I noticed an interesting phenomenon at Interop, which sparked my theory on new network technologies. New network technology maturity and its adoption correlate directly to the five stages of loss: 1) denial; 2) anger; 3) bargaining; 4) depression; and 5) acceptance. For example, Interop break-out sessions on cloud and bring your own device (BYOD) now mostly seemed to be mainstream initiatives compared to other technologies, such as software defined network or network functions virtualized. In the mainstream initiative sessions, an aura of acceptance and even tinges of optimism reverberated throughout the room. Presenters spoke passionately and positively about their topics and reinforced the importance of: 

  • Teamwork. Courtney Kissler, Vice President of E-Commerce & Store Technologies at Nordstrom, shared with the audience that the new world is made up of a team of business product managers and mobile app and networking professionals, to name just a few groups working together under the initiative. There was the mentality that everyone is accountable and must work together as a team, helping each other to roll out a great application that will benefit the business.
  • Leadership.Terry Bradwell, AARP’s Executive Vice President and Chief Strategy Officer, presented on running IT as a business with a team of entrepreneurs who make up your value center. The tech-hardened audience was won over and one audience member asked how they could be business innovators and not step on the business. Terry said it starts from the top and it’s his (CIO) job to work with his business leader peers to help them understand what business value IT can deliver and for each business leader to get their teams on board.
  • Customers. While most of his presentation was around technology, George Stefanick, wireless network architect for Houston Methodist Hospital, started off highlighting the qualities of good engineers, which includes soft skills. He ended his presentation with an example of his putting the customer first when he gave a 13-year-old organ transplant patient his phone number and told her to call him if she had any wireless issues. For a young girl stuck in the hospital, the guest Internet connection was her (like many others) life line to the outside world and support; he wanted to make sure she had a great experience and that nothing prevented her from having one, because he knew her happiness had a direct coorelation to her health.

On the other end of the spectrum, a knife was needed to cut through the negativity and anger that lingered in the software defined network sessions. (This is not a blanket statement across all SDN and data center networking but a general feeling). I attended multiple sessions and kept hearing the words idiot and stupid come up in regard to vendors, business professionals, IETF, IEEE, application developers, customers, etc. Besides the audience laughing at those instances, I heard one audience member mumble, “Amen!”

Even though there are multiple reasons for this that I am sure I’ll hear about over Twitter, I feel the strongest reason is because SDN will significantly change the role and responsibilities of networking professionals; this means change and loss. Fundamentally the industry has shifted from denying the existence of SDN and has moved into the second stage, anger. Even though organizations can implement some SDN technology today, most networking organizations aren’t ready for it. Martin Casado, VMWare’s Chief Technology Officer of Networking, pointed out that people are the long pole in the tent for SDN adoption. First, some networking professionals need to work their way through the five stages of loss.

Networking professionals need to recognize this attitude and get to the acceptance stage as quickly as possible. I don’t mean to be preachy, but I’m worried about our segment. With technology moving at speed of packets, the chasm will get larger between networking professionals and other teams if we don’t adjust some of the attitudes. Can the right solution be implemented if networking professionals aren’t open to hearing other teams’ needs? During client engagements all the time, I hear from technology management professionals outside of networking organizations on how they don’t invite networking organizations to project kick-offs or they try to work around them, such as virtualization administrators investing in SDN overlays. Right or wrong, this is dangerous for technology management teams and the business!

I’m hoping next year at Interop I’ll receive more positive guidance from presenters like Ivan Pepelnjak and George Stefanick. For example, Ivan has written in his blogs and presented at multiple events about the idea that network complexity is directly related to poorly written applications. He has stressed the importance of educating the application developer, but he doesn’t suggest running in and telling the application developers their baby is ugly. He advises the audience to first do a favor or make some similar gesture so the developers understand you are there to help. He reinforces the value of teamwork, like George does with soft skills and customers. It’s simple advice we learned when we were toddlers that is easy to forget in times of grief, loss, and change. That being said, SDN adoption has a ways to go both from a technology and people standpoint.