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Industry execs: Network admins an endangered species

'IT peasant, you are mere human middleware'

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Ethernet Summit If you are a network administrator, be aware that there are a lot of industry movers and shakers who want to put you out of a job.

Mike Banic, marketing VP for HP's networking division, exemplified that goal when speaking on a panel at the Ethernet Innovation Summit, held this week in Mountain View, California, to celebrate Ethernet's 40th birthday

"Today, the administrative expense in networking is really high," Banic said. "It's much higher than the cost of acquiring the actual infrastructure, because it's all done by people."

Those pesky network admins are expensive, he said, and the cost of retaining them is not going down. "We know that computers and everything else is going to get twice as fast and cost half as much in the future," he said, "but the people who are doing all the administrative work, they're going to have a salary that goes up with inflation every year."

The solution? Automate network configuration and management. "If we can automate things," Banic said, "we actually can eliminate a lot of that," meaning rising salaries for network admins.

And HP is working hard to accomplish that goal. "There's some pretty cool stuff that we've actually demonstrated and we've filed patents on [technologies] that do that today," he said.

According to Banic, HP is working on automated virtual application networks that treat a network as a unified pool of resources rather than as an agglomeration of individual devices.

"You define what you need for an application," he said, "and it will automate the configuration of those resources – access switches, core switches, routers, firewalls, [intrusion detection systems]. And it will actually evaluate whether those services are there in place before you hit the 'Go' button to deploy them."

The goal of this automation, from Banic's point of view, is not only increased reliability and assured bandwidth, but – perhaps most importantly – "it takes that human middleware out," he said.

The "human middleware" configuring all those resources is not only expensive, Banic said, it's also slow. As an example, he said that HP's technology services people have told him that to set up Exchange in a corporate campus takes a minimum of two weeks.

"That's the time, the human middleware factor," he said. "That's very concrete." Using HP's network-configuration automation, "they have seen it go to five minutes, and deprovisioning in seven minutes."

If true, that's a persuasive argument for eliminating "the human middleware factor" – meaning you, if you're a network admin.

Banic was not the only exec talking about network-configuration automation at the event – far from it. Juniper's VP of enterprise marketing Steve Collen, for example, said that virtualization is affecting both purchasing and decision-making in data centers. "The networking team is in danger of becoming irrelevant," he said. "All those Cisco CCIEs – sorry – their jobs are at risk."

Comcast VP of business services Karen Schmidt, speaking of carrier Ethernet installations, said that it currently takes far too long to get a customer set up. "We absolutely are aiming to add more automation," she said.

On a panel discussing network virtualization – the elusive software defined networking, or SDN – HP Networking's chief technologist for security and routing Dave Larson also weighed in on the need for network-configuration automation. "Networks today," he said, "are configured exactly the same way they were configured 30 years ago: with command lines, with scripts, and provisioned by humans."

There's that expensive, slow "human middleware" again.

"That will not scale in the cloud world," Larson continued. "It is not scaling to the needs of the data centers today, which is why the companies up here on the panel [Dell, HP, Juniper, Nuage Networks, and the Open Network Foundation] are developing automated network virtualization capabilities ..."

One panel moderator, Erin Dunne of Vertical Systems Group, spoke directly to the assembled journalists when she summed up the key points of her panel, Ethernet and the Cloud. "So the press has their three words, right? Scale, speed, automation."

From the discussions in that panel and others, it's clear that the prevailing opinion among the industry heavyweights at the Ethernet Innovation Summit is that network scalability and speed of configuration can't happen without the third term in Dunne's takeaway trio.

Prepare for a shake-up, network admins. ®

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