Prepare for the Networking Jobs of Tomorrow

As networks evolve, so too do the technical skills needed by netadmins and by IT professionals looking to enter the networking field.

By Julie Knudson | Posted Jan 15, 2015
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The one thing we can count on in the networking field is change. Architectures are evolving and new technologies emerging, meaning that netadmins and other IT professionals—even those with an impressive list of competencies—may find themselves in need of some new skills. But what’s influencing these new needs? Which skills should admins pursue? And where can this training be found?

The future of enterprise and data center networking

Knowledge of applications and what they need will be a priority in coming years, according to Dan Pitt, executive director of the Open Networking Foundation (ONF). “The amount of detailed knowledge of a network will decrease, except for a smaller number of networking specialists, but mostly the application providers and maintainers will need to know what the application needs from the network, and where applications can be located to get what they want from the network without caring how the network provides it.”

Software defined networking (SDN) is leading to an abstraction of the network, and that extends to an abstraction of the applications, too. “They only understand each other in terms of parameters that cause them to function well,” Pitt explained. Those with the skills to make applications function well and who understand enough of the computer storage environment to successfully distribute the applications where they can get the most effective response are the ones who will likely be leading the way.

Increased adoption of software-defined solutions will usher in more application-centric networks that are both more efficient and more secure. Supporting the changing needs of the enterprise with these types of architectures will drive further changes in the IT function. “Network administrators will need to prepare for accelerating delivery of network services through mechanisms such as virtualization, orchestration and policy-driven automation,” said Christine Bakan, senior director of SDN and open standards product management in Cisco’s Enterprise Infrastructure Segment Group. “The traditional network administrator’s role will increasingly evolve to architecting and implementing software-defined solutions.” Other responsibilities likely to begin falling to administrators—if they haven’t already—include involvement in building applications, as well as increased system integration.

It’s hardly a mystery that security now inhabits its own crucial space in the network. “I think one of the questions staff are likely to hear is, ‘How are we protecting our customers’ data?' Especially if you have data at a scale where you have millions of customers or a lot of detail about customers,” said Greg Shannon, PhD, chief scientist for the CERT division of the Software Engineering Institute at Carnegie Mellon University and chair of the IEEE Cybersecurity Initiative.

All that data is driving downstream changes to the network. Systems will become increasingly connected, because there’s value in connecting them and in merging the data to derive more business value from it. These connections also create new opportunities and more valuable targets for cyber criminals to go after. “When someone compromises a system, they’re able to get so much more out of the enterprise,” Shannon explained. To answer those questions about security, administrators and others will need to understand the combination of technologies, architecture and operational procedures that can help protect those assets.

Next page: Networking skills to learn and networking skills being left behind.

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