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5 ways enterprise networkers can - and can't - be like webscale stars

Stephen Lawson | Nov. 7, 2016
Agile network technologies are trickling down from companies like Facebook, but not everything translates

Everybody wants to be a winner. One way to get there is to follow the leaders.

In networking these days, big cloud companies like Google and Facebook are at the top of their game. They run giant data centers, continually launch and modify large-scale applications, and don’t seem to be bound to big system vendors. Many ordinary enterprises would love what the internet heavyweights have: standardized networks that can support any application without administrators having to configure a lot of proprietary hardware.

Conveniently, some of those cutting-edge companies offer parts of their technology to others through open-source specifications. But there are limits to how well a company in the insurance or machine-tool business can emulate world-changing tech giants. It turns out no one can just become Google, at least not overnight.

Here are five things that most enterprises can’t actually do to become like the Internet giants, followed by five things they can.

1. Have special equipment built just for their networks

Companies like Google and Facebook design their own gear and hire manufacturers in Asia to build it. They need so many switches, servers and other devices that this custom gear is made in high volume and competes on cost with ordinary products. Only a handful of enterprises are big enough to do that. Have you ever spooled out 950 miles of cable for one data center, like Facebook does?

2. Attract the best and most adventurous network engineers – a lot of them

Practically every IT shop can make an argument for why a bright young engineer should come work for them, but no bank or farm-equipment company is quite Amazon or Microsoft. Being where some of the hottest technologies are born is a big draw for talent, and this pays dividends. An army of top engineers comes in handy when you want to build a cutting-edge network. “There’s a tremendous battle for talent right now,” says IDC analyst Brad Casemore.

3. Only acquire companies with similar cultures and approaches to technology

At the big internet companies, acquisitions are usually tech startups. The fit may not always be perfect, but their cultures tend to be similar and their technology modern. The employees who come with these companies often are used to working on new technologies and ready to quickly change direction. Some become the network engineers who help make web giants hum.

By contrast, mainstream enterprises often buy companies that come with legacy systems and IT staff who have a hard time getting used to new technologies, says Nick Lippis, co-chairman of the Open Networking User Group (ONUG).

4. Standardize and automate all IT systems


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