Buying Outside the Box: What will SDN and NFV mainstreaming mean for Your Networking Career?

Buying Outside the Box: What will SDN and NFV mainstreaming mean for Your Networking Career?

First off, it will take some time for it to happen. How do we know, is there a precedent? Yes, it took over a decade for server virtualization to go mainstream despite all the obvious benefits and TCO savings.

You may still ask, but why? I mean SDN has obvious value propositions (reduced complexity etc.) and business benefits (faster TTM etc.) and OpenFlow has been around since 2006, that’s over a decade already (if you consider Ethane to be an incarnation of OF). However, officially OpenFlow v1.x was released back in Feb 2011, but that was still over 6 years ago! Plus all of the pundits (aka IDC, Gartner, Ovum, Forrester etc.) have already blessed it too!

After the standards have been ratified, what’s holding up SDN and NFV to go mainstream, are the 100s of billions $ worth of legacy install base (closed, proprietary, ugly protocol soup but working!), solution-level complexity and ecosystem maturity and human skill gap and lack of expertise involved in such a massive technology transition.

In this article, I’d like to focus on the most relevant aspect for us (networkers), i.e. skill gap and lack of expertise, what they are and how we can benefit and build a career out of it (unless you want to fill the tub, pull the plug and fight the current!).

  1. With SDN/NFV, networking becomes a software problem: As networking gets virtualized and much of it is obviously software (closed and open source) and APIs, you gotta learn basic high level languages such as Python and tools such as Puppet in order to glue together a solution (more if you want to seek a DevOp career). You need to be able to build, service and support software-defined solutions.
  2. Owning infrastructure will not be an asset anymore: Our customers are “fruit pickers” when it comes to solutions, they don’t want to know “how”, they want to see the results instead. Infrastructure, hardware and software, are both commodities. As an SP or Telco customer, you need to pick a vendor who can help you monetize the solution they are selling to you including the Go-To-Market (GTM). If you are an enterprise, you want your vendor to deliver the business benefits, how does a vendor’s solution helps you compete with your peers in your vertical. If you are in networking sales, you need to be able to articulate the “monetization” (for SP/Telco customers) and direct business benefits (for enterprise customers). It becomes a highly consultative sales process, boxes and specs don’t matter.
  3. Security and Compliance: Businesses in regulated industries will still need to be compliant. SDN/NFV vendors and likewise folks selling those solutions, must be able to articulate how their solution and APIs deliver on compliance and security. If you are a networker who works for SP/Telco or Enterprise, you need to be able discern which vendor will be able to deliver on the promise. There is no doubt that channels will play a huge role here and will step in to ensure compliance in the form of services and support rounding out the solution.
  4. Integration with Cloud: Virtualized networks must be harmonized to work in cohesion with existing clouds, AWS and Azure to boot. Knowing cloud offers, what integration is needed and how it will happen, are the questions that vendor/partner will need to demonstrate to an enterprise.
  5. Solution TCO Evaluation: While it was relatively easy to evaluate solution TCO in a box world (thanks to vertical integration), it won’t be so obvious with white boxes and software running from a bunch of ISVs up and down the stack. As it moves away from CAPEX to OPEX (i.e. subscription), due to a mix of commodity platforms, software (closed and open source) and management stack, it will be harder to put together solution TCO. Again, this is an area where channel partners can add tremendous value and help simplify the comparison across vendors.

In the end, let me leave you with a quote that I believe describes the journey well for everyone (vendors, channels, customers and us!).

“Mile by mile it’s a trial; yard by yard it’s hard; but inch by inch it’s a cinch.”*

At CCIEin8Weeks, we take pride in keeping our study guides, practice quizzes and all other exam prep content up to date including Evolving Technologies such as SDN, NFV, Cloud and IoT. We provide CCIE written exam prep material for Routing and Switching (R&S) V5.1, Service Provider (SP) V4.1, Data Center (DC) V2.0, Security V5.0 and Collaboration V1.1 exams.

If you have a suggestion or a comment on how we can benefit from this transition as networkers and what learning resources we can provide you in your journey, please leave them below. I will be responding to your comments over the next few days.


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