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Infinite options tempt, but cutting proprietary management even better

Are the bad old days of control interface proliferation back again? Patrick Hubbard says it's time for network administrators to put their foot down.

I love my Sonos. Yes, it was a ridiculously expensive impulse buy, made worse when Amazon Prime Now dropped the first one on my porch, followed by more over time. But, in fairness, they sound great and, more importantly, tame all of my disconnected subscription services, putting the playback control interface, physical equipment and connected services in a single platform. An IT vendor would have probably named it the Sonos Platform for Hybrid Music Infrastructure and Music as a Service.

But despite all its functionality, features and improved services access, Sonos still suffers the same growing frustration of IT: It's one more proprietary management interface that's less convenient in many ways than its predecessor -- the humble radio.

The tantalizing allure of infinite possibility

Compared to a radio, the Sonos platform offers seemingly infinite control possibilities of its combined service providers, playback devices and customization. However, to make that possible, Sonos requires users to install a custom application -- either mobile or fat client on a PC. And that's an important point, because selecting hybrid technology adds new isolated management tools.

Hybrid IT, at least this first wave of big hype, is taking us back to the bad old days of control interface proliferation.

For a while, at least, 99% of the time, I'm happy to use it -- especially when using hybrid features, such as searching for a track by title across Apple Music, Amazon Prime, Rhapsody, Spotify, Pandora, local on-premises MP3 resources and others. But that's not what users actually do most of the time. Most of the time, they're just changing volume. And after a while, it's easy to miss the straightforward volume knob of a radio.

As network administrators, we require complete control over everything, and that includes the rapidly proliferating new proprietary management interfaces for the beast we call hybrid IT. However, as an industry, we've spent the last 20 years moving away from swivel-chair integration, when we were forced to access multiple dashboards to do our jobs. We've demanded vendors consolidate features into one interface using the power of our purchase orders, prioritizing integration over technology as IT teams shrink and high efficiency is required.

But hybrid IT, at least this first wave of big hype, is taking us back to the bad old days of control interface proliferation. I don't want to have to dig my phone out of my pocket, find the Sonos app, pick the room and then use the slider just to change volume any more than I want to open separate vendor-specific and proprietary management interfaces every time I want to make a routine change or take a quick look at performance. Administrators benefit day to day from a few smart, function-specific knobs over relatively infinitely powerful custom applications.

Hybrid networks, hybrid inconvenience

At Cisco Live this year, hybrid IT and hybrid networking options were everywhere. New standalone tools emerged from established vendors; a raft of new startups were sprinkled into the emerging technology pavilions; and, of course, hybrid IT was requisite copy on the majority of booths. Despite vendors' pleas for a new buzzword to rekindle enterprise excitement now that cloud, big data, SDx and their ilk are becoming commonplace, IT should be weary of accepting new features at the cost of decreased administrator effectiveness.

Yes, we will require some new control interfaces for revolutionary technology without mainstream analogs. And, yes, we will sometimes need to plumb the depths of proprietary management interfaces to get at that one special setting in a hard-to-reach place. But as IT technology purchasers, we have the power to demand the controls we'll use every day to manage hybrid IT, especially as network monitoring and management systems are combined into the dashboards we already rely on. 

We don't have to let hybrid IT return us to the dot-com bubble days of building shiny new tech first, and integrating later. We shouldn't have to leave our networking and systems monitoring dashboards to check on a flapping internet link to Amazon Web Services, Azure or Salesforce. The collective, royal "we" of IT have the power to remind vendors we don't have time for yet another interface for every new technology and piece of gear.

And Sonos, would a $49 wireless volume knob really kill ya?

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