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SDN Education: 9 Ways To Learn

  • With software-defined networking gaining steam, most networking pros don't need to be convinced that it's a technology they need to learn.

    According to research firm Dell'Oro Group, the SDN market will grow more than 65% this year as SDN branches out into production deployment beyond major cloud providers. There's a plethora of SDN products available now from both networking heavyweights and startups. With all the changes in data center networking, data centers will look significantly different by 2020, according to Alan Weckel, Dell'Oro vice president.

    With all these changes ahead, experts warn networking pros that they'll get left behind if they don't add new SDN skills. Dan Pitt, executive director of the Open Networking Foundation, predicts that SDN skills training will be the biggest growth area for SDN next year.

    "Widespread industry adoption can hardly happen without knowledgeable people leading the way in implementation and deployment, so skills training has to grow faster than actual adoption," he said at the recent Layer123 SDN and OpenFlow World Congress in Germany. "In 2015, skills training will kick into gear."

    Fortunately, there's a growing number of opportunities to learn about SDN, from vendor certifications and the ONF's upcoming vendor-neutral SDN certification program to online classes and, of course, tons of reading material. Here's a look at some of your SDN education alternatives.

  • Cisco Network Programmability Training

    Networking giant Cisco is in the process of rolling out new training and certifications to address new skills associated with network programmability services and architectures. The Cisco Network Programmability Specialist program offers four certifications tailored to job roles: Business Application Engineer, Network Engineer, Architect and Network Application Developer. The training and exams focus on Cisco technologies in the enterprise and data center with an emphasis on Cisco Application Centric Infrastructure (ACI). According to Cisco, the certifications are designed to build a bridge between developers and network engineers by addressing the skills gaps and fostering communication.

  • VMware NSX training and certification

    VMware has launched training and certification courses based on its NSX network virtualization platform. The three VMware network virtualization certifications are all now available: Professional, Implementation Expert, and Design Expert. The company has stressed that its training program is broader than its product by addressing the changing nature of network architecture. On its website, VMware shows how its certifications map to Cisco certifications. VMware also offers a free one-hour webinar introduction to NSX.

  • HP SDN Learning Journey

    HP launched its SDN Learning Journey curriculum and SDN certification as part of its ExpertOne program last fall. The curriculum is designed to educate IT pros on OpenFlow, the HP SDN ecosystem, and Virtual Application Networks. It combines traditional networks with SDN architectures.

  • ONF certification program

    The Open Network Foundation (ONF) recently unveiled plans to develop a vendor-neutral SDN certification program. The ONF-Certified SDN Professional Program is designed to provide an industry-recognized standard that employers can use to evaluate individual knowledge and skills. ONF, an industry group that promotes SDN and OpenFlow, is planning initially on two certifications: one for engineers and the other for sales and marketing professionals. It hopes to have exams for the two certifications available early next year.

  • Georgia Tech SDN course

    The Georgia Institute of Technology offers a free online introduction to software-defined networking through Coursera. Taught by Nick Feamster, associate professor in Georgia Tech's School of Computer Science, the eight-week course consists of a series of 10-minute video lectures and lab-based programming assignments. However, it appears you'll have to wait until next May for the next course.
    Image: Brooke Novak

  • Mininet

    Many of the Georgia Tech SDN course's lab-based programming assignments make use of the open source Mininet network emulator software, which can be used to experiment with OpenFlow and SDN systems. Mininet hosts run standard Linux network software and its switches support OpenFlow version 1.0; minor changes can enable support for version 0.8.9. Its code is mostly Python. Wendell Odom, who writes about certifications on his website, CertSkills, included Mininet in a blog post that outlined a study plan to prepare for SDN. Make sure to check out his blog post for other tips.

  • Python

    With the rise of SDN and increased automation, one thing networking pros hear a lot is that they need to learn some programming. Experts often advise learning about Python. The Python Software Foundation has a comprehensive list of books and tutorials for beginning programmers, plus other helpful information, such as resources in other languages than English.

  • Blogs & books

    Of course, there are innumerable blogs and websites with information on SDN. (Naturally, we have to plug Network Computing here!) Many networking experts are keeping tabs on developments in the SDN space on their blogs, including Network Computing contributors and regular Interop speakers Greg Ferro, Ivan Pepelnjak, and Ethan Banks. Others networking bloggers who write a lot about SDN concepts and technologies include Matt Oswalt and Jason Edelman. There's at least one book worth checking out as well: "SDN and OpenFlow for Beginners with hands-on labs" by Vivek Tiwari. Banks gave the book, which is only available in Kindle format, a positive review.

  • Brocade NFV certification program

    Brocade doesn't yet have an SDN certification program, but it does offer a network functions virtualization (NFV) certification that it's currently offering for free along with a free 60-day trial of its Vyatta vRouter software and free online training. Brocade's NFV courses are designed for network pros who want to take the Brocade Certified vRouter Engineer exam. The NFV certification offer includes a promotional code that allows a student to take the BCVRE exam one time at no cost.