Better Together: hardware and software experiences

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My first car was a “sin bin” that never saw any action (hey, shoot for the moon right?). My second car was a straight six, tuned length extractors, aluminum head, and three side draft, double-barrel, 45 mil, DCOE Webers. That second car, when it was on the road, was a work of passion, seriously, all my spare time and money was spent working on the engine. There was not a lick of software in that car, not a single bit or byte (ok, maybe some DIP switches I can’t remember). That car was all metal, cables, connectors, rubber, belts, and oils. That car delivered an amaaaaaazing experience, well if you were a pimply faced teenager anyway. Life, and business, is all about experiences, much more than things. Great products and services deliver great experiences, the best and most disruptive deliver new experiences.

As I drive my new EV more, I discover new things. I often put it in ECO+ mode when I start. I’m driving along, everything is going well, I enter the main highway, I push on the accelerator and nothing happens. I keep pushing on the accelerator, and still nothing happens. I panic for a second, thinking my new car is broken. Then I look at the dash and I see an indicator saying that the maximum speed in ECO+ mode is 60 miles per hour. I then shift to a different driving mode. The ability to have many different experiences in one car is quite nice: ECO+, ECO, Normal, and Sport, for example.

The use of electronic controls has been used extensively in Formula E, the Electric Vehicle “equivalent” of Formula 1. For example, take “Fanboost”, where the five drivers with the most FANBOOST votes get a boost in power which they can deploy for five seconds in the second half of the race. Hard to imagine a fan experience like this with a purely hardware car. That’s really the thing about software, it is not an end in and of itself, it is often a way of complementing hardware, to achieve different experiences.

With the emergence of merchant silicon, this has to be a key focus for all networking product managers and business leaders. How am I going to fundamentally change the experience of using networking equipment, running a network, etc? This is particularly important for network equipment suppliers that still develop their own network processing units, however, Arista is no less interesting because it does not. In fact, beyond the success and growth Arista has achieved, it is precisely because it does not develop its own network processing unit that it is interesting: what are the tradeoffs they experience as a result, what do they do in software that realizes the potential of merchant silicon, what other value propositions do they lean on, and to what extent are they more like a software company than competitors? All the main network equipment suppliers, and arguably all products and services in any part of the economy, in the era of cloud, need to double down on customer experience.

There are likely many roads to the better togetherness of hardware and software. I’ve written about network as a subscription/service in a couple of blogs:

I’m still inclined to believe this will be the major disruption / force for change in the years ahead, however, I am definitely not closed off to other ways of making hardware and software better together. Whatever the way, product managers and business leaders need to be focused on how to realize the better together value proposition. Like my second car, hardware by itself can produce a great experience. Software by itself, if there is such a thing, can deliver a great experience. However, there are value propositions to be explored beyond the utility of moving bits. There are new value propositions to be created when hardware and software are reimagined, as better together.


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