How SDN will affect your job as a network engineer


Remember the time when every large ICT company had its own telecoms department? A group of experts who went around installing cabling, terminals and phones, ensuring  central communication systems were in place.

This changed very quickly as Telecommunications moved to VoIP and the IT department then took over most of the tasks that the old telecommunications group did. For those who worked in these jobs it meant learn new skills and adapt to the changing environment or die.

The same is now happening to network professionals, as software-defined-networking (SDN) becomes “the new black”. Better start very soon learning about OpenFlow and OpenDaylight, the technologies behind SDN.

 Why SDN?

Companies move to the cloud and bet on virtualization to improve their roll-out of new services with DevOps. But the network is rapidly becoming a major bottleneck. With virtualisation, deployment and managing configurations moved to the cloud, resources can now be allocated on the fly. TCP /IP allows routing as needed to ensure delivery. But the way the virtualisation is implemented isn’t suited to support the needs of the network and how it is managed.

The main problem is the hierarchical order and the way switches combine the control and forwarding plane within one unit.

SDN solves this by moving the control plane away from the hardware. It creates a virtualized platform to manage the decisions usually done on the switch. The switch can remain dumb and concentrate on the processing of traffic.

SDN is the brainchild of the Open Networking Foundation (ONF). Its OpenFlow framework, has become the standard for how future switches operate.

If you’re a network engineer you should definitely read up on how SDN can provide a more flexible and scalable network. SDN is still young, but understanding OpenFlow and virtualization, and having these skills on your CV, will be a crucial to stay relevant. (As a talent-sourcing firm specialized in network technologies we can confirm that clients increasingly ask for engineers with knowledge in OpenFlow since already 2013!)

The next generation networking guru will be the person who can look beyond individual vendor solutions and design the right kind of SDN software that interoperates and integrates with the stack above it in the best possible way.

The hardware will be off the shelf so don’t waste time on learning half-hearted vendor specific implementations of SDN (or even paying for training or certificates which will be obsolete soon, as SDN will certainly shake things up especially for the big vendors who have only half-heartedly implemented the standard in their existing products).

It will be especially tough for seasoned engineers, who still tend think in terms of hardware and have spent most of their careers learning how to automate legacy devices and configurations. Seeing the network as functional virtualized software resources will allow us to create more scalable networks, respond to peaks or changes in demand without touching cables or making a trip to the datacenter.

Valbonne Consulting provides Research & Consulting for emerging technologies in Internet/Web of Things (WoT/IoT/M2M) and Emerging-Tech. We specialise in decentralisation, security and privacy. We work across a variety of traditional industry verticals (Telecommunications, Automotive, Energy, ...). We support Open Source and technologies built on open standards.

Joachim Bauernberger

Passionate about Open Source, GNU/Linux and Security since 1996. I write about future technology and how to make R&D faster. Expatriate, Entrepreneur, Adventurer and Foodie, currently living near Nice, France.

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