Resolutions For Today’s Network Managers

Happy New Year to WANSpeak readers! By now, I’m sure many of us have made a start on our annual resolutions. I’m sure Donald Trump has made a resolution to antagonize even more of the country, Michael Dell has likely resolved to make the Dell/EMC merger smooth, and I’m sure Tom Brady has resolved to make sure all his footballs are at least 12.5 PSI.

2016 should be a significant year of change for networking professionals, as the role of the network has changed. Historically, the network was considered the “plumbing” of the organization and was something few CIOs were concerned with. Today, many of the current IT initiatives such as mobility, cloud computing and Internet of Things are network-centric, meaning the network plays a much more important role. Because of this, the network and network managers need to change. This year, network managers should consider the following resolutions.

  • Embrace change. I understand that, in IT, change is hard and uncomfortable. Networking, in particular, has lived with the mantra of “If it ain’t broke don’t fix it”. I certainly understand this mindset — since any kind of disruption to the network can mean a disruption to the business, why make changes to a network that’s up and running and risk downtime? Today though, legacy networks are getting in the way. They’re inflexible, and adding new features or making changes is too slow. I suspect that most network managers know this but are trying to delay the inevitable. To this I say, why wait? Make 2016 the year to embrace change.
  • Shift to a “software defined” model. The network industry has thrived on the dedicated hardware appliance for decades. As I pointed out in my previous bullet, making changes to large networks is slow and time consuming, primarily because of the hardware-centric nature of the network. A big step in the path towards network change is moving to a software-defined model. I’m not saying dump all your hardware in favor of software platforms overnight, but network managers should be developing a plan to move that way.
  • Think in terms of applications. Make no mistake; the network plays a key role in application performance, meaning it can directly impact user productivity. Applications have become more network aware and are now able to communicate with the network through APIs. Network managers should design, build, and manage through the lens of application performance rather than solely relying on network metrics.
  • Learn new skills. If you’re a seasoned network professional today, you probably took the job of someone years ago who refused to believe that SNA, Token Ring, or ATM was going away. Well, if you’re not willing to learn some modern skills like how to program in Python and Java, automation skills, or how to talk to lines of business, some young whippersnapper is going to take your job. If you’re a leading a group of engineers evaluate the talent you have as it may be time to send some of your troops to school or it may be time to bring in some new people.
  • Consider becoming a data scientist. The network generates lots and lots of data. Understanding what this data means, analyzing it, and taking action on the results are the job of data scientists. I’ve talked to many CIOs that have told me that finding data scientists is very difficult right now. There aren’t that many, and any that are currently employed are hard to peel away from their organization. This isn’t a path that everyone is going to choose but if you like working with data, this might be a great career move.