Time to brush up on those SDN skills

The transition to software-defined networking is inevitable, according to industry analysts. But the next generation of network professionals not only requires new skill sets, but also the ability to break down silos and work collaboratively with other departments.


The transition toward software-defined networking, or SDN, has a lot of network administrators concerned for their future. While the seemingly inevitable transition will require many to update and expand their skill set, it may also present new opportunities.

“This is a significant change — these applications require a different sort of infrastructure, and they require different skill sets from the people who run that infrastructure,” said Brad Casemore, an analyst with IDC Research. “If you want to be part of this era of change you not only have to adopt new technologies but change the way you do things, and this is particularly true of networking teams.”

Though most organizations have only just begun making the transition toward SDN, Casemore believes that once a number of key firms hop on board the rest will have a competitive imperative to quickly follow suit. Here’s how network administrators can stay ahead of the transition.

Be passionate

Casemore says that when he addresses audiences to discuss SDN, there’s a generational divide in the reactions he sees from the audience.

“You can see a lot of younger people who are really interested in this stuff,” he said. “Some of the older network professionals out in the audience, there’s a bubble above their heads saying, ‘one more hardware lifecycle and I’m out of here.”

It is that sense of fatigue, explains Casemore, which may prove to be the biggest barrier for some. “You need to have a passion for it, you’ve got to want to do it, and I think that’s an impediment for a certain type of network professional I see when I speak,” he said.

Break down silos

Historically network administrators have operated independently, but the next generation of network professionals will need to break down those silos and work collaboratively with other departments.

“In this industry we underestimate the human element, and I think it’s a significant barrier to many folks making this transition,” said Casemore. “These are interdisciplinary teams now, and the silos are breaking down. There’s an element of soft skills; it’s not just technical acumen. You’ll need to know how to collaborate and work with others on that team.”

Start training now

Casemore and others consider this transition inevitable, and those who will be most prepared are those who begin updating their skills now.

“Start with the general stuff,” he said. “Get more familiar with whatever your programming environment is in your organization — or those that are becoming more popular. Learn about scripting, learn about Linux, learn about the popular automation tools, and once you’ve got that general base of knowledge you can look at more vendor-specific implementations and solutions that may apply to your particular application environment.”

Casemore adds that many organizations have already begun moving to the public cloud, and some may never return.

“It’s not a question of, ‘do I have time to learn these new technologies?’ The question is ‘how quickly are the higher value workloads, the ones that are more closely tied to the business moving forward, how quickly are those moving to the public cloud?’” he said. “In that context, now’s the time. You want to get involved now.”

Photo courtesy of Death to the Stock Photo

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