CCIE Collaboration Lab: My Return Trip

If you follow this blog regularly (it says a lot about you, but that is for a different post) you know that last year, 2016, I took my first crack at the CCIE Collaboration practical lab exam. I took it in RTP (North Carolina) and it royally kicked my ass.

It is now nearly 12 months later and I am preparing for my second attempt. This year I have built my own lab instead of renting rack space from INE (who I believe I still owe money to from last year, but so far they haven’t come to collect). I am taking the exam on April 25 in RTP once again and while I am going to give it my very best shot, I am taking it because I honestly have no desire to attempt the written again and if I wait more than 12 months to attempt the lab my current written will be invalidated.

I’ll probably have more posts as the weeks draw closer, but the most important thing to note so far is that it is getting cheaper to purchase your own lab hardware. With Cisco coming out with the 44xx and 43xx ISR G3 routers the 29xx ISR G2 routers, which are still the hardware of choice for the current lab iteration, have become cheaper in the secondary market. I’m not saying that building a lab is cheap, by any means, but at least more folks now have that option. In my case,  my lab contains the following…

  1. 3825 – PSTN/BB Router. This is running CME for PSTN emulation. I am running PRIs to all 3 of the site routers; T1 PRIs the US sites and an E1 to the international site, I am using fractional PRIs to save on DSP resources.
  2. Dell Server 72GB Ram, Dual Xeon, SSD USB Drives (new addition) – This started life as a very weird CS-24TY but has now been revamped and runs all of my lab VMs easily.
  3. 2921 for HQ (2) PVDM-3 16 DSPs (this is actually enough for homogeneous video conferencing).
  4. 2821 for Site-B PVDM-2 64 DSP (good for voice only) (Generally Site-B is H.323 and possibly CUBE, a 2821 will run 15.1.x code which is not perfect but is close enough for that location). If I am asked switch/conference video at Site-B, I am S.O.L.
  5. 2811 for Site-C (CME)… I actually just ordered a 2911 and ISM-SRE-300 module to replace the 2811 as there are some serious differences between 15.1.x CME and 15.2.x and later CME i.e. CME 9/10.5/etc. I have a CUE module in the 2811 but I made the decision to spend money and get something closer to actual.
  6. 9971 phones as required (cheap enough used) and 7962 phones instead of 7965s as the differences between the two SCCP options are not that great and it saves some money.

In the back-end of the lab I also have a 3750 switch that I am using as a layer 3 WAN cloud instead of Frame Relay (which only matters in the QoS sections) and a 2960G PoE switch which I am using for phone power. I know the syntax is different but I cannot yet justify spending money or effort to aquire PoE  EHWICs.

I also have another Dell Server which hosts my “production” 11.5 CRS infrastructure which I can use for BB SIP calls as needed.

My setup is not perfect but perfect honestly costs to much. The fact that I can come down to my basement and practice whenever I want without having to reserve pricey rack space makes my setup perfect for me.

How about you? Do you have a lab? What are you running? Any suggestions? Comments? Questions? Leave them below!

-Justin

 

 

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Cisco’s Virtual CUBE & Modern IOS Toll Fraud Security

Good Morning Web World!

I found myself with a little bit of time this morning and I thought I’d share a bit of my latest tinkering.

Those of you that have followed this blog for a while may remember my first post where I talked about pointing a CUBE through an ASA out to my ITSP, Flowroute. That post is located here for your reading pleasure.

While the software/hardware has changed with my setup the idea is basically the same. I still have a CUCM system (now 11.x) running with a phone (I’ve felt like being different lately so currently I’m using a retro 7985G as my endpoint (G in this case does not mean Gigabit)). I also have a firewall, a Cisco 5506-X (it was time for an upgrade from the 5505) and I do still have a CUBE. My previous CUBE was a 3825 and it worked wonderfully but the 3825 has long since outlived its relevance in today’s enterprise environments. In my stack of possibilities I also have a 2921 and while it is still a very powerful and valid router, it just seems too easy.

Simple and straight forward is great but only until you’ve done simple and straight forward, then it becomes time to mix it up.

To that end, my replacement CUBE is virtual. Yes, I said virtual. If you follow Cisco and their products, you may already know about the Cloud Services Router, the CSR1000V. The CSR1000V is a virtual router that runs on a VMWare ESXi host. It runs IOS XE though there is some Linux/Unix on the backend that makes it tick.

