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SDN vs. NFV: What’s the difference?

Why a Cisco certification in networking programmability could lead to job promotion

Ed Tittel

by Ed Tittel

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If you manage Cisco gear for your IT shop, it's worth considering whether earning a Cisco network programmability certification could boost your skill set and make you more lucrative on the job.

Currently, Cisco has focused its innovation roadmap on such areas as software-defined networking (SDN), network functions virtualization, and making networking platforms more open and programmable, which is known as ”network programmability.” Together these technologies form the building blocks of intent-based networking systems, which enables networking administrators to configure networks in a more automated, agile way through software than is possible with traditional hardware-based network configuration.

What is network programmability anyway?

Glad you asked. In May 2017, Cisco blogger and corporate development technology engineer Adrian Iliesiu defined the term in "Defining Network Programmability."

"Driven by real benefits like time and cost savings, reduction of human error, customization and innovation," he wrote, "network programmability is currently understood as a set of tools and best practices to deploy, manage and troubleshoot network devices."

The problems that make network programmability something essential, rather than a nice-to-have, are best understood in terms of the scale, scope and speed that virtualization enables for network infrastructure.

"In a dynamic DevOps world when entire testing and development environments are built and destroyed within minutes, we expect the network to keep up and be just as flexible" as the other parts of the infrastructure and services that IT now routinely provides on demand, Iliesiu said. Think about the networking component of infrastructure as a service. Such virtual environments can involve thousands of servers; hundreds of routers and IP networks; routing domains, virtual local area networks and so forth.

Simply put, network programmability makes creating and managing such environments a matter of scripting or writing programs to handle the functions and configurations involved. Once the individual elements are tested, they can be mixed and matched as needed, changed or removed, to keep up with changing needs and requirements.

Getting started

To get IT pros going down this important path to networking's future, Cisco also offers a pair of specialist certifications in network programmability -- namely the following:

  • Network Programmability Developer certification. This is a credential for software developers who focus their efforts on the network applications layer, as it touches on a variety programmable Cisco components. This credential seeks to cultivate and nurture foundational skills in building network applications for programmable environments that include the Cisco One Platform Kit, OpenDaylight Controller and Application Policy Infrastructure Controller. Candidates should be able to program in C, Python or similar languages in an open networking environment to make the most of the training and exposure this cert provides.
  • Network Programmability Design and Implementation Specialist. This credential is for network engineers interested in learning about and exploiting networking tools for programmability, automation and orchestration. It focuses on leveraging abstraction provided by controller-based architectures to design, configure, deploy, and manage networking infrastructures and component elements, such as routers, gateways and so forth. Candidates need a Cisco Certified Network Professional (CCNP), Cisco Certified Design Professional (CCDP) or Cisco Certified Internetwork Expert (CCIE) certification to qualify to take this specialist exam.

Why certification in network programmability is worthwhile

Today, Cisco offers only two network programmability credentials, but they lead nicely into the worlds of automation and programming to set up and run programmable networks. The course description indicates administrators will learn how to interpret and produce code to deploy configurations to multiple devices, as well as network programmability tools and Cisco virtual platforms.

Those who pursue the Design and Implementation credential are expected to be more experienced in working with Cisco platforms and technologies. They may have a more nuanced and architectural view of how to use network programmability to automate. The course enables candidates to understand SDN controllers; learn how to use device-level application programming interfaces (APIs); and learn about DevOps and Agile software development methodologies using automation tools, such as Ansible, Chef and Puppet.

Digging down into network programmability

For those interested in network programmability and in Cisco networking programmability certification, here are some key resources:

  1. Links to free training videos from DevNet and Cisco experts on SDN and related topics. More than a dozen different courses in this topic space are listed from Cisco trainers and subject matter experts. Upcoming live-video events also appear, with sign-up links. Topics include software-defined networking, network programmability basics, as well as information on specific APIs and software development kits for Spark, SDN, NFV, the DevNet Sandbox, Meraki and so on.
  2. A link to Cisco's Network Programmability Study Group. This online social group focuses on network programmability topics, tools, training and related certifications. It also provides a networking opportunity to interact with like-minded network programmers and engineers.
  3. A link to Cisco's Programming for Network Engineers v1.0 online learning class, which costs $500. This page includes links to free-trial versions of sections one and four of that class, with self-paced reading materials, video training, and access to hands-on labs for practice and further learning. Those who enroll should have a Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA) or higher certification. Students will also be expected to work with Python and to develop diverse Python programming skills.

Is network programmability for you?

If you're Cisco-certified at the CCNP or CCDP level or higher, network programmability is a logical next step. It's part of the dynamic or evolving content for CCIE, and it's likely to be integrated into other mid- to senior-level Cisco certificaion under that same rubric in the next year. It's also a great way to exploit tools and technology to make networks easier to design, deploy and manage. That's why even more junior Cisco-certified professionals -- CCNA, CCDA and so on -- should also consider network programmability. It's just a matter of time until network programmability becomes a part of all aspects of networking.

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Ed Tittel

Ed Tittel

Ed Tittel is a 30-plus year IT veteran who's worked as a developer, networking consultant, technical trainer, writer and expert witness. Perhaps best known for the Exam Cram series of IT cert prep books, Tittel has contributed to more than 100 titles on computing topics, including information security, Windows OSes and HTML.