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The right tool for the job

This last weekend I set a toilet, replaced five faucets, and put together the beginnings of a workbench. No, I’ve not resorted to working in “the trades,” to make a living — I’ve been slowly but surely finishing and refashioning our “country house” to better accommodate the time we spend “in the country.” One of the faucets, and the toilet, were set in a new bathroom; the pipes had been stubbed up but not finished — which means there were no valves. After the adventure of finding the main water cutoff for the house (it’s buried under about three inches of dirt along one side of the foundation), I had to cut off the plugs and install valves.

The pipes in the country house are PEX. So are the pipes in the house we just moved from. In fact, so are the pipes in the house in Raleigh we just moved to. Odd thing, that — three houses, in different places, at different price levels, and they all use PEX piping. In fact, walking through some random retail store last week, I noticed they had PEX stub outs in a bathroom there, too.

Imagine walking into an apartment and finding one sort of pipe, a house and finding another, and a retail store and finding yet another. It would mean the plumber has to carry separate tools and supplies for each job — that a different set of skills is needed for each type of building. If I were a plumber, I’d object about now — water is water, and waste is waste. Why waste time and energy using different sorts of pipe in every building?

And yet… Isn’t this what we do in the networking industry all the time? Someone asked me this week, “will MPLS ever see wide deployment in the Enterprise market?” My natural, ingrained response to this type of question has been set for many years: what is an “enterprise” network, anyway? It’s all IP packets, why do we really need 5,987 different kinds of pipe?

We seem to have two different answers. The first is, “well, we can do it, so we should do it.” The second is, “this is for that, and that is for the other.” The first answer is, of course, just flat silly — but all too common in the IT world.

The second answer? Examples abound.

“This is the data center, that is the WAN. In the data center, we use VxLAN, in the WAN, we use MPLS.” So you’re willing to pay a chip maker to build silicon around replacing one header with another just so you can say, “I didn’t use a WAN technology in the data center?” Really?

Or perhaps we should discuss some of the convoluted designs I’ve seen entirely premised on the idea that MPLS is not an “enterprise” technology, and therefore cannot be used in this “enterprise” network because it’s an enterprise. “We’ll just build a full mesh of GRE tunnels and run OSPF on separate routers at the end points so we can put the right traffic into the tunnels and…”

A note to network engineers everywhere: Stop it.

Just cut it out, okay? There is water, and there are pipes. Sure, they use special plumbing in high rise buildings (think about how you get water into a faucet on the 50th floor), just like there is special plumbing in a large cloud or content provider network. And, of course, you can decide to live in the high rise — it’s a perfectly logical choice for many people, just like it’s a perfectly logical choice for a lot of businesses to “live in the cloud.” But most networks are not cloud provider networks (which, by the way, are normally quite boring in the real world — probably more boring than your average enterprise network if you want to know the truth), just as 99% of the buildings in the world aren’t high rises.

As Greg Ferro likes to say, “You are not a special snowflake.”

This entire “service provider/enterprise/data center/WAN” argument ad nauseam has driven me crazy for years. In fact, when we first started building the CCDE and the CCAr (around 2002, if you want to know how long that little project took), one of the underlying statements the original “gang of seven” made was — we’re not going to separate out “enterprise design” and “service provider design.”

There is no such thing as “enterprise technology.” There is no such thing as “service provider technology.” There is just technology. The next time you’re knee deep in a discussion about which technology to use and why, remember this one simple point.

There is water, and there are pipes.

Define the job. Use the right tool for the job. Finish the job.

Simple.

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