A few decades ago, car odometers were designed to roll over to zero after 99,999 miles because it was rare for cars to last that long. But today cars come with a warranty for 100,000 miles because it is rare for cars to not last that long. This massive reliability improvement has come about despite the significantly higher complexity of modern cars. Cars have followed the arc of many engineering artifacts, where human ingenuity brought them to their initial working form and then robust engineering techniques made them work well.

The computer hardware and software domains have also invested heavily in robust engineering techniques to improve reliability. One domain where reliability improvements have lagged is computer networking, where outages and security breaches that disrupt millions of users and critical services are all too common. While there are many underlying causes for these incidents, studies have consistently shown that the vast majority are caused by errors in the configuration of network devices. Yet engineers continue to manually reason about the correctness of network configurations. While the original Internet was an academic curiosity, today’s networks are too critical for businesses and society, and also too complex—they span the globe and connect billions of endpoints—-for their correctness to be left (solely) to human reasoning.

When you compare software and network engineering trends at a high level, the contrast is striking. Application development has become remarkably agile, robust and responsive, while the networks that carry those apps have not. They continue to be slow to evolve and prone to error. The difference is tools.

Software engineers have leveraged a suite of tools to rapidly respond to changing business needs, accelerate development and improve reliability. Network engineers need to follow suit. The tools they need are now available.

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