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New Roles. New Skills.

Oct 6, 2014

Dan Pitt addresses changes and challenges for IT professionals related to the SDN movement.

My contributed article for the September/October issue of Global Telecoms Business addresses the changes in staffing and skills that will occur as the SDN movement progresses. Below is an excerpt from that piece, and the full article can be found on pages 106-107 of the digital issue.

Software-Defined Networking (SDN) is set to bring about many industry changes. Most of these are positive changes, like solving issues faced by network end users. SDN enables automated and customer provisioning, dynamic virtualization, and greater network flexibility. It will involve less manual configuration of networking devices by command line interfaces. And ultimately, SDN will save end users CapEx and OpEx, increase business agility, and enable operators to differentiate from the competition by allowing the creation of new, unique services.

But with change come challenges. There has been a fair amount of talk about the impact of SDN on today’s network administrators and command line jockeys. SDN changes the role of the network administrator and the skills needed for the job. According to Tech Pro Research’s report on the future of IT jobs, 59 percent of surveyed IT professionals expressed concern that their current IT skill set will become obsolete as technology and job roles evolve. (I suspect that this number has not changed materially in many decades.)

It is clear that the IT landscape is changing. With increased adoption of SDN, businesses are beginning to think about the bigger picture: how much networking IT will they keep in-house, and what skills can they outsource? For example, a challenge on the personnel side is the orchestration that connects the network to business applications and priorities. Many network operators will want to keep orchestration in-house, because how they reflect business priorities in network behavior is proprietary. But we will also see an increase in the availability of third-party software, with more companies offering custom software services that could be appealing to their customers.

Enterprises will likely move more services to the cloud, as cloud operators will have economies of scale in both infrastructure and tools, especially for security. This will decrease the size of internal IT staffs, thus decreasing OpEx. This decision and transition may be easier for smaller companies and more challenging for larger ones, but it’s absolutely doable on both sides of the spectrum.

Operators will need to decide on the role that open-source software will play. They will increasingly adopt software directly, or indirectly as components of proprietary vendor software, but there may be cases in which they wish to contribute to or start a project themselves, delivering it to the community to open up and further develop. A great example of this is what NTT is doing with Lagopus, an open-source software SDN switch that was released in alpha this July. The bottom line here is that network operators will have to become more software savvy than they have been in the past (unless they want to be strictly transmission companies).

Make no mistake – there will still be a need for network administrators. And they will have a much greater span of control over the network because with SDN there is no need for manual configuration. But with the adoption of SDN, and with organizations’ new abilities to craft their own network software, we will see an increasing demand for network programmers. They will have the opportunity to work in a variety of different companies, including network operators of all kinds, equipment vendors, and independent software companies. We will see a larger role for system integrators and resellers as well.

To read more, check out pages 106-107 of this digital issue of Global Telecoms Business.

– Dan Pitt, Executive Director