Split Personality

Do Network Organizations Have A Split Personality?

Split PersonalityIs it ridiculous to be running as fast as you can in two different directions?  Alternatively, if running as fast as you can in two different directions is just a fact of life, how does a person or an organization make any progress?

In the last week I have moderated two events.  If someone who knew nothing about our industry attended these events they would leave with the impression that the two groups of attendees had absolutely nothing in common, but the reality is that both events were produced by the same organization, and both were attended almost exclusively by networking professionals.

One of the events was an all day seminar which took place in Philadelphia, covering Network Virtualization (NV) and SDN.  I gave an hour’s presentation and discussed a number of topics, including the drivers and inhibitors of NV and SDN, the most viable and appropriate use cases, and how network organizations should evaluate those solutions.  The three vendors that sponsored the seminar each talked about their company’s NV and/or SDN strategy and products, and also discussed additional use cases and how to build a business case for those use cases.   There is no doubt that the attendees paid attention to all four of these presentations.  There is also no doubt that the presentation that they paid the most attention to was given by Ron Milford — Ron is the SDN Lab director at Indiana University’s InCNTRE.  If you are not familiar with that facility, they are very involved with SDN from a variety of perspectives, including testing SDN products, developing applications to run on an SDN, and operating SDN-based networks.

Ron delved into the differences between OpenFlow v1.0 and OpenFlow v1.3.  He discussed in detail the new flow tables that are part of OpenFlow 1.3 and discussed some of the actions that are possible in OpenFlow v1.3 that were not possible in v1.0, such as setting TTL — the time to live parameter.  The best description of Ron’s presentation was “geeky”, and the audience ate it up.  If a person who knew nothing about networking attended this event, he or she would have left with the clear impression that networking professionals spend most, if not all, of their day focused on technology.

The second event was a roundtable discussion of the topics that are impacting network organizations in general, and network professionals in particular.  Whereas most attendees in the previous seminar had titles such as engineer or architect, the typical attendee at this roundtable event was a director or senior director.

Due in part to the interest that it receives in the trade press, I began the roundtable discussion by asking the participants in the roundtable how their organization was approaching BYOD.  After a brief discussion of BYOD, one of the attendees stated his belief that the real issues in IT are not about devices, but about the need for someone, possibly VARs, to be able to deliver complete solutions.  He added that there is technology out there to solve any problem, but that it sometimes is very difficult to pull together the individual technologies into a solution.  Another attendee stated that IT was not about devices or even about networks, but it was about applications and data.  He then stated his opinion that all technology has become a commodity and that one of the major issues, if not the major issue going forward is the cost of IT.  If my hypothetical person who knew nothing about networking attended this event, they would leave with the very distinct impression that networking professionals have a wide range of concerns, but technology is not one of them.

OK, I get it.  A director of networking has a different focus than a network engineer.  Unto itself, that isn’t a surprise, but what did surprise me was the huge gap between what the two groups care about.  This gap caused me to wonder if network organizations have a split personality, and more importantly — how do the engineers and directors ever communicate?  It also made me wonder if senior management really thinks that technology is a commodity and that the real issues are issues such as cost and integration, then why haven’t they restructured their organization to pay more attention to those issues?