Will SDN Annihilate the Networking Workforce?

Editor’s Note: Occasionally, Enterprise Networking Planet is proud to run guest posts from authors in the field. Today, Marcus Austin of Firebrand Training argues that SDN will spell the end of networking jobs as we know them.

Networks are complicated—that’s just one of nature’s givens. Consequently, getting a string of Cisco certifications and becoming a networking guru has, for the last decade or so, guaranteed you a very good salary and a choice of jobs in any country you want. But that’s about to change if cross-business initiative OpenDaylight succeeds in its plans.

Network virtualization

If you’re a network expert with a list of certifications after your name, a job-for-life attitude, and the belief that networks can only get more complicated and the demand for your skills more intense, you’re going to have to think again. Thanks to a new initiative from the top networking manufacturers, network building and configuration may soon become a simple tick-the-box task.

Over the last ten years, the IT world has gradually adopted virtualization, which has effectively commoditized servers. If you need a new server to do some R&D, just go to Amazon with your credit card, and 10 minutes later, you can have one, ten, or a hundred new servers. If you need to add more memory, type in the amount you want, click, and it’s there.

While this has proved a boon to businesses, it also means that the IT techies who built, tested, and deployed the kit have been gradually losing their jobs. Creating a server no longer requires much specialized knowledge or expertise. It’s now achieved by ticking a box, and any apprentice with an MCSA certification in Windows Server 2012 can do that.

The good news—or bad, if you’re a networking expert—is that the same thing’s about to happen to the networking industry. Network hardware is about to become virtualized, and the future, according to a new coalition of industry bigwigs, is Software Defined Networking (SDN), aka Network Function Virtualization (NFV). Just like server virtualization, the configuration and deployment of SDN won’t require a PhD in networking.

SDN, simplifying the art of networking

If you want to make a change to your business network these days, you need to get an extremely expensive expert, one who knows the routing protocols, the command line interface, and the way the hardware works. This benefits the expert, of course, but it costs the business. With an SDN solution, you don’t need to understand the hardware or the systems. Instead, you use higher-level tools to manage your configuration needs. What’s more, you won’t need any high-tech equipment to do the networking. Just like server virtualization, SDN is all based on standard off-the-shelf Intel x86 systems sitting on standard networking interfaces and running Ethernet protocols.

The upshot of this? SDN allows businesses to use “average” software programmers to make configuration changes based on business needs, rather than having to have someone who knows the details of every single networking nuance. So if you’re one of those experts who does know the details of every networking nuance, but who costs more than the “average” software programmer…watch out.

Why network experts should worry about SDN

Over the years, there have been plenty of attempts to make networking easier, but this is the first with a cross-platform standards group behind it. More importantly, this is the first that’s an open source group. That means that anything OpenDaylight creates will be freely available to the wider community.

Launched in April 2013, the OpenDaylight consortium, a collaborative project under the Linux Foundation, has the backing of all the big names in networking—Brocade, Cisco, Citrix, Ericsson, IBM, Juniper, Microsoft, Red Hat, and VMware—and the blessing of businesses like Dell, Fujitsu, HP, and Intel. The consortium intends to create a single framework for SDN, avoiding the proprietary systems of the past, and to create something that will encourage businesses to adopt SDN sooner rather than later.

If all goes according to plan, SDN products will go mainstream in the next three to five years. So what’s next? Well, if you’re a network expert, don’t bother moving to the last silo still standing—storage—because once SDN is mainstream, storage will be virtualization’s next target.


Marcus Austin is a technical author with over 25 years of experience in the tech and business sectors. He currently works for Firebrand Training.

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