The Changing Role of IT Professionals

Information Technology is a great field. With technology advancing at the speed of sound, there is never a period when IT becomes boring, or hits an intellectual wall. New devices, new software, more network bandwidth, and new opportunities to make all this technology do great things for our professional and private lives.

image  Or, it becomes a frightening professional and intellectual cyclone which threatens to make our jobs obsolete, or diluted due to business units accessing IT resources via a web page and credit card, bypassing the IT department entirely.

One of the biggest challenges IT managers have traditionally encountered is the need for providing both process, as well as utility to end users and supported departments or divisions within the organization. It is easy to get tied down in a virtual mountain of spreadsheets, trouble tickets, and unhappy users while innovation races past.

The Role of IT in Future Organizations

In reality, the technology component of IT is the easy part. If, for example, I decide that it is cost-effective to transition the entire organization to a Software as a Service (SaaS) application such as MS 365, it is a pretty easy business case to bring to management.

But more questions arise, such as does MS 365 give business users within the organization sufficient utility, and creative tools, to help solve business challenges and opportunities, or is it simply a new and cool application (in the opinion of the IT guys…) that IT guys find interesting?

Bridging the gap between old IT and the new world does not have to be too daunting. The first step is simply understanding and accepting the fact internal data center are going away in favor of virtualized cloud-enabled infrastructure. In the long term Software as a Service and Platform as a Service-enabled information, communication, and service utilities will begin to eliminate even the most compelling justifications for physical or virtual servers.

End user devices become mobile, with the only real requirement being a high definition display, input device, and high speed network connection (not this does not rely on “Internet” connections). Applications and other information and decision support resources are accessed someplace in the “cloud,” relieving the user from the burden of device applications and storage.

The IT department is no longer responsible for physical infrastructure

If we consider disciplines such as TOGAF (The open Group Architecture Framework), ITIL (Service Delivery and Management Framework), or COBIT (Governance and Holistic Organizational Enablement), a common theme emerges for IT groups.

IT organizations must become full members of an organization’s business team

If we consider the potential of systems integration, interoperability, and exploitation of large data (or “big data”) within organization’s, and externally among trading partners, governments, and others, the need for IT managers and professionals to graduate from the device world to the true information management world becomes a great career and future opportunity.

But this requires IT professionals to reconsider those skills and training needed to fully become a business team member and contributor to an organization’s strategic vision for the future.  Those skills include enterprise architecture, governance modeling, data analytics, and a view of standards and interoperability of data.  The value of a network routing certification, data center facility manager, or software installer will edge towards near zero within a few short years.

Harsh, but true.  Think of the engineers who specialized in digital telephone switches in the 1990s and early 2000s.  They are all gone.  Either retrained, repurposed, or unemployed.  The same future is hovering on the IT manager’s horizon.

So the call to action is simple.  If you are a mid-career IT professional, or new IT professional just entering the job market,  prepare yourself for a new age of IT.  Try to distance yourself from being stuck in a device-driven career path, and look at engaging and preparing yourself for contributing to the organization’s ability to fully exploit information from a business perspective, an architectural perspective, and fully indulge in a rapidly evolving and changing information services world.

SDNs in the Carrier Hotel

SDN_interconnections Carrier hotels are an integral part of global communications infrastructure.  The carrier hotel serves a vital function, specifically the role of a common point of interconnection between facility-based (physical cable in either terrestrial, submarine, or satellite networks) carriers, networks, content delivery networks (CDNs), Internet Service Providers (ISPs), and even private or government networks and hosting companies.

In some locations, such as the One Wilshire Building in Los Angeles, or 60 Hudson in New York, several hundred carriers and service providers may interconnect physically within a main distribution frame (MDF), or virtually through interconnections at Internet Exchange Points (IXPs) or Ethernet Exchange points.

Carrier hotel operators understand that technology is starting to overcome many of the traditional forms of interconnection.  With 100Gbps wavelengths and port speeds, network providers are able to push many individual virtual connections through a single interface, reducing the need for individual cross connections or interconnections to establish customer or inter-network circuits.

While connections, including internet peering and VLANs have been available for many years through IXPs and use of circuit multiplexing, software defined networking (SDNs) are poised to provide a new model of interconnections at the carrier hotel, forcing not only an upgrade of supporting technologies, but also reconsideration of the entire model and concept of how the carrier hotel operates.

Several telecom companies have announced their own internal deployments of order fulfillment platforms based on SDN, including PacNet’s PEN and Level 3’s (originally Time Warner) pilot test at DukeNet, proving that circuit design and provisioning can be easily accomplished through SDN-enabled orchestration engines.

However inter-carrier circuit or service orchestration is still not yet in common use at the main carrier hotels and interconnection points.

Taking a closer look at the carrier hotel environment we will see an opportunity based on a vision which considers that if the carrier hotel operator provides an orchestration platform which allows individual carriers, networks, cloud service providers, CDNs, and other networks to connect at a common point, with standard APIs to allow communication between different participant network or service resources, then interconnection fulfillment may be completed in a matter of minutes, rather than days or weeks as is the current environment.

