Smarter nets won’t cost jobs

Networks keep getting smarter. Every new network management product on the market promises more intelligence and more automation. Vendors always put a happy face on the intelligence increase, asserting it will make life easier for network managers, freeing them up to do more important tasks.

But there’s also a potential negative side to smarter networks. If networks keep getting better at managing themselves, it follows that there should be less need for network managers to keep an eye on them. Will smarter networks kill off the network manager?

The answer is a definitive ‘no’. More intelligent networks will change the way network managers do their jobs, but they won’t make network managers redundant.

The main reason there will always be a need for some human control of the network is that no technology is perfect. For example, Cisco, which forms the backbone of many Canadian enterprise networks and is generally considered a stable and trustworthy technology provider, has had its share of problems in recent months. In November, Cisco issued three security advisories warning of possible vulnerabilities in some IOS-based products and wireless LAN gear. Those warnings followed consultant Michael Lynn’s disclosure of vulnerabilities in Cisco gear back in the summer. Some of the advisories related to possible “remote-code execution”, which would allow attackers to run whatever programs they wanted using a Cisco router. If the equipment forming the backbone of an enterprise network isn’t 100 per cent secure, clearly it’s not a good plan to have too much automation.

Compatibility issues are another factor making network managers irreplacable stewards of the enterprise infrastructure. Almost all vendors will pay at least lip service to using industry-wide standards in their hardware and software. But that doesn’t mean the same vendors won’t implement their own proprietary technologies as add-ons. Software and hardware that look like they should be compatible on paper are too often anything but compatible when rolled out into a production network. No matter how intelligent a network is it’s not going to be able to resolve compatibility problems.

So what significance does added network intelligence have for network managers? In a nutshell, more intelligent networks really can help network managers do their jobs better and free them up for other tasks.

In the security realm network intelligence means networks are better able to respond to potential security threats. Intrusion detection systems can pinpoint potential network breaches and take action before a hacker compromises a network.

For applications, added intelligence allows networks to identify mission-critical applications and ensure that those applications get the bandwidth and priority they should have.

More intelligent networks are going to eliminate some of the more mundane tasks network managers have had to deal with in the past. This is going to force network managers to learn new skillsets, including business skills that help managers tie their network capabilities to business needs.

The only people network intelligence really threatens are those unwilling to learn new skills or take on new challenges.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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