What Networking can learn from Apple Inc.
As Apple gets ready to announce amazing quarterly results this week again, I had to think about January. When Apple announced record results of over $121B and profits of over $30B in January, industry pundits had a field day analyzing the results, establishing the success of different product offerings and speculating about Apple’s ability to ever repeat its record quarter.
I admit I am not an Apple user other than for an iPad Air I mostly use as a reading device (news, books) and as an awesome remote control for my home entertainment system. That said, I admire Apple’s ability to cater to as well as clearly constantly grow its loyal user base. Invariably, with a network engineer’s hat on, I had to wonder “What can we in the networking world learn from Apple’s success?”.
I was reminded how, many years ago, as I evangelized network programmability for another company, in presentations I would pull out my smartphone (I think at the time it was a Samsung Blackjack) from my pocket and tell the audience: “This is a powerful example for the Power of Abstractions”, referring to Barbara Lithgow’s legendary lecture in software engineering. Because there were two fundamental approaches the early smartphone makers took to market, and one was extremely successful and the other was not:
- The first approach would be, and here I speak as a salesperson selling you the smartphone: “Look at this beautiful piece of hardware – it has the most powerful CPU processor there is, has large memory, runs a hardened, purpose-built operating system – oh and it comes with this SDK (software development kit) you can use to create your very own web browser, email and any application you can think of. Have fun!”. Clearly this approach would only cater to those who love to conquer complexity. And exclude all those who would rather consume abstractions and just use shrink-wrapped, user-friendly apps to simply get stuff done – which actually means it would exclude most potential users.
- The second approach, (duh!) – and the one that clearly got smartphones to the masses and ushered the era of “I can get anything done from anywhere” – was (and here I am the salesman again): “Look at this ready-to-use productivity and entertainment device: it allows you to interact with an elegant, intuitive user interface and ready-built, easy-to-consume applications that allow you to get anything done from anywhere. And anything you need, there’s a zillion application companies there adding to our ecosystem so you can optimally tailor this device to your own needs.”
I have a venerable history of being a gadget fan, I recall in 2005 I got a Siemens SX66. It was super-expensive; it had the defunct mobile Windows OS that was a constant challenge to somehow subdue to your needs… and with a screen that would embrace every opportunity to splinter into sharp pieces in your jean’s front pocket (ouch!).
Back to Apple: when the first iPhone came out, and the rage started (and it’s important to remember that Apple’s future as a tech company was questioned by many at the time), I was there saying “This isn’t new, the original idea came out elsewhere!”. But when I got to see and experience the product, wow, it was easy to see they had figured out everything that was wrong with previous approaches: instead of peddling the underlying capabilities and built-in complexity or the “potential” of the platform if used by an expert – they provided a superior , intuitive user experience and the productivity power to get anything done from anywhere, easily.
We had all experienced decent user interfaces at the time, they were useful and friendly… for a single very particular purpose in our knowledge worker arsenal. We had to do a lot of so-called “swivel-chair integration” between completely different tools and interfaces. The original iPhone highlighted how abstractions could make it even further up the user interface stack and make consumption of applications easier across the board. Oh, and they took care of the exploding large LED screens, too… Sorry Siemens SX66, but I moved on after that… 😀
So – what does this have to do with networking technology, especially as we look at an era where network and security functions are getting aggressively consolidated into a single functional stack with SASE? To me, these are the fundamental lessons from Apple’s success we can count on influencing the way we do things in networking and security going forward:
- User experience is paramount. “Make things as simple as necessary, but no simpler than that”, said Albert Einstein. Leverage the power of abstraction to deliver on performance and security for ultimate productivity across both IT and knowledge workers. Do not spend all your time configuring and troubleshooting – you should spend it optimizing and always aligning with strategic business goals. The fundamental prerequisite to deliver on this is complete top-to-bottom visibility in operation, and business intent in planning and initial configuration. Stop trying to create your stuff with a complex SDK – just consume purpose-built applications that provide you with a fast path to success. You’ve done that with Microsoft Office forever – why do you think you have to build your own networking and security stack from scratch? The solution: Check out our Aryaka SmartServices. There is a reason why Aryaka’s Net Promoter Score (NPS) is the highest in our industry, and why Aryaka is a leader in Gartner’s 2021 Peer Reviews.
- A thriving third-party solution ecosystem is a necessity. Any company that aspires to build a superior user experience needs to give up on the idea that only they themselves can build the complete, perfect stack that ideally satisfies all user needs, everywhere. Even Apple, at its historical and most dominant ever, knows that best-of-breed applications are vital to its success, and knows it cannot provide all of those capabilities internally. Hence it caters to a thriving developer partner system that enriches its application marketplace and gives customers the certainty that they can always optimally tailor their device to their own needs. We do the same in Aryaka: While providing key core capabilities that are built into the solution, the SmartServices stack is always enriched with best-of-breed solutions from ecosystem partners, allowing enterprises to optimally tailor the solution to their architectural or regulatory needs.
- Passion for constant innovation with vertical integration. Apple always protects the user experience; any innovation is smoothly integrated for easy consumption. You never have to awkwardly do swivel chair integration for different applications in the Apple ecosystem. You always consume new capabilities in a familiar way, which maximizes productivity and accelerates business outcomes. The Aryaka strategy mirrors that.
To sum it up: user experience always comes first. In networking, that means that network managers should spend less time “keeping the lights on” with too many tools to operate and trouble-shoot across functional domains, virtual overlays and physical underlays, exposing a lot of completely disjointed visibility and control interfaces that the IT user has to precariously reconcile information from.
Our Aryaka solution combines the perfect balance of consolidated visibility and immediate, intuitive control. This is a theme you will see some further Aryaka news on.