"The days of provisioning via emails lost in someone's inbox, cumbersome ticketing with token sign off and once a week or month change control is a drain on an organizations productivity and bottom line," Salisbury says. "But when those services break, you can bet the network novice won't be the one finding the needle in the packet capture haystack anywhere near as fast as the seasoned network engineer."
Network engineers with programming skills may be the best suited to make sure everything runs smoothly in the SDN/DevOps environment. The server admin and the application developer can define what the application or workload needs; but the network admin can make it work down to the device level, and ensure it stays up.
Salisbury recommends network admins become steeped in the software building blocks of SDN and DevOps: Linux; Puppet and Chef provisioning; Python scripting; and popular provisioning and orchestration projects such as Docker for containers and Openstack for virtual machines.
"Start hacking on some code and how to use, and I can all but guarantee if you begin contributing to open source infrastructure projects you will have job offers in a matter of months," Salisbury says. "Even if you don't push software patches, reporting bugs is incredibly useful and appreciated by the project maintainers."
So instead of feeling threatened by SDN and DevOps, network admins have an opportunity to demonstrate their value and worth. Further development of SDN and DevOps skills, and software programmability might enable them to stave off the irrelevancy many predict awaits them in the software-centric world.
"Will we need as many networking professionals? Probably not," says Kindness. "The ones that don't have programming expertise will, more than likely, be the first to go. The expertise will be shifted from getting individual switches to interact to getting sub systems, comprised of multiple components, to interact with each other. Therefore certifications and specialization will evolve."
IT shops and cloud providers will look to hire or retain those network engineers that can help orchestrate the network along with and on behalf of the applications, storage, compute and other resources. So network admins must stake ownership of their networks and show that their application service delivery skills are just as important, if not more, than anyone else's in the SDN/DevOps world.
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