|By Michael Bushong||
|July 2, 2014 06:00 AM EDT||
If LinkedIn profiles are any indication, User Experience (frequently shortened to UX) is the new orange. Indeed, across all manners of technology, there is an increasing focus on improving user experience. Driven in part by Apple’s success on the consumer side, it would appear that IT infrastructure vendors are getting in on the action. In the quest to simplify our collective lives and differentiate in a space more defined by cost than capability, the user is taking a more prominent role.
As it should be.
Networking and UX
This is especially true in networking. The truth about all but the highest-end markets is that from a performance perspective, there are multiple options that are good enough. The differentiating and most compelling points for most people are less about capability and more about cost. For now, the focus remains on reducing CapEx, but once all the vendors settle out around the same price (everyone is using more or less the same hardware), eyes will turn more towards OpEx. And that will bring into play a lot more of the operational experience in deploying and managing a network.
First, while decision criteria will initially settle on cost, make no mistake about it: the actual differentiation is bigger than just cost. The overall user experience—from architecting to procuring to deploying to managing—will become a means of distinguishing solutions. When the window for cost narrows, it actually takes cost off the table and makes other elements of the product even more important.
As a strategic aside, this is why some of the more raw DIY solutions are going to struggle a bit in many parts of the market. The downward pressure they exert on price is effective, but once the more entrenched players come down, the difference in price is no longer compelling. This leaves the primary differentiation as capabilities, global support, and user experience, all of which tilt towards the legacy companies – at least in the short to medium term.
State of the industry
If user experience is poised to be a big difference maker, what does the state of the industry look like currently?
In a word, sorry. IT generally, and networking especially, is in a sorry state when it comes to overall user experience. Most networking solutions are provisioned and managed via device-by-device commands. In the best of cases, this is a repetitive task that can be automated; in the worst cases, the commands are esoteric, highly contextual, and vary in behavior depending on conditions.
We exist in an inside-out industry. User experience is the last thing that vendors think about when determining direction. Roadmap planning in any of the major vendors is an exercise in spreadsheet management. Individual feature requests are fielded by sales teams and filtered to product management teams. There is typically a rough sort on business case (how many deals are riding on a particular feature?). From there, the roadmap is reviewed, tweaked, and published.
Of course there are user-experience champions at every company. They fight the good fight. But there are only so many places they can insert, and the roadmap is dominated by people who are not so enlightened.
In a user-experience-centric world, the starting point wouldn’t be the feature. At least not in its current state. Each feature would be in support of some objective. That objective would map to a set of workflows required to achieve it. And those workflows would all have properties.
- Every workflow has a trigger. What initiates the workflow? Is it someone keying in a command? Someone clicking on a GUI? Maybe an API call?
- Based on the trigger, what are the likely contexts for the workflow? If the trigger is based on someone logged into a discrete device, then the CLI might be an appropriate context. If the trigger is an API call, the context might be entirely different.
- How do you know when a workflow is complete? Is there some state that is captured?
- Most workflows will exist alongside others in workflow chains. What are the preceding and following workflows? This helps identify possible improvements in automation on the system side. For example, automatically pinging across a link after setting up a BGP connection would be a fairly trivial way of adding some validation to a provisioning workflow.
- Some workflows have dependencies on other workflows. Mapping those dependencies out is an interesting way to help simplify user interaction. If, for instance, a workflow is predicated on the existence of a policy definition, automatically teeing up policy creation is an interesting workflow element.
There are probably a dozen other properties of workflows. The point here is not that these are the right properties but rather that adding a new feature ought to begin with the workflow in mind.
UX and architecture
In networking, we equate UX to UI. And then we throw a CLI on virtually everything. A user’s experience goes well beyond just the interface into which a user keys a command. If we really thought about workflows first, we would do more than add configuration knobs. We would consider validation and troubleshooting as natural extensions of workflow, and make these easier to do.
The unfortunate byproduct of our collective approach to user experience is that we do product architecture first. The challenge here is that for user experience to be truly effective, it ought to inform the underlying architecture. As it stands, user experience is a consumer of that architecture, with very little (read: no) input in the vast majority of cases.
Realize that the networking industry has been architecting products and solutions from the inside out for decades. Developers are in a tough spot. They have to make magic happen by typing into a terminal window. The focus is function first, form later. And this leaves user experience relegated to a tack-on after the product has already been built. At that point, how much can you do anyway? This is why UX has equalled UI for so long. Without architectural input, the best we can hope for is a slightly better configuration knob.
The bottom line
If networking really is on the cusp of changing over, user experience has to be an input into the design process. This is a radical change in how products are conceived, built, and ultimately brought to market. Do not underestimate the difficulty in transitioning an organization from feature-centric to user-experience-centric. Most established companies will fail to make this transition (if they even try at all).
The biggest impact of startups in the networking space might be a refocusing of efforts around the thing that we seem to have lost amidst all the technological upheaval over the last few decades: the user. And wouldn’t that be a glorious thing?
[Today’s fun fact: For every human being in the world, there is approximately one chicken. KFC feels personally responsible for keeping the balance.]
More and more brands have jumped on the IoT bandwagon. We have an excess of wearables – activity trackers, smartwatches, smart glasses and sneakers, and more that track seemingly endless datapoints. However, most consumers have no idea what “IoT” means. Creating more wearables that track data shouldn't be the aim of brands; delivering meaningful, tangible relevance to their users should be. We're in a period in which the IoT pendulum is still swinging. Initially, it swung toward "smart for smar...
Dec. 9, 2016 08:45 AM EST Reads: 982
"We build IoT infrastructure products - when you have to integrate different devices, different systems and cloud you have to build an application to do that but we eliminate the need to build an application. Our products can integrate any device, any system, any cloud regardless of protocol," explained Peter Jung, Chief Product Officer at Pulzze Systems, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at @ThingsExpo, held November 1-3, 2016, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA.
Dec. 9, 2016 07:45 AM EST Reads: 1,210
The cloud promises new levels of agility and cost-savings for Big Data, data warehousing and analytics. But it’s challenging to understand all the options – from IaaS and PaaS to newer services like HaaS (Hadoop as a Service) and BDaaS (Big Data as a Service). In her session at @BigDataExpo at @ThingsExpo, Hannah Smalltree, a director at Cazena, provided an educational overview of emerging “as-a-service” options for Big Data in the cloud. This is critical background for IT and data professionals...
Dec. 9, 2016 07:00 AM EST Reads: 4,360
Internet of @ThingsExpo has announced today that Chris Matthieu has been named tech chair of Internet of @ThingsExpo 2017 New York The 7th Internet of @ThingsExpo will take place on June 6-8, 2017, at the Javits Center in New York City, New York. Chris Matthieu is the co-founder and CTO of Octoblu, a revolutionary real-time IoT platform recently acquired by Citrix. Octoblu connects things, systems, people and clouds to a global mesh network allowing users to automate and control design flo...
Dec. 9, 2016 06:00 AM EST Reads: 837
The WebRTC Summit New York, to be held June 6-8, 2017, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY, announces that its Call for Papers is now open. Topics include all aspects of improving IT delivery by eliminating waste through automated business models leveraging cloud technologies. WebRTC Summit is co-located with 20th International Cloud Expo and @ThingsExpo. WebRTC is the future of browser-to-browser communications, and continues to make inroads into the traditional, difficult, plug-in web co...
Dec. 9, 2016 04:15 AM EST Reads: 1,471
Amazon has gradually rolled out parts of its IoT offerings, but these are just the tip of the iceberg. In addition to optimizing their backend AWS offerings, Amazon is laying the ground work to be a major force in IoT - especially in the connected home and office. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Chris Kocher, founder and managing director of Grey Heron, explained how Amazon is extending its reach to become a major force in IoT by building on its dominant cloud IoT platform, its Dash Button strat...
Dec. 9, 2016 04:00 AM EST Reads: 6,360
Complete Internet of Things (IoT) embedded device security is not just about the device but involves the entire product’s identity, data and control integrity, and services traversing the cloud. A device can no longer be looked at as an island; it is a part of a system. In fact, given the cross-domain interactions enabled by IoT it could be a part of many systems. Also, depending on where the device is deployed, for example, in the office building versus a factory floor or oil field, security ha...
Dec. 9, 2016 03:00 AM EST Reads: 450
In addition to all the benefits, IoT is also bringing new kind of customer experience challenges - cars that unlock themselves, thermostats turning houses into saunas and baby video monitors broadcasting over the internet. This list can only increase because while IoT services should be intuitive and simple to use, the delivery ecosystem is a myriad of potential problems as IoT explodes complexity. So finding a performance issue is like finding the proverbial needle in the haystack.
Dec. 9, 2016 02:15 AM EST Reads: 6,247
The idea of comparing data in motion (at the sensor level) to data at rest (in a Big Data server warehouse) with predictive analytics in the cloud is very appealing to the industrial IoT sector. The problem Big Data vendors have, however, is access to that data in motion at the sensor location. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Scott Allen, CMO of FreeWave, discussed how as IoT is increasingly adopted by industrial markets, there is going to be an increased demand for sensor data from the outermos...
Dec. 9, 2016 02:00 AM EST Reads: 3,104
Data is the fuel that drives the machine learning algorithmic engines and ultimately provides the business value. In his session at 20th Cloud Expo, Ed Featherston, director/senior enterprise architect at Collaborative Consulting, will discuss the key considerations around quality, volume, timeliness, and pedigree that must be dealt with in order to properly fuel that engine.
