It’s January 1 again. The last 365 days have been fascinating for sure. The road to recovery doesn’t always take the straightest path. 2021 brought some of the the normal things back to us but we’re still not quite there yet. With that in mind, I wanted to look back at some of the things I proposed last year and see how they worked out for me:
Bullet Journaling: This one worked really well. When I remembered to do it. Being able to chart out what I was working on and what I needed to be doing helped keep me on track. The hardest part was remembering to do it. As I’ve said before, I always think I have a great memory and then remember that I forgot I don’t. Bullet journaling helped me get a lot of my tasks prioritized and made sure that the ones that didn’t get done got carried over to be finished later. I kind of stopped completely at the end of the year when things got hectic and I think that is what led me to feeling like everything was chaotic. I’m going to start again for 2022 and make sure to add some more flair to what I’m doing to make it stick for real this time.
More Video Content: This one was a mixed bag. I did record a full year of Tomversations episodes as well as the Rundown and various episodes of the On-Premise IT Roundtable podcast. The rest of my plans didn’t quite come to fruition but I think there’s still a spot for me to do things in 2022 to increase the amount of video content I’m doing. The reason is simple: more and more people are consuming content in video form instead of reading it. I think I can find a happy medium for both without increasing the workload of what I’m doing.
More Compelling Content: This was the part I think I did the most with. A considerable number of my posts this year were less about enterprise IT technical content and more about things like planning, development, and soft skills. I spent more time talking about the things around tech than I did talking about the tech itself. While that does have a place I wonder if it’s as compelling for my audience as the other analysis that I do. Given that my audience has likely shifted a lot over the last decade I’m not even sure what people read my blog for any longer. Given the number of comments that I get on IPv6 posts that were written five or six years ago I may not even be sure who would be interested in the current content here.
Okay, 2021 was a mixed bag of success and areas for improvement. My journaling helped me stay on task but I still felt a lot of the pressure of racing from task to task and my grand ideas of how to create more and do more ultimately fell away as things stayed busy. So, where to go from here?
More Analytical Content: Some of the conversations I’ve had over the year remind me that I have a unique place in the industry. I get to see a lot of what goes on and I talk to a lot of people about it. That means I have my own viewpoint on technologies that are important. While I do a lot of this for work, there are some kinds of analysis that are better suited for this blog. I’m going to spend some time figuring those out and posting them here over the year to help create content that people want to read.
Saying No to More Things: Ironically enough, one of the things I need to get better at in 2022 is turning things down. It’s in my nature to take on more than I can accomplish to make sure that things get done. And that needs to stop if I’m going to stay sane this year. I’m going to do my best to spread out my workload and also to turn down opportunities that I’m not going to be able to excel at doing. It may be one of the hardest things I do but I need to make it happen. Only time will tell how good I am and turning people down.
Getting In Front of Things: This one is more of a procedural thing for me but it’s really important. Rather than scrambling at the last minute to finish a script or get something confirmed, I’m going to try my hardest to plan ahead and make sure I’m not racing through chaos. With all the events I have coming up, both work and personal, I can’t afford to leave things to the last minute. So I’m going to be trying really hard to think ahead. We’ll see how it goes.
My January 1 post is mostly for me to keep myself honest over the year. It’s a way for me to set goals and stick to them, or at the very least come back to the next January 1 and see where I need to improve. I hope that it helps you a bit in your planning as well!
Have you tried to order networking gear recently? You’re probably cursing because the lead times on most everything are getting long. It’s not uncommon to see lead times on wireless access points or switch gear reaching 180 days or more. Reports from the Internet say that some people are still waiting to get things they ordered this spring. The prospect of rapid delivery of equipment is fading like the summer sun.
Why are we here? What happened? And can we do anything about it?
Fewer Chips, More Air
The pandemic has obviously had the biggest impact for a number of reasons. When a fabrication facility shuts down it doesn’t just ramp back up. Even when all the workers are healthy and the city where it is located is open for business it takes weeks to bring everything back online to full capacity. Just like any manufacturing facility you can’t just snap your fingers and get back to churning out the widgets.
The pandemic has also strained supply chains around the world. Even if the fabs had stayed open this entire time you’d be looking at a shortage of materials to make the equipment. Global supply chains were running extremely lean in 2019 and exposing one aspect of them has created a cascade effect that has caused stress everywhere. The lack of toilet paper or lunchmeat in your grocery store shows that. Even when the supply is available the ability to deliver it is impacted.
