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Editor's note: This is part two of a two-part series looking at the rise and future of SDN education. In part one, we looked at teaching SDN content in a college setting. Here in part two, we explore the rise and benefits of professional SDN certification programs.
SDN is changing the way networks are built and managed, and is therefore forcing networking pros to gain an entirely new set of SDN skills. To address this need, vendors are brewing SDN certification and training programs.
So far Cisco has laid out some of the ground that will be covered in its upcoming SDN certification program, but the company hasn't made public yet when the training will go live. Juniper Networks is also designing an SDN training program, but the company won't share details until later in 2013.
Why the need for SDN certification and training?
In an SDN or network virtualization environment, networks can be automatically provisioned and optimized to adapt to the needs of applications and workloads. This change in technology requires a change in the way networking pros build and then manage networks.
"We used to have silos: server professionals, applications teams, and various others.… The recognition that's come about as a result of virtualization and the migration to the cloud is that everything has to be aligned to be successful," said Brad Casemore, research director of data center networking at IDC.
Server pros have long had to seek new skills to implement and manage virtualization. Now, "network professionals don't want to be left behind, not only with SDN, but in regard to network virtualization, greater network programmability, greater automation and greater visibility into how the network is interplaying with applications and the infrastructure," said Casemore.
While network professionals must still learn basic protocols, CLIs, configuration, they've also got to gain "a good rounding" in automation tools and provisioning.
"They need to look at the network, open-source technology and also how proprietary IT can provide automation through provision management," Casemore said. Learning how this works with cloud orchestration and management servers like CloudStack is essential as well. "Networking is more than a box. [What's needed] is a systematic approach to how [networks] work with applications. It's necessary to get beyond the protocol training that everyone's had up until now."
Cisco to unveil SDN certification
Cisco is introducing a new set of Cisco Specialist Certifications that will focus on emerging SDN job roles.
The certifications, which don't have a public launch date yet, will teach network assessment, design, support and new developer skills for SDN environments, said Jeanne Beliveau Dunn, vice president of learning at Cisco. The goal is to teach networking professionals specifically about "network automation through APIs" and to help network architects meet expanded design objectives. Pre-requisites will vary depending on each job role, she said.
"Cisco has a broader way of looking at this," she said. "It's not just about writing scripts on the network or automating the network – it's about allowing the network to perform better and play a greater role in the entire IT infrastructure… we'll talk about concepts and how to build this into specific job roles," said Dunn.
The program will include training on applications and use cases for SDN and will examine the application layer's new role as the "central nervous system" of the network, said Dunn. But the program will also train engineers to tackle the challenges that can be introduced by programmability. "If the network is now programmable, it can do a lot of interesting things, but there are also things that are going to be challenging," she said. "You have to make sure you can solve the problem with the same design that caused the problem…so we'll cover troubleshooting skills and design skills, both at an architecture level and a use-case level."
SDN certification and training must reach a wide array of IT pros
While it's important to train users in emerging technology, Casemore warns that it's just as important to reach the direct sales force and the channel.
"Vendors are in business to make money on sales of products and services, so whatever certification or training programs they initiate must support well-defined business objectives," he said.
In addition, it's crucial that vendors create certification programs that address users across the IT spectrum, whether they're the "line-of-business" manager, on the server team, or are cloud architects.
"Structure follows strategy, so each vendor's strategy and portfolio of offerings will condition which constituencies they target and how they do it," Casemore said. Now is the time for vendors to help customers understand the best ways to not just adopt and implement SDN, but how to gain the biggest benefits from an SDN deployment.