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Don't let new technology products go undetected

You might not be using technology to its full potential if you are unaware of product features. Don't be afraid to dig into your products and discover capabilities that make your life easier.

Recently, with wrapping paper from birthday presents converted to shredded detritus, my 6-year-old scurried off with a LEGO Movie building kit, leaving me alone with the remainder of her loot. It wasn't a ridiculous haul, but she did OK, including an Easy-Bake Oven. Studying its box, I was first struck by the oven's surprising survival in a world of litigation, helicopter parenting and toy-gender appropriateness fretting.

But second, the engineer in me realized that other than slide-through cooking, the modern Easy-Bake,  now labeled as the Easy-Bake Ultimate Oven, isn't the same plastic, 100 W incandescent bulb-based contraption that it used to be.  The modern version has an actual heating element, temperature cycling and overheat cutoff.

This got me thinking about other examples of when even the most basic technologies have matured, unnoticed, right under our noses. And how in our world of network administration, all too often admins only discover great new technology products months or years after new hardware or OS versions have gone live in the rack. We also update our management software regularly, often getting great new features, sometimes even in service packs. But how often are those capabilities wasted because we don't know all the new tools for management and monitoring that our new(er) hardware supports?

Smooth upgrades can hide new capability

There are three main drivers for updates of new technology products and the feature enhancements that come with them: regular refresh cycles, the need to expand capability for higher performance to support increasing demand, and, of course, quick upgrades driven by immediate pain. One example is upgrading a router out of sequence to support aan unexpected requirement for dual-stack IPv6.

There is one key advantage to that third driver: The pain point driving the replacement demands a specific set of new capabilities, and post deployment, the team will naturally configure, test and ensure the new features are put to good use. That may not, however, be the case when hardware is replaced as part of regular refresh processes, or where new gear is being added to increase capacity.

It’s human nature to keep a picture in our minds that, without direct impetus to change, things remain the same, for networks or Easy-Bake Ovens.

There are some reasons for this. With each release, vendors include so many new features it's hard to sort them out of the README, let alone have time to learn their use. This is further exacerbated when vendors use lots of shorthand and acronyms in the release description, and features which could really simplify your day-to-day life as an admin are unenthusiastically detailed. They simply don't pop out as you read feature lists. With really advanced tools and gear, there's the added distraction of Shiny New Object Syndrome, where breakthrough capabilities overshadow other really helpful new features.

The result is that over time, it's not uncommon for a busy admin to miss not just a couple new capabilities, but dozens. It's easy to forget how much the management technology available in today's network has really changed from just a few years ago. For starters, we're not just in SNMP anymore. 

Human nature isn't helping

It's human nature to expect that, without direct impetus to change, things – from networks to Easy-Bake Ovens - remain the same. For example, before VoIP, who really worried about jitter? Who cared as long as files were severed, right? Yes, we did the big stuff like moving off NetWare and token ring and got our act together with routing and DNS, but until our businesses began to depend on streaming protocols, jitter and its myriad potential causes simply weren't an issue.

So only now, forcing vulnerable point-to-point telepresence along hub-and-spoke topologies, we’ve had to learn a couple of tricks like using type of service and quality of service. But are you using traffic class maps to take performance to the next level? Can you quickly correlate NetFlow application traffic reports with deployed maps? Let's hope, but keep in mind there are about six different incrementally released technologies that must all be coordinated to make that work. Overlook just one and you can’t take advantage of advanced traffic maps.

Somewhere along the way, 100 W bulbs were phased out of the Easy-Bake Oven, and with no reason to care, I never noticed. How many great new technology products have been deployed recently in your network, but aren't being used because there's no obvious need or worse, nobody knows about them? Don't be afraid to really dig in once in a while, and then visit the vendor product pages for your devices and software. You just might discover technology and features you never knew you couldn't live without.

About the author:
Patrick Hubbard is a head geek and senior technical product marketing manager at SolarWinds. With 20 years of technical expertise and IT customer perspective, his networking management experience includes work with campus, data center, storage networks, VoIP and virtualization, with a focus on application and service delivery in both Fortune 500 companies and startups in high tech, transportation, financial services and telecom industries. He can be reached atPatrick.Hubbard@solarwinds.com.

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