Back In The Saddle Of A Horse Of A Different Color

I’ve been asked a few times in the past year if I missed being behind a CLI screen or I ever got a hankering to configure some networking gear. The answer is a guarded “yes”, but not for the reason that you think.

Type Casting

CCIEs are keyboard jockeys. Well, the R&S folks are for sure. Every exam has quirks, but the R&S folks have quirky QWERTY keyboard madness. We spend a lot of time not just learning commands but learning how to input them quickly without typos. So we spend a lot of time with keys and a lot less time with the mouse poking around in a GUI.

However, the trend in networking has been to move away from these kinds of input methods. Take the new Aruba 8400, for instance. The ArubaOS-CX platform that runs it seems to have been built to require the least amount of keyboard input possible. The whole system runs with an API backend and presents a GUI that is a series of API calls. There is a CLI, but anything that you can do there can easily be replicated elsewhere by some other function.

Why would a company do this? To eliminate wasted effort. Think to yourself how many times you’ve typed the same series of commands into a switch. VLAN configuration, vty configs, PortFast settings. The list goes on and on. Most of us even have some kind of notepad that we keep the skeleton configs in so we can paste them into a console port to get a switch up and running quickly. That’s what Puppet was designed to replace!

By using APIs and other input methods, Aruba and other companies are hoping that we can build tools that either accept the minimum input necessary to configure switches or that we can eliminate a large portion of the retyping necessary to build them in the first place. It’s not the first command you type into a switch that kills you. It’s the 45th time you paste the command in. It’s the 68th time you get bored typing the same set of arguments from a remote terminal and accidentally mess this one up that requires a physical presence on site to reset your mistake.

Typing is boring, error prone, and costs significant time for little gain. Building scripts, programs, and platforms that take care of all that messy input for us makes us more productive. But it also changes the way we look at systems.

Bird’s Eye Views

The other reason why my fondness for keyboard jockeying isn’t as great as it could be is because of the way that my perspective has shifted thanks to the new aspects of networking technology that I focus on. I tell people that I’m less of an engineer now and more of an architect. I see how the technologies fit together. I see why they need to complement each other. I may not be able to configure a virtual link without documentation or turn up a storage LUN like I used to, but I understand why flash SSDs are important and how APIs are going to change things.

This goes all they way back to my conversations at VMunderground years ago about shifting the focus of networking and where people will go. You remember? The “ditch digger” discussion?

 

This is more true now than ever before. There are always going to be people racking and stacking. Or doing basic types of configuration. These folks are usually trained with basic knowledge of their task with no vision outside of their job role. Networking apprentices or journeymen as the case may be. Maybe one out of ten or one out of twenty of them are going to want to move up to something bigger or better.

But for the people that read blogs like this regularly the shift has happened. We don’t think in single switches or routers. We don’t worry about a single access point in a closet. We think in terms of systems. We configure routing protocols across multiple systems. We don’t worry about a single port VLAN issue. Instead, we’re trying to configure layer 2 DCI extensions or bring racks and pods online at the same time. Our visibility matters more than our typing skills.

That’s why the next wave of devices like the Aruba 8400 and the Software Defined Access things coming from Cisco are more important than simple checkboxes on a feature sheet. They remove the visibility of protocols and products and instead give us platforms that need to be configured for maximum effect. The gap between the people that “rack and stack” and those that build the architecture that runs the organization has grown, but only because the middle ground of administration is changing so fast that it’s tough to keep up.


Tom’s Take

If I were to change jobs tomorrow I’m sure that I could get back in the saddle with a couple of weeks of hard study. But the question I keep asking myself is “Why would I want to?” I’ve learned that my value doesn’t come from my typing speed or my encyclopedia of networking command arguments any more. It comes from a greater knowledge of making networking work better and integrate more tightly into the organization. I’m a resource, not a reactionary. And so when I look to what I would end up doing in a new role I see myself learning more and more about Python and automation and less about what new features were added in the latest OSPF release on Cisco IOS. Because knowing how to integrate technology at a high level is more valuable to everyone than just knowing the commands to type to turn the lights on.

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Don’t Touch My Mustache, Aruba!

dont-touch-my-mustache

It’s been a year since Aruba Networks became Aruba, a Hewlett-Packard Enterprise Company. It’s  been an interesting ride for everyone involved so far. There’s been some integration between the HPE Networking division and the Aruba teams. There’s been presentations and messaging and lots of other fun stuff. But it all really comes down to the policy of non-interference.

Don’t Tread On Me

HPE has done an admirable job of keeping their hands off of Aruba. It sounds almost comical. How many companies have acquired a new piece and then done everything possible to integrate it into their existing core business? How many products have had their identity obliterated to fit in with the existing model number structure?

Aruba isn’t just a survivor. It’s come out of the other side of this acquisition healthy and happy and with a bigger piece of the pie. Dominick Orr didn’t just get to keep his company. Instead, he got all of HPE’s networking division in the deal! That works out very well for them. It allows Aruba to help integrate the HPE networking portfolio into their existing product lines.

Aruba had a switching portfolio before the acquisition. But that was just an afterthought. It was designed to meet the insane requirements of the new Gartner Wired and Wireless Magic Quadrant. It was a product pushed out to meet a marketing need. Now, with the collaboration of both HPE and Aruba, the combined business unit has succeeded in climbing to the top of the mystical polygon and assuming a leading role in the networking space.

Could you imagine how terrible it would have been if instead of taking this approach, HPE had instead insisted on integration of the product lines and renumbering of everything? What if they had insisted that Aruba engineers, who are experts in their wireless field, were to become junior to the HPE wireless teams? That’s the kind of disaster that would have led to the fall of HPE Networking sooner or later. When good people get alienated in an acquisition, they flee for the hills as fast as their feet will carry them. One look at the list of EMC and VMware departures will tell you the truth of that.

You’re Very Welcome

The other thing that makes it an interesting ride is the way that people have reacted to the results of the acquisition. I can remember seeing how folks like Eddie Forero (@HeyEddie) were livid and worried about how the whole mess was going to fall apart. Having spoken to Eddie this week about the outcome one year later, he seems to be much, much more positive than he was in the past. It’s a very refreshing change!

Goodwill is something that is very difficult to replace in the community. It takes ages to earn and seconds to destroy. Acquiring companies that don’t understand the DNA of the company they have acquired run the risk of alienating the users of that solution. It’s important to take stock of how you are addressing your user base and potential customers regularly after you bring a new business into the fold.

HPE has done a masterful job of keeping Aruba customers happy by allowing Aruba to keep their communities in place. Airheads is a perfect example. Aruba’s community is a vibrant place where people share knowledge and teach each other how to best utilize solutions. It’s the kind of place that makes people feel welcome. It would have been very easy for HPE to make Airheads conform to their corporate policies and use their platforms for different purposes, such as a renewed focus on community marketing efforts. Instead, we have been able to keep these resources available to all to keep a happy community all around.


Tom’s Take

The title above is actually holds a double meaning. You might think it refers to keeping your hands off of something. But “don’t touch my mustache” is a mnemonic phrase to help people remember the Japanese phrase do itashimashite which means “You’re Welcome”.

Aruba has continued to be a leader in the wireless community and is poised to make waves in the networking community once more because HPE has allowed it to grow through a hands-off policy. The Aruba customers and partners should be very welcome that things have turned out as they have. Given the graveyard of failed company acquisitions over they years, Aruba and HPE are a great story indeed.