In the year since Cisco revamped its DevNet certification portfolio to focus more on network programing, automation and application development, the need for those software-based skillsets has never been more important.
The requirement for software skills in the networking environment is being driven by a number of factors including the tremendous increase in the use of automation, the need to have an intelligent pipeline to remote users, and the growing necessity to efficiently network and secure multi-cloud resources.
Many of these changes were already underway of course, but tons more are being driven by the COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on many enterprise data centre, campus and wide-area-network operations.
“We have seen an uptick in demand for infrastructure automation, one of the most in-demand areas overall,” said Mark Wall, senior practice manager, Automation and App Services with World Wide Technology (WWT), a technology and supply-chain services provider.
“Due to the need to digitise business over the last year, customers are looking at automation to not only drive scale but also to enhance security and ensure accuracy. Taking a programmatic approach to managing and securing infrastructure is certainly top-of-mind today.”
Automation and tools such as Ansible to effectively program networks have just exploded in the past two or three years, said Brad Haas, engineering director of DevOps and automation and Distinguished Engineer with Presidio, a digital systems integrator.
“Having the skillset to be able to work with APIs that can expose or trigger key network changes through other systems is becoming more valuable because of the cloud-like way organisations are looking to build teams—automation is here to stay,” Haas said.
Bringing cloud applications and classic network infrastructure together will be the next thing to take off because network infrastructure and software technology has gotten to the point where people can develop those technologies together effectively, Haas said.
It is such trends that Cisco has in mind with its DevNet community and the certification changes it adopted last year.
The updated DevNet certification track focuses on coding, automation, and application development on Cisco platforms, as well as what developers need to know about network tenets. One certification, DevNet Associate, covers network fundamentals, the use of APIs, software development and design, application deployment and security, infrastructure, and automation. Cisco has also built more programmability and automation training into its traditional engineering curriculum.
According to Cisco, in 2020 the new programs had nearly 8,000 participants earning some 10,500 DevNet certifications, ranging from DevNet Associate to DevNet Professional and DevNet Specialist. The certifications have also helped Cisco’s partners offer more key services to customers.
“Cisco’s DevNet certification program gave WWT a clear blueprint that helps up-skill and empower our employees,” said WWT’s Wall. “We’ve already seen success in different ideas to solve customers’ challenges that traditionally would not have been looked at. The skills and concepts learned also help drive career growth and set a new path for many starting their journey.”
DevNet lets partners test things out, and the certifications give us a way to measure the skills of the engineers we want to hire, Presdio’s Hass said. “The certs give us the confidence that we can go in and talk to customers about next-generation technology and how we can use it to best offer and deliver new services.”
Cisco has continued to amp-up its DevNet community offerings to address hot topics. For example, its recently introduced DevNet Infrastructure as Code Developer Center includes access to sample code and Learning Labs that facilitate learning how to implement Infrastructure as Code across the entire network fabric, from Cisco’s Intersight to Cisco DNA Center and SD-WAN.
“It includes sample code to help you deploy an Intersight Kubernetes Service cluster, access to the Cisco Intersight Terraform provider, Learning Labs to help you start automating Cisco MSO with Terraform, and more," wrote Susie Wee senior vice president and chief technology officer of Cisco DevNet Ecosystem Success in a blog about recent DevNet developments.
"It also includes the DevNet Sandbox to let you get hands-on with all the new Intersight APIs and to help you get started with key integrations."
Automation is much more than simply reducing repetitive tasks, eliminating human errors, and scaling manual operations, Wee stated.
“Automation is about treating your Infrastructure as Code. It’s about using software practices in your infrastructure operations. Viewing your Infrastructure as Code completely changes the paradigm of automation. You can start by treating configuration as code where you compare all your configuration files with a golden template to ensure you maintain consistency and compliance across your infrastructure,” Wee stated.
“You can connect to APIs in your infrastructure to allow it to be used as a programmable building block and integrate with your workflows and applications. Infrastructure as Code gives you a level of agility you never had before.”
Another hot development technology, Secure Access Services Edge, is also getting the DevNet treatment. Cisco recently announced SASE Developer Center, a channel within its DevNet software-developer community, that provides resources to help create SASE implementations that incorporate SD-WAN, Meraki, Umbrella, Secure Access by Duo, AnyConnect, ThousandEyes, and other Cisco SASE components.
The centre features automation use cases for integrating Cisco Secure Access by Duo with SecureX, Code Exchange examples for ASA VPN monitoring with ThousandEyes, Learning Labs, and access to the DevNet Sandbox to get started with Cisco’s SASE technologies, Cisco stated.
Cisco partners are looking for other DevNet learning advances in the future.
For example, Wall said skills-development tools like modules and labs, which teach technology concepts as an element of developing automated tests and services deployments (CI/CD), would be a good direction.
“Specifically, learning modules around IT skills, such as provisioning servers and underlying network and storage fabrics, which teach students to build automated tests as the first step of the configuration process,” Wall said.
"Teaching Cisco technology students to think like DevOps engineers from the outset will help to propagate the software-development mindset, which will make infrastructure services inherently more agile, stable, and resilient while promoting work cultures that treat failure as a shameless form of learning."
Customers are asking for more help with the low-code movement, Haas said. “We also could use some help with handling the proliferation of automation tools in an enterprise environment.”
The certificates and education are all designed to help network professionals prepare for what’s coming in the very near future.
“I think the most key skill for network engineers and architects to learn, from the beginning of their technical education, is how to apply technical concepts like routing protocols and security policies and manage infrastructure devices without the CLI,” Wall said.
“Learning the CLI is still important, although I believe it will be a secondary skill compared to learning how to model infrastructure elements as interchangeable pieces of code, natively integrated into integrated testing and deployment environments, which network engineers/architects build and maintain themselves.”
“In a few years no one will configure networking, they will only configure applications,” Vijoy Pandey, vice president and CTO with Cisco Cloud told attendees of the recent Future:Net 2021 symposium. “We want autonomous, programmable networks that take care of themselves because the configuration challenge is going to move to the application layer, and that’s where we will be solving problems.”
The idea is that networks will ultimately be operated by few but programmed by many, Pandey said.