Going through my news feed recently, I came across this interesting little gem: http://www.theregister.co.uk/2013/05/24/network_configuration_automation/
For those of you who can’t be bothered to read it, it’s an interesting piece on how the industry thinks the significant expense in running networks these days is in the administrators hired to configure and run it. Mike Banic, marketing VP for HP’s networking division thinks that the way forward is to automate the network configuration, as do senior execs from companies like Juniper and Comcast amongst others. Dave Larson, HP Networking’s chief technologist for security and routing was making some very interesting noises about developing software to control the network equipment in a way that scales to the level that “cloud” computing is demanding today. Banic went on to describe how HP is already working on such a system. “You define what you need for an application,” he said, “and it will automate the configuration of those resources – access switches, core switches, routers, firewalls, [intrusion detection systems]. And it will actually evaluate whether those services are there in place before you hit the ‘Go’ button to deploy them.”
Is this going to happen? I certainly think so – at least one of our customers is already there – they’ve developed in-house software that configures the network from a provisioning system, from switchports through to ordering circuits, telephone handsets and services and accounts on the relevant systems. Whilst it’s in a specific environment, it won’t take leaps of imagination for this now to extend to a more generic sense.
The question is, does this remove the need for the network administrators, the CCIEs and their colleagues that Juniper’s VP of enterprise marketing Steve Collen apologises to for putting their jobs at risk? Well, in their current form, yes. History is full of tales of the workforce being ousted by new processes – you just have to look at the industrial age to see this. Personally though, whilst we perhaps won’t see network administrators employed in the volume currently seen, they obviously do have a role. Whilst vendors continue to create integration headaches by “embracing and expanding” on well-known standards, it’s debatable whether any automated system could correctly and optimally configure a multi-vendor network.
The other place where I think we’ll see these engineers move to is in areas where they become highly specialised experts, working to resolve issues on the networks – because things will still break and will still go wrong.
This is a conversation I had with a friend recently – we’re hiring at the moment and we were discussing the kind of people we’re looking for. There aren’t many highly skilled voice engineers available on the market at the moment, so we’ve started looking at network engineers who are at that point in their career where they’re looking for a new challenge or to specialise.
It’s an interesting world out there at the moment and the Internet and cloud computing is changing the landscape in ways which we can’t predict.