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An Operational Simplification Race is on to Displace CLI

June 6, 2012
at 9:31 pm PST

“Boiled frog syndrome” refers to a fable that when you put a frog in hot water, it jumps out.  However if you slowly heat up the water the frog is in, the frog will cook.

The number of features and associated CLI for networking equipment has increased gradually over the last 15+ years.  Each feature is valuable in its own right, but the weight of all CLIs, all OSs, and all variations of deployment cannot be internalized by any human.  The result: the concept of the über-CCIE is cooked.

The question is what displaces the CLI over time?  It is argued by “good enough” network vendors that this complexity isn’t necessary.  But considering most networking costs are operational costs, this argument can generally be discarded.

More articulate arguments are made by people who want to simplify overall network operations activities versus concentrating upon enhancements to CLI.   Businesses don’t want to manage individual boxes; they would love to shed this complexity.  Instead they would rather express their operational intents to their network, and let the network itself sort any box specific details.

Sorting the details here is a very fertile ground for new networking technologies.  SDN, Autonomic Networking, OpenFlow, FEX, and other concepts are all in competition for mind share.   What do these technologies have in common?  Each establishes protocols where groups of network elements can be managed from one location, simplifying the Operator’s experience by reducing the number of elements which need direct configuration.  I.e., they emphasize Machine-to-Machine communications to reduce human (CLI) configuration.

Which of these technologies will win?  This question will be explored in future entries of this blog.  But there are some rules of thumb which can be generally applied:

  • Where is the authoritative copy of a piece of information?
  • How do you minimize the number of types of boxes in a network?
  • Where are controllers actually valuable, and where can federations of equipment provide the same function?
  • How much and how brittle is the integration needed to make a system work to some useful end?

Buzz word history is littered with failures here.  Don’t forget the lessons of the failed Policy Server market of the late 2000s.  The initial winners of the network operations simplification game will be systems vendors who are able to allow less technical enterprise operators to express intent towards the full set of their network equipment without additional human operations required.  The long term winners will be those who are able to generalized and grow from successful beachhead market niches.

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