continue.

Apart from your own, which company do you admire most and why?
It has to be Cisco (although I love Juniper too). Cisco are true innovators and I never experience any problems with their kit – I use an awful lot of it. The thing about Cisco kit is it is extremely feature rich. I’ve always been able to find a solution somehow using the features in IOS for any networking problem. Cisco’s website is also one of the most amazing resources for networking related information – it’s very well written and to such an exceptional standard.

The company learnt early on about the benefits of having an education programme. It’s such a brilliant way to attract customers to your products and it builds a complete eco system. Engineers learn the products inside out, they recommend the products to customers, and customers employ more engineers, who recommend the products to the customers. This wouldn’t work if they didn’t have brilliant products in the first place – which fortunately they have.

Sinclair ZX81What’s the greatest challenge for an IT company/department today?
Finding skilled people, or finding employees with the right approach to work. Working for an ISP really is a full time 24/7 commitment. You should only really consider it if you are willing to sell your soul to the Internet.

To Cloud or not to Cloud?

To Cloud – it’s been happening for the last 10 years anyway. Whether it’s public, private or hybrid – it’s happening with the force of a tsunami and it isn’t going to stop. It’s also a great enabler for the future.

What did you want to be when you were a child?
I always wanted to work with computers. The first thing I bought from my first summer job was a Sinclair ZX81. My first job was a computer technician working on IBM 4381 Mainframes. Many years later when I walked into a datacentre for the first time, I thought to myself  – this is the heart of the internet, this is where it all works, this is the future – I’ve never lost that fascination for it, and that’s why I’m so excited about being a part of the LDEX group.

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