TTL

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Pop geek quiz.

If you didn’t even have to think to know the meaning of this acronym, this bit is for you.

If you don’t know that TTL – the Time To Live value – is what keeps networks from collapsing under the weight of all of the data that would otherwise be bouncing around lost, never to arrive or otherwise be useful in any other way, then this bit is also for you. Twice.

Some fundamental design concepts prove to be so large in their application, that one wonders how we managed to successfully breathe in and out before they revealed themselves to their designer. The sheer mass of these fundamental concepts only reveal themselves to us over time as well, as we keep finding new applications for them after we had all long assumed there couldn’t be any more of them.

The TTL, or network Time To Live, assumes that all data in transmission only has a certain potential usefulness, when viewed in terms of time. That if data shows up at its destination after a certain point in time, that it just shouldn’t have bothered showing up at all. Oh, and as an aside, if it showed up that late or was otherwise being transmitted after that time, it was probably also lost, as well.

And here’s where TTL unexpectedly gets larger.

Explosively, massively, relativistically larger.

The network engineer will tell you that data should only have a defined Time To Live on the network.

I’m here to tell you that Information should also have its own – configurable — Time to Live as well.

Think about that for just a second, maybe two, and imagine what it would mean if the time that certain types of information could only be stored could be tuned according to its intended use.

Imagine the impacts on IT security, if the types of commercial data that are consistently being breached, were set to have to destruct and have to be renewed in such a short period of time that stealing them would get you virtually nothing.

What got me thinking about this was a case reported in the New York Times — http://www.nytimes.com/2014/05/14/opinion/ordering-google-to-forget.html?_r=0 – about a Spanish citizen winning a court case that has created a precedent that Individuals control the rights over whether or how long information about them should be made available via the Internet.

So it is, essentially, up to you – at least under Spanish law – to determine how long information about you is publically shared.

So we have a principle that – today – does not yet have a technical solution or an infrastructure to support it. The principle that all personal information is controlled by the associated human.

TTL.

Imagine all of the types of information that people will want to restrict. Pictures of you…doing that thing…. at that long ago frat party. Adverse employment actions. Stupid Facebook flame wars on politically incorrect subjects. The list is virtually and literally endless.

The entire structure and implementation of networks and file systems will need to be reworked to include the header and metadata structures to support and implement this.

It’s something that will totally revolutionize the way we regard and handle all digital information in the future. It could just restore rational operation to the whole psyche of the entire human race, which has been made collectively insane by being unable to forget anything at all.

Information Time to Live. Information that is designed to be forgotten.

Have your lawyers call my lawyers to draw up the agreement. You know that this little brainstorm of mine is the way forward for us all.

Transparency

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I’ve had some great gigs and I’ve had some terrible gigs.

One of the best I ever had was as the Solutions Architect for the Custom Services Unit of the now absorbed Compaq Computer Corporation.

In that role, my job was to work with our Sales Teams to engage with clients, understand their businesses, and work with them to determine how we could best help them to achieve their goals.  Our clients were an unusual stew of small businesses, start-ups, and a few smaller government customers that had been experiencing uncharacteristically un-governmental, sweeping dynamic change.

Really, from the point of view of an alpha propeller-head, it was nearly perfect little world.

I would talk to customers to understand where their organizations were and were they were going. We would identify and prioritize their most pressing information challenges. They would tell me what technical capabilities they had and what kind of budgets they could bring to bear to address the problems. With this conversation, I could then provide them access to the technical assistance and solutions they needed and could not easily provide for themselves.

Lots of people would look at this as some sort of driving to get the order, and those folks would see a stressful, goal oriented process. For me, though, it was working together, actively listening, and letting your customer tell you where they thought they needed help.

After one of these conversations, I would go back to my home office and write up my notes into a statement of work. I’d identify the different resources it might take to deliver the project, and develop some resource estimates and a commercial structure.  If the job was going to take hardware or software to complete, I would put together a bill of materials with servers, storage and networking gear that Compaq sold. I’d head back to the client’s and review the contract in detail with them. I don’t recall ever writing one up where I didn’t get the go ahead to deliver the service.

So we’d sign the statement of work, shake hands, and I’d pull my Aerostich on over my business clothes and ride my motorcycle back home. My business suit would go back on its hangar in the closet, and the next morning I’d pull on a pair of jeans and an oxford cloth shirt, put my tools in my laptop bag, and ride back to my client’s place and start to build the stuff I’d sold the day before.

It is the easiest thing in the world to make promises when you know you will be the one keeping them.

It sounds simple, but it really isn’t.

Say exactly what you mean. Mean what you say. And follow though and do what you said you would do.

My customers understood that that was the deal – that they weren’t likely to have to appeal to some disengaged Account Manager that didn’t really have any skin in the game.  I’d said I’d take care of it, and even though I always had support from specialist members of my team – Network, Storage and Messaging System pros – they knew that in the end I would make sure that they got what I’d committed to.

Now not every IT Service engagement is that simple.

They should be, though.

I’ll admit that my case – where I was the salesman, consultant, architect, Project Manager and service delivery resource – is an unusual, best-case scenario that borders on some sort of IT Nerd Elysium.

When you engage with an Information Technology service provider, you’ll be dealing with at least those half a dozen people, as well as their internal legal, finance and management teams. Every additional participant in that process tends to make the entire journey slower, longer, less agile, more cumbersome and harder to understand, and ultimately, to manage to success.

My Compaq Statements of Work used to average between two and a half and four pages. Nobody had any questions about what was being described and what work would be performed.  Since then, I’ve seen contract documents that looked like the Manhattan phone book, and whose content required a legal team and an accountant to untangle, and even then your entire team might not agree on exactly what was being said.

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When you go to the market, clarity, transparency and simplicity are what you should demand. Service Providers that comport themselves in this manner are putting themselves in your – the client’s – shoes, not hiding behind language and instruments whose jobs are to obscure and obfuscate what you’re getting for your money. Information Technology has become so complex and the commercial stakes are so high that going it alone is no longer a viable option.

If what your IT Provider is saying isn’t absolutely clear to you, you need to find another provider.