vSensei – Good Infrastructure Like Bamboo

imageOccasionally I run into a good post from elsewhere (The Art of Suffering, vZen, etc) that has lessons that translate into our world quite well. This time around I was reading a bit on Garr Reynolds’ PresentationZen blog and came across this post. The post while not directly related to IT infrastructure, Garr’s bag is presentations, as folks who design and maintain infrastructures, we can take some lessons from the mighty Bamboo.


TL;DR – Lots of words. Design your infrastructures well.

What looks weak is strong

The body of  even the largest type of  bamboo is not large compared to the other much larger trees in the forest. But the plants endure cold winters and extremely hot summers and are some times the only trees left standing in the aftermath of a storm.

Ok, so let’s start by saying that not everything that looks weak is strong. While the Visio diagram of your environment may not look as impressive as some of those out there, consider bamboo is also not as big or as mighty looking as other trees in the forest. Yet, after horrible storms, hot summers and freezing winters… who is left standing? Your infrastructure does not have to be huge or cost a lot to be strong, there is also strength in being small & flexible.

Bend but not break

One of the most impressive things about the bamboo is how it sways with the breeze. This gentle swaying movement is a symbol of humility. The foundation of the bamboo is solid, yet it moves and sways harmoniously with the wind, never fighting against it. In time, even the strongest wind tires itself out, but the bamboo remains standing tall and still.

The lesson here, is that infrastructure should support the organization and move as it moves rather than being so rigid in implementation or process that it falls apart or breaks.

Always ready

As the great Aikido master Kensho Furuya says in Kodo: Ancient Ways, “The warrior, like bamboo, is ever ready for action.”

Maybe you don’t think of your infrastructure as a warrior… but consider for a moment it does battle on your behalf to make sure your applications stay online, users stay connected, and business gets done. To do this, the infrastructure and operations need to be always ready. Practicing your various operations ensure that your processes, procedures, people and infrastructure will be prepared should anything happen.

Wisdom in emptiness

It is said that in order to learn, the first step is to empty ourselves of our preconceived notions. One can not fill a cup which is already full. The hollow insides of the bamboo reminds us that we are often too full of ourselves and our own conclusions; we have no space for anything else.

Being open to new ideas and new ways of doing things will help you continue to evolve your infrastructure. Thus allowing you to learn and grow while enabling the infrastructure to deliver more value to the organization.

Commit to growth and renewal

Bamboo are among the fastest-growing plants in the world. It does not matter who you are — or where you are — today, you have amazing potential for growth.

Ha! So this one is not about budget, though that might help. Rather, it’s a reminder that no matter where we are or how far we’ve come, there is always the potential to grow. Same for infrastructure… small incremental changes over time can lead to some really cool things.

imageUsefulness through simplicity

Aikido master Kensho Furuya says that “The bamboo in its simplicity expresses its usefulness. Man should do the same.”

Switch out “man” with “infrastructure” and well, in it’s simplicity your infrastructure will deliver usefulness. Be that in ease of management, rapid expansion, always ready, or in flexibility to support new and interesting workloads, a simple infrastructure makes delivering on these promises easy.

Spring back

In winter the heavy snow bends the bamboo back and back until one day the snow becomes too heavy, begins to fall, and the bamboo snaps back up tall again, brushing aside all the snow. The bamboo endured the heavy burden of the snow, but in the end it had to power to spring back as if to say “I will not be defeated.”

This plays right along with our “Bend not Break” section in that no matter the burden placed on it, the infrastructure should be able to survive adverse conditions and be able to spring back ready to serve.

Smile, Laugh, and Play – Don’t take it too seriously.

The Kanji (Chinese character) for smile or laugh is 笑う. At the top of this character are two small symbols for bamboo (竹 or take). It is said that bamboo has a strong association with laughter, perhaps because of the sound that the bamboo leaves make on a windy day.

At the end of the day, don’t stress the design, don’t stress the infrastructure, and most of all, try not to take it too seriously. Rather, have fun during the design process and be light hearted during the various phases of “agile” requirements changes, often in flight, with unrealistic due dates, etc. Because… at the end of the day, it is rather funny.


There are lots of words here, perhaps you agree with some of them, or have a different take on the lessons learned. Feel free to share in the comments, I’m interested in hearing what y’all think.

Pictures by this guy and this other one.