Moving on from Cohesive Networks


I’m writing this on my last day as CTO for Cohesive Networks, and by the time it’s published I’ll have moved on to a new role as CTO for Global Infrastructure Services at CSC.

Looking Back

It’s been a pretty incredible (almost) three years at Cohesive.

Year 1 – focus on networking. When I joined Cohesive in March 2013 we had a broad product portfolio covering image management, deployment automation and networking. It was clear however that most of our customers were driven by networking, and hence that was what we should concentrate our engineering resources and brand on. We finished 2013 with a strategic commitment to put all of our energy into VNS3, and in many ways that transition ended with renaming the company to Cohesive Networks at the beginning of this year.

Year 2 – containers everywhere. By the summer of 2013 we had a number of customers clamouring for additional functions in VNS3. This was generally for things they were running in ancillary VMs such as load balancing, TLS termination and caching. Putting all of those things into the core product (and allowing them to be customised to suit every need) was an impossible task. Luckily we didn’t need to do that; the arrival of Docker provided a way to plug in additional functions as containers, giving a clean separation between core VNS3 and user customisable add ons. The Docker subsystem went into VNS3 3.5, which we released in April 2014. This turned out to be a very strategic move, as not only did it shift VNS3 from being a closed platform to an open platform, but it also allowed us and our customers to embrace the rapidly growing Docker ecosystem.

Year 3 – security. By the end of 2014 some customers were coming looking at the NIST Cyber Security Framework and trying to figure out how to deal with it. Section PR.AC-5 ‘Network integrity is protected, incorporating network segregation where appropriate’ was of particular concern as organisations realised that the hard firewall around the soft intranet no longer provided effective defence. It was time for the cloud network security model to return home to the enterprise network, and VNS3:turret was born to provide curated security services along with the core encrypted overlay technology.

What I’ve learned

The power of ‘no’ – what something isn’t. Products can be defined as much by what they don’t do as what they do. Many products that I see in the marketplace today are the integral of every (stupid) feature request that’s ever been made, and they end up being lousy to work with because of that. VNS3 doesn’t fall into that trap because we spent a lot of time figuring out what it wasn’t going to be (as well as plenty of time working on what it is and will be).

Write less software. Is a natural follow on to what something isn’t, as you don’t have to code features that you decide not to implement. But even when you do decide to do something writing code isn’t necessarily the best way to get things done. The world of open source provides a cornucopia of amazing stuff, and it’s often much better to collaborate and integrate rather than cutting new code (and creating new bugs) from scratch.

CTOs are part of the marketing team. I’d previously observed CTOs elsewhere that seemed to spend most of their visible time on marketing, and I think that’s become ever more prevalent over the past few years. There’s little point to a commercial product that nobody knows about, and successful communities require engagement. It’s been fantastic to work with our customers, partners, prospects, industry associations, and open source communities over the past few years.

What’s next

I’m going to one of the world’s biggest IT outsourcing companies just as three of the largest transitions our industry has ever seen start to hit the mainstream:

  • Cloud Computing – is now consuming around half of new server CPU shipments, marking a tilt in the balance away from traditional enterprise data centres.
  • Infrastructure as code – is just a part of the shift towards design for operations and the phenomenon that’s been labelled ‘DevOps’, bringing changes and challenges across people, process, and technology.
  • Open source – not only as a replacement for proprietary technologies or the basis of software as a service, but as a key part of some business strategies.

I hope that my time at Cohesive has prepared me well for helping the new customers I’ll meet deal with those transitions.

This also isn’t the end of my involvement with Cohesive, as I’ll stay involved via the Board of Advisors.

This post originally appeared on the Cohesive Networks blog titled CTO Chris Swan Moving On

2 Responses to “Moving on from Cohesive Networks”

  1. Congratulations, Chris – that’s a big gain for CSC!

  2. Very cool journey. The next adventure will certainly be a grand one as well!

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