I’ve often pondered about the stages of Network Deployment and Integration within companies – how a company progresses from the one stage of network complexity to the next because I’m often called to advise, develop or work during those progression in the design and implementation. If you work at enough different organisations you realise that they all companies operate in similar ways with similar problems and have similar adoption of Networking. From an IT infrastructure perspective, most organisations use the same basic service models ( and that’s why the same network hardware can work for all companies with minor variations ).
As a metaphor, networking provides the digital equivalent of the human nervous system which allows the myriad corporate organs to communicate, signal and co-operate. This, of course, leads to consideration of the psychological perception of Networking and what is role of the network in a corporate context.
In a recent blog, Alvaro Retana from HP (co-author of a number of outstanding textbooks from Cisco Press and other vendor independent books — he is also Cisco CCAr/CCDE etc) wrote a blog post that is similar to something in my “blog posts to finish” list where he takes Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and adapts it to how Networks are part of a corporate Hierarchy of Needs. So now is the time to dust it off and look at it again as a response.
About Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs
The fundamental premise behind Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs is that any human society or social grouping will move through similar phases of development from “basic physical needs” to “emotional fulfilment” that is, first is food and procreation, then moving through safety and into emotional and sociological development. In a seminal textbook he created this diagram:
A bit different
Alvaro proposes that the Network has the following hierarchy within any company in his blog HP Blogs – Network evolution: the Hierarchy of Networking Needs (image from there)
I’m not sure I agree with his representation because it focusses on just part of the marketplace. While it’s a viable map of service layers ( for the ITIL lovers out there¡ ), I don’t believe is accurately represents the progress of stages that a Network moves through over time for a the entire Network Industry since it leans heavily into Application level integration in the top three layers. The Community of Interest, Priority and Self-Optimisation are all focussed on managed application networking challenges. And the Infrastructure layer is almost minimised to an insignificant degree.
In my experience, most companies are still with reliable routing and acceptable security – they haven’t yet moved from basic survival in their IT infrastructures with routing and security to even consider adaptive, service-oriented or autonomous possibilities . While they aspire to more, the simple reality is quite different.
An OSI Model Hierarchy
It’s also true, that you can make almost any hierarchy work. Like all “soft sciences” such as psychology, there are few absolute frames of reference. For example, if you take the DOD model (which I’ve shown here with the OSI Model).
Then you could build a Hierarchy of Needs that maps the physical requirements and layers of services above that.
The nature of the this model is that it’s not progressive. A company doesn’t build a data center, then the network, and then servers. The reality is that all services are built at the same time, and each segment is developed after than. Therefore I discard this model as unworkable.
Perspective and Progression
Therefore I tend to a model that reflects that IT requirement at different levels. Small businesses and home users have very different requirements from a multinational corporation – but they all need networks.
Here are my criteria:
|Connectivity||Small businesses need simple connectivity. Home users need an Internet connection but not much else.|
|Requirement||Medium business need improved connectivity, better performance, good capabilities – in fact it’s a requirement that they have a network, they don’t really want to invest in IT but they have to. While they might have a full time IT person/s, they probably report to the accountant instead of a manager.|
|Dependent and Trusted||At some point, a company will move to a position of dependency. Email, Telephony, Document sharing and review, Accounting and Payroll become vital systems and the business is critically dependent on their IT infrastructure. The investment and management of the IT systems is led by middle manager who stills reports to the accountant.|
|Adaptable, Multi-Service||The Network is now supporting a range of IT systems that are vital to financial success including B2B, Hosted Services, Remote Access VPNs, IP Telephony as well as the core business apps for finance, business process, accounting and related support services. Organisation probably has a CIO or CTO to lead the effort.|
|Autonomous and Self Adapting||The “Holy Grail” of Networking that hasn’t arrived yet. There is some hope that OpenFlow might kickstart this phase but it’s too early to tell.|
The EtherealMind View
I feel that Alvaro’s hierarchy is a limited to large organisations, but his article claims a universal model. While it might be instinctive to lay out a model for large corporations because that’s who you think about, speak with and work for every day, but it is worth remembering that Networking is needed by everybody including the little people.
On the other hand, I don’t work with or for small businesses and I’m more than happy to take a Hierarchy of Needs that focusses of Enterprise and Large Corporates.
Put in more common parlance, Douglas Adams (Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy) is well known for his more succinct analysis of Maslow’s hierarchy that all societies when through three stages of civilisation — Survival, Inquiry and Sophistication.
He reduced this to three basic questions:
- How can we eat?
- Why do we eat?
- Where shall we have lunch?
And that final point is where the leading edge of Networking is today. Think of tools that deliver Orchestration and Automated Configuration such OpenFlow. Technologies such as L2MP, TRILL improve today’s networks, they don’t move us to the next phase of evolution.
Let me reduce the Network Hierarchy to something that Douglas Adams would like – Lets call EtherealMind’s Evolutionary Network Paradigm.
- When should we Network ?
- How much Network shall we have ?
- Which Network shall we use today ?