Fast Food, “Me Too” Technology
By Ken Salchow, Jr.
seems to be surprised anymore about living in our “Fast Food”
culture; we’re all pretty much used to getting drive-through
haircuts these days (those of you with hair left), but I’ve noticed
a lot more lately that I’m not getting that haircut at the barber.
Why is it that clothes are available at the electronics shop,
groceries at the clothing store and DVD’s at the grocery store; when
did this happen? I got distracted on my phone the other day while
filling up my car and ended up driving away with a new set of patio
furniture. The price was right, and who says impulse buying has
to be restricted to candy bars? Then I got to thinking (the
first indication which usually leads to one of these articles) and
realized that the technology industry is right there, keeping pace if
not leading the charge of this “me too” philosophy.
I used to
joke about the CGFC and BTM that I ordered for my Catalyst switch
chassis when I worked at Best Buy. That would be the Coffee
Grinding Feature Card and the Bagel Toasting Module for the
uninitiated. You could order a feature card or module for just
about everything else, so why not fries with that? I even tried
to turn in a feature request—only to learn that if you put all three
power supplies in, the BTM was an undocumented feature and it could at
least kept your coffee warm if it didn’t make it for you.
Amazon.com started out selling books and now, I believe, you can buy
houses and small third-world countries through them—complete with
live 3-D tours. Since when did everyone become an expert at
everything? And if they aren’t, then maybe we should be a
little concerned about what we buy and from whom.
One-Stop Shopping: Why has this happened you ask? Personally,
I think it is because those guys on Wall Street aren’t nearly as
good with their math as they pretend to be. A company can only
grow revenue in double-digit percentages quarter-over-quarter for so
long before they’ve pretty much exhausted every market they
participate in—so they have to go out and “diversify”.
Unfortunately, it also doesn’t take long until the “extra” has
little to do with their existing technology and core competencies.
This is what worries me.
my network vendor—the guys who have provided my physical
connectivity needs for years—think that they can really provide me
with application layer expertise? Hey, L7 - L3 = 4 layers to
climb. Please remember, we’re talking about people who still
mostly rely on a CLI because they’ve never figured out how to write
a decent GUI. Even if they buy the technology—once they try
integrating it, they inevitably mess it up. None of them so far
have even been that successful at implementing stateful, packet
inspection firewalls and that lies much closer to their expertise than
application layer flow-control and security. Usually, they
simply smack a new sticker on front, charge a higher price and call it
thing goes for my application vendors. I’d much rather that
they spent their time and energy putting out a product with less
”undocumented features” and security flaws than trying to build a
module to provide rate-shaping and policy-based routing within the
application. Being a long-time network guy, I can tell you that
we’d all be much happier if the development guys quit trying to
invent new protocols for every application they write and just stick
to making the thing behave nicely on the existing network; and a flow
diagram would be nice—I’m still waiting to see one from
development; ever; and I’d pass out first if I started holding my
then there is the holy grail of “me too” technology; the cell
phone. Is there anything that someone isn’t trying to get into
a handset the size of a matchbook? I wish these guys would
figure out that if it has enough screen real estate to be useful for
editing word documents—then it is too cumbersome to work as a phone;
and if it is slim and elegant enough to be a great phone—it sucks at
everything else. Until there is some great miracle break-through
like a “heads-up display” (HUD) built into my contact lenses—it
just doesn’t work for the general market. Just give me a
device that does a few things really well and I’ll learn to deal
with multiple devices.
digress; the question is—do we get the same value from a
“one-stop” shop that we get from vendors who specialize?
Let’s talk about that.
Value-Add: I had LASIK done about two years ago. At the time,
the prices were down to around $500/eye. I paid $2500/eye.
Why? Value add, my friend. I got life-time touch-ups for
one—but most importantly, I got an eye surgeon who had done more
surgeries in the previous six months than many of the surgeons (in my
area) had ever done. I appreciated the fact that he wouldn’t
do both eyes at the same time (having been a HA/Redundancy pundit for
years, it made sense to me). Maybe you want to take chances with
your eyes—and it might turn out just fine—but I wanted to do
everything I could to improve my chances. Experience and
track-record are intangibles, but they shouldn’t be dismissed as not
I look at
technology in the same way (and now without glasses, thank-you).