ESXI Virtual CUBE

Virtual CUBE Show Commands

 

 

When I first heard that it was possible to turn a CSR1000V into a CUBE, I was skeptical. As I have worked through the configurations and witnessed it work, I must say I am impressed.  The configuration is the same as with any other IOS XE router with exception of the interface naming conventions. There are three (3) Gigabit Ethernet interfaces and they are named Gigabit Ethernet 1, Gigabit Ethernet 2 and Gigabit Ethernet 3.  The configuration in ESXi is shown below.

CSR1000V Interfaces Config

In my case, I created three (3) separate interfaces on my vSwitch and pointed them at three (3) separate VLANs in my infrastructure. You could bond/Port Channel these interfaces if you wanted too but you will still be limited by the throughput of your host’s uplink(s).

A few important things to note…

  • When you deploy the OVA file in ESXi you are given a choice of multiple router “sizes” i.e. memory and processor. I am using the smallest size which is one vCPU and 4GB of vRAM. Some of the larger installations require an additional license.
  • Keep in mind that I am testing this configuration in a controlled lab environment. I am not sure of scale-ability and if you read Cisco’s CUBE configuration guide, located here, you’ll see that the virtual CUBE does have several restrictions that may make it impractical for some organizations.
  • In my previous post, my 3825 CUBE was running 12.4 IOS which did not include Toll Fraud Prevention, starting in 15.x and moving through IOS XE you need to be mindful of TFP and what it means when you are trying to make/receive calls on a Cisco H.323 or SIP Gateway.

Let’s talk for a moment on Toll Fraud Prevention. As stated above, all modern IOS and IOS XE versions include Toll Fraud Prevention mechanisms and if you use a router, physical or virtual, for voice you need to be aware of them.

Voice Service Config

 

 

If you look at the configuration snippet above, you’ll see that in the voice service configuration there is a trusted IP Address list. That list contains the IPs of my ITSP and my CUCM. If I remove those IPs from the list, calls fail. If you are linking your CUBE or gateway to multiple CUCMs or other systems you’ll want to have those IPs in that list as well. What this list does is let the good/known IPs in to complete transactions/calls on the gateway/CUBE and keeps the unknown/bad IPs out to prevent them from placing calls on the system. If you’ve ever set up an IP PBX on internet, you know that Toll Fraud is a real and serious threat. If you don’t want or need this feature you can also turn it off by entering “no ip address trusted authenticate” in your voice service configuration. This is not a recommended configuration but in your environment the TFP mechanisms may do more harm than good.

Thanks for reading, I hope this has been informative.

-Justin

Revisiting Cisco Jabber SRV Records

From time to time I like to revisit previously discussed topics, today is the day for Cisco Jabber SRV records. Previously I had written a post talking about internal Jabber SRV records and how to configure and use them. That post is located here for your viewing pleasure.

The truth is that internal SRV records, when it comes to Cisco Jabber, are only half of the story. To tell the whole story, you need to have at least a partial understanding (and hopefully a working knowledge) of Cisco’s Collaboration Edge. If you do not, this will be a bit out of context for you, but the theory is easy enough to understand.

So you have an on premise Cisco IM & Presence installation and you have users on your internal network that are using Cisco Jabber. It is a very powerful business tool; instant messaging, screen sharing/control, and desktop video/voice all from one convenient and surprisingly well built application. What happens when your users leave your internal network? Do they VPN? Do they use WebEx? Or perhaps something less IT friendly? What if they could use Cisco Jabber wherever they are, without the hassle of VPN and securely from any device? The truth is, they can!

In comes Collaboration Edge, it goes by a few other names, but this post isn’t about Collaboration Edge…directly, its about a very handy SRV record that sits on your external DNS server(s) to make the Collaboration Edge integration possible. For a 1000ft view, Collaboration Edge includes two appliances, one on the LAN and one on the Internet or DMZ. These two appliances talk together using magic, pixie dust, tiger blood and SSL certificates (those are the ones that really scare me, but that is for a different post). With these two appliances talking, they are also linked to CUCM and voila’ we have extended CUCM’s capabilities to the information super-highway known as the Internet. It’s certainly not that simple, but you get the idea.

