Chuck Yoke: KISS your network and make it better

KISS – Keep It Short and Simple. During my days as an English major in college, this was the mantra repeated daily in my technical writing classes. It became so ingrained into my way of thinking that I began using it for almost everything.

When I learned programming, I refused to take COBOL because it was too wordy and PL/1 because it was too complex. Languages such as BASIC, FORTRAN and PL/SQL appealed to me more. They were short and simple.

When I entered networking, I didn’t concern myself with those areas the electrical engineers were interested in – characteristic impedance, attenuation or capacitance. I focused on basic connectivity, file server management and operating system support.

Even today I shy away from the more complex routing architectures such as Open Shortest Path First (OSPF), IS-IS and Border Gateway Protocol (BGP) in favour of the “simpler” Routing Information Protocol, Enhanced Interior Gateway Routing Protocol and static route architectures. I’ll use OSPF and BGP when necessary, but they are not my routing protocols of choice. And when it comes to TCP/IP, I’ll choose a private address space and network address translation over variable-length subnet masks any day. Keep it short and simple.

Many times the answer to a network problem is so simple and obvious that it is overlooked. I once had a project to implement redundant Internet connectivity. The design team immediately jumped into BGP. An elegant architecture involving BGP speakers, transit routes and autonomous systems was designed. But on review with the operations unit, it was found to be unsupportable with the level of expertise available in-house.

The ultimate answer to the problem was in the more mundane use of static routes. The network engineers, who were accustomed to solving more complex problems, had overlooked this option.

In Edgar Allan Poe’s classic short story “The Purloined Letter,” a thief hides a stolen letter in a letter rack that is in plain view. The police, intent on finding the “hidden” letter, don’t even bother looking in the letter rack because it would be too obvious.

Many times the answers to network problems are hidden in the obvious. A static route, an access control list entry or a private address can be all that’s needed. But all too often the obvious is overlooked in favour of technical elegance.

Corporate networks are not works of art. They are tools that serve a specific business purpose. Your role is not to make the network a canvas to show off your technical expertise, but rather, to implement cost-effective, tested, reliable and easily supportable connectivity options.

To do this, you have to have one hand reaching for the sky and one foot grounded in the basics. You can design a new network or add a static route. The key is to know when to redesign and when to KISS.

Yoke is an IS manager in Denver. He can be reached at [email protected].

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