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Understanding Iatrogenics to get to the “Upside Zone” for IT Infrastructure

If you’ve read Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s Anti-Fragile, or are somehow involved in medicine, you are likely familiar with the term, iatrogenics. Essentially, iatrogenic disease is the unintended consequences of medical interventions, like the negative side effects of a prescribed drug.

In short, it is foolish to undertake any medical treatment without understanding the balance of the potential benefit from the treatment against the potential harm of the iatrogenics. This seems like a common-sense cost/benefit equation, yet still many people endure harm (or even die) to treatments that at best would have had minimal positive impact without the negative iatrogenic effects.

Iatrogenics exist in IT Infrastructure as well. IT practitioners need to always be wary about supposed new capabilities and technologies and weigh them carefully against the downside of potential risks.

We often find that many customers, often innately, view new technologies as 100% downside risk and then look to see if there is any potential upside that could overcome that; this is an impossible hurdle to overcome. Of course as passionate startup technology vendors we believe our products are “all upside” without any risk or downside potential. Often neither are true. Vendors need to better architect products to minimize risk by learning from the past while opening up new capabilities to th customer. And customers need to truly take stock of their existing technology risk and what, if any, potential upside they have access to. In looking at this upside, it is also important for IT shops not to confuse “it ain’t broke” with “it is working well” — and to understand that small measured downside risk can often unleash vast improvements and capabilities in their service offerings to the business.

This is particularly true in the network sub-component of IT. Vendors, Plexxi included, bemoan the “stuck-in-the-mud” network engineering / operational professional who hugs her familiar CLI every day. She does this because she knows, from years of experience, that despite what vendors claim about unicorns and rainbows, the potential positive impact in her life from some new unproven technology must have much lower potential gain in order to outweigh potential negative impacts. So she goes on day after day, with management, operational, and troubleshooting mechanisms that are not necessarily “state of the art” – arduous, in fact — in exchange for protecting her business from that potential risk.

Yet networks have come a long way since the days of large scale “Black Swan” events like loop-induced meltdowns or fat finger inspired routing black holes. Yet many companies hold on to these risky network infrastructures that offer no upside other than “it ain’t broke,” all based on the premise of risk avoidance.

Newer network technologies have, in many cases, learned from the high-risk areas of legacy network and have either architected those risks out or created much more graceful handling of those conditions. So in many cases, if the solution is architected correctly, the downside risk has been capped, and new upside capabilities beyond “it ain’t broke” have been created.

At Plexxi, we examine this phenomena in 3 distinct zones of risk and benefit to the user:

There’s the “downside zone” where bugs or other risks created by the system can cause bad stuff to happen. It takes some care and thought, but it is not hard to design a system that doesn’t let you shoot yourself in the foot. It would not be prudent to assume that no bugs would ever exist, but at the very least you can minimize downside impact by closing risk areas like making cabling simple or ensuring critical configuration cannot be fat fingered.

The next zone is the “safety zone.” The safety zone comes from a system that is designed explicitly to leverage known good technologies / components, and to better handle user activities that would otherwise create downside risk. For example, in a Plexxi fabric, we leverage (like legacy networks) existing known good ASICs and protocols for communicating with other networks (“exo fabric”), and we completely remove the need for the user to configure protocols for internal fabric (“endo” fabric) communication, thereby drastically reducing and in some cases removing the possibility of user-inflicted meltdown.

The safety zone, however, doesn’t provide upside, it just provides “it ain’t broke” capabilities. In order for an IT shop to actually provide new business value, they also have to look at upside capabilities. This is provided by the “upside zone.” In a Plexxi fabric, there are distinct capabilities that are just not possible with legacy networks that ultimately allow the IT team to create business agility from the infrastructure.

The post Understanding Iatrogenics to get to the “Upside Zone” for IT Infrastructure appeared first on Plexxi.

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More Stories By Mat Mathews

Visionary solutions are built by visionary leaders. Plexxi co-founder and Vice President of Product Management Mat Mathews has spent 20 years in the networking industry observing, experimenting and ultimately honing his technology vision. The resulting product — a combination of traditional networking, software-defined networking and photonic switching — represents the best of Mat's career experiences. Prior to Plexxi, Mat held VP of Product Management roles at Arbor Networks and Crossbeam Systems. Mat began his career as a software engineer for Wellfleet Communications, building high speed Frame Relay Switches for the carrier market. Mat holds a Bachelors of Science in Computer Systems Engineering from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.