Data Center

What Networking Needs to Learn from Steve Jobs

by Jon.Hudson on ‎09-07-2012 12:44 AM (3,783 Views)

When someone insults my Macbook, I can feel my blood pressure go up. It feels like it did when I was a kid, and someone would insult family or friends. Before I knew what happened I was defending as if I was personally attacked.

Why? Are Macbooks the fastest out there? No. Cheapest? Nope. Always have all the latest and greatest technology? Sometimes, but not always….

In terms of other Mac products, there have been some interesting iPod competitors. Some have had some really cool features. Well I think so…to be honest I don’t really remember any of them. I’m sure they existed though.

Launching a tablet PC to compete with the iPad nearly took out HP. HP! Over a bloody tablet computer that most people just use for browsing and email.

The other day my brother says “I’m thinking about getting <insert some Android-based phone>.” I was shocked. First thing out of my mouth was, “Why?”

Truth is—don’t tell anyone I said this—there are actually some very cool Android-based phones. At the same time the iPhone 4S, the one that everyone was all up in a tizzy about not being the iPhone5, just sold out. Yet again, making it the “Biggest iPhone Launch Ever.”

How DOES Apple do it?

Elegance. Ease-of-use. Demystification. Simple Design. Pretty. Fun-to-use. Shiny.

Someone confessed to me the other day: “Apples make me feel smart. Computers were always for other people, never worked for me. With my Mac, I feel powerful. I feel empowered. I feel smart.”

Time to “Think Different”

Networking isn’t hard. Or I should say, networking doesn’t have to be hard. We’ve kept it hard. We make fun of people that use GUIs: “Real Men use CLIs.” We have HUGE professional service industries around networking.  Do you know how many CCIEs there are in the world? 18,084. Eighteen-Thousand People. People who have built their careers, supported their families, paid for their homes and built consulting groups, based on the fact that most people find logging into a router rather scary, for lack of a better word.

That’s INSANE.

Ever walked into a room full of guys running a network? They each have 18 terminals open, all to different routers and switches in their network. Why? Are they that unstable? Does staring at them help? Maybe they are like my Yellow Labrador and are more likely to misbehave while no one is looking.

Enough! Networking HAS to change. It has to get simple; it has to get clean, elegant, easy and maybe, just maybe…fun? And more importantly, it’s got to work.

We work on these devices all the time. Why not make them nice to use? Why not put in ease-of-use and “wouldn’t-that-be-nice” features? Why not make them reliable? Let’s make devices that are bulletproof, easy to use and elegant for everyone.

Then again — maybe we don’t need it.

The number of devices we are all being asked to manage is growing really fast. Routers, switches, RBridges and vSwitches… and then ALL the devices they plug into.

I have a customer that at the end of the year will be at 400,000 VMs. 400,000 VMs, unless you want to hire a small country, are NOT going to be managed individually. Hundreds of thousands of virtual machines need to be herded…probably more like cats than cows, but herded none the less.

Well, then it certainly is a good thing that IT groups have been growing so fast, more headcount than they know what to do with right? Wait? No? So we are exponentially increasing the number of objects, but are keeping the staff flat or reducing it further?

Does no one else see a problem with this?

This does NOT mean reducing functionality. The CLI is still there. Personally, I still download source and compile programs and create docs in VI on my Mac–but I don’t have to. And I know people that don’t even know their Macs have a CLI. Wait, let me caveat that a bit: I don’t know these people well, but I’ve met a few in coffee shops.

Networks need to heal themselves. They need to anticipate what I need them to do. They need to adapt. They need to be able to compensate for the intern I hired. If I forget to tell the new guy that loops are a bad idea, he should not be able to take out my whole network!

We have to focus on usability. We have to a take a consumer electronics approach to networking: sand down the edges; look at different form factors; add flashy lights; and shiny paint. Oh, oh! Make it talk! Imagine a long wave transceiver that, if you plug in the wrong cable, the SFPs ask “Really?” with very heavy sarcasm.

We have to automate. We have to give people tools to automate themselves. We need to empower people. We need to help them own it, help them carve it and shape the network they so get exactly what they want. It has to be rock solid, and if you like to code, it still needs to have API hooks– it can’t be dumbed down.

This is about elevation. This is about taking industrial design, with mechanical and electrical engineering, with folks that make LeapFrog products and some of the TiVo guys. It would be a Renaissance Box: the perfect storm of form and function.  And it has to just work, and work so well, so often, that you are shocked when something goes wrong. I’m shocked when my Mac has a problem. It’s refreshing. My laptop went from a hobby to a stable, reliable tool.  Don’t worry…I have other hobbies now.

Networks need to think, and to do that, we need to take some advice from Mr. Jobs and “Think Different.”

I want routers and switches that make me look good, make my job so much easier, save my bacon when I screw up and allow me to try crazy things without blowing up the network. More than that, I also want it to look good. I want it to be fun to use. I want it to be so approachable that everyone can do it. I don’t want a handful of 18,000 experts. I want to create 500,000 experts – yes, half a million. How many people do you know with Apple Certifications? I’m guessing very few because it’s common sense. Networking needs to be common sense.

I want to defend it like it’s my little brother. I want it to succeed. I want to feel a personal attachment to my tools. I use them all the time, and I want to enjoy doing so. I want everyone to experience the love that I feel for what I do and the more people that love the networking tools the better they will be at running networks. I want a router that looks so cool people put it into movies where it’s doesn’t belong because it just looks that cool.

In short: I want routers and switches to, as Mr. Jobs said, “look so good you’ll want to lick them.”

“Think Different,” people–the network needs a revolution.

(this is a repost of a Ethernet Fabrics blog post)

on ‎09-10-2012 04:57 PM

Nice one Jon!

on ‎10-26-2012 09:38 PM

The Apple design principles and ideology simply don't scale to the enterprise level.  It's great for toy consumer devices but not even the great Steve Jobs could have made it work.  They tried enterprise level with the Xserve ... How did that end up?

on ‎02-26-2013 03:44 PM

I would argue the opposite. For Xserve and Xsan they did not go for simple/elegant. And they failed.

For the ipad/iphone/macbook they did. And those products do VERY well in the business world.

on ‎02-27-2013 08:03 AM

I love your ending line Jon...

“Think Different,” people–the network needs a revolution.