7 Things I Learned at Networking Field Day 7

As many PacketU readers know, I spent this week in San Jose, CA as a Networking Field Day 7 delegate. For those who are unfamiliar with Networking Field Day, it is a well-run GestaltIT event that is funded by vendor sponsorship. In turn, this sponsorship provides technology vendors with an opportunity to discuss their products and ideas with a body of delegates, which is comprised of technology leaders, bloggers and practitioners.

While attending presentations, I formed a mind-boggling amount of thoughts about the vendors, their products, and the direction of the industry in general. Over the next few weeks I plan to share some of those thoughts. Today, as I sit in my hotel room, I think about some very high level, general and personal things that I’ve learned this week. These thoughts have little to do with any particular vendor. However, I wanted to take the time to capture and share them with others.

What I Learned

1–There will be a lot of change in the next few years

Networking is poised for change. There’s a lot of different solutions and a lot of rhetoric, but this stuff IS going somewhere. Specifically, there is a DevOps movement that will change the face of networking and how IT interacts with business. There are a lot of factors that are playing into this, including virtualization, *the cloud*, and changing business demands. The big unknown is how the changes will happen, over what period they will occur and the methods that will rise to the surface and become the de facto standards. The protocols, processes and technologies are largely still up in the air. But the bottom line is that there is change in the future.

2–Some level of software development will be part of future networking rock stars

Although it may not be absolutely required, those that perform at the highest levels will need to understand how to map business requirements to the systems required (including the network, that can no longer siloed in a separate area). The ability to build systems that adapt together will be a significant investment but provide an even more significant payback. The diverse nature of business requirements leads me to the conclusion that much of this work will be customized using APIs and higher level programing languages such as Python.

3–Networks Can be made better by addressing low-level issues or by adding upper-layer recovery mechanisms

It is clear to me that we are using networks and dependent on them in ways that are far more significant than when the protocols were first implemented.  As such, we have found ways to make networks holistically more robust. Much of this robustness is achieved by adding recovery features (or protocols that expect and accept some level of failure) at a higher level. The result is an overall increase in complexity and reminds me somewhat of a discussion by a vendor regarding fragility at a previous Networking Field Day. So the questions are around how do we most appropriately address these issues and build robust networks for the critical demands that we place on them. I’ll be sharing some additional observations specific to this when I share opinions on the vendor presentations.

4–This industry is full of interesting companies and passionate people

This is my third trip to a Networking Field Day event and I have to say that I am in awe of some of the ideas that are coming out of our industry.  I had amazing conversations with people who I’d consider to be absolutely brilliant and been inspired by their leadership and the innovative approaches their organizations are bringing to the industry.

5–There’s lots of smarter people than me

The more I work in this industry, the more I realize how much I don’t know. The fellow Networking Field Day delegates were brilliant and gained an understanding of vendor offerings by asking complex and probing questions. The awesome thing about this is that we all have our strengths and weaknesses. Those who get that and don’t pretend to know everything can gain a lot of knowledge from an experience like Networking Field Day.

6–Choosing the best technology will be a continual challenge

A significant challenge for consultants for the next few years will simply be the lack of clear and consistent direction between vendors. Customers will likely need a significant amount of help navigating this landscape until the industry moves forward in standardization. Forecasting is necessary to avoid challenges that could surface when a vendor’s proprietary solution is abandoned or innovative startup organizations are acquired.

7–These types of events hold value from many perspectives

Events like Networking Field Day hold value to vendors by providing a platform and a sounding board to new products and ideas. As a delegate, my mind was stretched in different directions as I learned about different protocols and use cases that I might be able to leverage in the future. Even more interesting, at least to me, are the offline conversations that I had with other like-minded individuals and industry leaders. These conversations really opened my eyes to ways to approach the various challenges that many of us face.

Conclusion

This week at Networking Field Day 7 really expanded my mind. As I return to my regular job, I hope to be able to act upon much of what I’ve learned. As is apparent, the direction of networking is somewhat uncertain. However, it is a core dependency that enables businesses to function and thrive. Therefore, we certainly need to broaden our field of view while we continue to sharpen our individual areas of expertise.

Over the next few weeks, I will share much of the detail, perspective and opinions that I have formed of the sponsoring vendors and their products. This event was rich with information from industry leaders and I encourage everyone to watch the videos and stay tuned to future NFD7 articles.

Disclaimer: Travel and other associated expenses related to attending vendor sessions have been covered by the sponsoring vendors through GestaltIT. In some cases vendors may choose to provide delegates with marketing materials (cups, pens, tshirts, etc). Any deviation the site-wide disclaimer will be clearly noted at the end of the applicable article(s).

About Paul Stewart, CCIE 26009 (Security)

Paul is a Network and Security Engineer, Trainer and Blogger who enjoys understanding how things really work. With over 15 years of experience in the technology industry, Paul has helped many organizations build, maintain and secure their networks and systems.
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