If we could rely on the network and application vendors to provide
even adequate security then why are there so many security vendors
around? Just because you acquire leading-edge technology
doesn’t mean you have the experience to maintain and support that
product—and the track-record of many of these acquisitions should be
the first place you look to; most of them aren’t that good.
Many cutting-edge, promising technologies have been cut down in the
prime of their life by acquisition.
I have no
problem with companies expanding their addressable market, but it’s
not just about having a product—it’s about adding value.
Very few companies have been able to maintain this balance—growing
and developing new technology markets that conform to their strengths,
but the most successful of them—say Apple, for one—have done it by
creating the technology to extend their products, not bolting it onto
the side as some sort of science project gone bad.
the networking vendors would agree that they have added value in what
they do. Networking isn’t sufficiently “commoditized” that
you should place your network in the hands of a server manufacturer to
supply you with switches and routers. I’m also sure that the
application developers believe that commoditized, off-the-shelf
software isn’t in your best interest either. What they don’t
want to admit is that this same focus on specialization and
value—the reason they have been successful in the past—is the same
reason why we shouldn’t be looking to them to solve a problem they
grocery isle to the gas station doesn’t really make it a grocery
store; just a Qwik-E-Mart.
Bring Back Specialization: It’s time to consider that there is
more to application delivery than just the network and the
application—things which neither one has the competency nor
experience to handle. Gartner thinks so and they are preaching
Application Delivery Controllers (ADC) as we speak. ADCs are
intended to be the bridge between the application and the network and
provide services for both, specializing in this translation process,
if you will; I call it “AppWorking”.
network perspective, an ADC should have enough network knowledge to
dynamically change network delivery mechanisms depending on the
specific application—as well as the unique client system accessing
the application (location, device type, network connection type, etc.)
and enough application knowledge to know when it is appropriate
(content type, server health, etc.). The network itself
doesn’t usually have enough intelligence to say “hey, that’s a
mobile browser using a small network connection—I should enable
compression and re-segment the data to more efficiently talk to it
and, by the way, server number 2 is experiencing database connectivity
issues” and the application doesn’t have the ability to change the
network on the fly.
application perspective, an ADC must have sufficient application
knowledge to know when certain requests/traffic should be managed
differently based on who they are and what they are trying to access
(straight Internet traffic vs. VPN originated) and enough network
knowledge to handle it (VLAN tagging, dynamic security, policy
routing, etc.). The application can’t usually know “oh boy,
that browser request is using illegal meta-characters and is coming
from an un-trusted source—I should make sure there aren’t any
Trojans on the client, that it is running AV, a personal firewall and
filter the request accordingly” and the network doesn’t know when
it is appropriate—on an application-by-application basis—to do so
an intelligence that neither the network guys nor the application guys
are capable of truly understanding; and simply buying the technology
doesn’t cut it. They might be useful in purely tactical
situations—stop-gap measures—but when you need something
strategic, something with value, I think you need to look elsewhere.
My Advice: I really don’t buy my milk at the gas station (unless
it is an emergency) and I hardly ever get my latte there either—I
prefer, if not at Starbucks, to at least get my coffee from someplace
that doesn’t also sell flammable liquids—although a nice Danish
assortment is acceptable. All this “me too” marketing sure
does make life simple and convenient, but when I want something of
value—something that lasts—I go to someplace that specializes;
someplace that knows something about the product; someplace that has a
little more skin in the game than just making another dollar by
know about you, but I’m going to leave my impulse buying for things
a little less important than the livelihood of my business and look
into the many other solutions available from credible companies who
have demonstrated the experience, knowledge and value in the
AppWorking space; the space that sits uniquely between the
traditional application and networking disciplines.
if it’s a floor-wax, then it’s not a dessert topping.
Salchow has been employed by F5 Networks, Inc. for the past five years
where he has served in several capacities, currently as a Product
Marketing Manager. In addition, he is the owner/operator of
Binary Forensics, LLC,
a boutique computer forensics lab serving the legal community in
criminal and civil litigation and Digital Interlopers, LLC, a boutique
penetration and testing organization serving small/medium business
entities. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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