ViewsLetter        Issue 94                June 2016

Network Certifications Following
IBM Analysts' White Coats

by William Flanagan, Publisher

Chatted with another consultant recently about Software Defined Networks (SDNs) and how the central controller programs the connection paths into routers and switches across a network.  It dawned on us that the day of the "router jock" sitting at the command line interface (CLI) is about to end.

Remember when the main frame computer was king?  The people who managed the computer and the communications to terminals were "systems analysts" who wore white coats, like doctors.  Perhaps it was just to keep warm as they did their writing and network sketching behind the glass walls of the super-cooled computer room.

There are many parallels between the system analyst and the successor router jock. 
Both were created by companies that dominated the industry and market, often with FUD.

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Each has a distinctive uniform:  white coat vs.  jeans and a t-shirt (with interesting graphics).
They dealt with an arcane, exacting, and unforgiving interface which required extensive training to master and constant usage to keep 'in practice.'

After surmounting the barriers to entry, the 'guru' enjoyed high status and a high salary.
The work itself could be repetitious, tedious, and never-ending (Is that COBOL update ready?).

As a network person, I can't claim inside knowledge about mainframes.  But I do know that while they remain at the top of scale for computing power, they have changed:
Among the aspects of virtualization is an openness, even a need, for automated tools to track instances of software, manage licenses, assign work loads, and isolate problems.  It's too much going too fast for manual methods.

Automation in networks has been increasing in importance for years.  A series of increasingly sophisticated management and monitoring systems made it easier to watch over large numbers of routers, switches, firewalls, and other communications equipment.  Configuration from the network management system has improved steadily, but much configuration remains at the command line interface (CLI).  In many cases it is more flexible, more capable, and faster to use (if you really know how) than the graphical workstation or web interface on a device. 

Too much, too fast has come to networks.  Fortunately the concept of Software Defined Network offers a way to herd the bits to the right places--more or less without being touched by human hands. 

When the central controller takes routing and path finding away from the routers, and configures the forwarding tables in switches that don't run spanning tree, what is left for the CLI?  It seems:  not much.
When isolating bugs and finding really obscure configuration errors the CLI expert may still prefer that interface.  I expect that the number of such opportunities will shrink faster in the future.  There may be almost no new openings after a while.  What ever became of the telco guys who ran wires over the main distribution frame?

So, still planning to take that vendor-specific training course where you'll learn more about their specific CLI?  Looks less and less like a good investment.  I'd suggest a broader education in areas such as network management tools, security, Internet of Things, SDN, and network architecture. 

If your computer room is too cold for you to study in, you can find any kind of white coat on eBay.  Looks good over a t-shirt. 

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