An SD-WAN Paves a Path to Re-Skilling IT

I saw  this recent post on the Silver Peak WANSpeak site asking the question “Can SD-WANs help overcome IT skill shortages?”. This blog included some data that revealed that data center IT skill shortages will intensify as operators continue to struggle with staffing issues. The reality is, this isn’t something that’s limited just to network operators. Almost every business I talk to is facing a skill shortage, particularly in networking where automation and software skills are increasingly in demand. The irony is that existing network engineers want to be retrained, but they simply don’t have the time.

This is in stark contrast to just a few years ago where most network professionals had their heads in the proverbial network sand and refused to see the new world coming. Blissfully programming their networks using an arcane CLI to write scripts and fiddle with configurations to manage expensive branch routers has been the norm for decades, so there was a general refusal to admit it was time to change. So why the sudden change in attitude? Most engineers I speak to today are being crushed under the weight of the speed of today’s digital world.  DevOps is taking over, and businesses are moving with unprecedented speed and legacy operational methodologies simply can’t keep up.

This is where IT finds itself in a bit of a Catch-22. They can’t find the time to develop new skills because they’re too busy running day to day network operations. However, they can’t change operational processes until they develop new skill sets. Seems to be quite the conundrum.  There is a solution though and that’s to deploy an SD-WAN that’s architected for the cloud and designed to automate day to day management tasks, freeing up valuable to develop new skills.

In my discussions with network professionals, I always recommend that they take stock of all of the tasks they currently perform on a daily basis. If they are currently doing things that aren’t strategic to their company or to their resumes, they should stop doing them and find a way to automate them instead. This is where an advanced SD-WAN edge comes into play.

An SD-WAN can significantly reduce the overhead required to run a WAN using automation, machine learning and AI. When automation was first introduced to network engineers, it scared the pants off them as they perceived it as a threat to their jobs and careers. The attitude towards automation has changed as IT pros look to get out from under the weight and pace of change today. Businesses want to move faster which means more changes are required more often and doing things the old way simply won’t work going forward.

By evolving to an SD-WAN, network engineers can automate many of the tasks that are the most time consuming and burdensome. For example, when applications perform poorly, a trouble ticket is opened and IT begins the long process of figuring out the root cause. This might involve collecting and analyzing packet level information to find out there’s congestion on the primary link and determine if the routers on that link need to be manually reconfigured to run on the backup connection until the congestion is cleared and the primary link is restored.

With an SD-WAN, a policy can be centrally orchestrated to dynamically move traffic between multiple links based on the real-time performance of the underlying links. In most cases, the end user wouldn’t even notice what happened which eliminates user frustration and enhances productivity, while eliminating the need for the help desk to open a support ticket and dedicate engineering time toward troubleshooting and fixing the problem.

Another use case is turning up new locations or deploying new applications. Centralized orchestration and zero-touch provisioning capabilities enable branch offices to be brought on line with very little IT intervention and no on-site visit required. Just ship a box to the location, have it plugged into power and the network and the configuration can be automatically downloaded to it. New applications can be easily added to virtual overlays to assure service levels are met and to deliver the highest quality of experience to end users.

I’ve interviewed IT pros who have shifted to an SD-WAN and many have told me that about 80 percent of the manual tasks they used to do are now done via automation. This has freed up their time to develop new skills and work on strategic initiatives that can advance their company’s business. This benefits the engineer too as their skill set can be upgraded and they’re able to dedicate more resources to innovation without having to increase budgets or go through the expensive process of re-hiring individuals.

So, can an SD-WAN help overcome IT skills shortages? The answer is an emphatic yes. In fact, an advanced SD-WAN can be used to accelerate the re-skilling of the IT team for the future.