Will SD-WAN kill the jobs of Network Engineers?
The advent of SD-WAN has brought a great deal of fearmongering. SD-WAN vendors have pitched the technology as so ground-breaking and easy to implement that the job security of Network Engineers has been called into question. Is there justification around the fear? Let's discuss.
Should we be scared?
The short answer of today's question - absolutely not.
Like most short answers, however, there is a caveat. Before we get into that, let's do a quick recap of what SD-WAN is all about and why it has strong disruptive potential.
What is SD-WAN?
In an enterprise network businesses will have edge routers at each of their branches with one or more uplinks to an Internet Service Provider. These uplinks provide two purposes.
- Internet Connectivity - An Internet service will simply provide a network with connectivity to the Internet.
- VPN Connectivity - An IP VPN service will allow an enterprise to build an intranet by connecting all of their branches to a common VPN.
In a traditional network design, an enterprise will build its VPN across branches through dedicated IP VPN services. The barrier of entry here is high - IP VPN services are not cheap.
That's where SD-WAN comes in. All SD-WAN routers on an enterprise network will connect to a centralized management node - typically through IPSec tunnels. An "overlay" network is then established over the IPSec tunnels providing connectivity between enterprise branches.
The disruptive power of SD-WAN
The great benefit of SD-WAN is that these IPSec tunnels do not need to be established through IP VPN uplinks - they work through Internet uplinks allowing businesses to build private networks without having to buy expensive IP VPN services.
Not only does SD-WAN challenge the IP VPN model, but it also challenges the command-line interface.
When building a traditional network, a Network Engineer will log on to network elements and configure them through the CLI - the command-line interface.
In the SD-WAN world, routers are configured through templates managed on a centralized node. The management dashboards are powerful enough that Network Engineers can pretty much do everything they need to without ever going on to the CLI of their edge routers. Some vendors will even push the idea that networks can be managed without the engineers altogether.
Network Engineers are here to stay
I disagree with anyone who pushes the idea that network engineers are not needed for building complex SD-WAN networks. I have years of experience working with multiple SD-WAN technologies including Cisco SD-WAN, VeloCloud, and Meraki. I also have a great deal of experience configuring CLI networks.
Network Engineers are still critical in the SD-WAN world for three key reasons.
1. Same Protocols
Want to configure a BGP session? Sure, you don't need CLI config. But you still need to configure your AS numbers and other BGP attributes within the SD-WAN portal. Same goes for any other protocol you need to configure.
2. New Challenges
Want to optimize routing paths on your overlay network? SD-WAN brings a whole new set of exciting design considerations. It’s an opportunity for Network Engineers to further their skillsets to new heights.
3. SD-WAN isn't everything
What about automation stacks which use NETCONF, OpenConfig, NAPALM, Ansible? What about provider edge routers and other network infrastructure? There are countless scenarios in the industry where SD-WAN simply isn't appropriate for the job. SD-WAN is great at times but simply won't always be the best solution.
My last advice on this subject - if you get an opportunity to expose yourself to SD-WAN technology don't miss it. The tech is not a fad and will not be disappearing anytime soon. Adoption is growing fast. Become an expert and the demand for your skillset will only increase!
ULTRA CONFIG GENERATOR
Have you heard of Ultra Config Generator? If you haven't, I highly recommend you check it out.
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Take care until next time!
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