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FCoE, Converging IT Teams, and… Penguins?

October 19, 2011
at 10:37 am PST

Recently flying on an airplane (which I’ve been doing a lot lately), I couldn’t help but notice the book the gentleman sitting next to me was reading.

Normally people tend to read, watch, or listen to something while on an airplane, so that wasn’t unusual, in-and-of itself. What was unusual was that this gentleman, obviously a professional businessman with grey hair and a many years of experience under his belt, was reading what appeared to be a children’s book about… penguins.

Now, I like penguins. In college I had the privilege of even working on a project that enabled me to get access into the penguin exhibit at the Roger Williams Zoo in Rhode Island (but that’s a story for another time). Let it suffice to say that I couldn’t help but notice.

But the fact that this was a children’s book, complete with large text and short sentences, also peaked my curiosity. Looking a little closer (and feeling guilty for peering over the guy’s shoulder to read more about it), I noticed that this wasn’t a children’s book at all.

“Excuse me,” I said. “What is that book you’re reading?”

He closed the cover and angled it so that I could see: Our Iceberg is Melting by John Kotter.

My first thought was that this was a book on Global Warming or something similar, but then I saw the subtitle: “Changing and succeeding under any conditions.”

“Is that a book on Change Management?” I asked.

He said that it was. “This has really helped my company through some difficult transitions,” he added.

“What do you do?” I asked.

“I work for a non-profit corporation,” he said. He didn’t look like he wanted to go into it in much greater detail, so I didn’t press. “I manage a large group of people who all are in this book.”

“Really?” I asked. “He wrote about your company?”

He smiled. “No, I just mean that he’s very good at grabbing the characters involved.” He started leafing through the pages and pointed to big colorful pictures of penguin characters.  “Whenever we have to handle change management, I can see exactly each person reflected in this story.”

Suddenly, he snapped the book shut and handed it to me. “Here, you can keep it.”

“What? Really?” I was shocked. You don’t normally see this kind of thing nowadays. “Are you sure?”

He smiled. “Sure, I’ll just pick up another copy at the office. Go ahead. It’s an easy read.”

So I did. The book, about 120 pages or so, and he was right. I finished the entire book in less than an hour, and I think I put it down only once. (Anyone who knows me knows how slow I read, so you know it’s an easy read if I can get through 120 pages in an hour!)

Now, you may be wondering why I’m spending so much time talking about this book that some stranger gave me on an airplane somewhere over New York. The reason is because as I’ve been going around the world to talk about convergence, consolidated I/O, FCoE and converged networks, there is one issue that causes more grief and sleepless nights than any other:

How do you get the teams to work together?

As much as I would like to say that Cisco (or I) have a “foolproof” method for preventing mistakes, protecting control in every circumstances, and sitting server, networking, and storage teams down so that they all sing “Kum Ba Yah” in three-part harmony, I’d have a better chance of trying to reconcile Red Sox and Yankees fans (American baseball teams with a vicious rivalry, to international visitors to this blog).

In other words, “not likely.”

Cisco can provide you with incredible tools to help accomplish the goal, it’s true. The Nexus 7000 has Virtual Device Contexts, for example, that allows storage administrators to administer their environments without interference (or fear) from networking administrations who might have an overzealous moment with the configuration settings. Data Center Network Manager provides Role-Based Access Controls (RBACs) for identifying who has access to what with what privileges.

There are best practices and design guides to help, along with comprehensive troubleshooting guides in case things do go wrong.

Is it enough? In a word, not even close.

This is not a technological problem. This is a cultural problem, one that is just as unique to data center teams as there are data centers. There is no button to push, no software to install, no piece of hardware to buy that is going to suddenly make teams who haven’t even met each other start to suddenly become poker buddies.

There is a process that must be followed, steps that need to be taken. Teams must be managed with a goal in mind that is conducive to fulfilling the “promises and hype” of which the technology is capable. There needs to be dedication that is driven from the vision and those people who are responsible for seeing it come to fruition, no matter where they reside in the organization.

Ironically, there is almost no one that I’ve spoken with that doesn’t think that networks will eventually converge into a common infrastructure eventually. The timing for this, of course, is in dispute, but not the end vision.

It’s funny, then, how the mechanics of getting there are so easily dismissed, avoided, or put aside. Doing so is the emotional equivalent of sticking one’s head in the sand or stuffing fingers in the ears while singing “la-la-la-la” as loud as possible.

Cisco can provide you the tools, can add in the features you need to do this, and we’re continuing to improve upon these elements over time. But if you’re serious about capitalizing on what consolidation can provide -- not only in terms of the financial impact but also what it can do for your company -- then you should start to look beyond just the technical quick-fixes.

Ultimately, consolidation is more than just the wires, the boxes, the software. Converged networks means changing the way that you think about doing IT, and getting a head-start on the process will help you reap the rewards (maybe even over your competition!) and ensure that these changes actually stick.

I’m not saying that you should go out and buy the book, “Our Iceberg is Melting” but I will say that it definitely can help place things into perspective about the journey that lies before you. At the very least, you should not underestimate the process and the steps you need to take to ensure that you wind up successful.

Note: I have not met Dr. Kotter, he likely has no idea who I am, and in the interest of full disclosure there is absolutely no remuneration for mentioning it here (meaning, I received nothing for doing it). I simply read the book and saw a direct parallel to the questions that I have been asked over the past couple years with respect to consolidating teams.

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