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How Network Engineers Can Avoid Extinction

The climate of networks is changing. We're all accustomed to network hardware and software dinosaurs. The old systems don't include features or performance that are needed in modern network designs. This often results in the old hardware being relegated to parts of the network where the new functionality is not needed. Even there, though, it eventually goes extinct, as network upgrades replace the old equipment that the vendors either don't support or charge exorbitant maintenance fees to support.

Ok, we know about the hardware and software, but what about "peopleware"? For more than twenty years, we have taught tens of thousands of network engineers how to design, configure, operate, and diagnose networks -- one box at a time. We've also known for some time now (at least ten years) that this model doesn't scale well as networks grow in size, complexity, and dynamics. The box-at-a-time model is being replaced with software-defined networks (SDNs), a key component of which is network automation via application programming interfaces (APIs).

"But my network doesn't use modern equipment that supports APIs."

Network automation can be applied to nearly any network equipment. The NETCONF and YANG initiatives provide data models and the communication protocol for working with a wide range of network devices. These initiatives are conceptually not that different than the SNMPand the corresponding MIBs.

Adapting to the Change

"I hope that I can retire before I have to learn any of this SDN stuff."

I've had several individuals tell me something equivalent to the above quote. They just want to continue to do things the way they were taught. These people are network dinosaurs.

Every time I've heard someone talk about not learning anything new, I've been shocked. If I were a corporate manager and someone told me that, I'd be helping them achieve that retirement as soon as possible, because that individual isn't good for the enterprise. Enterprises remain competitive by being innovative, and when the individuals within the organization don't want to innovate, it hurts everyone in the enterprise.

Read the rest of this article on NoJitter.