CLUS 2017- The Elephant in My Room

I’m not at Cisco Live in Las Vegas right now, but am living it vicariously through various tweets, podcasts, and similar bursts of real/near-real-time snippets of information from those who are attending. As a Cisco Champion and industry watcher, I’ve also gotten a bit of a whiff of at least some of what’s cooking at CLUS in the form of early briefings and such. There’s no doubt that Cisco is impressing many with promises of “network intuitive” and “intent-based networking”, but there’s also an undercurrent of skepticism trickling out.

Why would would anyone have doubts about Cisco’s next big thing?

For me, I try to look at it from two perspectives- as best I can as a long-time Cisco customer:

  1. What would I think of all of this if I was shopping for a new solution and wasn’t all that familiar with Cisco?
  2. As a long-time Cisco customer, what am I energized about? What is off-putting about the messaging coming out of CLUS?

I would imagine that if I was new to the Ciscosphere, I’d maybe think that this is all very exciting and cutting-edge sounding. Perhaps I’d think that some of this sounds very Avaya-esque in the notion a super-advanced network fabric-y thing that breaks from traditional networking in a number of exciting ways. Maybe I’d get all jazzed about the promise of reduced labor and administrative overhead that comes with doing networking in a whole new way. In other words, I’d probably get the warm fuzzy that Cisco is hoping to create with it’s current full-court press on marketing and dazzle.

But, I’m not new to Cisco, so I can’t do more than cross fingers that this new buzzword-clad architecture actually solves/prevents problems and doesn’t stretch expensive licensing paradigms into the ridiculous. It’s fair to say that I’m seriously jaded. I’ve seen one initiative after another come and go, always with fancy names and high promise.  That’s OK, and I’m not throwing dirt- vendors gotta try stuff, and everything in the IT world evolves. Just don’t expect me to swallow that it will be the end-all. Within a few years, the next big thing will show up.

What I’m NOT OK with is some of what is being presented at CLUS, as it feels incomplete. Many of the promises being made are predicated on an assumed foundation of good code under all of the new magic. As the long-time customer, I see no evidence that Cisco’s own intolerance for crappy code is getting any closer to mine. When bad code hits my environment- and bad code hits frequently- I have to act quickly to get dozens of thousands of users back on track. Cisco seems to not feel the urgency, as churning out problematic code has become routine (in my estimation).

The new stuff HAS to get better. It can’t be built on today’s problems.

I’m not the only one looking at flashy infographics from CLUS and seeing my own edits write themselves into the slides, like these:

CLUS1CLUS2

I’m really not bitter- just battered and beat up a bit by code (and hardware) problems that suck up hundreds of man-hours a year to get past. I want  to believe that “network intuitive” will be transformative.  But first I need to hear how the underlying culture that has allowed so many problems out the door is going to change. It’s hard to accept that somehow we’re spending too much on OpEx costs and need new network magic to reduce them when a significant portion of those costs come from dealing with code bugs from the vendor that promises the new magic. 

To not address these code shortcomings and their underlying culture straightaway is to already cut into the excitement that should be felt about “network intuitive”.

4 thoughts on “CLUS 2017- The Elephant in My Room

  1. tmcclintic

    Great post, I am currently at CLUS and I have to agree with your sentiments. I would also add that everything Cisco is showing pushes you further into a Cisco only world. This may be nice for customers that are comfortable with a single vendor environment. However to stay agile and prepared I feel it is important to look at other solutions that fit needs better.

    In addition it really feels like phasing in these new dna designs are fairly odd for brownfield.

    Reply
  2. Mike Albano

    Lee,
    For most of my career, the thing that’s affected me (personally) more than any, is code quality. Being on-call, or an escalation point means late nights, and quite simply, stress over keeping a network “Up” and performing.
    I’ve thought about“why” this happens for a long while before forming my own opinion. Then I started to think about “how” to influence the situation for the better.
    I can summarize in a question: What do you YOU want from a WiFi vendor?
    You could say they “provide what their customers ask for”, since ultimately this leads to selling product. In the absence of customers “asking for stuff” they follow market trends, try to predict what customers will be asking for next, etc. etc. Network Intuitive is simply a market trend towards intent-driven networks, and Automation via APIs. Yes, there’s gross oversimplification here, but you get the point.
    Like many orgs, a WiFi vendor has a certain amount of resources, and spends them according to profit motive. I think a great exercise for ANY Network Engineer to go through is write down (in as few pages as possible) exactly what you want your vendor to provide. No more, no less. From my POV, I’ve done this, and share with any vendor prior to engaging in discussion. It can be simplified as this: I want a WiFi vendor to be really good at converting 802.11 to 802.3. That includes exposure of Telemetry & Controls for me to build/operate/monitor according to a “standard” set of APIs. (It takes me about 3 pages to say that.)
    I do NOT want a WiFi vendor providing me the following:
    Firewalls
    Routers
    Switches
    Software Defined X
    Blue Dot Navigation
    IoT — anything.
    RADIUS servers
    mDNS Gateways
    DHCP/DNS
    NMS’ (PI, AMP, etc.)
    RF Modelling capabilities to “automate AP placement”
    Intrusion Detection
    User Experience Monitoring
    I’m specifically addressing the Wireless BU here. In a world of Startups, Mergers, and Acquisitions, I know there’s cross pollination with BU’s that target many of those exact markets (Cisco included). I’m simply saying, I don’t expect my Access Point (or Controller) to do those things.
    Are these things valuable? Yes, some even run their business on them. And to those who rely on their WiFi vendor to also provide the software that monitors and configures their WiFi network, for example the NMS; I’d say take a look around. Every (and I do mean every) vendor-provided NMS I’ve ever used has severe problems at any sort of scale and comes with a huge Op & CapEx. Even ones that start off with the best intentions, eventually suffer the same fate as vendors “bolt on” functionality to turn it into a “Swiss army knife of crap”. So, what are operators to do? Write their own software to consume the data & configure the network elements? Well…yes if you can, or utilize OSS alternatives out there. It takes time, effort & in many ways, I see the role of the “network engineer” being altered to accommodate for this.
    Without rambling too much, I’d say if you’re a small shop, chances are the vendor-provided ‘magic’ works fine for you; however if you operate any sort of large-scale deployment (yours, mine, etc.) I say consider that code quality is about priority, practice and resourcing. I think it’s ‘difficult’ to expect vendors to provide stable/quality code, while racing to be “all things to all people”. Also, if you expect all of the above from your WiFi Network vendor, then expect to be ‘locked in’ to that vendor. Nothing is more powerful to a customer than the ability to go elsewhere. This is why I’m behind projects like Openconfig.net. It’s time for Operators (you & me) to tell vendors “what we want”, not wait for them to tell us “what we need”. And if they don’t provide “what we want”; we actually have the realistic ability to move on.
    So…let’s start discussing “what we want!”.

    Reply
  3. tellmemor

    Lee,
    Have you seen this video about code quality and testing? From your blogroll a couple years ago:

    If they mean it, might explain something about market share trends.

    Reply

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