Infoblox was our second presenter on Day 2 of Tech Field Day 5. They came into the HP Executive Briefing Center and instead of firing up the overhead projector, they started pulling the whiteboard over to the center of the room. Once they got started, the founder and CTO, Stu Bailey, informed us that they would have zero slides. No slides? Yay! Here’s someone that was paying attention to Force 10 from Net Field Day. No slides, just a whiteboard and some really brilliant guys.
As I am sitting here typing this article, I’m listening to the audio of the presentation in the background. I think Stu is probably a very brilliant guy, and starting a company is one of the most challenging things a person can do. With that being said, I think Stu suffers from a problem I have from time to time: Resolution. I often tell stories to people and I misjudge the resolution of the information I’m imparting. My stories are utterly fascinating and I love giving out the little details and settings. However, my audience is less impressed with my story. They get distracted and lost waiting for me to wrap things up. I get caught up in the minutia and forget to tell the story. I freely admit that I have this problem, and I do my best to avoid it when I’m giving presentations. As I listen to the audio of the session, I’m reminded of this. I love history lessons more than anyone else in the world. In fact, I have the History Channel on my favorites list. However, in this kind of technical session with no slides to keep my focus, the firehose of the history of Infoblox is kind of overwhelming. Whiteboarding works really well when you are putting topics out there that your audience is going to ask questions about so you can demonstrate and expand topics on the fly. During a history lesson, many of the things that you are discussing are pretty much agreed upon by people, so you don’t have any real explanation to display. I think some of the people started tuning out since the what of Infoblox was getting lost in the why of Infoblox. Stu, if you want to help yourself for the next presentation, you need to hook your audience. Give us the problem up front in a couple of minutes. Let me try based on what I heard and saw:
In today’s world, network infrastructure is siloed and hard to manage. The number of people required to be involved in new system deployments and change management makes it difficult to coordinate these activities. In addition, the possibility exists that a misconfiguration or forgotten step could create downtime beyond expectations. What Infoblox is trying to bring to the table is the ability to automate these processes so that the deployment and management of the network and its associated services can be streamlined. Changes can be delegated to less skilled personnel so that the network is no longer entirely dependent on one person’s knowledge of a particular service or configuration. Infoblox allows you to concentrate on making your network run optimally through standard repeatable processes. Infoblox also allows you to see your network and service configurations at a glance.
Folks, that is Infoblox in a nutshell, at least as I see it. Infoblox draws all of your DHCP and DNS servers together into an automated database that allows you to make changes across your network and it’s services instantly without the need to make the changes individually. This would have been a great lead-in to the second part of the presentation, where we got to see how Infoblox works. Based on discussions I had with my networking and systems brethren, it appears that Infoblox is attacking the aspect of a network that doesn’t have standardized procedures for implementation and change management. In a mid-to-large size company, bringing a new DNS server online or implementing a branch office server are step-by-step processes that follow a detailed checklist. Once all the checks are made, the change or implementation is complete. Infoblox automates the checklist so that a few clicks can make those changes without the chance of missing a step. Whether or not your environment needs that kind of oversight is a question you have to answer for yourself. I can see applications where some or all of the features of Infoblox would be a godsend. To be honest, I’d really like to see it in action before I pass total judgement on the software itself. I just wish this message would have been put out there for us to digest as we investigated the whys of Infoblox. A history lesson explaining the need for each piece of Infoblox should have been tied back to an overview similar to the one above, where each piece was introduced. As the history of the individual pieces is revealed, they can be tied back to the relevant section of the overview. Think about it like a Chekov’s Gun for Presentations: The DNS IPAM seen in section two, minute one should first be seen no later that section one, minute two.
After the Infoblox presentation, the next product on the block was NetMRI. Now, I’ve heard of this product before. However, the last time I heard about it, the association was with Netcordia and Terry Slattery, CCIE #1026. As soon as I heard that Infoblox had purchased Netcordia and the NetMRI software, the sudden move of Terry to Chesapeake Netcraftsmen made a little more sense to me. NetMRI is a great tool and appears to be the heart of the Infoblox offerings upon which things like IPAM for DNS/DHCP and the Infoblox Grid use to make the network changes. Those familiar with NetMRI know that it allows you to collect statistics on your devices and monitor changes to the configurations of those devices. By leveraging the NetMRI tools into the Grid product, Infoblox allows you to monitor and make changes to a wide variety of devices as needed. This helps add more to their existing IPAM offerings.
If they really want to kill the market with this, they really need to drive home the need of IPAM and network configuration management to their customers. Most people are going to look at this and say, “Why do I need it? I can do everything with Windows tools or Excel spreadsheets.” That is the historical kind of thinking that has allowed networks to spiral out of control to the point where the need complex management tools to keep them running at peak efficiency. I’m sure Terry saw this when he created NetMRI and made it his mission to get this kind of thing put into the network devices. By adding this product to their portfolio, Infoblox needs to drive home the need for ALL devices to be managed and documented. If they can do that, I think they’re going to find their message much more succinct and the value and lot easier to present. I think you guys have a great product that is needed. You just have to let me know why I need it, not just why you made it.
Tech Field Day Disclaimer
Infoblox was a sponsor of Tech Field Day 5, and as such they were reponsible for a portion of my airfare and hotel accommodations. They did not ask for nor were they promised any kind of consideration in the writing of this article. Any and all of the opinions and analysis expressed herein are mine and mine alone.