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3 ways networking will change for the better in 2018

Jan 03, 20184 mins

In the coming year, the fundamental changes we're already seeing in networking technology will create equal — and positive — change for the professionals who build and run networks.

As I discussed in “Why web-scale is the future,” over the past year, we’ve seen more organizations embrace it as the “go-to” model for flexible, resilient and on-demand infrastructure. Gartner predicts that by 2020, 40% of global enterprise CIOs will have initiated a corporate web-scale IT initiative.

As web-scale principles continue their rise within large enterprises, the role the network plays for the business, as well as the day-to-day working lives of network engineers, will change in some pretty significant ways in the year ahead.

1. Networks will help fuel digital transformation rather than slow it down

40 percent of CEOs rank digital transformation as their top imperative, according to a recent Economist Intelligence Unit survey. More than ever, digital transformation is crucial to business success; in 2018, spending on the software, hardware and services that enable digital transformation will reach nearly $1.3 trillion, predicts analyst firm IDC. This figure “represents a 16.8 percent jump compared to the $1.1 trillion spent this year,” according to Datamation.

However, too often, the network has been a hold-up for developer teams working on these digital initiatives. This year, I predict as automation moves beyond vision and becomes fully operationalized, we’ll get closer to the ideal of unlimited, transparent services for application owners. Network architects will design for applications we haven’t even dreamed of yet, getting the technology out of the way of big, creative ideas that keep businesses competitive and delight customers.

2.  Network engineers will (finally) be able to spend more time doing things other than fixing problems

The very automation tools that have been serving the compute world for years are now being extended into the networking world. Engineers can now automate the complete operational life cycle of network devices from configuration and provisioning to policy-based change management.

In the most basic sense, automation is providing rapid provisioning; what used to take weeks and months now takes seconds and minutes. Automation now allows for more complex network implementations including reactive network changes, zero downtime upgrades, and automatic threat response.

This advanced level of automation in the network frees up network engineers’ time, allowing them to spend time on projects they find more interesting: projects that generate revenue vs. just keeping the lights on. If you take a network operator who spends all her time troubleshooting and automate that process, that same person who used to manage 10 network devices can now manage 1,000 network devices or start working on a next-generation, self-tuning monitoring system. The career opportunities for managers and for network engineers become more exciting.

3.  Rather than investing in premium hardware, Fortune 100 IT organizations will invest in premium IT talent

As more and more companies make the switch from proprietary hardware to open infrastructure they’ll use the savings to invest in employees who are change-makers, automation experts, and great problem solvers:

  • Change-makers: Today’s network engineer needs to bridge the gap between server, application and network. Embracing old world ideologies of silos and technical separation will not lead to the technological or business efficiencies that are necessary for today’s age. Premium network engineers need to understand the business applications that are driving the business, then enable end-to-end resources to ensure that pipeline continues to operate at maximum efficiency.
  • Automation experts: Premium network engineers are always looking for a faster and better way to do something. Their goal should be to automate the repetitive network tasks to increase efficiency for themselves and the rest of the team.
  • Great problem-solvers: They are team players who are also willing to be creative when given a problem to solve. They bring their own tool sets to the team and help create the most useful solutions to networking problems.

As the growth of web-scale networking continues through 2018, we’ll see networking taking positive turns to align with the age of digital transformation, automation and investing in premium IT talent. I’m bullish that in 2018 the fundamental changes we’re seeing in networking technology will create equal — and positive — change for the professionals who build and run networks.


JR Rivers is the co-founder and CTO of Cumulus Networks, where he works on company, technology, and product direction. JR has been involved with networking since Ethernet only ran on coaxial cables. He's worked on some of the most foundational networking products of their time, from early Network Interface Cards at 3Com through switching and routing products at Cisco. JR's early involvement in home-grown networking at Google and as the VP of System Architecture for Cisco's Unified Computing System both helped fine tune his perspective on networking for the modern data center.

JR has helped position Cumulus Networks as a pioneer in the networking space with its operating system allowing customers to build and operate their network with the mindset of the web-scale pioneers like Google and Amazon. In the past year, JR has helped the company more than double its customer base to more than 500, including 18 percent of the Fortune 50.

The opinions expressed in this blog are those of JR Rivers and do not necessarily represent those of IDG Communications, Inc., its parent, subsidiary or affiliated companies.