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At Cisco Live, DevNet certification, Automation Exchange underscore importance of SDN

Cisco’s firm footing in software-defined networking is reflected in new certifications and a code repository, announced at Cisco Live 2019.

As networking infrastructure becomes increasingly software based, IT certifications may fuel the adoption of software-defined skills in networking management.

Cisco Live 2019 signaled that Cisco is charting its future in software-defined networking (SDN) architecture despite its hardware-dominated past. It only makes sense that it’s investing in software skills education to help workers develop network programming skills.

“The way we did networking 5, 10, 15 years ago is different from what we need today,” said Susie Wee, senior vice president and chief technology officer of DevNet, the Cisco developer program. “Software skills have become critical.”

The focus on software-driven practices and skills stems from the growing importance of the network to business innovation and efficiency. But it also highlights the increasing complexity of IT infrastructure management.

As networking engineers work in growing environments that span multiple clouds and domains, networking programmability and networking automation have become critical to bring scale, flexibility and good governance to network management. Networking pros can’t be mired in manual, time-consuming networking configuration and command-line tasks. They need to be able to bring change and flexibility through software-based programming that is automated, less error-prone and repeatable. They can also use the network to glean data insights that drive business forward.

“Traditionally, network engineers are the folks who keep the lights on and run the network,” said Jason Gooley,* a technical solutions architect at Cisco and member of the team that developed the new DevNet certification.

“But an evolving skill set is needed to fulfill the software development—to realize the value of automation and programmability, you need to be familiar with these different skills.”

Cisco Live brings importance of networking automation to the fore

At this year’s Cisco Live, the company showed its commitment to software-defined skill building with the launch of its new DevNet certification program as well as the developer community center DevNet Automation Exchange.

While the new DevNet certification track is designed to promote software skills in networking, DevNet Automation Exchange encourages software-driven practices by centralizing tested code in a repository, making it easy to share. Launched in 2014, Cisco Devnet is now a well-established program and developer community, with more than 600,000 active members.

The new DevNet certifications will certify networking professionals at various levels of expertise: DevNet Associate, DevNet Professional and DevNet Specialist and encompass software development for applications, automation, DevOps, cloud computing and Internet of Things (IoT) technologies. 

Cisco will also simplify its existing Cisco certification tracks, including the Cisco Certified Network Associate (or CCNA) and the Cisco Certified Internetwork Expert (or CCIE).

As emerging technologies such as 5G, Wi-Fi 6, IoT and cloud computing architectures continue to permeate the business landscape, software-based infrastructure skills have become critical. The DevNet certification track delves into programming networks for these new technologies.

“The new network fundamentally changes the role networks can play, but it also changes how networking is done,” said Wee at a session on the DevNet launches at Cisco Live. Software-defined practices free networking professionals to manage and provision more flexibly, Wee said in a video interview. “You can configure on the fly. You can do automation at scale. You can start to use DevOps.”

DevOps methodology brings IT operations and software development teams together to program automated infrastructure code that aligns with business needs. DevOps has become integral to managing networking infrastructure in the era of cloud computing, IoT and mobility.

DevNet Automation Exchange is a community center designed to accelerate software-driven principles and help users adopt network automation.

The Exchange, for example, is pre-loaded with 50 tested use cases to address the “biggest problem for customers: ‘How do I bring automation to my network?’” Wee said. Having these use cases already available also provides “a jump-start for customers that want to get the value of automation right out of the gate and don’t have to figure out how to do it,” Gooley said.

The new network fundamentally changes the role networks can play, but it also changes how networking is done.

Susie Wee, SVP and CTO, Cisco DevNet

One automation use case might address how to onboard a wireless user when the network fails to authenticate that user. The use case can not only identify the problem but automatically remediate the problem, such as moving that user to a new SSID (service set identifier) or a different network.

Networking education is part of Cisco’s history

Cisco has a long history of fostering skills and education for IT infrastructure professionals. Over the past 20 years, it has operated the Cisco Networking Academy, an educational program aimed at grooming the next generation of networking pros. Since 1997, more than 9 million students have been educated through Networking Academy. Given the IT skills gap, which, according to some estimates, may worsen over the next several years, this early-stage IT skills development is imperative.

Research firm Gartner, for example, reports that “by 2020, 75 percent of organizations will experience visible business disruptions due to [infrastructure and operations] skills gaps, which is an increase from less than 20 percent in 2016.” And  in a recent survey CompTIA found that cloud infrastructure and applications ranked high on its list of the most in-demand skills, at 57%.

DevNet certifications will combine software development with traditional infrastructure skill development, with 80% focused on software skills and 20% on traditional infrastructure, Gooley said. Traditional certifications such as the CCNA have an inverse ratio, with 80% focus on infrastructure and 20% focus on software.

But the combination will also help foster a multidisciplinary approach to IT infrastructure management, “Every IT professional needs skills that are broader, deeper and more agile than ever before,” said Mike Adams, vice president and general manager of Learning@Cisco in an article for Network World. And they have to be comfortable working as a multidisciplinary team including infrastructure network engineers, DevOps and automation specialists, and software professionals.”

Gooley also noted that the new certification paths enable networking professionals to customize their path through specialty tracks within the DevNet curriculum. “You can build your own skill set path,” Gooley said.

The future is software defined

According to a TechRepublic survey, more than 80% of CIOs said that IT certification shows value. But some networking engineers have been skeptical about the value of certifications.

Gooley said that solid software skills in networking will be a “hard find” and that the DevNet certification will provide objective validation about networking engineers’ knowledge base. “There is now an ability to differentiate that you have those software skills. People put buzzwords on their résumé —everyone would include Python. But to what level of depth do you know it? We will now have an industry-standard way of classifying the skill set” for new jobs like DevSecOps, Gooley said.

Just as Cisco is charting its future technology course in software through intent-based networking; it is paving the future of IT professional development through software-focused certification. Gooley said the DevNet certification indicates that the future for network engineers has arrived.

Experts affirm this view.

“Software-defined networking is the future of networking,” said Ed Tittel, a former developer, networking consultant and technical trainer. “No matter what kind of role an IT pro plays in networking—from technician/installer level to the architect level—some basic working knowledge of software-defined networking is no longer optional. It’s absolutely essential.”

The maturation of software-defined principles in networking certification reflects the maturation of the industry itself.

“We are evolving as a company what we are doing to reflect what’s coming in the industry,” Gooley said. “We’re not just network engineers anymore. We are becoming network developers.”

*See Jason Gooley’s new website Metal DevOps, which promotes software-defined practices. Gooley has also been dubbed the #Godfatherofprogrammabililty given his multiple Cisco Press books on the subject and partnership with the DevNet team.

We're not just network engineers anymore. We are becoming network developers.

Jason Gooley, technical solutions architect, Cisco

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Lauren Horwitz is the managing editor of Cisco.com, where she covers the IT infrastructure market and develops content strategy. Previously, Horwitz was a senior executive editor in the Business Applications and Architecture group at TechTarget;, a senior editor at Cutter Consortium, an IT research firm; and an editor at the American Prospect, a political journal. She has received awards from American Society of Business Publication Editors (ASBPE), a min Best of the Web award and the Kimmerling Prize for best graduate paper for her editing work on the journal article "The Fluid Jurisprudence of Israel's Emergency Powers.”