Why your network admins are nervous

Network pros know that SDN promises to rock their world. Here’s how to help your staffers keep their skills ahead of the curve

This past summer, the White Rose Academies Trust in Leeds, England, kicked off a project that represented the first step on a journey to a software-defined networking platform -- and the move precipitated some career changes, both positive and negative, for the IT staff.

The educational institution plans to deploy a virtualized network solution to replace networks serving 3,000 students and 500 employees at its three schools. But before the project could begin, Richard Shaw had to make some tough staffing decisions.

"The older regime of network managers were sort of plodding along," says Shaw, the trust's service delivery manager. "They never went out and learned the new skills or adapted to virtualization." Shaw felt it was necessary to replace one network manager, a 25-year veteran, and he put a second one on notice. However, he was also able to promote an IT technician to a network manager role for the project. Now, he says, "I have a dynamic team of all levels who are always wanting to learn or investigating new technologies themselves."

It's a cautionary tale for network administrators and network engineers facing an uncertain future with the emergence of software-defined networking. IDC expects the SDN market to reach $8 billion by 2018, up from about $960 million in 2014 -- an uptick that represents a compound annual growth rate of more than 89%.

SDN encompasses several kinds of technologies aimed at making networks as agile and flexible as the virtualized servers and storage infrastructures of modern data centers. Enterprises like the idea of SDN because they feel it offers more speed and agility. But moving to SDN means that many network administrator functions, like configuring and reconfiguring gear via command line interfaces (CLI), will become automated.

Today, many businesses are still just dabbling with SDN for uses such as private cloud deployments and Web scaling, but IDC analysts expect adoption to pick up rapidly. Shaw says it will take two to three years before the White Rose Academies Trust adopts a cloud-based data center model. "It's a learning curve for myself and my team, so we're doing it in half steps," he says. "The key for us is not to take on too much too soon."

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