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Sounds like Failure

by Scott Bradner

I was thumbing through the February issue of Business Communications Review this morning and Fred Knight's editorial on ATM (ATM: Networking's Swiss Army Knife?") helped me to crystallize something that has been vaguely bothering me for a long time. Why do some ATM proponents sound so much like losers?

Fred's editorial is just the sort of thing I've been reading in this and other publications for the last few years about ATM. It is a good exhort that ATM will be useful for something any day now. But somehow that day is always just around the corner even though ATM is ready now.

Fred ends by saying "At least for now, however, ATM remains that only technology that has proven that it can deliver Swiss Army knife-like functionality -- a single package that can be used for a multiplicity of purposes."

I've found reading this type of thing somehow disconcerting and I did not know why but Fred's editorial helped me nail it down. The ATM advocates are trying too hard. I do not see the same sort of assertion of superiority from advocates of gigabit Ethernet or IP, though a bit of it creeps in from time to time on the token ring front. Devotees of most other technologies think it’s a better to heed Shakespeare's note that "words are no deeds" and talk about the things they have done than prophesy how great things will be in some future.

Even when focusing on success stories, articles about ATM somehow still come across as out of proportion to the importance of the example, they want the reader to project some global impact from a small hospital installing an ATM network.

I do not know if this behavior is actually as prevalent in the ATM camp as is my perception, I may be being more sensitive to ATM marketing being presented as news articles than I am for other technologies. If that is the case it might be because I've been seeing it for longer for ATM than for anything else I can think of.

When a technology finds its place in the landscape the number of over hyped stories goes down, at least in the technical journals. At this point marketing stories for IP or Ethernet would seem very much out of place and be seen as an indication that the author did not know all that much about the topic. ATM has not reached that level of maturity in spite of years of work, and after a number of years of great success in a number of areas including as the infrastructure technology for many of the largest Internet service providers.

It is a bit hard to understand why ATM advocates think they still have to try so hard, maybe it's because they are unwilling to accept that ATM is good at what ATM is good at and still want to claim that it’s the general purpose network tool.

disclaimer: Its far too late for Harvard to not over-hype, in any case the above are my observations.