I was hired by a major U.S. company to do network diagrams of their major computer systems and how they were connected — who updated whom? It was 1998 and the year 2000 was fast approaching — they were worried about "Y2K" (when all legacy computers would crash, because they would not know how to handle a year that did not begin with "19") and how it might affect their business-critical systems.
The goal of the network analysis was to map out which business computer system updated which other system. We gathered data on several link-sets, or networks — anyone remember working with IBM JCL? One of the link sets was only for date-based updates. Of course, we drew an asymmetric network — system X updates/influences system Y. The nodes on the network map were either major modules of major systems (Payroll), or complete business systems (Pension Calculation). We colored the nodes by whether the system was Y2K compliant yet. In a way, this was lot like the contagion analysis that I would do with the Centers for Disease Control many years later — who is sick, and who is coming in contact with whom else? This analysis was also similar to the many social network analysis projects being done today — looking for influencers in social media, or looking for bad guys in terror or corruption networks.
Recently a client of mine sent me a large network map claiming he had found a new use for InFlow. He sent a map of code for a program he was writing. He said the network map, and InFlow's ability to store text in the nodes (he would put notes and code there), helped him stay organized in this very complex project. He also mentioned that the various sub-network maps he can create helped immensely in discussions and problem-solving sessions with coders and system designers.
Computer systems are man-made networks, but they sometimes have similar attributes to living networks such as human, biological and ecosystem networks. Therefore, we can apply our learning from one domain to the other -- innovation happens at the intersections! In this article, The Social Life of Routers, I apply social network analysis thinking to designing a network of routers for computer networks.
We are always sending updates to each other, whether man or machine... Ping!