How Does Change Occur?

I was having a DM conversation (140 characters at a time) the other day with network architect.  We were discussing the reluctance of networking people, especially at the CxO or leadership level to do something different.  Personally, I have heard from ~50 people at the leadership level over the past 18 months that state they want to do something different with their network infrastructure.  The network has not changed in twenty years and now the time has come to change the network.  What is the result of all the pent up desire to do something different?  More network incrementalism; at least in the near term.  The DM conversation I was having was around the subject of getting network people to do something different.  Why do people say they want to make big changes and fail to seize the day?  That is the subject of this post.
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Echoes from Our Past #2: The Long Tail

As with my first post about Antietam and the Vacant Chair, I have started to weave some creative writing into my technology and business focused blog.  If it is not for you, please disregard.  I am writing this post from the reading room in the Norman Williams library in Woodstock Vermont, which was built in 1883.  Outside the leaves are in full color and on the town green is chile cook off contest.  More than a decade ago, I started writing a book on my experiences reenacting the American Civil War.  I was motivated to write it because I had read Confederates in the Attic.  I knew some of those people in that book and had been at the same places.  Writing a book requires time and concentration. Continue reading

What does…

Six sales calls of which two were multi-hour product demonstrations as well as side meetings, dinners, and driving between SFO and SJC four times equal?  Tired.  Now I have the hardest one hour wait, which is the hour I have to wait till the flight home departs.  It is not the redeye that is especially difficult, it is time waiting for the boarding process to start that seems to make time slow.  I had an amazing couple of days in SJC/SFO talking data center architecture and SDN with prospective clients, industry luminaries as well as colleagues in fellow SDN startups.  The last few days will be time we all look back on as the most fun in the life of a startup.  I was with a great team rushing from appointment to appointment, lugging a SDN network in a 200 pound from location to location.  At one customer, they even came out to the parking lot to look at the equipment in the back of van to see if it was real before we lugged it to a lab twenty miles up the road.

Now it is time to change coasts and check in with team at headquarters.

/wrk

Doctrine, ROI, the Low Entropic Dogmatic State of the Network and SDNs

The other day I read this post on learning to escape the ROI trap.  I think Chuck and Polly’s transposition of the phrase “return on investment” to “risk of ignoring” is intriging.  Chuck’s meme on how he dislikes the use of the concept of ROI influenced me to think more about the concept of doctrine.  Readers of my blog will know that I have been randomly thinking about the concept of doctrine.  I am going to point out that if you are expecting a pithy post on SDNs, OpenFlow, networking or equity charts, this is not that post and you might want to skip to the last paragraph.

I have been thinking about the concept of doctrine and how it is employed in technology companies and the creative pulse of the technology industry for some time.  I have worked in five startups and two large public companies.  I never really thought about the concept of doctrine until I was motivated to write the Tubthumping post in February 2012.  In that post I wrote the following:

“The concept of doctrine enables technology people to make assumptions.  Assumptions are great as long as they hold.  When I refer to doctrine I am referring to procedures that ecosystem participants follow because they have been trained to reason and act in a certain manner within the command and control structure of their business and technology.  We design networks, manage companies; evaluate technology and markets according to a common set of doctrines that have been infused into the technology ecosystem culture over many decades.  I was thinking along this thought line in mid-October when I posted “I also believe we are all susceptible to diminished breadth in our creativity as we get older.  Diminished breadth in our creativity the root cause as to why history repeats itself and another reason why when we change companies we tend to take content and processes from our prior company and port them to our new company.  This is especially true in the technology industry.  We recycle people; hence we recycle ideas, content and value propositions from what worked before.  Why be creative when it is easier to cut and paste?  As a casual observation it seems to me that most people working in tech have a theta calculation as to their creativity.  I believe a strategy to guard against creativity decay is to look back on the past and critique the work.”  In mid October I had not fully fused the thesis of creativity fail or creativity theta with doctrine.  The idea to link the two concepts occurred to me last night as I was reading Shattered Sword for the second time.”

I did a search of my blog and found eight entries in which I mentioned or used the word doctrine to imply a specific meaning or invoke an association in my mind or the reader’s mind.  I want to explore that concept further.  A book I am currently reading is Fleet Tactics and Coastal Combat by Wayne P. Hughes; side note I am also reading The Crimean War: A History, which is a very dense book to read.  Fleet Tactics is the book that has most influenced my recent thinking on concept of doctrine in technology companies, but I would state in 2002-2003 I was greatly influenced by the ideas put forward by John Boyd.

