One of the most common complaints I’ve heard raised against software defined networking (SDN) adoption is a lack of available training. Network engineers have come to expect that a vendor supplies both good documentation and good training to teach them the ins and outs of product implementation. SDN is so new with many varying approaches, that while the documentation has been there (depending on the vendor), the training options have been limited. Certainly formal training leading to SDN certification is a non-entity at this point. The Cisco Learning Network is here to help.
On 18-September, I had a briefing with the Cisco Learning Network about the SDN training that they are working on. The SDN program is not mature yet (how could it be?), but the briefing correlated reasonably well to my impression of what Cisco seems to think SDN is: programmability. And CLN believes that training needs to go in that direction: augmenting the understanding of network fundamentals with programming skills. Part of this is due to Cisco’s early SDN engagements with their customers. Cisco claims that with their SDN customers, IT roles are shifting.
- The system architect/network designer becomes a “network programmability designer.”
- The network engineer becomes a “network programmability developer.”
- The support engineer becomes a “network programmability engineer.”
In other words, in the Cisco SDN paradigm, it’s no longer enough to be knowledgable about networking protocols, network design principles, network implementation processes, and traditional troubleshooting techniques. Now, programming comes into the mix at all expertise levels. To get a sense of what that’s all about, CLN is offering “Introducing Network Programmability Fundamentals” for $59.
In the context of longer-term SDN training, my understanding from CLN is that programming elements will be baked into the Cisco certifications many are already familiar with like CCNA, CCNP, etc. There might also be independent tests that can add a Cisco SDN credential to their existing certifications.
So, is Cisco SDN training a smart thing to consider? In my opinion, there’s no right or wrong answer here, but I do have some thoughts.
- One of the things that Cisco has been historically effective at in their certification programs is teaching not just how to do Cisco networking, but how to do networking in general. Excellent fundamentals have been a hallmark of official Cisco certification programs. That said, the jury is still out on exactly what SDN is going to look like from an industry-wide perspective. But what I see in this early Cisco SDN class is an attempt to map to emerging “normal” SDN use cases to . More on that in point 3.
- Cisco SDN training implies to me that just what Cisco SDN is going to look like is coalescing. While I don’t love that it looks like programming as opposed to an orchestrated, automated solution for network virtualization and NFV, at least we know that the “you program it yourself” aspect is important to Cisco. That’s good information.
- The fundamentals class I linked to above is pretty interesting. Let’s look at the modules.
Module 1: Software-Defined Network (SDN) Basics
Module 2: Cisco Open Network Environment (ONE) Framework
Module 3: Programmatic APIs — Cisco One Platform Kit (onePK)
Module 4: Controllers — Cisco Extensible Network Controller (XNC)
Module 5: Virtual Network Overlays
Module 6: OpenStack
Huh…so SDN basics could be generic enough to be useful no matter where you land with SDN. Using a programming language to talk to an API is a meaningful skill that will cross vendors. XNC & the OpenDaylight controllers are related, so if ODL takes off in the open source community, XNC training might be portable. Virtual network overlays means I’m not sure what coming from Cisco, but presumably VXLAN, VTEPs, and endpoint management for a start. OpenStack implies integrating Cisco with that environment…and possibly Open vSwitch. So yes, there’s a Cisco slant on the training, obviously. But I think I see enough there that I know I want to give it a shot, especially at $59.
While the SDN game is very early in the industry, what Cisco’s offering in this fundamentals class isn’t a bad thing to look at. Even if Cisco ends up being marginalized in the long-term because of the changes SDN is bringing to networking, the knowledge gained here shouldn’t be a waste. And who knows? SDN might be causing a bit of upheaval within Cisco, but they’re still a safe bet.