The Inefficiencies of Legacy Thinking

Until recently, I was working at a company that was in the process of migrating their datacenters into the cloud.  Their policies, written many years ago, stated that information had to go through their corporate firewalls.  During the Covid-19 outbreak that saw 95% of the workforce working from home, this was nevertheless interpreted to include corporate e-mail (which was stored in the Office 365 cloud) and video-conferencing (hosted through Zoom, WebEx, and other cloud providers).  This caused tremendous latency and led to poor transmissions.  When I asked why we were forcing our users to route their WebEx and Zoom traffic through a corporate (on-premises) virtual private network (VPN), I was told simply that: “Because the Corporate IT Security Policy requires it.”  Based on that, I wrote the following article.  It was not published at the time, but a couple of the co-workers I shared it with did take up the cause to have the policy changed. –MDG

I used to live in a part of Glendale, California called Adam’s Hill… thusly named because yes, we were on a hill.  If you are at all familiar with the topology of the Los Angeles area, you know that there are several hills and mountains to it; when I looked out from my patio (which was essentially the top of Adam’s Hill), I could see in the distance – maybe five miles away – the next hill.  Traffic in Los Angeles can be extreme, so it is likely that for me to get to the next hill, through all of the side-streets and with all of the traffic and streetlights, it would take me an hour… which is to say, I would get there at a rate of about five miles per hour.

RoadImagine I needed to get to the next hill on a daily basis, and I had all the money in the world… I decide to build a highway overpass that reaches from the bottom of my driveway right to my destination on the other hill.  At a reasonable clip of seventy-five miles per hour, I have now cut my trip from one hour to four minutes… at a tremendous cost, but for whatever reason I thought it was worth it.

The federal government sees me working on this project and determines that I cannot just build a road straight through, but I would have to build inspection booths at either end to make sure of whatever they want to make sure of.  They determine that each inspection – source and destination – will take five minutes.  Okay, my initial one-hour drive what had initially dropped to four minutes is now up to fourteen minutes.  This is a little frustrating, but it is still a tremendous savings.

The state government gets involved, and they determine that every highway must be patrolled by California Highway Patrol, and because the road is only thirty feet wide, they are imposing a maximum speed limit of fifty-five miles per hour.  I am, of course, a law-abiding citizen, so I will never exceed the speed limit.  Okay, what could have been a four-minute trip is now a fifteen-and-a-half-minute trip.  This is getting a bit silly…

The municipal governments look at my road and determine that my road goes through several residential neighbourhoods, and because of that, both to protect our children and to limit noise pollution, they have decided I need to install speed bumps that will limit my car’s ability to exceed ten miles per hour.  Now what would optimally have been a four-minute trip has now expanded to a forty-minute trip.

There are two ways to look at this:

  1. 40 minutes, down from 60 minutes, represents a 33% time saving; every work week I will have saved 100 minutes in commuting.
  2. With the tremendous amount of investment dedicated to this project – including time, manpower, cost of materials, cost of labour, permits, and such – we could have expected as much as a 90% time saving, and the mere 33% saving is paltry indeed.

So, where did our project go wrong… if at all?

A traffic jam on the 5 freeway heading south in Orange County California.It is easy to say that all of the levels of government had valid points to make about the road.  They have, after all, been building and managing roads for many years.  However, if this is a new style of road, using completely new technologies and accepting only the most modern cars, is it still true that all of the legacy rules that were important in the past should still apply to our road?

If we are building a solution using new technologies, rather than standing our ground firmly stating that the rules (and technologies) we have always implemented should be equally implemented here, would it not make sense to reevaluate each of these?  This is not to say that all of our old rules and technologies should immediately be discarded… but is it not worth reviewing to see if they are still relevant to modern infrastructure? 

As an example, do municipal speed limits that protect pedestrians matter on a road that is inaccessible to pedestrians?  If the noise created is undetectable to anyone who is not at the same level as the road, is it important to manage it?

I ask these questions because we, as the IT Professionals managing our organizations, have for many years done an outstanding job of protecting our datacenters.  However, in an era where the datacenter is becoming less relevant, and where cloud tools have modern tools that can protect them, should we not look at these, rather than focus on what worked well in the past?

As did most of us, I grew up in the datacenter.  It was not always easy, but I have learned to let go of a lot of what was, in favour of what is now.  Can we keep these questions in mind as we continue to migrate our company into the cloud?

Going Away…

When I leave town for two or three days my preparation depends on two factors: How am I going (by car versus by air or train), and what will I be doing (business versus pleasure).  My usual MO is to pack two bags: Clothes and sundries in one, electronics (photography and computers) in another.  Depending on how I travel I will pack differently – if I am driving I don’t need to be anywhere near as efficient as if I am flying, because I can just throw things into the trunk.

