More than ever before, it is critical that the technical and business sides of the IT world work as partners, and this will require evolving job roles.

Channel Partners

May 23, 2014

4 Min Read
New Network Programmability Talent Needs

By Antonella Corno

Over the past year, we saw the idea of software-defined networking (SDN) become an integral part of IT conversations globally. As this technology evolves, the term “network programmability” can be used to capture the idea of opening up the network.

In 2013, Cisco conducted a Global Impact Survey, which found that 71 percent of IT professionals anticipated using SDN technologies during 2014. One-third mentioned the rapid scalability of the network infrastructure as the reason, while another third referred to the cost savings as their motivation.

More than ever before, it is critical that the technical and business sides of the IT world work as partners. Traditionally, network designers and engineers have focused on the network infrastructure and the technology supporting it. They receive requirements from the business side of their organization and use detailed knowledge of the infrastructure to apply those requirements seamlessly in a functioning network.

Today, however, IT experts must be able to articulate the business value of any specific technological solution. Conversely, the business side needs to work more closely with the technical side in order to make informed decisions. A key example of this need for joint decisions can be illustrated with today’s cloud technology. The complexity and variety of available solutions requires cloud architects and business analysts to have a strong understanding of each other’s needs to guarantee a complete and effective integration of the infrastructure with the required business applications. Network programmability enables this cooperation between technical and business groups by creating an open, programmable environment that permits a more dynamic, streamlined exchange of information and integration of infrastructure and applications.

A network programmability solution that encompasses both network infrastructure and business applications always starts with the customer’s needs. It is not the product itself that determines the direction the customer will take, but rather the use case, exploiting programmatic APIs to gain deep insight into, and control of, network traffic.

The ability to nondisruptively expose existing network infrastructure to a more in-depth integration with business applications will allow customers to leverage the consolidated knowledge of networking vendors and skilled professionals operating in the field today. This will also allow them to integrate the IT teams behind these applications more effectively, and enable them to capitalize on their skills and knowledge to improve upon the infrastructure.

A network programmability workforce where technical and business skills come together and talent gaps are filled is paramount to the success of this emerging technology. This will however, require everyone to work more closely together and move out of their comfort zones. The network designers of the future will need to be able to talk to business application developers and customers to understand their needs and deliver APIs that they can leverage. Designers will also need to translate the business needs to network developers who will create an application that is well integrated into the network.

The success of this technology relies on the developers’ ability to comprehend the business concerns driving the designer, and the designer will need to grasp what an API can provide, how to use and leverage it, and possess a fundamental understanding of how code is developed to create applications that tap the network layers of complexity.

The traditional network engineer, whose main concern was to deploy the network, is now required to know how to troubleshoot a networking environment that is virtualized and more software-rich than ever before. What was once solely a network crash could now be a software crash and will require a comprehensive understanding of the virtual network in order to fix it.

The workforce of tomorrow will rely heavily on these evolving job roles as well as the new ones that will be created. Given the broad nature of the network programmability space, multiple IT professionals with varying skills will be needed.

Industry-leading networking providers will be ready with network programmability products to spearhead this inevitable change. Training to help network developers, designers and engineers build the bridges between them to function as a powerful team in this new environment is crucial.

Antonella Corno has more than 20 years of experience in the IT/telecommunications/networking field in Europe and the U.S. in major networking providers. She is currently product manager for the Data Center/Virtualization, Cloud SDN product lines within Learning@Cisco, creating certifications and training for customers, partners and Cisco employees.

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