It's Time for IT Networking Professionals to Join the SDN Revolution

Network programmability concept

There is a major transformation going on now in the IT realm with the adoption of Software Defined Networking (SDN). SDN isn't a new idea — the theory dates back to 1995, when initial trials of programmable network functions were attempted by companies like Sun Microsystems and AT&T. What is relatively new is strong interest in SDN from vendors of large-scale computer systems, who are looking to SDN technologies to cope with increased demand for agile and flexible infrastructure.


In 2015, network infrastructure, storage and server elements are required to respond quickly to changing application requirements, which are driven by changing business requirements. SDN enable organizations to decrease application delivery time through automation of infrastructure configuration. This automation results in reduced IT cost and go-to-market time, which are two main requirements of every organization, nowadays, that wants to stay afloat in a highly competitive market.


How does it work?


SDN works by decoupling the control plane function of network devices, which is responsible for data forwarding decisions, from the data plane function, which is responsible for actual data forwarding on the device. The control plane of all network devices can then become a centralized controller. This centralization facilitates both management of network devices and programmability of network devices.


For years, network administrators made a strenuous effort to create scripts for automating limited tasks of managing network infrastructure. The main objective was always to create easier management of a large number of devices, and the introduction of SDN technology has now made that goal much more achievable.


The programmability of the centralized control plane will allow application developers to control network infrastructure configuration from the application. This will automate the provisioning of new applications, depending on the programmability of features of a given network infrastructure.


Benefits of SDN


To better appreciate the magic of SDN, let's look at an example of how SDN promotes flexible and agile network infrastructure. Suppose that your company has an application for call center agents, which they use to respond to customers queries. Currently, the application and infrastructure support 200 call center agents. Then the call center manager gets a request to increase the number of agents supported to 300. According to old networking model, the network administrator would access the routers and switches to increase available bandwidth for the application, and maybe create another network VLAN to accommodate the new users.


Now suppose that we switch to SDN. The application can now program the centralized control plane of the network requesting all of these changes. The centralized control plane will instruct the switches and routers to automatically configure the required excess bandwidth and VLAN in seconds, without any direct intervention from the network administrator!


Now suppose that, after 6 months, the call center manager decides to decrease number of agents to 100. The application can then immediately reconfigure the network infrastructure to free up the resources previously reserved for the larger load, again without the direct intervention of the network administrator. This also solves a major problem of many of today's networks, by releasing unused network resources. Impressive isn't it?


Taken as whole, the benefits of SDN include:


? Cost reduction through minimizing the effort required to configure network infrastructure, as well as the replacement of expensive network hardware with cheaper solutions.

? Agility and flexibility through automation, which decreases application deployment time.

? Centralized network management through centralized view of network components.

? Improved implementation of cloud computing by extending virtualization to the network layer.


Now, I bet the first question that will come into the mind of network administrators is: "So what will we be doing now?" How about getting new training and certification to involve yourself in SDN?


Learning and Certifications Options


As SDN creates more integration between applications and infrastructure, network professionals should be pursuing that same integration of their existing skills with knowledge of applications. Network administrators should be increasing their knowledge of programming, to get them up to speed on programming network infrastructure. The same applies to application developers, who should become familiar with network foundations and how to make use of the programmability offered by SDN infrastructure.


Networking programmability tech working

Some vendors have already announced certification programs for SDN, to allow professional new to the field to learn and master SDN fundamentals. VMWare and Cisco are two vendors who are deeply engaged in SDN and support its adoption by their customers.


It's worth mentioning, however, that every vendor has different implementation methodology for SDN — the training they offer may differ to a large extent, though the common SDN concepts are the same. The Open Network Foundation (ONF) is collaborative organization that supports open SDN deployment worldwide, and its (just announced) certifications offer a footing for IT pros not tied to a particular vendor.


VMWare Network Virtualization Certifications


Among different certifications offered by VMWare, two network virtualization certifications are very useful for network engineers intrigued by SDN:

VMware Certified Associate 6 – Network Virtualization (VCA6-NV)

VCA6-NV is VMWare's new Network Virtualization certification that is intended for engineers who work with VMWare's network virtualization platform for SDN (namely VMWare NSX). The certification is an associate level credential that demonstrates the capability of the professional to discuss network virtualization, as well as how to virtualize a network using VMWare NSX.

VMware Certified Professional 6 – Network Virtualization (VCP6-NV)

This certification validates the professional's ability to install, configure and administer virtualized datacenter network infrastructure using VMWare NSX. The certification is a professional level credential that gives deeper understanding of the NSX platform.


Cisco Network Programmability Certifications


Cisco offers four SDN specialist certifications aimed at network engineers, designers and network application developers:

Cisco Business Application Engineer Specialist

This certification is intended for application engineers who design and build applications and need to understand networking concepts and programmability features. This will allow them to use their programming skills to leverage the programmability of network devices, and to collect information from the devices as well as configure the network infrastructure using their applications. Think of it as training application developers to understand network concepts.

Cisco Network Programmability Design Specialist

This certification is aimed at engineers who have both architectural and application deployment skills. They can translate customer requirements into designs that combine network infrastructure and application capabilities.

Cisco Network Programmability Developer Specialist

This certification is for software programmers who focus on the development of the network applications layer. The certification equips the professional with the skills needed to develop network applications in programmable environments such as Cisco's One Platform Kit (onePK), Open Daylight Controller (ODL) and Application Policy Infrastructure Controllers (APICs). The candidate for this certification should be able to program in Python, C, or other languages in an open networking environment.

Cisco Network Programmability Engineer Specialist

This certification is aimed at engineers who deploy network applications in a programmable environment. These engineers can implement and troubleshoot open network infrastructure.


Open Networking Foundation (ONF) SDN Certifications


ONF is preparing to offer two certifications through is ONF-Certified SDN Professional Program (OCSP) that will provide a strong foundation of vendor-neutral knowledge of SDN technologies. The two new certifications, available in beta next month, are:


ONF-Certified SDN Associate certification (OCSA)

This certification validates knowledge of foundational concepts of SDN. It's an associate level certification and is suitable for engineers who are new to the field.

ONF-Certified SDN Engineer certification (OCSE)

This certification is for SDN professionals who already have knowledge of SDN and wish to increase it. The certification validates the skills, knowledge and abilities of technical professionals working in the SDN ecosystem.


What's next?

There is no doubt that the SDN Era has begun, and network engineers should be involved in it. Like any other past technology, successful professionals are the ones who can quickly adapt to new technologies and master them, leaving limited opportunities for professionals stuck in the old ways of doing business. Knowing that, it's time to start exploring the SDN world.


Would you like more insight into the history of hacking? Check out Calvin's other articles about historical hackery:
About the Author
Ahmed Badr

Ahmed Badr is a network consultant with more than 10 years of experience designing, implementing and operating large scale network infrastructures. He holds a BSc in Communications and one in Electronics Engineering, and a Master of Business Administration. He also holds a CCIE certificate in Routing and Switching since 2008. Ahmed can be contacted at: