“There Are Two Kinds of People in the World….”

“There are two kinds of people in the world,” is the opening of a class of jokes. The jokes split the population into two groups based on defining characteristic. The one I remember most easily is about people who understand binary numbers, because that one is written as, “There are 10 kinds of people in the world…”

Most of the time, the division isn’t that sharp. It’s often a false dichotomy, with a range of values in between. Someone might understand why it’s a joke about binary numbers after you remind them what comes after 0 and 1 when counting in binary, but they might not think of that when they see the joke for the first time.

So, you won’t catch me making a joke that, “there are two kinds of IT professionals in the world: those who embrace new technologies, and those who resist them.” But the thought crossed my mind during a meeting yesterday at work. We were discussing exactly how we’d associate computers and their free-standing disk drives in our new data center. The traditional, conservative way doesn’t scale very well, and IT professionals usually pay attention to what happens as their work load or number of computers or whatever grows past certain limits. Saying, “Each of this computer’s ports can connect to each port on this disk drive, one-by-one,” is a slow, laborious job. You end up with sixteen “zones” if you have four ports on both the computer and the disk drives, and there are usually limits on how many zones you can have on the switch that connects to both the computers and the disk drives. So, you start to wonder: can you list all of the ports on a computer that can connect to that one port on the disk drive, or can you list all of the disk drive ports that one computer port can connect to? Then you find out that your switch maker has a new syntax that lets you dump a lot of computer ports and disk drive ports into the same zone and the switch will map each computer port to each storage port without looping computer ports to each other or storage ports to each other; both of those combinations tend to cause all kinds of grief because each type of port is designed on the assumption that it never connects to its own kind. (Insert same-sex marriage joke here.)

So, we discussed how long this feature has been out and what exactly it’s supposed to do. Because we don’t know anyone using this feature, we did the usual thing: we decided to let others try it first while we play it safe.

This reminded me of a similar conversation we had a couple of months ago. We were discussing our design of our TCP/IP network in our new data center, trying to figure out how we’d use our available network addresses and computer sub-networks while not causing problems for our new customers and making no assumptions about what they’re already doing. I asked innocently if there was any reason to use the next-generation IP version 6 addresses instead of the well-known IP version 4 addresses. (IP v5 died at birth, overtaken already by IP v6.) The consensus came quickly: trying to implement IPv6 would cause all kinds of grief. We’d be one of the first to do so with these kinds of applications. It’s supposed to work, but we weren’t going to be the ones to work out the kinks.

Both the new switch zoning options and IP v6 are meant to massively simplify managing large numbers of computers. Things that work OK to do with small and medium numbers of computers get very troublesome when you have thousands or hundreds of times as many things to manage. Your average hardware store computer center isn’t quite to the point of managing that many things yet. Amazon and Google are. We’re starting to get closer to Amazon than Lowes. So, we’re the ones who have to do weirder things to make the old ways work in our situations. We’re the ones who might say, “Actually, with our parent company and our customers already using large chunks of the private network, we might run out of IP v4 addresses if we get too many customers.” We might have to set up a storage area network if we get to the point that we have 8000 zones in our first storage area network.

We don’t have the luxury of time or personnel to work out the kinks with “smart zones” or IP v6 before Day 1 in our data center. However, part of me is very anxious to have us start studying those things before we have to deploy a second set of SAN switches or start doing very unnatural things with our network address translations to avoid collisions in our network address space.

Yeah. If there really are two kinds of IT administrators, I’m one of those who would rather start using new features as soon as I can find a reasonable use for them and seeing what happens. It may cause some grief along the way as we hit bugs or undocumented limits, but it might make it a lot easier as we hit some known existing limits.

I guess I need to start planting some ideas in management’s ears.


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