A Piece of Wanton and Profligate Ostentation
A couple of weeks ago, I had an exchange over email with a sales prospect. I had initiated the conversation, thinking that this would be a good place to sell Plexxi. Below is the thread, which I edited for anonymity:
From: Bill Koss
Sent: 19 March 2015
I would like to present our networking technology to someone at XXX. We have several customers similar to your organization and I oversee our relationship with those customers. I can send a preliminary summary of our technology if that would be helpful.
From: Bill Koss
Sent: Fri, Mar 20, 2015
Thank you for your email. Could you email a summary of your technology so we can determine if we have any current requirement for your products and services?
From: Bill Koss
Sent: 20 March 2015
From: Bill Koss
Sent: 22 March 2015
Many thanks for that additional information. Unfortunately, we don’t have a current requirement for your products and services, having recently run a large RFP process in that area. However we will keep hold of your details for future requirements that may arise.
Thank you again,
As I read the last reply, I was thinking there was some sort of historical parallel I had forgotten. Then it occurred to me, it was an historical analogy I had written about a few years ago and now have updated.
In 1905 the Royal Navy had 62 battleships in service or under construction. 102 years after the Battle of Trafalgar, England had 26 more battleships than France, their historic rival for European hegemony. When compared to the fledging Imperial German Navy, England had 50 more battleships than Germany. At the beginning of the twentieth century, it took 2-3 years to design and build a battleship. These were not investments that nation-states made quickly, yet having recently run a large procurement process to build new battleships, the Royal Navy under the bold leadership of the First Sea Lord, Admiral John Fisher, did the unthinkable – they built a new ship that obsoleted all that had come before. Why did they do this? Was there a competitive force or threat? Did they need a new ship that would obsolete all their current investments? In present day network terms, this is the point during a sales call when the customer asks, “where would we use it?” This was first asked to me on July 17, 2012 when a technology team from a large bank visited a private demonstration of Plexxi technology in New York.
Here is a pictorial summary of the HMS Agamemnon, a state of the art English battleship laid down in the 1905. Agamemnon was a member of the Lord Nelson class of battleships and was designed at a time when there was a lot of spirited debated bordering on controversy regarding the direction of future battleship design. If you are a network person, just think of the SDN, overlay, open, netvirt, ACI, OpenFlow, STT, white box, black box, brite box, debate from the past six years.
In 1903, Vittorio Cuniberti published an article entitled “An Ideal Battleship for the British Fleet,” in Jane’s publication All the World’s Fighting Ships. Vittorio was the chief naval architect of the Italian Navy. His article called for the development of all big gun ship (i.e. twelve 12-inch guns) displacing 17,000 tons. The thinking in the naval community around an all big gun ship had already been occurring, but Vittorrio’s article provided thought leadership and helped generate perceived momentum around the concept of an all big gun ship. The United States as well as Japan had budgeted for the construction of ships with 12-inch guns, but they were not due for completion until 1907. In the early part of the twentieth century, naval construction required public and political oversight, as it was the single largest military expense and consumed vast resources. Ship construction at the time was a significant capital commitment of a nation’s budget and required legislative approval. Even today, the most powerful navy in the world has publicly available ship construction plan.
On October 1, 1906, H.M.S. Dreadnaught slipped into the English Channel, one year and one day from the laying of her keel. A pictorial summary of Dreadnaught is posted on the left. Over the next few days, she conducted high-speed runs in excess of 21 knots displaying the power of her steam turbine engines, a first for a warship of her size (18,000 tons). Her ten 12-inch guns could engage targets at 10,000 yards. She was fast enough to outrun any ship her size and she was powerful enough to outgun any other ship of her class. Jane’s declared she was the equivalent of two or three of battleships of the designs that had preceded her. Dreadnaught was a lethal and brilliant combination of striking power, speed, reliability and armor that could choose to fight when, where and who she desired. In 1907, Dreadnaught became the flagship of English Home Fleet and assumed the responsibility of the guardian of Pax Britannia at the very zenith of the Empire and only six years after the death of Queen Victoria. When details of her design became public, it was apparent that this single ship hailed as a triumph by her designers, was in fact a colossal blunder in the eyes of many.
- “piece of wanton and profligate ostentation”
- “[that] morally scraped and labeled obsolete [the entire British Fleet] at the moment when it was at the zenith of its efficiency and not equal to two, but practically to all the other navies of the world combined.”
- “We said, ‘Let there be dreadnaughts’ what for? We did not require them. Nobody was building them and if anyone had started building them, we, with our greater shipbuilding resources, could have built them faster then any country in the world.” – David Lloyd George, a future Prime Minister of England
Why would someone build a ship that obsoletes all of the prior naval investments they had made? I get this same question on almost every sales call I make. Why would we build a new network when we already have a large investment in our current network? Or maybe in comes in the form of “…we don’t have a current requirement for your products and services, having recently run a large RFP process in that area.”
My response is a polite version of John Fisher’s quote “moderation in war is imbecility,” but the best quote I found to answer Dreadnaught’s critics, was from her first captain, Reginald Bacon: “Knowing as we did that Dreadnaught was the best type to build, should we knowingly have built the second-best type of ship? What would have been the verdict of the country [i.e. England] if Germany…had built the Dreadnaught? What would have been the verdict of the country if a subsequent inquiry had elicited the fact that those responsible at the Admiralty for the safety of the nation had deliberately recommended the building of second-class ships?”