Last month's Cisco Live conference in Las Vegas offered close to 100 sessions touching upon either SDN/software-defined networking, network programmability, network automation, or the Cisco APIC-EM controller that is part of Cisco's SDN model. In addition, there were more than 150 sessions provided by Cisco DevNet, Cisco's community of developers and source of tools, resources, and code for writing software and building automated, network-enabled solutions. Are you excited? Perhaps a little overwhelmed?

The sheer number of Cisco Live sessions devoted to it is evidence that the SDN ship has set sail. Mobility, cloud, and IoT are all part of the winds of change filling those sails and possibly making your organization a port of call for SDN in the not-too-distant future. The automation of network processes through software is what brings the agility, flexibility, and scalability that mobility, cloud, and IoT demand. Whether you know it as SDN, network programmability, or network automation, it is just one way in which digital business transformation is sparking innovation.

Why Is SDN a Big Deal for You the Network Engineer?

There are many reasons to pay attention to SDN, but here are just five:

  • Greater speed and faster delivery of services: If you now have a network application to automate the process, a change that you might have had to make manually to hundreds of routers can now be accomplished all at once in the space of minutes.
  • Accuracy and reliability: The human error that comes with traditional manual methods can be vastly reduced with a validated network application that operates with total consistency.
  • Simplicity: The Cisco APIC-EM controller at work in the new network manages complex rules and policies behind the scenes so that you can focus on the higher-level aspects of what you want to do.
  • Ability to optimize the network: The network is a much more fluid thing with programmability, allowing you to adjust to changes automatically for optimal use of resources and maximum efficiency and speed.
  • Better analytics: When a network is truly digital, it yields deeper data and faster insights, plus improves security visibility.


Cisco network programmability.jpgHowever, moving from operating primarily at the CLI on a terminal to using programmatic interfaces and prebuilt network applications as part of a controller-based architecture is a huge shift. The interaction is no longer human-to-machine—it’s software application-to-network device.

We’ve produced a white paper, “Demystifying SDN for the Network Engineer,” to help you digest this change. The paper does a number of things toward providing a gentle approach to the topic for network engineers:

  • Provides a little networking history lesson to demonstrate that you’ve been rolling with change throughout your career
  • Explains clearly why this particular change is happening now
  • Presents Cisco’s network programmable architecture—built around the Cisco Application Policy Infrastructure Controller – Enterprise Module (APIC-EM) in terms that are super simple
  • Expands on the SDN benefits we’ve been sharing above
  • Describes two examples—one relating to Path Trace ACL and the other revolving around Easy QoS—to illustrate in compelling fashion how two potentially cumbersome traditional functions are vastly simplified and accelerated in the SDN world


If you are a network engineer watching all of this fundamental change swirling around you, and haven't got your feet wet yet, we want to help you dip your toes in the water. Download "Demystifying SDN for the Network Engineer" here. And let us know below how you're feeling about SDN, or network programmability, these days.


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Gary Pfitzer is a content manager at Learning@Cisco, focused on bringing various aspects of today's IT journey to light through business papers, blogging, customer success stories, and other writing.