It's Time For Network Engineers To Give Up Their "Sine Qua Non"

Zeus Kerravala
Principal Analyst, ZK Research
Silver Peak
Network Engineers

This blog post discusses how complexity in today's network engineering is not only the norm, but is also preferred over simplicity.

In the final 2009 season of the TV series Battlestar Galactica (the greatest show in history of TV), Admiral William Adama decides to let the fleet jump away and continue the search for Earth without him. Instead, Adama waits alone in a raptor with the hopes that the Cylon Basestar that President Laura Roslin is on jumps back to where he is. Why does he do this? Right before he leaves this ship, Adama has a conversation with a lawyer named Romo Lampkin where he professes that Roslin is his “sine qua non”.

The literal definition of the phrase is “without which there is nothing”, meaning that Adama just can’t exist without Roslin. It’s better to die looking for her than live his life without her. Even if he found Earth, what point does life have without his “sine qua non”?

Network engineers, too, have their own sine qua non, and that’s complexity. Many network engineers thrive on the complexity of networking. Earlier this month at the Wall Street High Performance Computing show, I had a conversation with Ryan Eavy, Executive Director of Architecture from the CME Group, where he told me that one of his key initiatives is to try and simplify the network. It’s a critical initiative, as the CME can’t become the agile business it needs to be with the network constructed the way it is. He also told me that many of the network engineers in his organization have been opposed to the concept of network simplification.

So why is this? Embracing network complexity seems about as crazy as sitting in deep space hoping that a friendly Cylon Basestar jumps into Dradis range. However, for network engineering, complexity has become not just the norm, but the preferred state of being.

I have to admit that during my network engineering days, I actually liked complexity as well. Complexity created a shroud of confusion over the network. The more complicated the network, the less transparent the shroud is and the more important the networking professional becomes. I remember cutting, editing and pasting CLI commands at a furious pace and having less knowledgeable engineers watching in amazement. It’s the network equivalent of being “in the zone”. Who needs a GUI when you can telnet it and type shortcuts at light speed? It creates some level of job protection and pays well. So who wouldn’t like it?

However, times are changing, and I believe its time for networking professionals to shed this legacy thinking and embrace simplicity for their own job survival. The digitization of business is a very real trend and it’s enabling organizations to change directions faster than ever before. In this digital era, innovation and agility will define the new winners and losers.

Hanging on to complexity with the thought that it creates job security will eventually backfire. The role of the engineer is shifting, and the network needs to be the enabler of new services that can help the organization leapfrog the competition. New skill-sets are needed such as analytics, architectural design, programming skills, and cross-domain prowess. Engineers that are stuck in the past won’t be able to build these new skills and will eventually be considered dinosaurs, like PBX administrators and mainframe managers.

Make no mistake, the digital business era requires new IT skills, and the only way to build these skills is to simplify the network and automate many of the repetitive tasks that consume so much time. It’s time for change and time to break the status quo that is complexity.

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