A couple of years ago, one of the top salespeople in our company was sitting across from me. He was working with a major school system interested in a large hardware refresh, including a new wireless and VoIP infrastructure.
To me this was a typical project, with typical hardware, typical licensing, and a typical scope. Needless to say I felt like the expert in the room.
So when the salesperson challenged me about hardware and considerations for deploying QoS policies, I was offended.
What did he know about QoS? What did he know about LAN switching? My solution was simple: buy Catalyst switches of varying platforms and do a huge hardware refresh.
This meant manually configuring custom QoS policies on every device. You see, the Catalyst 4500X wouldn’t support auto QoS on the port-channels, so we needed to do it all by hand.
The salesperson wouldn’t buy it, though. He rolled his eyes and said there must be a better way. He mentioned some heathen brand of switch that would deploy policy throughout an entire network with a few mouse clicks.
I was outraged. As a network engineer, I enjoyed getting into configs. I didn’t care about efficiency. I didn’t care about automation. I didn’t care about doing it a better way. I knew the CLI, and I knew Cisco. How dare he?
But deep down I knew he was right. Of course it was completely inefficient to configure everything by hand. Imagine how many errors my team and I would have made copying and pasting DSCP maps and AAA configurations over hundreds of switches!
And even if we didn’t make many errors, accessing every device by hand would take forever. The conflict I experienced wasn’t a matter of logic or reason – it was a matter of comfort level and pride.
It took me several months before I could say out loud that his approach was the way to go. But why? Network engineers generally pride themselves in learning new technology and staying flexible.
I think it was because I’d grown comfortable with a blinking cursor and a humming fan. It was safe, and it was what I knew.
I brought up my dilemma with my father-in-law, who also works in IT. He reminded me that I successfully changed careers in my mid-20s from teaching English to networking, though it took considerable effort.
Was it so difficult to believe that I couldn’t change again?
The scales fell from my eyes. I needed to put in the effort to learn a better way to do networking, just like I learned how to do traditional networking 10 years ago. I knew logically that it made so much more sense, but I just needed the switch to flip in my brain.
I still see reluctance among colleagues to accept managing a LAN with software. Whether it’s a lack of skill, or a mindset that resists doing something differently, the switch hasn’t flipped for some people.
As a recent convert, I embrace this new paradigm just as I would embrace a better way of doing anything. It’s more efficient. It’s less prone to error. It just makes sense. And as much as I hate to admit it, the sales person was right.