Hold the Line

SDN isn’t always on time.


There are a lot of buzzwords flying around in the networking world right now. Words like Software Defined Networking (SDN), Network Function Virtualization (NFV), Orchestration, automation.  If you read all the news you may get the impression that you, the network administrator/engineer will be replaced by a Python script any day now. So with some inspiration from Toto, I’m here to provide the great community of CLN with some career advice.


Learn TCP/IP – No, I don’t mean that you should simply learn IP addressing or subnetting or supernetting. Learn TCP/IP, at depth. What is TCP slow start? How does it affect my applications? What is the receive window? What is TCP synchronization? How does latency affect the performance of my TCP applications? How much packet loss can my application tolerate?


No matter how automated your network is/will be, it will still be running on TCP/IP. Hopefully it will run on IPv6 addressing but the concepts are still the same. As the networking person you are responsible with helping the application people who may not be very aware of how the network will affect their application. With speeds and feeds getting faster and faster, solid TCP/IP knowledge will be more critical than ever.


Learn IPv6 – IPv6 has been around for quite a while now but it’s still not seeing major deployment. IPv4 addresses have pretty much run out by now so IPv6 is coming, although slowly… IPv6 has a lot of similarities to IPv4 but yet a lot of differences. There is no broadcast in IPv6, how is that handled instead? What is an RA? How do you handle rogue RA’s? Does your firewall handle IPv6? Will it simply let IPv6 packets through or drop them? How is DHCPv6 different from DHCPv4? Knowing IPv6 will be a major asset in the future and technical expertise in this area may put you in front of your competitors when competing for a job.


Diversify – Everything is converging on networking and mostly on Ethernet. Storage, voice, video, data, they all run on networks these days. Your main expertise will still be in networking but don’t be afraid to learn a bit of storage or a bit of virtualization. It will help you in understanding the requirements of the network and help support the system/server administrators. Remember, silos are bad!


Learn Scripting – I wish I had more of a programmer background. That would have made learning scripting easier. In my role as a network architect, the ROI on learning scripting may not be that great but for a network administrator/engineer it may prove to be very useful. Python is the rage these days but really any tool is fair game that will help you develop faster networks, like Bash scripting, PHP, Perl, choose your poison. Look into things such as Ansible, Jinja and Python. You don’t have to be a programmer to be a network engineer though. Those are two different roles. With that said people that know both will be very valuable in the future.


Learn BGP – You have automated your entire DC, it can now be controlled with a single click of a mouse button. Awesome, how do you get users to it? How do you connect to other organizations? A hint, it won’t be through a centralized controller. Having two organizations trust each other to the level where they would share a common control plane is something we might never see. What is the solution? BGP! BGP is what keeps the Internet glued together. BGP is also responsible for carrying more and more services because it’s stable and robust. It carries IPv4 and IPv6 prefixes, L2 and L3 VPNS, mVPN, filtering and a lot more. Knowing BGP will be as important as ever, if not more in the years to come.


Get the Big Picture – People that get the big picture will be in demand as always. Understand traffic flows, the need of applications. What is the drawback of having a large layer 2 domain? Can we run virtual machine migration over layer 3? Where does the storage fit into the network? How do I build in proper security into the network? The network is the bridge to everything else, storage, servers and applications. If you are already strong in networking you will have the leg up on the competition if you also grow your skillset to get the bigger picture.


Technologies come and technologies go. Successful people adopt and move on. Being in IT means you need to stay on top on new technologies. Change does not happen overnight though. Don’t be afraid! There’s a place for you in the networks of tomorrow as well.