28 Jul

Travel and some thoughts on expenses

Over the last few years, I have been travelling quite a bit as part of my job at Hurricane Electric. One of the discussions which come up regularly is “When did you arrive?” or “Where are you staying?” or “How many connections you had in your flight?” and whenever I answer such questions to my friends, I get a surprising look. I personally never understand the surprise about it but somehow it comes so often that I decided to blog and document my reply here so I can pass the link next time instead of explaining. 🙂

So typically for flights, I take whatever is cheaper and I just go for cheaper with a certain minor exception like avoid using Air India. Even if the flight has one or two connections, I do not go for direct flight unless the difference is less than 2000 INR / $30. This strategy works fine almost all the time. Sometimes flight can be rather quite long like e.g earlier this year I attended NANOG in San Francisco and from there went to Daejeon, South Korea for APRICOT 2019 and this route was via Hong Kong just because it was cheaper that way even though geographically, not the “best path”. A direct flight in such case was more than $200 additional and I just can’t justify that cost.

One argument which often comes for flying direct, expensive is to “save time” and I don’t get it. For super busy people it might make sense who don’t have enough time to fit it meetings in their busy schedule and try best to squeeze time. I have respect for those people with genuine-time concern but that is the case for a very small % of people, at least not for me. Mr Narayan Murthy (founder of Infosys) who has a net worth of $2.4 billion flies in economy class (source here). Plus the extra time one travels is not exactly all “wasted time”. I often just catch up on emails when travelling, catch up on various reading material, catch up some of the amazing talks from various NOGs (which I keep offline) etc.

Next, for hotels – I usually stay in “decent” hotels in the developing the world and hostels/Airbnb/cheap hotels in the developed world. Most of the conferences in our industry often happen in big, fancy hotels where a night stay would be $150-$200 or usually more. Again, one “saves” time by staying in a conference hotel but for 70% of my travel, I am able to get a hotel within 300-400m of walkable distance for 20% – 25% of the price of an expensive hotel.

Plus cheap hotels have their own advantages like:

  1. Less boring stay compared to fancy hotels. In fact, hostels are actually more fun.
  2. Usually would have a Wifi WPA2-PSK password with no irritating captive portal. Wifi just works and no capping!
  3. One can find kitchen area/microwave etc to make ready-to-eat food which becomes important for me as a vegetarian.

In Hong Kong, I mostly stay at the hostel which is quite good. In South Asian countries the culture of the hostel isn’t very well developed and for that reason I avoid them.

So why I do “business travel” on low-cost? I have never been specifically told to do that but I strongly prefer that for three reasons:

Reason 1 – Old discussion with a friend…

When I was spending time at Zoho as an intern in 2010, I got a chance to share the apartment with Rodrigo Vaca who used to be the director of marketing at Zoho back then and was visiting India. Once during the dinner, I asked him on how he’s able to leave Google’s job with all the fun of Google plex for a job at Zoho which was relatively small back then.
He gave a wonderful reply – “There are few things in life which matter and few things which do not matter. They may look cool and attractive but do not matter in the long term”.

Reason 2 – You are too young to become a dinosaur

Another thing which struck me over time was from the movie “Up in the air” where when George Clooney is told by his boss – “Blame the high fuel cost, insurance premiums, blame technology. Watch yourself – “You are too young to become a dinosaur“. I always fear that. I have seen a number of good people turning into dinosaurs over time that I am honestly scared of that path. I want to make sure I add maximum possible value from my work to my employer as well as our community.

Reason 3 – It’s my money

I treat my employer’s money as my own money and do the exact same due diligence when spending it as I would do to my personal expenses. A large part of luxury travel many times comes because of the fact that we treat employer’s money as “company’s money” and don’t care about it. I personally do not follow that.

So that’s all about why travel for a low cost. 🙂

Obvious disclaimer: Purely writing this my personal capacity and going to pass this link next time instead of a long reply!

26 Jun

Less than a week to go before INNOG2!

And it’s less than a week before the INNOG 2 i.e Indian Network Operators Group Conference 2. We (Indians) are little late to start a NOG but it’s finally working out and this is the 2nd event. First one happened last year.

Event website: www.innog.net

Why INNOG is important and why we should care?

Well, having a functional NOG is as important for local community as a working Internet Exchange Point. In absence of either people just start peering outside for an expensive price. There a lot of things which Indian Network Operators need to work on and without knowledge sharing that’s just not going to happen.