We know from my previous post that Cisco Jabber can discover it’s  network services via DNS SRV records. Internally it can discover both CUCM (for directory services and service profiles) and IM&P (for login and instant messaging, etc.). The process for discovering services outside of the network is very similar, but the differences are worth noting.

Cisco Jabber always searches for the same services i.e. SRV records no matter what network it is on. Whether it is on your internal network or just sitting on the Internet i.e. a home network the discovery is the same.

When you put in your Jabber ID (JID) i.e. someone@somewhere.com Jabber queries the following records based on the domain of your JID.

  • Jabber looks for WebEx Connect (Cloud instant messaging services).
  • Jabber looks for Internal SRV records i.e. cuplogin and cisco-uds (as shown below).

_cisco-uds._tcp.example.com

_cuplogin._tcp.example.com

  • If Jabber does not get a response from either of these records it looks for collab-edge which is pointing at the Collaboration Edge – Internet side appliance from earlier (as show below).

 

_collab-edge._tls.example.com

The collab-edge record configuration looks like this…

_collab-edge._tls.example.com   SRV service location:
          priority       = 3
          weight         = 7
          port           = 8443
          svr hostname   = vcse1.example.com

 

Assuming that no other records above the collab-edge record answer, Jabber sends its login request to the device attached to SRV record and logs into internal IM & Presence server as well as CUCM and any other services configured in the service profile.

A couple of import things to remember when talking about external DNS. First, some well-meaning DNS administrators will put a catch-all in their external DNS configuration so that anything destined for *.somewhere.com goes to their website. This is fine, but it will break your external Jabber connectivity. This break occurs because even though it doesn’t exist cuplogin.somewhere.com will still be caught by the catch-all. Second, collab-edge goes in the external DNS environment only. Just like cisco-uds and cuplogin are only internl, collab-edge is only external. Forgetting or disregarding this will surely make your troubleshooting much more interesting to say the least…

I hope this has been helpful to someone. Cisco Jabber is a power tool and when paired with Collaboration Edge the possibilities are endless. Hopefully some day soon I’ll be able to write a series about Collaboration Edge and its many facets but until then, thanks for reading.

-Justin

The Upgrade Follies: Communications Manager 9.x to 11.x

If you’ve been in the Cisco voice game for more than a second, you’ve probably done a Call Manager upgrade or two. In my case, I lost count around version 4.1 to 4.3. My record for the longest upgrade that I was a part of is 72 hours…straight! It was painful but such was life back in those days.

With the advent of virtualized Cisco voice and all of its associated parts the upgrades have definitely improved, but that does not mean that the gotchas aren’t still lurking.

For one of my current customer projects I am upgrading a virtualized 9.x environment to 11.x. Unity Connection was upgraded first using CLI. CUC luckily doesn’t have a whole lot of gotchas assuming the engineer that built it originally used an OVA template and followed the correct steps. All you need to do is apply the new “keys” COP file (ciscocm.version3-keys.cop.sgn) and you are good to go. Maybe it isn’t quite that easy, but you get the picture. Communications Manager (Call Manager) is a far different animal. For the sake of automation, I’m doing the CM upgrade using Prime Collaboration Deployment (PCD). PCD is a separate application server that comes with your upgrade order on Cisco’s Product Upgrade Tool (PUT). PCD basically allows you to take a CM cluster (including IM&Presence) and script the upgrade so that you can basically click once and wait. If only it were that easy…

There are a couple gotchas that I’ve learned the hard way. I’ll list them below, hopefully they can help you out during your next upgrade.

  1. Licensing. If you are going to do an upgrade, do your homework. I could write an entire post on licensing but for a 9.x to 11.x upgrade it really just involves doing clean up. If you are getting that ugly little licensing warning from Cisco when you log into your system, clean it up before attempting to upgrade, you’ll save yourself from a lot of pain later.
  2. Disk Space. I get it, hard drive space is cheap, but OVAs are not future proof. The original mid-size build OVA for CM 9.x specified an 80 gig virtual drive. 80 gigs, while small, is not not supported by 11.x installs. What bites engineers in the ass is a pesky little storage location known as the common partition. When the 11.x upgrade script first verifies that an upgrade is possible, it checks the amount space available in that common partition, if less than 25 gigs space is available the upgrade will fail. There is an excellent Cisco Support Forums post about this failure here.  So what does one do if the above scenario is true?

