Network Optics and Gyrocopters

Talk about end-user reporting going unheeded: As the entire civilized world knows by now, Doug Hughes landed a one-person gyrocopter on the West Lawn of the U.S. Capitol building to raise awareness of the issue of campaign finance reform. I admire his courage and chutzpah. But I would not recommend violating highly restricted airspace to anyone.

He was no terrorist, of course. Terrorists keep their actions secret. Doug gave advance notice to local (Florida) media that he would be doing this; he was visited by the Secret Service, which found no reason to detain him; he blogged about doing it; he live streamed; and he sent an e-mail to “” before the flight. He clearly thought he was taking steps to make sure people knew he was a protestor – not a bomber.

But Hughes didn’t give the right people advance notice.

According to the FAA, Hughes made no effort to contact air traffic controllers to inform them of his flight. His gyrocopter wasn’t even equipped with a transponder or radio. In other words, he was telling people about his flight – but he wasn’t providing that crucial information to the people who most needed it.

It’s like that when it comes to your network: Often it’s what you don’t know that can hurt you the worst. For example, in a programmable, automated SDN environment, traditional, manual management methods cannot keep up with changes in real time. Polling the routed network infrastructure periodically is inadequate and leaves operators blind. Deploying probes to monitor constantly shifting service traffic is problematic and expensive.

Even if you collect all the metrics in the world – having a virtual omniscience over every packet and byte – you can’t deal with the simplest of problems if you don’t have the right tools to route them to the right people or take the right actions automatically.

I don’t know what’s needed in Washington, D.C. to prevent gyrocopters, drones, and other things people cannot imagine yet from flying under the radar – literally and figuratively. But for intelligent, real-time orchestration by SDN controllers, we need always-current network routing models, traffic matrices, and performance analytics.

Only with this information can operators determine whether a network change can go forward or if it will negatively impact other applications. This information is also required for operational monitoring of overlay networks and dynamic applications, such as traffic engineering, bandwidth calendaring and virtualized network functions.

If Hughes were to ask the FAA’s permission to fly to the Capitol, would they have allowed it? Hell no. But at least the air traffic controllers would have been given the information needed to keep track of the crazy man on the flying bicycle going 45 miles per hour.