Allow me to digress as I stitch together (I really enjoy that abstraction) some concepts and history and then apply them to the business of technology.  In the book Shattered Sword, the authors put forth a novel thesis that when the Kido Butai arrived northwest of Midway Island on June 4 1942, and faced the American carrier force to northeast the battle was already lost due to doctrine.  I am not going to repeat the supporting elements of the thesis in the book, but the conclusion by the authors is that the innovation and power of the Kido Butai was finally defeated in the course of a single day because of the limiting effect of low entropic doctrine employed by the Imperial Japanese Navy.  If you are not familiar with naval military history a quick primer might be needed.  The Kido Butai was the formation of all the major Japanese aircraft carriers into an unified striking force.  The concentration of multiple carriers in a single, fast moving offensive striking force was a true innovation in naval combat.  Six Japanese carriers launched the strike on Pearl Harbor.  These carriers were organized into three air divisions and trained in unified operations as a single offensive weapon.  To create the Kido Butai required innovation in tactics and tactics are a result of doctrine.  Part of the thesis in Shattered Sword describes how innovation stopped and rigid adherence to doctrine in all levels of the IJN doomed the operational actions of the Kido Butai at the battle of Midway.  The authors point to the book Fleet Tactics to understand doctrine, which is why I was reading Fleet Tactics.

Pages 29-33 in Fleet Tactics has a concise summary of doctrine, why it is important and how it is employed.  Here is my summary of those pages in ten simple points.  Bonus points offered if while reading the points you can associate more than three to your current company:

1. P29: Doctrine is the commander’s way of controlling his forces in writing, before military action.

2. P29: Doctrine enunciates polices and procedures that govern action.

3. P29: In its stringiest sense, doctrine enjoins the right behavior; its success depends on obedience, except when obedience leads to failure.

4. P29: Two points of doctrine must be remembered: it is vital and it must not become dogmatic.

5. P30: Doctrine may also be thought of as every action that contributes to unity of purpose.

6. P30: Doctrine is not what is written in books; it is what people believe in and act on.

7. P30: In the execution of good doctrine, there is always tension between conformity and initiative.

8. P30: There is a measure of entropy in all doctrine.  With too little entropy there is order and understanding, but no initiative.  With too much entropy there is creativity and change but no order.

9. P31: The clearest evidence of doctrinal deficiency is too much communication.

10. P33: In sum doctrine must be whole and firm but not dogmatic.  It must leave room for men of freewheeling genius, for such will be the aces of the next war.  But it must never surrender control, because control is the prerequisite of concerted action.

Many of the ten points about doctrine were disconnected in my mind when I wrote the sometimes winning requires failure post.  In hindsight, that entire post is about doctrine.  When I wrote it, I was not mature in my thoughts around the concept of doctrine and the effect it has on an organization through high and low levels of entropy.  If I go back and read Chuck’s blog on the ROI trap in terms of doctrine, the entire post is about doctrine.  People are conditioned to act in a specific manner because of doctrine.  The example he cites is rife with points #7 and #9.  I think anyone who has had a decade of experience in the technology business has been part of ROI discussions or building solution cases based on “prior mode of operation (PMO) and future mode of operation (FMO).”

The more I think about the heartbeat of technology companies, it becomes more apparent that our industry is full of low entropy doctrine.  Take for example the idea around Moore’s Law which I have written about several times.  To me there is no better example of dogmatic doctrine in the technology industry than Moore’s Law; which was a product cycle observation.  For a couple of decades I have been listening to technology executives describe their business as following Moore’s Law.  For those who have made it this far, here is my reference to the network, SDN and all the other buzzwords.  The network is in a low entropy state dominated by doctrine and dogmatic beliefs.  It has become fixed, documented and institutionalized.  For it to change for the better, we need enough entropic doctrine for people to take the initiative because they fear the risk of ignoring (HT Chuck and Polly).  Fear of the risk of ignoring should be an element of every company’s operating doctrine.  Here is an example of how to spot doctrinal deficiency: a presenter has 100 slides to go through.

/wrk

Global Cloud Networking Survey

I think the latest Cisco Global Cloud Networking Report has flown under the radar.  I read a few articles on it, but for the most part I think it was ignored with all the InterOp news.  It is a really interesting report and summarizes a lot of what I see and hear in the world of IT.  I have been posting about the frustrations of IT leaders with the state of the network.  Despite what the skeptics have written about SDN, when you talk to IT leaders and then read a report like Cisco’s Global Cloud Survey, one conclusion is possible:  the network is f’ing broken.  Two additional corollaries: (1) all of us in the networking industry have had a hand in creating the mess and (2) the first people to innovate and fix the network will be the winners.  The networking industry is divided into two groups: those perpetuating the mess and those who are trying to fix it.  Here are some choice quotes from the report:

  • Almost two in five of those surveyed said they would rather get a root canal, dig a ditch, do their own taxes than address network challenges associated with public or private cloud deployments.
  • More than one quarter said they have more knowledge on how to play Angry Birds—or know how to change a spare tire—than the steps needed to migrate their company’s network and applications to the cloud.
  • Nearly one quarter of IT decision makers said that over the next six months, they are more likely to see a UFO, a unicorn or a ghost before they see their company’s cloud migration starting and finishing.
  • More than half of IT decision makers said they have a better overall application experience at home with their personal networks than they do at work.

