SDN Requires Different Network Management Skills

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By: Pam Baker|

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Software-defined networking (SDN) is upending how network management is done. Gone are the days of the hero in shining IT armor or the Keeper of Obscure Codes rushing in to save the day. Instead, SDN now automates many traditional network management tasks, but that doesn’t have to mean jobs lost. Most of the time, it simply means that new skills — and new kinds of heroes — are needed, and the rise of those heroes starts with skillful change management.

Coming to Terms With the SDN Movement

“The average age of the networking person is mid- to late-40s,” Andre Kindness, analyst at Forrester Research, explained to ComputerWorld. “They’ve been the center of attention, so getting them to change is going to be hard.”

However, Kindness notes that as SDN becomes an enterprise staple over the next five years, these networkers must embrace the shift, and organizations may need to help them along. Skillful change management requires a map or clear descriptor of what the new network management work will look like. After all, when network managers cannot imagine a future that includes them, they will resist automation. It’s also difficult for them to imagine how they’ll maintain rock-star status in a profession that needs little human intervention.

The first and most crucial step in change management is to show network managers the future of their work and why it is the most beneficial place for both network managers and the business as a whole. Once they can clearly see their place in the future of the company, they’ll be more willing to adapt and to learn new skills. Of course, there are also plenty of savvy network managers who likely saw the writing on the wall early on — these professionals will be even easier to work with, as they are likely eager to adapt and acquire new skills.

The SDN Hero Skill Set

For both reluctant and eager network managers, it’s one thing to know that new skills are needed, but it is quite another to know how and where to actually acquire them.

Network managers who want to quickly add to their skill sets may want to start by gaining or brushing up on programming knowledge. SDN centers on open-source coding, so it is beneficial to become familiar with the various flavors and aspects of open source as it applies to cloud and network virtualization.

IDC analyst Brad Casemore told ComputerWorld that network managers may also want to become familiar with technologies derived from Linux, such as the Linux Programming Interface.

“Python scripting is another good place to start because it has a lot of applicability,” Casemore told the source. “You can also learn more about the service-side automation tools that can be used across the network — things like Puppet, Chef, Ansible, SaltStack and CFEngine.”

New SDN skills can also be introduced by working with demos of SDN products. This will give network managers a chance to see firsthand what they might need to learn or brush up on.

Augmenting In-House Talent

Given today’s tight budgets and heavy workloads, many organizations benefit from working with a managed service provider (MSP) to augment their network managers’ skill sets. This way, network managers can focus on keeping the old system working, mapping out the strategy and policies surrounding the new SDN and acquiring new skills. In the meantime, the MSP team can help out by making the transition easier and keeping the SDN functioning smoothly until the internal team is ready to take over.

Of course, internal network managers may prefer to keep a MSP team in place so they can work more closely with business management to ensure SDN’s flexibility is put to good use. In the age of collaboration and self-service, network managers will need to let others in the business directly affect the shape of the network and its ecosystem — within safety and compliance limits, of course. Since network managers are morphing into skillful guides, teachers and leaders, they may be left with little time to tinker with the actual network technology.

The bottom line is that it’s not a matter of if, but rather of when your company will shift to SDN. Preparing for the change now is simply good business for all involved.

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About The Author

Pam Baker

Freelance Writer

Pam Baker is an award-winning freelance journalist based in Georgia. Her published credits number in the thousands, including books, e-books, e-briefs, white papers, industry analysis reports and articles in leading publications, including Institutional Investor, CIO, Fierce Markets and InformationWeek, among many others. Her latest book, "Data Divination: Big Data Strategies," has been met with rave reviews, was featured in a prestigious National Press Club event, is recommended by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce for business executives and is currently being used as a textbook in both business and tech schools in universities around the world. Baker is a "big-picturist," meaning she enjoys writing on topics that overlap and interact, such as technology and business. Her fans regualrly follow her work in science, technology, business and finance.

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