The supply chain problem also belies the issue on the other side of the shipping container. Even if the fabs had enough chips to sell to anyone that wanted them it’s hard to get those parts delivered to the companies that make things. If this were simply an issue of a company not getting the materials it needed to make a widget in a reasonable time there wouldn’t be as much issue. But because these companies make things that other companies use to make things the hiccups in the chain are exacerbated. If TSMC is delayed by a month getting a run of chips out, that month-long delay only increases for those down the line.
We’ve got issues getting facilities back online. We’ve got supply chains causing problems all over the place. Simple economics says we should just build more facilities, right? The opportunity costs of not having enough production around means we have ample space to make more of the things we need and profit. You’re right. Companies like Intel are bringing new fabs online as fast as they can. Sadly, that is a process that is measured in months or even years. The capacity we need to offset the disruption to the chip market should have been built two years ago if we wanted it ready now.
All of these factors are mixed into one simple truth. Without the materials, manufacturing, or supply chain to deliver the equipment we’re going to be left out in the cold if we want something delivered today. Just in Time inventory is about to become Somewhere in Time inventory. We’re powerless to change the supply chain. Does that means we’re powerless to prevent disruption to our planning process?
We may not be able to assemble networking gear ourselves to speed up the process but we are far from helpless. The process and the planning around gear acquisition and deployment has to change to reflect the current state of the world. We can have an impact provided we’re ready to lead by example.
Procure NOW: Purchasing departments are notorious for waiting until the last minute to buy things. Part of that reasoning is that expenditures are worth less in the future than right now because those assets are more valuable today gaining interest or something. You need to go to the purchasing department and educate them about how things are working right now. Instead of them sitting on the project for another few months you need to tell them that the parts have to be ordered right now in order for them to be delivered in six or seven months. They’re going to fight you and tell you that they can just wait. However, we all know this isn’t going to clear up any time soon. If they persist in trying to tell you that you need to wait just have them try to go car shopping to illustrate the issue. If you want stuff by the end of Q1 2022, you need to get that order in NOW.
Preconfigure Things However You Can: If you’re stuck waiting six months to get switches and access points, are you going to be stuck waiting another month after they come in to configure them? I hope that answer is a resounding “NO”. There are resources available to make sure you can get things configured now so you’re not waiting when the equipment is sitting on a loading dock somewhere. You need to reach out to your VAR or your vendor and get some time on lab gear in the interim. If you ordered a wireless controller or a data center switch you can probably get some rack time on a very similar device or even the exact same one in a lab somewhere. That means you can work on a basic configuration or even provision things like VLANs or SSIDs so you’re not recreating the wheel when things come in. Even if all you have is a skeleton config you’re hours ahead of where you would be otherwise. And if the VAR or vendor gives you a hard time about lab gear you can always remind them that there are other options available for the next product refresh.
Minimum Viable Functionality: All this advice is great for a new pod or an addition to an existing network that isn’t critical. What if the gear you ordered is needed right now? What if this project can’t wait? How can you make things work today with nothing in hand? This is a bit trickier because it will require duplicate work. If you need to get things operational today you need to work with what you have today. That means you may have to salvage an old lab switch or pull something out of production and reduce available ports until the gear can arrive. It also means you’re going to have to backup the old configs, erase them completely (don’t forget about the VLAN database and VTP server configurations), and then put on the new info. When the new equipment comes in you’re going to have to do it all over again in reverse. It’s more work but it leads to things being operational today instead of constantly telling someone that it’s going to be a while. If you’re a VAR that’s doing this for a customer, you’d better make it very clear this is temporary and just a loan. Otherwise you might find your equipment being a permanent addition even after everything comes in.
The chip shortage is one of those things that’s going to linger under the best of circumstances. We’re going to be pressed to get gear in well into 2022. That means delayed projects and lots of arguing about what’s critical and what’s not. We can’t fix the semiconductor sector of the market but we can work to make sure that the impact felt there is the only one that impacts us right now. The more we do ahead of time to make things smooth the better it will be when it’s finally time to make things happen. Don’t let the lack of planning on the part of the supply chain sour your outlook on doing your role in networking.