All professions have a culture or stigma. City traders are reckless young men who work hard and play harder. Policemen put as much time into eating doughnuts and ice-cream as they do into policing. The IT department is full of geeks who will ask you if you have tried turning it off and on again as the solution to all problems.
Let’s discuss the last example in a little more detail. The stigma may or may not be true, dependent on the engineer, but it is what happens after the diagnostic has produced seemingly unintelligible results that exceeds the technical competence of the engineer and the old-faithful reset hasn’t solved the problem that I want to examine. This is because it’s so ingrained into our culture that we don’t often think to question it: This piece of equipment is broken, you must go and buy a new one.
This knee-jerk reaction has turned many network managers into what we call “hardware junkies” – repeatedly replacing inexplicably ‘broken’ equipment with new (and don’t forget expensive) hardware to fill the gap. Too often network administrators replace hardware without trying to get to the bottom of the problem and resolve the root cause which in most cases, has nothing to do with the hardware.
This is not due to laziness – many parts of an IP network, for example, take a large amount of specialist knowledge to understand, and yet more to successfully diagnose and fix when they go wrong. Once you consider the millions of IP networks which form the backbone of the internet and the level of knowledge required to effectively maintain them, it is hardly surprising that this is an industry with an acute skills shortage. We have many networks, with few engineers who are capable of understanding them.
Internet network equipment do not break easy. In fact, their average lifespan is 25 years. Thus, no more than 1 per cent of all network issues are caused by faulty hardware, with the remaining 99% attributable to human errors, mis-configurations and to a lesser extent, software bugs. Unless you set it on fire or throw it down the stairs, your router or switch should be fine. So why are we replacing so much working hardware?
It is not in the interest of hardware manufacturers to readily provide best practices and correct this misconception since it will hurt their profits over the longer term. This conflict of interest combined with the expertise shortage has created the hardware junkie culture, with network administrators playing a very expensive, and unnecessary, game of whack-a-mole with IP networking equipment, replacing each part as it “fails” only for the same problem to recur soon afterwards since the hardware was not the cause of the original problem.
We live in a world where thousands of enterprises throw away millions of dollars worth of functioning equipment each day, because they lack the expertise to address the root causes of their network issues.
Hardware junkies, booking yourself into rehab means either employing expert network engineers – if maintaining networks is your core business, or employing the services of a maintenance provider with the competence to correctly address the underlying system and software problems and save your network from frivolous RMAs, unnecessary maintenance windows and avoidable network outages and service degradation. This can be a struggle, but in the end, the benefits of breaking the hardware junkie culture will be black and white.