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The Saturation Point

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Size doesn't matter--it's the complexity that gets you.

I have seen networks of less than two thousand nodes become so complex that they become essentially unmanageable, while networks of ten's of thousands of nodes are under control. The reasons vary but have several things in common.

  • They have grown organically rather than been designed. Each time a decision is made, there is insufficient concern and consideration for maintaining compatibility and manageability with already in-place systems.
  • They lack current and actively maintained documentation.
  • There is little effort at virtualization and what is done may be done from a purely cost cutting perspective, as opposed to a performance and manageability perspective.
  • Too little of the design was based on a thorough Capacity Plan and therefore the components are unbalanced. This leads to periodic, but unpredicable, failures and other surprises.

Complexity grows ~exponentially to size.

Unless a purposeful policy is in place and enforced, that states procedures and requirements for the design of new functionality, it will run wild. It doesn't have to be that way but it often is. If you add a second location and it is done differently than the first--or you improve the second and leave the first alone, there is an increase in the requirements of maintenance that is far greater than the increase in size. In an environment with multiple locations, systems, operating systems or just different levels of releases, the complexity increases by a far greater value than the actual size. This increases the dollar cost of maintenance and the frequency of unpleasant surprises. Eventually, you will reach The Saturation Point.

The Saturation Point is reached when people, projects or events begin to collide.

We all know how this goes, but often assume it is inevitable. It is not. It is simply a symptom of an enterprise having reached The Saturation Point. Here is a very brief sample list of other symptoms that are common but unhealthy.

  • No one team has the entire big picture.
  • Change management, as typically practiced, fails at the saturation point.
  • Errors due to incomplete upgrades.
  • There is a growing schism between version levels of operating systems, databases, middleware, etc, between one system and another.
  • Documentation is seriously out of date. True, documentation is almost always out of date--but there are differences.
    • In the environment I am describing, the documentation is completely untrustworthy and there is no Team or individual that is tasked with the responsibility for maintaining it.
    • This is a multi-team responsibility--but there should be one group that is commissioned with the authority to expect and demand updates from all the various teams maintaining their own documentation.
    • This team maintains the Documentation Library--for the enterprise.
  • Scheduled changes begin to conflict with each other frequently causing longer delays.
  • Increasing differences between systems that should be the same.
  • If you ever see two different groups running what amounts to the same project, in different ways, without doing so in concert with each other--you are at The Saturation Point.
  • All of these events can be classified as Event Collisions.

Collisions cost money--a lot of money

This is not just a nuisance; it is a money pit. Aside from discontented clients and employees, there is a cost associated with constant fixes. The mistake is to think that since these costs are fixed they are not real--that you will pay it anyway. Thinking that the cost, being fixed, is less than the cost of paying additional funds to correct this level of complexity is simply wrong. Here is the TRUE COST. Your people are working on addressing old problems and mistakes, instead of facing forward and using their skills to address the new challenges and opportunities of the future. The near future as well as the mid and long term future.

The bottom line is that no company can afford to have products that are not their best, or to waste their best minds in turning the millstone. You are competing in a global economy and creativity, efficiency and innovation are the name of the game. Don't waste your resources on non-functional, or dysfunctional procedures. For a company to be able to thrive in the twenty-first century, it needs to be using its best people to anticipate and create, not play IT musical chairs.



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