It’s time for network managers to do things the easy way

November 29, 2012

As the network becomes more critical, managing it will have to become less complicated.

There may be nothing more mystical or intimidating in corporate IT than the Cisco CLI used to configure and manage the company’s switches and routers. Those who have mastered it use a combination of shortcuts, homegrown tools, scripts and other techniques to complete even the simplest of tasks. Those who haven’t struggle for hours looking through Cisco Press books and scouring Cisco’s support web page for configuration help. This is one of the reasons the CCIE is maybe the most revered industry certification. These are the gurus who make Cisco networks go.

Prior to being an analyst, this was my life. I’ve personally deployed and configured thousands of Cisco devices over the years and lived and died with the CLI. I had a laptop filled with configurations that I could take, tweak and paste into a router or a switch and get a network up and running quickly. However, troubleshooting in this type of environment was tough. We were often fighting multiple fires, would try and make changes on the fly, and if we couldn’t figure it out, we’d just type “reload” and start over.

This sounds OK in principle, but there is a dark side to CLI as well. I knew this then but didn’t really want to admit it. The steep learning curve of CLI often means that even the simplest tasks need to be done by the “Cisco guy” (or gal) within corporations. This individual or few individuals are often extremely busy and make changes on the fly that go undocumented. Also, problems are often solved without a full understanding of what the real problem is so one configuration change begets another and another, creating a string of changes that’s hard to follow after the fact.

This is one of the reasons that the largest cause of network downtime, 37% to be exact, is from human error (according to ZK Research). This was not ideal but was not overly harmful to organizations a decade ago when the network was really the best effort resource that was used for Web browsing and few corporate applications. Today, everything is network dependent. In fact, mobile and cloud computing are both network-centric compute models, meaning the quality of the network has a huge impact on user experience.

Read more….