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The Pulpit
The Pulpit

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Weekly Column

Leading Men: Cisco engineering units are the emerging measure of global power.

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By Robert X. Cringely
bob@cringely.com

The Pulpit Poll

Should we as a nation be afraid of Bermuda?

Yes: It's the shorts.
No: Five CCIEs does not constitute a critical IT mass.

Skip this one and see results

Leading indicators are measurements that change over time and suggest future trends for important second-order results like population growth and economic development. Economists in particular are often looking for indicators that have been known historically to lead the overall economy. If unemployment goes down, for example, it is a good bet that shortly thereafter income will rise and the economy will improve. It’s for this very reason, then, that economists and Wall Street fund managers are always looking for newer and better leading indicators. But such indicators needn’t be limited to the economy: they can apply to technology and technical culture, too, which has its own feedback loop to economic development. My friend George Morton, who figured this all out, says that by knowing the right numbers to look at we can have a good idea what countries will be leading in technology — and presumably in economic development and power — in the years ahead. The measure George likes is the number of Cisco Certified Internetwork Experts or CCIEs.

The CCIE is Cisco’s top certification category and VERY hard to earn. Being a CCIE doesn’t mean you have Len Bozack on speed dial, but it might as well. Cisco products dominate the Internet and CCIEs are Cisco gurus, so if you are serious about the Internet as a nation you’ll have CCIEs hanging about, or that’s the theory. Conversely, if you just talk a good game as a country with technological aspirations, maybe you won’t have many CCIEs at all — maybe none. It’s one way to determine who the posers are.

Cisco publishes the total number of CCIEs and their geographical distribution four times per year and George used the Internet Archive to track down the last nine years of data to look for trends. All of this is behind one of this week’s links.

Where I took a step further was to divide the number of CCIEs into each country’s population, then do the same for each country’s Gross Domestic Product and correct for widely varying populations and states of economic development. For a baseline, then, the U.S. has at present 5,863 CCIEs, which is 1.947 CCIEs per 100,000 population and $2.2 billion of GDP per CCIE.

It is logical to assume that nations with adjusted numbers that exceed those of the U.S. for CCIEs per 100K are Internet up-and-comers and ought to fare well in the decades ahead. Beyond the population statistic, countries that have significantly less GDP per CCIE are those that would seem to have made networking a national priority. Countries that are significantly behind the U.S. on one measure or another are just that — behind the U.S. — which is not good.

Here, then, are some of the numbers I calculated:

Canada, not surprisingly, is similar to the U.S. with 2.2 CCIEs per 100K and $2.45 billion per CCIE, as is the UK with 1.5 CCIEs per 100K and $2.12 billion in GDP per CCIE. Ireland is very similar to the UK with 1.48 CCIEs per 100K and $2.95 billion in GDP per CCIE. The really interesting European numbers to me come from Germany, with 0.74 CCIEs per 100K and $4.3 billion per CCIE, and France, with 0.36 CCIEs per 100K and $8.11 billion per CCIE. Both of these countries appear to be underinvesting in network technology, with France especially lagging.

Latin America is dramatically behind Europe and North America, though I found it interesting that Argentina, with 0.17 CCIEs per 100K and $8.94 billion in GDP, is 50-100 percent ahead of both Mexico and Brazil.

It is especially interesting to compare India with China and Japan with South Korea. India has 0.036 CCIEs per 100K to China’s 0.22 per 100K — a 7X differential — while India has $10 billion in GDP per CCIE to China’s $3.3 billion. There is no doubt that there is plenty of network expertise in India, but these numbers show that expertise isn’t making it out of the technology centers to the rest of the country. China, on the other hand, is developing its IT infrastructure much more broadly. This also doesn’t take into account the simply huge numbers coming out of Hong Kong, where there are 3.3 CCIEs per 100K and $1.13 billion in GDP per CCIE — numbers that might properly be added to the rest of China in some accounts.

Japan has 1.23 CCIEs per 100K to South Korea’s 1.9, but the significant difference between these two countries is the $4 billion per CCIE in GDP for Japan compared to $1.28 billion in South Korea, which is clearly investing massively in network infrastructure.

Looking 30 years into the future I think it is clear that the regional leaders will be China and Korea, NOT India and Japan.

Israel has numbers very similar to Korea with 1.43 CCIEs per 100K and $1.4 billion in GDP per CCIE, which is more than double on both scales that of the other Middle Eastern leader, Saudi Arabia, with 0.42 CCIEs per 100K and $3.2 billion in GDP per CCIE.

And don’t count out corporate haven Bermuda with its five total CCIEs and its population of 66,000. That’s 7.5 CCIEs per100K and $900 million in GDP per CCIE.

“When looking at the countries a key element for IT is the English language,” said George. “Yes I know Harvard still publishes diplomas in Latin. Where English is a first language, or an important second language is key to the number of CCIEs. Sorry C, PERL, JAVA, Cisco IOS, Basic, &t. are all English context. The Moore’s CCIE Law also brings into question the ability of countries to attract IT capital with open or closed network infrastructure.
The last point — over 50 percent of all CCIEs in the US work for Cisco. In Mexico, and India I bet it is over 50%. Both are very large call centers for Cisco Support. Morton’s CCIE Law = Moore’s Law accelerated by the technological support available to exploit Moore’s Law. The degree of acceleration is measured by the available number of CCIEs. It’s Newton’s Second Law: F=ma, (or Force = Moore’s Law * CCIEs).”

What we’re talking about here is the future of world power in this century, but I can understand if your eyes have glazed over a bit. Maybe something more interesting would be the big question reverberating through the hallways at Google: why the heck can’t they make any money from YouTube?

This is, on the face of it, the same question that eBay must be asking about Skype. Both were fairly large investments yet neither is contributing significant revenue to the parent company. Poor Skype can’t feed us ads before or after every phone call, especially since the only way to have contextual data to make those ads more valuable would be to listen in on the calls — a no-no. But for YouTube the problem is different because it ought to be fairly easy to figure out what a video is about then sell ads against that metadata.

Easier said than done, my friends. The problem with YouTube and advertisers is that the nature of the videos, themselves, is too varied and the metadata too easily wrong. A hotel chain that might well want to advertise before a video of the Paris Hilton, for example, might be extremely reluctant to advertise before a video OF Paris Hilton, yet from the perspective of metadata both are extremely similar. This is a HUGE problem for Google and all the other streamers of user-generated videos, which leads some people to believe that amateur night will eventually end and the Internet will return to being like most television — a place for predominantly professional video.

What’s funny about this is I think I have the problem figured out. The answer seems obvious to me, but I’m not sure Google would even listen if I told them my answer.

Comments from the Tribe

Status: [OPEN] read all comments (1) | add a comment

Alternatively, India needs fewer CCIEs because automation lets the CCIEs scale out better.

Devdas Bhagat | Dec 12, 2008 | 6:02AM
[OPEN] read all comments (1)

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