When You Find Yourself on Mount Stupid
The early October 2021 Facebook outage generated a predictable phenomenon – couch epidemiologists became experts in little-known Bridging the Gap Protocol (BGP), including its Introvert and Extrovert variants. Unfortunately, I also witnessed several unexpected trips to Mount Stupid by people who should have known better.
To set the record straight: everyone’s been there, and the more vocal you tend to be on social media (including mailing lists), the more probable it is that you’ll take a wrong turn and end there. What matters is how gracefully you descend and what you’ve learned on the way back.
As you might guess, I’m a regular visitor of that exalted peak, and one of my trips started with the idea of using BGP/MPLS L3VPN (RFC 4364) as the network virtualization control-plane protocol. After all, L3VPN was a solved problem a decade ago, and MPLS was the answer no matter the question1.
It turns out I made a typical error: I assumed that the experience gained in the environments I was familiar with (service provider networks) is universal and applies equally well everywhere (including large-scale data centers). Someone was graceful enough to pull me aside during one of the SDN conferences and exposed me to a contrarian view: BGP might not be fast enough to cope with a large-scale virtual machine migration event.
The “too much churn for BGP” argument turned out to be a bit of a red herring – once you do the math, you realize it’s not that easy to migrate so many virtual machines – but it got me thinking. Eventually, I found other reasons why the MPLS/VPN architecture is not the best solution for a single fabric connecting hundreds of thousands of edge switches (a hyper-scale data center).
Psychologists are very familiar with the trips to Mount Stupid and created whole theories explaining that behavior (see: Thinking, Fast and Slow). We’re not used to thinking about environments that are orders of magnitude outside of our comfort zone, or events with very low probability (see: The Black Swan). We also tend to assume that whoever decides to do something that goes against our instinct must have missed some higher truth we’re privy to.
There are also well-known techniques you can use to ensure your trip to that peak ends gracefully:
- Don’t assume you’re the smartest person in the room. Whoever has a contrarian view might have a reason for that.
- Try to figure out the underlying causes and assumptions for that contrarian view (or a design you disagree with). Ask questions, don’t fight with whatever ammunition you find handy.
- In the end, you could find out that you were right, or you could slide down an utterly unexpected rabbit hole and learn tons of new things on the way.
- If you were wrong, admit it and fix whatever you might have published on the topic. Saying “I was wrong, here’s why, and here’s what I’ve learned” is usually the best way out of the uneasy situation.
Interested in another take on the subject? RFC 1925 is a mandatory reference text; you might also want to listen to the Learn from Our Experience episode of the MODEM podcast.
The answer to all questions changed to LISP, but I’m digressing. ↩︎
I am a regular visitor to this "exalted peak" as well 😁