I’ve been reading a few interesting articles about the changes in large networks, and how today’s networks don’t function well with old fashioned network topologies. When I finished reading, I sat back, and thought about how all that was being said applies almost exactly to corporate structures. It’s an interesting (and geeky) analogy, so let’s see if I can coalsce my thoughts here.
The articles that I mentioned (they’re linked at the end), had some common themes:
1. Traditional network topologies worked on a north-south pattern; all data flowed up and down a tree like network, from edge to core and back again. Networks were designed to efficiently move data, and STP helped avoid loops and made sure stuff kept moving.
2. Applications were welded to the servers. A server got set up, connected to the network, and then largely forgotten about (till something went wrong, anyway).
3. Storage used to be server specific. Even after the advent of SANs, storage was still quite tightly linked to a particular physical location and a particular physical server.
All this hummed happliy along for quite a long time. Life was good, stock valuations were up, and people wore shorts to work on Fridays. Of course, like all idyllic times, it couldn’t last. Virtualization poked its head into the picture, and messed everything up. Suddenly data was flowing in every direction; servers were jumping around from machine to machine, applications were moving from server to server.. heck no one even knew where the damn data was stored anymore. The happy little switches weren’t happy no more, oh no.
Things had to change, and indeed they are. Network fabrics are flattening out, and networks are not designed to assume data flows in fixed directions. Networks these days have to be dynamic, adapting rapidly to the changing data patterns.
So what’s all this got to do with a corporation? Naturally, you’ve spotted the parallels as well.
1. Companies worked on a siloed north south pattern. Different departments communicated up the network and then back down again. Yes, there were east west links, since people make friends (I know, weird, eh?), but the official channels of communication were up and down, not side to side.
2. Business fuctions were welded to departments/divisions/functional practices/whatever-you-want-to-call-em. A division got set up, connected to the rest of the company, and then largely forgotten about (till revenues were down, anyway).
3. Information used to be division specific. Each division knew its own area very well, but had little knowledge of the other areas.
Now, of course, things are changing. Very few companies (especially in IT) sell only products. Everyone pretty much has to talk to everyone else to figure stuff out, and the traditional corporate model is finding it hard to cope. People find workarounds to get stuff done, and many companies are realizing that they have to change how information flows inside the company. Some are doing a good job, some are wondering where the good times went..
The reason for the similarities between networks and companies is pretty simple. After all, we’re talking about transferring information in both cases. The nature of information (the content, the scope, and the amount) changes constantly, and causes everything else to change. There’s nothing new under the sun; I bet this has been happening since the first human bashed an animal on the head with a rock and went “hmmmm…”. It’s powerful too.. political systems, religions, and entire countries have come into being based on the effective dispersal of information.
May you live in interesting times. I know it’s supposed to be a Chinese curse, but aren’t all times interesting times for the people who live through them?