Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Lightning Blog - Networks, not Hierarchies

A quick post to get a thought out there before it slips out of my brain.

Just got out of a great talk at the O'Reilly Velocity conference on threats to the internet by Albert Wenger (@albertwenger). The thought that struck me was that the internet was created as a network on the organizational level as well as the infrastructure level. Networks have been a popular topic lately, for good reason. I think network thinking is the best solution to most, if not all distributed problems, and in the internet world, most things are distributed problems. This can apply down to your servers, and all the way to defining the Devops community.

Some thoughts (some mine, some Albert's)
  • Hierarchies tend to scale linearly, Networks tend to scale exponentially 
  • We need to focus our activities/thoughts/conversations on preserving the network nature of everything around us. 
  • It's harder and scarier to think about networks 
  • Devops is a network. We don't need to be threatened by groupings that form among members. 
Now, the big thought: I recently listened to The Federalist Papers by Alexander Hamilton (I love http://www.librivox.org). It is 85 essays arguing in support of the Constitution of the United States of America. At the time after the Revolution was won and the States were independent from Britain, the 13 colonies became states and they had some Articles of Confederation defining a very loose coupling of states. The Founding Fathers argued that a Confederation could not survive and that a Federal srtucture (Republic of States) was a more sustainable and scalable model. In many ways both structures are networks. For Federal structures, the trick is to define just enough central power where cost-benefit makes sense (e.g. national defense and treaties with other nations), but maintaining as much autonomy in the nodes (states) to allow innovation and growth. Will a pure confederacy devolve into chaos? It's interesting to hear a conversation in the 1780's arguing the benefits of a networked political structure.

Since this is not a fully thought-out post, I don't know when a confederation or federal structure is best or if it differs by case, but a core philosophy of both is that power is distributed and behave as networks. I know a network is the right answer.

What do you think?

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