The Ten Layer Stack

The past couple of weeks, I’ve been spending more time than normal with customers. sales, and partners.  It’s reminded me of an important lesson I’d been taught about technology decision factors.

Any communications technologist worth his salt will pepper his speech with oblique references to the OSI seven layer stack.   This very helpful model was codified by the International Organization for Standardization (OSI) in the 1970s and provides a framework for understanding how communications flow between systems across different networking technologies.

The lowest layer (layer 1 or the physical layer) represents the most basic physical levels of connectivity, such as how networking signals are sent across a piece of copper wire.  The next level (layer 2 or data link layer) represents basic addressing of physical devices on a network.  The most commonly known example of a layer 2 protocol is Ethernet.  Layer 3 (the network layer) protocols deal with the basics of moving information across networks of physical connectivity.  An example layer 3 protocol is IP or the Internet Protocol.  The transport layer (layer 4) deals with network reliability.  TCP is an example of a layer 4 protocol.  And so on, up to layer 7, the application layer, which takes data transferred to and from the network and interprets that information for useful work.

Having spent twenty years in technology industries, I’m quite conversant in the seven layer stack.  However, Andrew Pierce, a friend who has spent his career helping companies actually choose and implement these technologies taught me that it’s the layers above the application layer that really matter when businesses are selecting technology solutions.

Layer 8 (the marketing layer) translates all the technical capabilities represented by layers one through seven into addressing real and perceived customer needs.  If the technology doesn’t solve a real problem, then it’s not likely to be implemented. 

Layer 9 (the finance layer) considers all of the costs of implementing the technology and balances those costs against the benefits promised by the solution.  Vendor promises, heavily discounted by potential buyers, have to outweigh the cost and trouble of trying something new, or they’ll never get approved.

The Politics Layer (layer 10) is the most difficult to measure or predict.  Who knows whom?  How much clout can be brought to bear?  And which parties gain and lose power through a technology decision often have the most significant impact of all in deciding whether a specific technology is deployed in a network.

Being successful in technology requires not only mastery of the 7-layer stack, but also those three additional layers on top!

One Response to “The Ten Layer Stack”

  1. […] Of course the real problem goes back to the Ten Layer Stack.  As you may recall, most technologists focus on the 7 technology layers defined in the OSI reference model.  However, in reality, technology decisions often have almost nothing to do with technology – instead they come down to marketing, finance, and politics. […]

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