All posts tagged ccnp

As a part of my job at Cisco I’ve been looking into Zscaler and their offerings.  It started me thinking back to the early days of remote access, and I figured it would make a good topic for Netstalgia.

I wrote in the past about how bulletin board systems (BBSs) work, and in another article I resurrected my old BBS in an Apple II emulator.  In a nutshell, a computer with a BBS set up had a modem on it and users dialed in using their own modem over dial-up phone lines.  I’m not sure how many readers are young and don’t remember modems, and how many are dinosaurs like me, but as a reminder, modems connect computers to phone lines.  One modem is set to answer any call that comes in, and waits.  Then another user with a modem inputs the phone number of the other end into his software.  His modem dials out, the phone rings, and the other modem answers with a carrier tone.  Then the dialer responds and after some negotiation on the line, a connection is established and data is sent.

Now in my first job, at a small company in Marin California in the mid-1990’s, we had one computer set up as a dedicated remote access server.  It had a single modem with a single phone line, and ran Apple Remote Access server, since we were a Mac shop.  We only had one user with a laptop, the CEO, so when he traveled he would dial-in and be able to access basic functions like email and our file server.  There was no Internet access back then.

When I moved on to a consulting company, I did a few more industrial set ups.  Usually these involved remote access servers that were comprised of a bunch of modems and a LAN port.  The remote access server would accept a bunch of phone lines and then provide TCP/IP or AppleTalk connectivity to the network.  By this time users had Internet connectivity.  The Shiva LanRover is one example of this sort of device.

Shiva LANRover

When I worked at the San Francisco Chronicle, we had an Ascend Max which served this purpose.  The Max had two DS3 lines plugged into it.  It was the first time I had seen a DS3, and I remember being excited to learn the phone company could deliver a circuit over coax.  (It actually entered the building on fiber and went over coax from the MPOE.)  The DS3 was an ISDN PRI, with 24 dial-in phone lines multiplexed over a single digital circuit.  It took me months to find someone who had the password to the Max, and when I finally got in I found out that the second DS3 was unconfigured.  Users had been complaining about busy signals and all I had to do was change a few menu settings.

Ascend Max

Remote access dial-up was heavily used at the Chronicle.  Reporters filed their stories via modem.  VPN was just coming out, and I decided to replace the dial-up with VPN + dial-up.  A company called Fiberlink provided a dialer with a vast database of local Internet dial-up lines from a variety of carriers they contracted with.  Our users would pick a local phone line and then dial into it.  They then launched our Nortel VPN client to establish connectivity.  This saved us a fortune on 800-number charges, but our users hated it.  As a good senior guy, I did the initial design and left implementation to a junior guy.  I’m amazed he still talks to me.  (And he’s not junior anymore!)

Despite being a long-time Cisco guy, I never touched the Cisco remote access stuff.  I did use 2500-series routers with serial ports as terminal servers in the lab, but I never connected modems to them.  Still, when I passed my CCNP, one exam covered remote access and I needed to know a lot about modems.

Nowadays I rarely log into VPN.  Most systems I need to access can authenticate through our Zero Trust/SSO system without the need for a connection to Cisco’s network.  We’ve come a long way since the days of dial-up.  And while I said I missed wiring in another post, I sure don’t miss modem tones!