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8 Skills Network Engineers Need In 2017

  • The daily job duties of the average enterprise network engineer are becoming increasingly fluid over time. What once was a relatively static role responsible for managing the transport frames and packets from point A to point B has evolved to become a liaison between the admins responsible for the network, the servers, and the storage infrastructure. In 2017, this evolving role will require network engineers have a broader skill set in order to properly align the network with business goals.

    Because network engineers sit at the heart of the infrastructure, they are now required to have a deep understanding of the applications and data riding across the network. This is especially true given the fact that the silos of server and storage administration are being torn down thanks to technologies such as virtualization, containers -- and more recently -- hyperconvergence. Because the network is the nucleus that binds these technologies together, the network engineer is responsible for understanding their integration from end to end.

    Other skills that network engineers now need revolve around the applications themselves. With technologies like automation and SDN, networks of today are tailored around the critical applications running across them. Therefore, engineers must be able to understand application priority, traffic flows, and other policy to optimize data transport. The days of network administrators only having to understand layers one to four of the OSI stack are long behind us. Today, we must understand the stack all the way up to the application layer.

    Finally, security is going to play an increasing role in the daily duties of the network engineer. Security is no longer an afterthought, but the first step in any new infrastructure project. It's up to the engineer to figure out the company’s perimeter and internal defenses to provide a unified security solution that expands from the network to the end device.

    Let's take a closer look at technologies you should understand and  skills you should be prepared to master in 2017 as an enterprise network engineer.

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  • Application flows

    Whether you need to configure advanced Quality of Service (QoS), or are deploying software-defined networking in the data center or over the WAN, having a clear understanding of how applications work from a data flow perspective will be critical  in 2017. The flow of an application as it interacts with clients, data bases, and cloud services are important for network optimization. Therefore, close relationships with application administrators will a major priority.

    (Image: geralt/Pixabay)

  • Cybersecurity

    In the past, network engineers focused their security efforts at the network edge. Engineers had a sound understanding of firewalls and intrusion prevention, but when it came to functions such as email, web and endpoint security, those responsibilities rested with other teams within the IT department. But with today’s unified threat management (UTM) technologies, that’s no longer the case. Now network engineers play a much greater role in the architecture and support of an end-to-end unified security solution that stretches from the endpoint to the cloud and beyond.

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  • SD-WAN

    In 2016, much of the software-defined networking hype revolved around the WAN because of the potential OPEX cost savings. Yet some enterprise organizations that failed to understand some of the limitations and myths of SD-WAN solutions were surprised to find that SD-WANs couldn’t provide the necessary throughput and low latency times required for mission-critical apps. So, in 2017, network engineers will be required to understand when SD-WAN products are a good fit and when to stick with managed WAN services such as MPLS.

    (Image: geralt/Pixabay)

  • DNS

    Having a robust understanding of how DNS functions internally and externally in an enterprise organization used to be a relatively low priority for network engineers. But in today’s modern networks – and with today’s growing security problems revolving around DNS – this skill set has rocketed to the top of the list. DNS is an integrated part of many unified network security architectures and a key component for public and private clouds, which means network engineers need to have a strong understanding of how their DNS works so they can better troubleshoot network problems.

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  • Internet of Things

    If there’s an IT trend that's almost certain to to cause headaches for network engineers in 2017, it will be the Internet of Things (IoT). Not only will network engineers be required to size and scale their wired and wireless networks in order to accommodate hundreds or thousands of IoT sensors, they’ll also be largely responsible for securing the devices once they connect to the corporate network. Be prepared to be an integral part of any IoT rollout where you will be expected to provide guidance and set policy for IoT connectivity and data security.

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  • Virtualizing network components and services

    If you think that SDN will continue to dominate networking discussions in 2017 as it did in 2016, you might be in for a surprise. While SDN was able to make strides in the data center and WAN last year, SDN architectures aren’t likely to expand beyond those two segments in the coming year. Instead, many IT organizations have concluded that before an end-to-end SDN network can be put in place, network components and services must first be virtualized. Therefore, skills in the understanding of how to virtualize network services and functions are going to be in high demand.

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  • Network automation

    For years, network engineers were largely insulated from the scripting and automation that other parts of the IT department have used to minimize redundant tasks. The reason for this was simple: The network was essentially a static architecture that was largely self-sufficient in the form of redundancy protocols. In other words, network engineers were able to use a “set it and forget it” mentality. But that’s not the case anymore. Networks are becoming far more organic in how they dynamically handle traffic, push policy, and provision new resources. This now is causing engineers to burn countless hours on repetitive tasks. Thus, one great new skill to learn is how to script and hook into various  APIs to automate many network processes.

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  • Hyperconverged systems

    Hyperconvergence is all about the consolidation of compute, data storage, and networking functions into a unified system. Network engineers will need to understand the management tools for deploying and operating hyperconverged systems. IT will look to the network engineers to understand how the hyperconverged systems  works from one end of the technology stack to the other so that the system is optimized for the applications that run across it.

    (Image source: SimpliVity)