The status quo approach to Networking is the biggest barrier to realizing the full potential of Virtualization and the private, public, or hybrid cloud. We must re-think how Networking Services are delivered, in a way that comports with automation, decoupling, pooling, and abstractions. I would argue, the solution is a more software-centric approach – Network Virtualization. But more importantly, we must re-think how we view Networking as a career skill set and the value we bring to an organization.

This was the message of two keynote talks I recently gave at the Sydney & Melbourne VMUG user conferences. The title of the talk was Three reasons why Networking is a pain in the IaaS, and how to fix it. I will share the slides and a brief summary of that talk in a subsequent post. But before I do that, please indulge me in a heart-to-heart chat from one long time Networking professional (me) to another (you):

I emphasize the word services because if you really think about it, that is what Networking really is – Networking is a Service. It always has been, and will always continue to be a service – a service that will always be needed. To some, that may seem like an obvious statement. But to others, Networking is still viewed as a set of hardware boxes with ports and features.

What box should I buy? What features does it have? How fast is it? How do I configure that box? I better buy a box with all the features, just in case I might need it. I better buy a box with with lots of ports, just incase I might need it. And so on. And you begin to associate your career value to the knowledge you have in evaluating, configuring, and managing these boxes and their complex feature sets. At this point, the mere thought of a software-centric approach to Networking can be quite unsettling. If networking moves to software (read: x86 machines, hypervisors, SDN), well, that makes me less relevant and/or I don’t have the skills for that. And to appeal to your anxieties, the hardware box vendors serve up a healthy plate of Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt (FUD) assuring you that software-centric networking will fail, keeping you comfortably stuck in your Networking-is-a-hardware-box comfort zone. Meanwhile, the organization continues to see your value associated to the efficient operations and deployment of it’s infrastructure hardware. When the platform changes, and it will, where does that leave you?

Your service on any platform

Contrast that to a mindset where you view Networking as a service – a service that can be fulfilled by any underlying platform, architecture, or another service (hardware, software, external providers). You know that the ideal platform will change over time, because it always does (Client-Server, Virtualization, Cloud, Everything as a Service). You make it your job to recognize when those changes are starting to occur and prepare both yourself, and the organization. You’re able to comfortably adapt to these architecture changes because you own the service of networking – you are a Service Provider. Things such as Connectivity, Routing, Security, High Availability, Access, Performance, Analytics, Reporting, just to name a few; these services are perpetual and platform independent. You’ve put yourself in a position to help the organization navigate the ever changing landscape of applications and IT architecture, keeping the business one step ahead of its competitor that’s still stuck on legacy platforms and architectures.

Your value to the organization is much different now. It’s no longer a situation of “I need this person to configure and manage that gear over there”. Rather, it’s now in the realm of “I need this person to keep the business competitive and relevant in an ever changing technology landscape”.

I believe Network Virtualization (e.g. VMware NSX) really enables this shift in both platform, architecture, and career value. Networking services (the things we really care about) are finally abstracted and decoupled from infrastructure, and become portable across a variety of architectures, platforms, and for that matter, service providers. It makes it easier to provide a clean separation of the (more interesting) services that provide value, from the (less interesting) infrastructure that supports it.

Over time, everything will change – both the services and the infrastructure, but probably not at the same pace. The decoupling of services from infrastructure, provided by Network Virtualization, allows us to:

  • Change, add, and optimize services quickly – without changing infrastructure
  • Change, add, and optimize infrastructure – without changing the services

It’s that basic freedom that allows Networking to be elevated and identified as a perpetual and discrete service to which the organization can associate tangible business value. And the person who owns that service is linked to that value. There’s a hero waiting to be made here. Is it going to be you, or someone else? If you ask me, there’s no more exciting time in Networking than right now. The opportunity at hand now will not come around again.

Cheers, Brad