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Target Market, Product Fit and other Sensible Things to Do

I find it interesting to see how we as a (sub) industry get into cycles of things that we think matter, or want to talk about. We are all influenced by each other and blog posts trigger new blog posts and a lively discussion ensues. What is interesting is that sometimes these come in from completely different directions.

The past few weeks there have been several discussions, blogs and other references that go back to the basics of product development, creating value and how we (that collective “we” again) love to put ideas and technologies on pedestals, gaze at them in amazement and perhaps even spend billions buying our own hype. At Plexxi we have regular self reflection periods where we examine what we have, what we have coming and how we believe that creates attractive, complete and valuable solutions. And this week there were several new articles, as well as some good oldies that attempt to point out those basics that matter more than just about anything else.

Cloudborat wrote this post with his distillation of solution fundamentals into 7 steps. There is no point arguing about how many steps something takes, but its hard to disagree with the most basics of the steps in the list:

  • talk to your target market
  • ask them if this problem is worth solving
  • listen to your customer

Everyone in our industry has real problems to solve. There are no perfect solutions, no perfect products, and things move fast enough that new problems show up each and every day that need to be solved. Finding the one problem your customer needs to have solved and is willing to change its buying behavior for is key. Customers will love new technology, will love the potential of what new technology can solve, but rarely spend real money on it unless it truly solves a problem very high on their pain list.

In a very widely referenced blog post, Marc Andreessen makes the point that the only thing that matters is product/market fit, being in a good market with a product that can satisfy that market. He wrote this as part of a multipart blog that articulates his guide to startups. No matter how awesome the product, how advanced the technology, if there is no market for the product you will fail. The product fit to the market trumps all other ingredients to a successful solution or company. It’s one of those things that sounds so obvious, but obviously is not.

The team that created “Slack” sent an internal memo that provided the company’s view on what they were and what they were not, what matters and what does not. It defines what the company stands for and offers a  great quote: “the best real, direct measure of ‘innovation’ is change in human behavior”. Effective products and solutions change the way we do things (for the better in most cases). Their use, the way they solve a problem transforms how we do things in our personal or professional life. There are easy examples like twitter and Facebook, and for us network folks, server virtualization and overlay networks fall into this category.

But when you look at networking as a whole, I struggle to find that innovation that has changed the way we have approached networking, changed the way we designed, built and operated networks. On his blog last week, Tom Nolle articulated several points from his surveys targeted at SDN (in whatever definition) has not passed the test of value, even if there was a clear definition of SDN. His most important point is his last point and relates back to points from the articles above: “… we just use SDN to produce the same Level 2/3 services we had before it ever came along”.

Whether you call it SDN or something different, there is a reason why we talk about devops as much as we do. While not everyone may recognize the work they do on a network on a daily basis as devops, those proprietary script machines and handy little tools could be so much more powerful when truly integrated with the network solution. What if VLAN configuration is not a task that needs to be applied to switches and ports, but could be articulated as a single network wide policy? What if an ethernet fabric just plain worked extremely well when you connect all the cables and created a few of these network wide policies? That would be transformational. That would change the way we (network folks) behave.

There is a reason why we break the normal L2 and L3 forwarding paradigms beyond just who controls the information. We don’t want to do the same in a different way. We want to allow for easy creation of network services and manage these services in a way that is trivial. We want to transform how ethernet fabrics are made. Not just for the sake of it, but to enable network services that are really hard to accomplish today that allow a true change in how we design, deploy and manage fabrics.

 

[Today's almost fun fact:  All of the clocks in the movie "Pulp Fiction" are stuck on 4:20. Almost true, in the "Bonnie Station" in the last scenes the clock is not set to 4:20.]

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More Stories By Marten Terpstra

Marten Terpstra is a Product Management Director at Plexxi Inc. Marten has extensive knowledge of the architecture, design, deployment and management of enterprise and carrier networks.