This capability goes even a step deeper.  Let’s say carrier “A” has an enterprise customer connected to their network.  The customer has an on-demand provisioning arrangement with Carrier “A,” allowing the customer to establish communications not only within Carrier”A’s” network resources, but also flow through the carrier hotel’s interconnection broker into say, a cloud service provider’s network.  The customer should be able to design and provision their own solutions – based on availability of internal and interconnection resources available through the carrier.

Participants will announce their available resources to the carrier hotel’s orchestration engine (network access broker), and those available resources can then be provisioned on-demnd by any other participant (assuming the participants have a service agreement or financial accounting agreement either based on the carrier hotel’s standard, or individual service agreements established between individual participants.

If we use NIST’s characteristics of cloud computing as a potential model, then the carrier hotels interconnection orchestration engine should ultimately provide participants:

  • On-demand self-service provisioning
  • Elasticity, meaning short term usage agreements, possibly even down to the minute or hour
  • Resource pooling, or a model similar to a spot market (in competing markets where multiple carriers or service providers may be able to provide the same service)
  • Measured service (usage based or usage-sensitive billing  for service use)
  • And of course broad network access – currently using either 100gbps or multiples of 100gbps (until 1tbps ports become available)

While layer 1 (physical) interconnection of network resources will always be required – the bits need to flow on fiber or wireless at some point, the future of carrier and service resource intercommunications must evolve to accept and acknowledge the need for user-driven, near real time provisioning of network and other service resources, on a global scale.

The carrier hotel will continue to play an integral role in bringing this capability to the community, and the future is likely to be based on software driven , on-demand meet-me-rooms.

PTC 2015 Wraps Up with Strong Messages on SDNs and Automation

Software Defined Networking and Network Function Virtualization (NVF) themes dominated workshops and side conversations throughout the PTC 2015 venue in Honolulu, Hawai’i this week.

Carrier SDNs SDNs, or more specifically provisioning automation platforms service provider interconnections, and have crept into nearly all marketing materials and elevator pitches in discussions with submarine cable operators, networks, Internet Exchange Points, and carrier hotels.

While some of the material may have included a bit of “SDN Washing,” for the most part each operators and service provider engaging in the discussion understands and is scrambling to address the need for communications access, and is very serious in their acknowledgement of a pending industry “Paradigm shift” in service delivery models.

Presentations by companies such as Ciena and Riverbed showed a mature service delivery structure based on SDNS, while PacNet and Level 3 Communications (formerly TW Telecom) presented functional on-demand self-service models of both service provisioning and a value added market place.

Steve Alexander from Ciena explained some of the challenges which the industry must address such as development of cross-industry SDN-enabled service delivery and provisioning standards.  In addition, as service providers move into service delivery automation, they must still be able to provide a discriminating or unique selling point by considering:

  • How to differentiate their service offering
  • How to differentiate their operations environment
  • How to ensure industry-acceptable delivery and provisioning time cycles
  • How to deal with legacy deployments

Alexander also emphasized that as an industry we need to get away from physical wiring when possible.   With 100Gbps ports, and the ability to create a software abstraction of individual circuits within the 100gbps resource pool (as an example), there is a lot of virtual or logical provision that can be accomplished without the need for dozens or hundreds off physical cross connections.

The result of this effort should be an environment within both a single service provider, as well as in a broader community marketplace such as a carrier hotel or large telecomm interconnection facility (i.e., The Westin Building, 60 Hudson, One Wilshire).  Some examples of actual and required deployments included:

  • A bandwidth on-demand marketplace
  • Data center interconnections, including within data center operators which have multiple interconnected meet-me-points spread across a geographic area
  • Interconnection to other services within the marketplace such as cloud service providers (e.g., Amazon Direct Connect, Azure, Softlayer, etc), content delivery networks, SaaS, and disaster recovery capacity and services

Robust discussions on standards also spawned debated.  With SDNs, much like any other emerging use of technologies or business models, there are both competing and complimentary standards.  Even terms such as Network Function Virtualization / NFV, while good, do not have much depth within standard taxonomies or definitions.

During the PTC 2015 session entitled  “Advanced Capabilities in the Control Plane Leveraging SDN and NFV Toward Intelligent Networks” a long listing of current standards and products supporting the “concpet” of SDNs was presented, including:

  • Open Contrail
  • Open Daylight
  • Open Stack
  • Open Flow
  • OPNFV
  • ONOS
  • OvS
  • Project Floodlight
  • Open Networking
  • and on and on….

For consumers and small network operators this is a very good development, and will certainly usher in a new era of on-demand self-service capacity provisioning, elastic provisioning (short term service contracts even down to the minute or hour), carrier hotel-based bandwidth and service  marketplaces, variable usage metering and costs, allowing a much better use of OPEX budgets.

For service providers (according to discussions with several North Asian telecom carriers), it is not quite as attractive, as they generally would like to see long term, set (or fixed) contracts or wholesale capacity sales.

The connection and integration of cloud services with telecom or network services is quite clear.  At some point provisioning of both telecom and compute/storage/application services will be through a single interface, on-demand, elastic (use only what you need and for only as long as you need it), usage-based (metered), and favor the end user.

While most operators get the message, and are either in the process of developing and deploying their first iteration solution, others simply still have a bit of homework to do.  In the words of one CEO from a very large international data center company, “we really need to have a strategy to deal with this multi-cloud, hybrid cloud, or whatever you call it thing.”

Oh my…

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