ATM is like a duck

It was (around) 1995, everyone was talking about ATM, but very few people knew what they were talking about. I was at Networkers (way before they became overcrowded Cisco Live events) and decided to attend the ATM Executive Summary session, which started with (approximately) this slide …

… and the following explanation:

As you know, a duck can swim, but it's not as fast as a fish, walk, but not run as a cheetah, and fly, but it's far from being an eagle. And ATM can carry voice, data and video.

The session continued with a very concise overview of AAL types, permanent or switched virtual circuits and typical usages, but I’ve already got the summary I was looking for … and I’ll remember the duck analogy for the rest of my life. Whenever someone mentions ATM, the picture of the duck appears somewhere in the background.

If you’re trying to explain something very complex (like your new network design) to people who are not as embedded into the problem as you are, try to find the one core message, make it as simple as possible, and build around it.


  1. Ivan: this is brilant idea. Thank you for inspiration.
  2. I never heard of the duck analogy but here are some of my ATM slides from a decade and a half ago,
  3. Great analogy! So in life is it better to be a do-all-average duck or expert-[fish|cheetah|eagle]...

    Btw, would you consider MPLS/IP a duck?
  4. Nah I would consider MPLS/IP a Platypus. It looks like a couple of different animals have been stiched together frankenstien style, but it is really a unique beastie.
  5. MPLS/IP can carry data very well (run as a cheetah) ;)
  6. MPLS/IP is like the mythical beast Pegasus. IP is the (work)horse, and MPLS gives it wings.
  7. Sorry that we took the DUCK to GDC
    1. We sure did. RAMBO the duck.
  8. If ATM is a duck, then MPLS is a shotgun.
  9. I was the guy that did the duck presentation for GDC. The quote is slightly wrong. The payoff idea was that the duck could do it all even if not the best at ONE thing. I am amazed that anyone remembers the image of RAMBO the duck.
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