When I leave town for a week or longer I have to be more careful; will I have the ability to do laundry where I will be, and so on.  However aside from that, the only thing that usually changes is that for more than three days I will take a proper suitcase instead of throwing my clothes and kit into a backpack.

What about longer trips?  As I write this I am less than a week from getting onto a plane that will take me away for nearly two months.  I will be going to a different country with a different culture, different language, and different customs.  There are several factors I have to consider for a trip of this magnitude, and a lot more planning goes into it.Japan1

I am going to Japan… one of my favourite countries in the world for sure, but definitely a different culture.  So here are some of the things I planned for, and hopefully will help you the next time you head out on the road:

1) There’s no question about it… I can’t get away with a single suitcase.  The reason isn’t as simple as I need more clothes – although I do.  However other things that will go into my suitcase will include my small laptop bag and my messenger bag, because I like to carry most of my electronics on me (and especially my computers and camera equipment) as carry-on, so rather than just carrying on a small and unobtrusive laptop bag, I start with the fact that I need two carry-ons – one for my camera equipment (which is a full sized backpack), and one for my computers… even though both of my computers are very small, there is a lot of extra gear that I will take with me.  On the other hand, once I am in Tokyo I do not want to have to lug my large Briggs & Riley laptop bag (which when empty weights three or four pounds) back and forth from the office to my hotel.briggsu174ol

2) You never know… and that’s the problem, you do not always know what you will be faced with once you get to the destination.  That goes for both camera equipment (and so I am taking two camera bodies and five lenses), and computers (which is why I will take a docking station, external speakers, as well as a plethora of cables and connectors and adapters (and not to mention a wireless network switch).  Why?  Because I might need to connect to HDMI… or VGA, or Display Port.  I will likely want to watch TV and movies in my hotel, but that will mean downloading them to my computer, and then watching them (hopefully with my computer connected to the hotel’s TV).  I need a PowerPoint remote for when I present, and I need a ton of other things that I can’t think of… but don’t want to have to buy again (I remember arriving in Hong Kong only to discover I had forgotten my wireless presenter mouse, and had to buy a presenter and a mouse).

3) Cell phone woes… If I were going to the USA for seven weeks I wouldn’t worry about it because of my cell phone plan.  However I wasn’t sure with regard to Japan so I called my provider and asked, and sure enough, there was no good way for me to use my Canadian cell phone in Japan.  The first thing I did was had them unlock the phone for me, so that I could just get a SIM card to put into it in Japan.  I asked my colleagues in country to look into the best way to do that, and they did.  However what I wouldn’t have thought of before was this… My cell phone plan costs about $140 per month.  I will not be using it for the next two months.  I cannot cancel it… but what I did do was change the plan to the least expensive one they offered.  It leaves me with enough data for the week until I leave, but no more.  Rather than having the lavish 10GB per month plan with unlimited North American calling, I now have a 1GB plan with ten hours per month.

**NOTE: If you are going to do this, you also have to make sure you change it back at the tail end of your trip.  I put a reminder in my calendar to call them back the day I get back.

4) Renew prescriptions! If you are my age there is a decent chance you have at least one medication that you take daily.  Make sure you have enough for the entire trip.

**NOTE: Insurance may screw you on this.  In speaking with my pharmacist last night I found out that insurance plans often will not allow you to renew your prescription until you are 2/3 way through your last refill.  Make sure you don’t get dinged.

5) Weather the whether… or whatever.  I am leaving for Japan on October 14.  I know what the weather will be like this week.  However I also have to anticipate what the weather will be like in Japan in six weeks, so that I am not stuck wearing shorts when it is 5C outside.  If you are traveling across seasons, make sure you have enough appropriate clothes for both seasons.

6) SHOES ARE IMPORTANT!  I always pack with the philosophy that whatever I forget I can just buy when I am there.  When I was preparing for my first trip to Japan my boss warned me that I will not be able to get shoes in my size in Japan, so I made sure to take an extra pair… just in case.

7) The last time I went away for a long period of time I lived with my family.  Now that I am living on my own it is important to make sure someone is checking in on my condo every couple of days.  Let’s be honest… the one bamboo plant I have does not need watering; however it is important to make sure that there are no leaks, that the pipes don’t freeze, and that nothing goes wrong.  Every few days should be enough, and that is taken care of.  Also, rather than ‘stopping my mail’ it is a good idea to have someone bring the mail from the mailbox into the house.

Traveling abroad for longer periods can be fun… even when you are going for work.  Planning for every contingency is impossible, but giving it a bit of thought will make your trip more enjoyable.  As they say, Luck favours the prepared mind!