There are 3 options…

  1. You can go into your server’s TFTP directory and manually remove old crap that you don’t need. If you happen to remove crap that you do need, bad things could happen, so keep that in mind….
  2. You can apply the following COP file ciscocm.free_common_space_v1.3.k3.cop.sgn. This little beauty will remove any software tied to the inactive partition of the system which may include software tied to the common partition, thus giving you your required space. This is a really cool idea/theory, but I’ve had mixed results.
  3. This is the scariest sounding one, but its actually not that bad. There is a second COP file that you can run. The ciscocm.vmware-disk-size-reallocation-1.0.cop.sgn this file will allow you to resize your virtual disk in VMWare ESXi and make CM ok with it (I tend to expand 80 gig disks to 160 as long as the physical systems allow it). **Changing the size of the disk without the COP file basically guarantees you a rebuild from scratch and possibly a resume` generating event.** As I said, its not that bad, but there is a catch. In a couple of different cases, your results may vary.

1. If your CM system is running on a snap shot within ESXi, your virtual disk size adjustment option will be grayed out, this will inevitably cause you to panic and wonder if a PCD migration is your only option, its not. You can actually delete the snap shot and once you do that you should be able to change your disk space. Once you do this, restart your VM and let it go through its process. It will reboot 2 times during the start-up process as it expands the disk in the “BIOS” and then in the initial CM boot process” If you’ve done it correctly you’ll see your partitions aligned and your new disk size in both the CLI and web console.

2. In some cases the allocation of your virtual disk may be as large as the blocks with in the disk controller will allow it to be. If this is the case, you have two options. Option 1 (see option 1 above). Options 2, migrate instead of upgrade using PCD. It will take more time but you and/or your customer’s data should be safe and back where it belongs.

Whew… that was a long post. I hope it helps someone. For those of you new to upgrades, you’re lucky, they keep getting easier. If you have questions, leave a comment and we can have a discussion. Thanks for reading!

 

-Justin

The Telecommunications Engineer’s Toolkit

With a title like the one above, this post could go in several different directions. For the purposes of this entry I am talking about a physical toolkit i.e. all of those handy telecommunications tools that make the nuances of any voice install; analog, digital or yes even IP more productive.

“But Justin,” you may say “I use the web to log into CUCM and I ssh into my voice gateways, I have a laptop and a console cable, what other tools do I need?”

I’ve softened to the question above in recent years. Rather than just reaching through my screen and slapping the crap out of the reader, I simply shake my head in disappointment…Really?

I get that with the ever increasing prevalence of ITSPs and advancements in faxing and other legacy voice related appendages that there may in fact be an entire crop of telecommunications engineers that think that a laptop and console cable are really the only tools that they need, but I respectfully beg to differ. Can your laptop help you get to the bottom of the now infamous “Ethernet Disconnected” message on a Cisco phone? Can it help you put an RJ11 end on a piece of silver satin if you need a backup POTS line into your voice gateway? Can it help you tone out mysterious devices/circuits/gremlins when migrating from a legacy system to an IP solution? If you answered yes to any of these questions, I think I want to buy your laptop, if you answered no, you need tools.

My toolkit is more basic than some and far more advanced than others, here is a list of what it currently includes…

  1. Multi-bit ratcheting driver (I carry a power driver as well, but batteries are often fickle).
  2. Punch down tool with both 66 and 110 block blades.
  3. Crimping tool for putting on RJ11 and RJ45/48 ends (mine also does coax, but that doesn’t usually come into play).
  4. Outer sheath cutter for CAT5E/6 cable.
  5. Lineman’s scissors
  6. RJ45 and RJ11 male ends
  7. Telecom Butt-Set w/ Banjo
  8. Toner
  9. RJ45 and RJ11 cable tester (mine includes remote plugs for port identification which have proven to be really handy).
  10. T1 Loopback plug
  11. Bulk Cat6 cable (just enough to make a few patch cables, no need to lug a box of cable everywhere you go).
  12. Label Maker

I keep a few other miscellaneous things in my bag but the above items go where I go.  I may not use all of my tools on every job, but more times than not I’ve went to a job thinking I wouldn’t need them and I’ve ended up using them. If your employer provides these tools for you, that is great, I have my own because as I said before…they go where I go.

What do you carry in your toolkit? Have something that you love that you think I should add? Want more information? Leave your feedback below!

-Justin

 

 

 

Cisco Prime Collaboration Provisioning – Canceling Failed Orders & Wait State Orders

Cisco’s Prime Collaboration Provisioning (formerly Cisco Unified Provisioning Manager) tends to invoke one of two distinct responses from Collaboration folks; seething hate or mild disdain. While I have several historical reasons to be a part of one or both of these camps, I actually like PCP and when it is installed correctly and used for what it was designed to be used for, I find it to be an effective and handy application.

With all of that said, if you’ve used PCP for than a minute, you know that it can be fickle when it comes to pushing through bulk orders and completing tasks. You’ve probably had a bulk order that just sat there and sat there and never completed. Maybe you looked in the job log, I hope you did, but if you didn’t you should next time. If your order has permanently seized, you’ll see a “wait” statement. If you see this “wait” statement, your job will not complete. Basically the wait statement means that PCP encountered a problem that it does not have a definition for. If it had a definition, the job would end with an error and all would be good (albeit still with an error, but complete). For example, if you have an LDAP synchronized CUCM but for whatever reason the user ID that PCP has and the user ID that CUCM has are different PCP will try to create a user in CUCM and CUCM will tell it “no”. No, should be an error, but not to PCP in this case. On a side note if you look at a successful job in progress you’ll see a “sleep” statement. Sleep means that the prerequisites are complete and PCP is just waiting for all of the requested changes to be completed in the downstream system before it completes its job. In PCP terms “wait” is bad “sleep” is good.

When you run into one of these “permanently seized” errors, you can reboot the box and hope that whatever gremlins caused the order to fail are dead and gone, but shouldn’t there be a better way? There is.

**There is a timeout value on the wait statements, so if you want to wait for the order the fail naturally you can, but during a deployment, time is almost never your friend.**

I found this little bit of joy on a Cisco forum a couple of years ago and I think it is a good tool to keep in your back pocket when working with PCP. This command does require root access, but you create a password for the root user when you install/setup PCP so that isn’t a problem.

/opt/cupm/sep/ipt/bin/AbortOrders.sh globaladmin <password> <order_number> -forced

The command above cancels all parts of a fouled/never ending order. To run this command you must SSH to the PCP box using root credentials. You must also have access to the globaladmin credentials, but hopefully that won’t be a problem.

Once you cancel the order in question, you can go back and fix whatever the problem may have been and reattempt the job.

I hope this long winded bit of information helps someone out there. If you have questions or comments, leave them below.

-Justin

 

The Aftermath of My First CCIE Collaboration Attempt

A few days ago I wrote about attempting my first CCIE Collaboration Lab.

Its the night following my attempt and I’ll be honest, it did not go well. I was confident going in and I was confident for the first 3 or so hours. When we broke for our “speed lunch” I knew I was behind and as the hours,minutes and seconds ticked down in the afternoon I realized without much resistance that I was screwed.

That being said, my expectations were probably not properly metered. It was my first attempt and according to the most “recent” Cisco numbers that I have read, first time passing attempts are not common.

I also think that there are lessons to be learned, even in failure. I’ll list a few of them below.

  1. I was worried, going in, about things like the IOS and UCM Dial Plans, I’m pretty sure I nailed those.
  2. Unity Connection in either form i.e. SCCP or SIP is a relatively mindless process and I think I owned both of those sections as well.
  3. I do not know IOS switch QoS as well as I thought I did, that will have to change.
  4. Cisco Unity Express (CUE) is a bastard in any form and things that I assumed would work because they always have in my practices kicked my ass.
  5. Mobile Voice Access: This little gem was on my lab and none of the studying that I have done covered it in any way shape or form. I implemented it 5 or 6 years ago in a production environment but those brain cells were not present today. I guess I’ll be learning MVA.
  6. I didn’t read or see anything in the lab that honestly had me confused, I did however run out of time. I need to be faster, I must be faster.

Where does this leave me?

It leaves me with no CCIE number, it resets my written countdown clock but my goal is my CCIE number and without that this, even though I learned a lot, was a failure.

Tomorrow morning I’ll hop on a flight and head back to Denver. I’ll continue to study and work towards my goal.

I’ll be back Cisco, I’ll definitely be back.

-Justin