I know this is a technical blog, but I’ve always agreed with those that believe the best way to deliver a message is through a story. As imaginative and creative as I feel I can sometimes be, writing fiction just isn’t one of my strong points. So, rather than tell you an original story of my own I’m going to relate to you the story of The Man in the White Suit, in the hope it will get my message across. Some of you could be as old as (or older than) me and remember the black and white film (from 1951). This story shook my foundations when I saw it as a young boy and understood its implications. Today, I hope to use it to support the friends I haven’t made yet and perhaps give you all a fresh perspective on our industry and its direction today.
The story centres around a character called Sidney Stratton, a research chemist who tries and eventually succeeds in inventing a fibre which never wears out and which also repels dirt. The fibre is used to make a suit worn by Stratton in most of the film; it is bright white as the fibre cannot be dyed. Initially hailed as a genius, his life is soon put in danger as mill owners (this was the 50’s you know) and trade unions alike begin to understand the implications of his discovery and its likely devastating future impact on their business and livelihoods.
I’m no longer the naïve and relatively simple thinking boy who watched that film many years ago, and I certainly have a more sophisticated understanding of “how the world works.” But its message and commentary still resonate with me today. I’ve seen my fair share of revolutions, financial crashes, international crisis and social change. As a teenager in the UK during the 80’s, I watched as the UK Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher tore apart the industries (and trade unions) of old and reshaped a nation. We are mostly adaptable, new work replaces the old, and the world is normally a better place for the majority. Perhaps change isn’t so bad; it’s progress.
Talking of which, I don’t know about you, but I’ve found the networking field pretty stale for a number of years. To keep myself interested, I’ve focussed on load balancing, application delivery and similar subjects. I’m sure others find similar ways to make networking more interesting, specialising in security or voice perhaps. However, the more I’ve learned about application level technologies such as HTTP, web services and APIs and what’s possible with a good load balancer through proxying and programming, the more I’ve struggled to understand why nothing seems to have changed or gotten any easier (quite the opposite with ITIL, etc.) in this field. The technology, the protocols and the capability have been around for years – many years. Compared to most other sectors of the IT industry, the rate of development and change has been staggeringly low.
What might benefit the network professional certainly isn’t seen of benefit by big business. No one seems to want to fix what’s broken or truly improve our lot – certainly not the large dominant industry players or even the academics and standards bodies. It’s probably unfair to suppose it’s all about greed, self-preservation and maintaining the status quo…but then, perhaps it is? We’re all losing right now whatever the reasons.
Personally, I’d prefer steady, incremental change to something like the painful, sometimes brutal revolution of Thatcher’s, but no change – that I can’t stand. Thanks to a growing minority, our industry is finally changing, looking fresh and feeling exciting; it’s in the news and buzzing. Despite all your weariness about SDN and the coming loss of the cosy contentment of your vendor’s comfort blanket, I think now is a great time to be in networking, and I for one embrace the coming change. I won’t fear The Man in the White Suit. I just hope he makes it.
I plan to give you an idea of what should and could be possible today (but is actually network fiction) in future posts. In doing so, I hope to whet your appetite and ignite your enthusiasm once again for networking technology…and for change.
-Some thoughts on SDN and virtualisation’s effects on the employment market can be found here: You’ve Changed – SDN’s Casualties