Network commander. Business translator. Network detective. Wondering what these jobs might entail? If you work in networking, then you could find out soon. They could all be roles needed for a new kind of network that is quickly gaining traction.
It’s called the intent-based network (IBN) and is best described as a smart platform that acts without needing humans to do the work. For instance, if an intent-based network senses a cyber attack it will protect itself without waiting for an expert to get involved.
Intent-based networks are set to become the next big thing in the IT world because they will be able to run a lot more smoothly and quickly than what we have today. Also, what we have at the moment is creaking at the seams.
As current networks get more complex, they need more help from humans. And today’s networks are being tasked with ever-more complex things. That means network experts are spending more and more time on mundane tasks that networks cannot do on their own.
The 2020 Global Networking Technology Report from Cisco® says 73 percent of IT teams spend more than half their time keeping their networks running. This work alone takes up 55 percent of the time spent on the job by a standard network team.
The upshot: if networks don’t get smarter, at some point network experts will spend all their time sorting out minor fixes and will not be able to move ahead with value-added projects. Their organizations will no longer be able to evolve or compete.
35 percent of leaders will have intent-based networks within two years
It’s no surprise, then, that IT leaders are keen to embrace IBN. The Cisco research shows 35 percent of leaders will have intent-based networks within two years, up from 4 percent today. But what will this mean for the experts who tend to networks at the moment?
The good news is they won’t have to spend so much time dealing with mundane tasks. Instead, they will be able to look at the big picture.
“Teams will rebalance time spent maintaining networks toward an outward focus on how the network can better meet organizational needs and support business innovation," predicts Rich Plane, CTO of customer experience at Cisco.
This is good news, as IT skills are in too short supply to waste them on tasks that a robot could do. In Europe, for instance, there could be as many as 756,000 unfilled jobs in the information and communications technology sector by 2020.
Today’s experts may have to pick up new skills to succeed with intent-based networking. People dealing with intent-based networks will need more of a software-based mindset than their hardware-heavy peers, for instance.
They will also need a good knowledge not just of the nuts and bolts of the network, but also how intent-based systems can tackle business issues.
Radha Mistry, foresight practice leader at design software leader Autodesk, says this isn’t about replacing traditional engineers but instead getting them to help train up the next generation of experts. “You need skilled engineers to be the guides,” she says.
At the same time, the move to IBN could give today’s engineers a chance to be more imaginative.
“They’ve been skilled to follow protocols, but now parts of those protocols can be managed by automation in the network, allowing engineers the time to be more flexible and creative,” says Mistry.
“We need people who know how to translate this into new opportunities for the business,” she says. “It’s a reframing of existing skills.”
Modern network skills courses are already moving in this direction. Students today are learning “basic networking skills and also getting to explore things like AI, blockchain, [and] data analytics at a deep level,” says Joe Clarke, a distinguished services engineer at Cisco.
What awaits them is a whole new world of job options. Here are seven roles that Cisco thinks could emerge soon:
- The network commander will look at how the network needs to change over time to meet the needs of the organization.
- The network integration architect will focus on integration across network and IT domains.
- The network data architect will leverage network analytics and artificial intelligence.
- The network detective will focus on service assurance and network security.
- The network orchestrator will deal with policy translation and automation.
- The business translator will align IT performance with business intent.
- The network guardian will bridge network and security architectures.
With all these functions soon to come online, “it’s a good time to make IT a driving source of innovation,” says Clarke.
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