Some of short term challenges which we need to work on:

  • IPv6 deployment. As a country, we are doing very well on it but to be fair the credit goes just to Jio and now the incumbents like Airtel, Vodafone-Idea etc catching up. Beyond the mobile telcos, the deployment is almost non-existent. APNIC IPv6 stats for India give an idea about it (here). We can have more fibre, more caching nodes, better long haul transport but in the end what we will do if ISPs just run out of IPv4 and further the capacity of their CGNAT boxes?
  • IXPs beyond top cities: As of now there are multiple IXPs in key cities like Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai but beyond tier 1 cities there’s just no option. We need to transition to a world with IXPs in say Bangalore, Hyderabad, Chandigarh, Jaipur, Ahmedabad and more. That would facilitate local interconnection and easy offloading of traffic.
  • Better security on BGP. As I just said during last week at my talk at RootConf : Believe it or not, the internet is connected by very loose strings and things just break so often. Take the case of yesterday’s major route leak effecting Cloudflare, Amazon and many more (more on this here). We need to work on route filtering based on RPKI as well as IRR.
  • Sign our DNS zones. Even though .in ccTLD is signed and many registrars now offer DNSSEC but very few domains actually use it. Unless we can secure the DNS chain, risks of issues due to bgp hijacks or even ASN hijacks would go on. (and much more!)

So what’s in INNOG this time?

It would be 1 day of conference and 3 days of the workshop. 1 day of the conference would include super interesting talks. Some of the notable ones are from Reliance Jio on their IPv6 deployment, Tata Communications on their journey from 64Kbps (the VSNL days!) to 21Tbps, talk on the history of root DNS servers as well as future of DNS, the CDN design of Netflix and more. (Find agenda of the conference here).

In workshops, we will have IPv6 deployment, IXP and MPLS. I am personally involved in the IXP workshop as an instructor. (Workshop agenda available here).

My personal role in INNOG is as a Program Committee Co-Chair, webmaster of the website and instructor in the IXP workshop. Let’s see how it goes and hope to see you there.

Back to work before sun comes back up! 🙂

18 May

Joining the board of E2E

This week I worked on the paperwork to get on the board of E2E Networks Ltd as one of the Independent Director. It was quite an interesting process as this is the first time I am joining the board of directors of an organisation.

About E2E

Not to be confused by the “Networks” in the name, E2E is in the business of selling high powered, low cost compute (Virtual machines) hosted in India targeted towards Indian organisations. It’s one of the very few organisations of its kind which is listed at the National Stock Exchange of India (NSE) since 15th May 2018. E2E was started by Tarun Dua and Mohammed Imran. I know Tarun since a really long time (if I remember correctly, probably since 2010). It has been good to see the organisation grow from a very small team to where it stands now. While AWS, Azure and now Google Cloud are helping to grow the market of Cloud Computing, there’s still a gap of providers who can offer much more competitive pricing for the monster machines for lesser overbuild which large cloud providers do.

Quick links about E2E

  • List of other board members here
  • List of E2E’s team members here
  • E2E has its own ASN but relies on Netmagic’s AS17439 for originating pools. HE’s BGP toolkit for E2E’s prefixes here
  • News on listing here

Thoughts on DSC, DIN and OS X!

Director of an organisation (private or listed) have to maintain a DIN i.e Director Identification Number in India. Now to get a DIN, one needs a DSC which is Digital Signing Certificate. DSC uses RSA keys and Government of India has recognised around 9 Certifying authorities for it (listed here). So one gets key loaded in a physical device. As soon as you have a physical device in the picture and Mac OS X cannot recognise it, it’s a problem. Most of the driver packages offered by the vendors are unsigned and I personally don’t like installing those packages on the base machine I use. Besides those drivers, one also needs the emsigner package to associated DSC with DIN which again happens to be another package to make the whole stack work.
Thus to make it all work securely, I ended up in putting a Windows VM on Virtualbox locally, thus in an isolated instance for such tasks only.

My involvement…

I will be on the board to contribute as an independent director. It’s a non-executive role and thus I won’t have any involvement in the day to day things but just macro level picture of the things and involvement in board meetings. I continue with my full-time job at Hurricane Electric. It would be great to learn corporate governance by looking at how things work at the board of a company.

Well, so that’s all for now. Time to get back to work! 🙂