Thinking about Unicorns and six months, I spent some time listening to a Lightreading webinar on the Evolving the Data Center for Critical Cloud Success.  On slide 11 the presenters have “A Facts-based Reality Check for Cloud Delivery” which includes the following facts about the “Largest Live Test Bed in The Industry:”

  • 6 Months of Planning
  • 8 Weeks of On-Site Testing
  • 25 Test Suites Across DC, Network and Applications
  • $75M Equipment in the Tes
  • 80 Engineers Supporting Testing

NewImage

The more things change, the more they stay the same.  Which group are you in?

/wrk

Dreadnaught for Change

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.  This post is a rehash of a post I wrote in 2007.  I was inspired to use it after reading the Saturday Essay in the WSJ about the US Navy.

On October 1, 1906, H.M.S. Dreadnaught slipped into the English Channel, one year and one day from the laying of her keel.  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.

It took time for the full impact of Dreadnaught to be realized.  Her combination of speed and striking power turned every ship in every navy, in every port of the world obsolete in 31 months.  Critics called Dreadnaught a “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.

David Lloyd George, a future Prime Minister in 1916 succeeding Herbert Henry Asquith, said “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.”  In the end, the critics were wrong and the pioneers were correct.  Reginald Bacon, Dreadnaught’s first captain said to the critics “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?

The history of this era is beautifully composed by Robert Massie in two books: Dreadnaught and Castles of Steel.  I generously borrowed from Massie’s first book Dreadnaught (pages 468-489) to compose the first three paragraphs.  If you enjoy naval history, The Grand Fleet and Battlecruisers are two cherished books in my library that complement Massie’s books.  I began this post with the history of the Dreadnaught because of the many parallels the history of naval innovation and technology have with networking.

Over the course of that past couple of years the intellectuals and thought leaders have been calling for change.  See Hamilton here, Gourlay here and even the Pax Britannia of networking states that networks must change.  I draw one conclusion from the observations I see and that is we are still waiting on the change that must happen.  We are still waiting on Dreadnaught.  I know some companies think they have built a new Dreadnaught for the data center, but in reality it does not outclass any other solution and it does not hopelessly obsolete any of the existing solutions.  The point of my Tubthumping post was we are still waiting on someone to build the best type of network for a new era.  Merchant silicon does not equal a new era.  Big fat switches in the core do not equal a new era.  The 10G and 40G and 100G server eras will be enabled by different network architecture that when it reveals itself will be as obvious as Dreadnaught was to the navies of the world.  I will know it when I see it, but I know it is not a white box switch with merchant silicon running some homogenized software stack.

/wrk

* It is all about the network stupid, because it is all about compute. *

** Comments are always welcome in the comments section or in private. ** 

Tubthumping

I have been on the road meeting people, talking tech, data centers, networking and getting knocked down.   When I find time to read the blogosphere and trade rags, which is usually on a train or plane, it is then I realize how disconnected people are from reality.  I find myself asking colleagues if I am crazy or are these people just following pre-programmed doctrine and doing the same thing over and over?

I have started down this thought path before here and here, but I think it is important to accept that we have been doing the same networking stuff for 16 years.  It was called switching.  1995 to 2011 are the switching years, 1980 to 1994 are the client/server years and both eras are all done.  Just stop now.  We are moving on.  2012 to 2027 will be a new era.  We need to stop referring to the future using concepts from the past.  I cite as examples this article in El Reg, which I think is in general a great site, but got lazy with the assumption in the first sentence and this grand standing, Pollyanna post from Empire.

I still think this all comes back to people doing the same stuff they have been doing for years because they do not know any better.  When I was selling for my first startup, CrossComm in 1989, people would tell me that no one gets fired for buying IBM.  Last week a senior IT executive told me that no one gets fired for buying Cisco.   I find that comment fitting and I suspect will be a milepost in this new networking era taking root.

“The concept of doctrine enables technology people to make assumptions.  Assumptions are great as long as they hold.  When I refer to doctrine I am referring to procedures that ecosystem participants follow because they have been trained to reason and act in a certain manner within the command and control structure of their business and technology.  We design networks, manage companies; evaluate technology and markets according to a common set of doctrines that have been infused into the technology ecosystem culture over many decades.  I was thinking along this thought line in mid-October when I postedI also believe we are all susceptible to diminished breadth in our creativity as we get older.  Diminished breadth in our creativity the root cause as to why history repeats itself and another reason why when we change companies we tend to take content and processes from our prior company and port them to our new company.  This is especially true in the technology industry.  We recycle people; hence we recycle ideas, content and value propositions from what worked before.  Why be creative when it is easier to cut and paste?  As a casual observation it seems to me that most people working in tech have a theta calculation as to their creativity.  I believe a strategy to guard against creativity decay is to look back on the past and critique the work.”  In mid October I had not fully fused the thesis of creativity fail or creativity theta with doctrine.  The idea to link the two concepts occurred to me last night as I was reading Shattered Sword for the second time.”

/wrk