Five Skills for Managing Software-Defined Networks

What IT and network engineers will need to succeed

8 December 2014

In today’s networks, most management operations are carried out by people. But software-defined networks (SDNs) are going to change that by automating many processes to reduce human input and the mistakes that can be made. And with those changes, IT professionals will need new skills.

These people are going to be on the front lines where SDNs are designed, operated, and managed. They will also be implementing policies that increase performance and troubleshooting programs that go awry. According to Antonio Manzalini, chair of the IEEE Software Defined Networks Initiative, IT and network engineers will need to acquire a “systemic” mind-set aimed at integrating design and operations in data centers and telecommunications networks, as the border between the two domains blurs. These engineers will be in charge of enabling successful SDN deployment.


With the softwarization of telecommunications infrastructures, Manzalini says engineers will need the following five skills to develop new SDN tools, products, infrastructure, and applications:

  1. The ability to incorporate know-how from the IT and network domains, which have grown independently of each other over the years but are now converging.
  2. An understanding of industrial mathematics, a branch of applied mathematics. Those with this knowledge will be better able to understand technical issues, formulate precise and accurate mathematical models, and implement solutions using the latest computer techniques. An understanding of this field will help in developing systems by applying machine learning and cognitive algorithms, which are expected to lessen the complexity and dynamic nature of SDNs.
  3. A mastery of software architecture and open-source software, which is needed to develop SDN tools and applications. It will also be helpful to understand software verification and validation processes, which ensure that software meets specifications and fulfills its intended purpose. Some engineers assume they’ll need programming skills, but that’s not necessarily so, because software applications for SDNs from third parties are already available.
  4. A background in big-data analytics in order to understand how to handle the huge amounts of data expected from SDNs. Someone skilled in big-data analytics will not only be able to manage more data but also know the right questions to ask should problems arise. Such analytics will also help engineers make smart, data-driven decisions.
  5. Expertise in cybersecurity, because security must be everywhere within SDNs. It needs to be built into the architecture and also must be delivered as a service to protect the availability, integrity, and privacy of connected resources and information.

“Education is very important, because the IT and networking communities are speaking different languages,” Manzalini says. “Telecommunications engineers are the ones who developed and are executing the telecommunications metrics in place today. The IT people developed and are executing cloud computing, so there is a conflict between the two specialties, coming as they do from past architectures.

“We need to teach both of them to speak the same language.”

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