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The changing role of the network admin, as told by networking vendors

Networking vendors at Interop 2013 discuss the changing role of the network administrator.

From a comfortable cruising altitude of 38,000 feet, one can really reflect on the overarching themes of Interop 2013 in Las Vegas. Software-defined networking (SDN) was certainly the buzzword that networking vendors and attendees alike were throwing around on the expo floor, in session rooms and at cocktail hours, but another topic kept coming up in conversation: With such drastic changes happening to enterprise networking environments with the advent of cloud, virtualization and SDN, what do the changes mean for the role for the traditional network administrator?

Sure, the job role is changing. But the same can be said for careers outside of networking. Just because a network administrator might not need to plug wires into boxes or live in command line interface (CLI) all day, doesn't mean his or her role is becoming obsolete.

In the halls between sessions, one vendor exec suggested that some network admins are attempting to maintain their position within the enterprise by "keeping what they do a secret," to prevent other IT professionals -- like server and virtualization admins -- from stepping on their toes or eliminating their jobs.

"I feel bad for the old-school networking guys. They're going to be in trouble, and I don't like it," said one product developer for another of the networking vendors over dinner on the first night of the show. While it seemed that other vendors at the show might share his concerns, conversations with them revealed that for the so-called "old-school networking guy," all is not lost.

Traditional network administrators might have built their career on CLI, but they can choose to react and adapt, rather than resist, said one large IT vendor's product marketer. "The [network admins] are thinking, 'Who moved my cheese?' But just because some of those human middleware pieces are becoming eliminated, people are still needed to set those new management policies on new technology," he said.

As IT professionals wonder what job roles will look like in the coming years, most agree that SDN will shake up the industry. But potentially, the change could be in network admins' favor. "If anything, SDN and programmable networks will allow network administrators to have even a greater impact," the vendor noted.

The issue of how the role of the network administrator will adapt or change is yet to be settled -- but then again, so is the definition of SDN.

Let us know what you think about the story; email: Gina Narcisi, news writer, and follow @GeeNarcisi on Twitter.

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