While there is no question that supply chain issues have emptied the whole toolbox into our collective gears, upending the most well-laid plans, this doesn't have to be the whole story: there is a silver lining to be found if you look for it.
It’s true that most operational and steady-state plans and projects are proceeding slowly or have completely been ground to a halt, but that does not mean nothing can be done! To be clear, the impact to our efforts is severe in terms of standard lifecycle and equipment refreshes, as well as net-new deployments to new locations and centers, but this is precisely where the golden opportunity lies.
Architecture Opportunity is Knocking
In “normal” times, from year to year, budgets fluctuate up and down, projects vary in scope and direction, but the invariant is time—always fixed and never enough. One of the most common side effects of this is the concessions and compromises that must be made, prioritizing and paring back until the various projects and efforts fit within the constraints of time, budget and resources.
In the same way that an organic biological system prioritizes functions and redirects resource allocations in times of scarcity (making calculated sacrifices in the process), organizations must also prioritize where resources are allocated and where they are not when the harsh reality of finite time and resource constraints assert themselves. All too often, the first of these calculated sacrifices to be made is the architecture function, role or practice.
From an operational perspective, this is perfectly reasonable and understandable: architecture is not strictly necessary to operating your business in the short term, but it does provide significant value (or cost in its absence) to the business over the longer term.
This is where the supply chain crisis has given you a gift—the gift of “bonus” time! You still have budget, but you can't get any hardware to run your typical project cycle, so what are you to do?
Carpe Diem! (Carpe Architecture?)
Today is the day that nobody ever thought would come: the day when all those things that are on “the list” can begin to be addressed. Every team has a list, even a mental one, about things that they know need to be fixed, could be done better, or ideas for improvements that could be of great value to the organization above and beyond just keeping the boat afloat!
In addition to all those challenges that are known to you, there are several key strategic efforts that should be actively underway in every company at present. Some of the more critical are listed below. I cannot overstate that these are not 5-year horizon forward-looking slide decks; these are efforts that will make a competitive difference to your business now with an impact on your operations and revenue for years to come.
This is the foundational architecture document (artifact in architecture speak) that serves as the high-level view of where you are headed in the next 3-5 years. This is developed based on an understanding of the strategic initiatives and priorities of your business counterparts, and your understanding of the IT landscape, emerging technologies and developing methodologies. This is where IT can be a force multiplier for the company and make a meaningful impact on the overall business.
This document provides organizations with an overview of the planned initiatives, guiding principles and the types of services and capabilities that will be enabled with a target timeline. Think of this as the corporate GPS, helping everyone to understand where you are going and how you are going to get there.
I know, I know, I still groan slightly to myself even writing that after more than 25 years of planning for IPv6. Honestly, I don't know how we are still referring to it as IPv6 at this point when we should be up to IPX at least! (A nerd joke for those of you who have been around for a while.)
But more seriously, the wait is finally over. This is the reality now, and it is likely far more prevalent than most think or realize. It has been ubiquitous for mobile carriers for years and is common with major Broadband and other service providers. IPv6 is becoming more standard and integral with public cloud providers and is supported in all major network equipment, Linux distros and even native in Windows! Under the hood, most major operating systems and browsers implement "Happy Eyeballs" where DNS names are resolved for both IPv4 and IPv6, and IPv6 is given preference if it is available for increased performance.
Motivating the need for a migration to IPv6 are some compelling events, such as ARIN running out of public IPv4 blocks to assign in 2015 and the challenge of IPv4 continuing to scale in a world of 8 billion people and nearly twice as many mobile phones and IoT devices. Further, the US government has mandated that 50% of IP-enabled assets on Federal networks operate in IPv6-only environments by the end of FY 2024, and at least 80% of IP-enabled assets on Federal networks operate in IPv6-only environments by the end of FY 2025.
There are some positives to IPv6 that make it attractive, as well, such as having globally unique addresses for all devices (no more collisions during M&A), eliminating NAT and all its incantations and improving QoS and multicast capabilities.
Realistically, it comes down to IPv6 being an inevitability: it is going to happen, so why not be proactive and start this process on your terms and timeline?
Automation and Integration
If you have not already automated your network provisioning and operations at a minimum, this really needs to be your top priority. After years (decades, really) of wanting and needing something better, these capabilities now exist and are mature enough for production use whether you have 10 network devices or 125,000.
There is no longer value in being the “CLI jockey.” Where keyboard and CLI speed were once regarded as a mark of distinction and expertise, now it is simply inefficient and highly error-prone. There is a better way—in fact, there are several better ways—specifically for your environment and requirements.
Network equipment vendors differentiate themselves in the market with compelling capabilities above and beyond network automation and orchestration, such as predictive failure detection, optimization suggestions and excellent integrations with other IT systems.
There are other vendor-neutral or more abstract solutions, such as Ansible, that require a bit more work on your part, but may offer additional or different integrations and flexibility in more of an Infrastructure as Code (IaC) approach where systems, network, application and security can be packaged, automated, orchestrated and tested for discreet delivery via a pipeline, with your deterministic state stored in a repository for version control and visibility in a shared responsibility model.
There are so many options here, but the fundamental takeaway is that you absolutely must transition from managing individual devices by hand to an automated system that allows for templating and standardization and centralized policy, while removing the operator from directly programming systems. This will yield massive efficiency gains in your routine changes, change management, and daily troubleshooting; greatly simplify audits; and drastically reduce outages due to human error.
This will provide meaningful and valuable benefits to your business in reliability and availability, returning to you a chunk of time you never knew you had! Use it today for better purposes, with a focus on higher-value strategies to enable your business owners to succeed.
Continue reading the second part of this blog series for more tips that will make a competitive difference to your business.