Dec. 9, 2016 01:15 AM EST Reads: 1,681
In his general session at 19th Cloud Expo, Manish Dixit, VP of Product and Engineering at Dice, discussed how Dice leverages data insights and tools to help both tech professionals and recruiters better understand how skills relate to each other and which skills are in high demand using interactive visualizations and salary indicator tools to maximize earning potential. Manish Dixit is VP of Product and Engineering at Dice. As the leader of the Product, Engineering and Data Sciences team at D...
Dec. 9, 2016 12:45 AM EST Reads: 1,229
SYS-CON Events has announced today that Roger Strukhoff has been named conference chair of Cloud Expo and @ThingsExpo 2017 New York. The 20th Cloud Expo and 7th @ThingsExpo will take place on June 6-8, 2017, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. "The Internet of Things brings trillions of dollars of opportunity to developers and enterprise IT, no matter how you measure it," stated Roger Strukhoff. "More importantly, it leverages the power of devices and the Internet to enable us all to im...
Dec. 9, 2016 12:30 AM EST Reads: 918
Whether your IoT service is connecting cars, homes, appliances, wearable, cameras or other devices, one question hangs in the balance – how do you actually make money from this service? The ability to turn your IoT service into profit requires the ability to create a monetization strategy that is flexible, scalable and working for you in real-time. It must be a transparent, smoothly implemented strategy that all stakeholders – from customers to the board – will be able to understand and comprehe...
Dec. 9, 2016 12:00 AM EST Reads: 737
"Once customers get a year into their IoT deployments, they start to realize that they may have been shortsighted in the ways they built out their deployment and the key thing I see a lot of people looking at is - how can I take equipment data, pull it back in an IoT solution and show it in a dashboard," stated Dave McCarthy, Director of Products at Bsquare Corporation, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at @ThingsExpo, held November 1-3, 2016, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA.
Dec. 8, 2016 09:45 PM EST Reads: 1,259
What happens when the different parts of a vehicle become smarter than the vehicle itself? As we move toward the era of smart everything, hundreds of entities in a vehicle that communicate with each other, the vehicle and external systems create a need for identity orchestration so that all entities work as a conglomerate. Much like an orchestra without a conductor, without the ability to secure, control, and connect the link between a vehicle’s head unit, devices, and systems and to manage the ...
Dec. 8, 2016 09:15 PM EST Reads: 990
Everyone knows that truly innovative companies learn as they go along, pushing boundaries in response to market changes and demands. What's more of a mystery is how to balance innovation on a fresh platform built from scratch with the legacy tech stack, product suite and customers that continue to serve as the business' foundation. In his General Session at 19th Cloud Expo, Michael Chambliss, Head of Engineering at ReadyTalk, discussed why and how ReadyTalk diverted from healthy revenue and mor...
Dec. 8, 2016 05:45 PM EST Reads: 1,745
As data explodes in quantity, importance and from new sources, the need for managing and protecting data residing across physical, virtual, and cloud environments grow with it. Managing data includes protecting it, indexing and classifying it for true, long-term management, compliance and E-Discovery. Commvault can ensure this with a single pane of glass solution – whether in a private cloud, a Service Provider delivered public cloud or a hybrid cloud environment – across the heterogeneous enter...
Dec. 8, 2016 05:00 PM EST Reads: 1,839
You have great SaaS business app ideas. You want to turn your idea quickly into a functional and engaging proof of concept. You need to be able to modify it to meet customers' needs, and you need to deliver a complete and secure SaaS application. How could you achieve all the above and yet avoid unforeseen IT requirements that add unnecessary cost and complexity? You also want your app to be responsive in any device at any time. In his session at 19th Cloud Expo, Mark Allen, General Manager of...
Dec. 8, 2016 04:45 PM EST Reads: 1,873
Financial Technology has become a topic of intense interest throughout the cloud developer and enterprise IT communities. Accordingly, attendees at the upcoming 20th Cloud Expo at the Javits Center in New York, June 6-8, 2017, will find fresh new content in a new track called FinTech.
Dec. 8, 2016 04:45 PM EST Reads: 2,272
The 20th International Cloud Expo has announced that its Call for Papers is open. Cloud Expo, to be held June 6-8, 2017, at the Javits Center in New York City, brings together Cloud Computing, Big Data, Internet of Things, DevOps, Containers, Microservices and WebRTC to one location. With cloud computing driving a higher percentage of enterprise IT budgets every year, it becomes increasingly important to plant your flag in this fast-expanding business opportunity. Submit your speaking proposal ...
Dec. 8, 2016 04:15 PM EST Reads: 2,343