Cyan Hires Video Game Developers for POW! BANG! ZOOM!
Mitch Wagner, West Coast Bureau Chief, Light Reading
Managing networks will never be as much fun as blowing the heads off zombies, but Cyan is looking to make it as visually interesting. The company has developers with backgrounds in gaming contributing to its network visualization software.
"We have five guys that we've been able to find over time that have a backgrounding in gaming directly involved in visualization," Cyan Inc. president Mike Hatfield tells Light Reading. "What happens is that the best of that technology is applied to a closed environment in telecom."
The drive to make network visualization tools more rich comes from the changing nature of service provider networking, Hatfield says. Service providers previously relied on a few telecommunications tools. But now service provider network managers are required to deal with technologies that came in from the enterprise, including Ethernet, software administration, and operations.
"As these networks began to emerge, you have an opportunity to grab a lot of data -- how do you visualize that?" Hatfield says. Cyan turned to developers in the gaming industry to put their talents to use creating richer user interfaces for Cyan's Blue Planet management tools.
For example, Blue Planet provides multilayer network management, analyzing fiber, wavelengths OTM error correction and management, and Ethernet on top. "All of those have traditionally been run by separate organizations, and information from one has not been correlated," Hatfield says. "We felt that having visual correlation between those would be beneficial." If something breaks, a network manager using visualization tools can easily see if the problem is in their layer or a layer below.
"If you're at Layer 4, and it's just a straightforward fiber cut, you can waste a lot of time finding out what happened," Hatfield said. "When something goes bad everything turns red and it's easy to see that everything above it will go wrong."
Joe Cumello, Cyan chief marketing officer, says, "Traditionally, network management technology that vendors force network managers to use view data in a tabular way, as a flat file. It was very difficult to correlate in two dimensions what was happening in those layers."
Cyan also relies on gaming-like fly-throughs to allow network managers to move through an environment, turn the network on its side, and zoom in and out to individual cables. "You can see the layers and actual movement that you might not get with screen capture or two-dimensional implementation," Cumello says.
A small salting of game developers does the job for Cyan. The company has five developers with gaming background, out of a total 120.
The developers also helped with Cyan's transition to a loose corporate culture based on the agile development methodology. "The key in gaming technology is try something, see if it works, if it doesn't, adjust it," Hatfield says. "We’ve taken some of that fail-fast approach, which is very much a gaming approach."
Cyan also tries to bring a gaming approach to managers learning to use its tools. "With the older video games, you had to read the manual to play the game," Hatfield says. "Then later you could just turn on the game and learn as you go," he says. Inspired by games, Cyan tries to make its software as intuitive as it can.
Cyan's developers with gaming background also brought storyboarding, a gaming technique, into the development process. Cyan now maps out scenarios of what typical operators will do when attempting to diagnose problems.
Does the use of gaming techniques runs Cyan into trademark collision with the other Cyan, which made the wildly popular games Myst and Riven? No, says Hatfield. "Although they do have the domain cyan.com, so we're envious of that," he says. The networking company is at www.cyaninc.com.
Cyan put together a demo video of its visualization tools.
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