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Cisco DevNet asks network engineers to commune with developers

With the DevNet community, Cisco hopes network engineers and developers will build software on top of its APIs. Network engineers could find a DevOps future there.

With the Cisco DevNet community, Cisco Systems wants its traditional constituency of network engineers to collaborate with developers to advance Cisco products into a software-dominated DevOps future.

Cisco has a goal of recruiting 1 million developers into DevNet by 2020 to write applications, on top the various application programming interfaces (APIs) that exist across the company's vast product portfolio.

"As we go to this DevOps model, we have a world of network operators and network architects who haven't been doing software in their day jobs," said Susie Wee, vice president and chief technology officer of Networked Experiences at Cisco. "With DevNet, we're looking at how we bring along those guys who are experts at running mission-critical infrastructure. We want to make sure they can connect with that software world."

Cisco DevNet includes a collection of software development kits (SDKs), API tutorials, reference manuals and a Developer SandBox -- a cloud-based lab environment where developers can write and test software for the APIs on all of Cisco's products. Cisco will also invest further into the more than 100 APIs it has already developed across its portfolio. One critical change in Cisco's API strategy will be coordinating its efforts across all of its product groups. Beforehand, each product group built its own APIs, but DevNet's management team will set standards for API development and support from now on.

Ownership of the data center network is changing, said Brad Casemore, research director for IDC. As DevOps organizations grow and networking decisions shift away from the traditional network engineers who buy Cisco's equipment to DevOps teams, a community like DevNet can keep those networking engineers relevant.

"Cisco wants that networking constituency to continue to have a strong say in the data center," Casemore said.

Cisco DevNet soft-launch drew CCIEs and developers

This year, Cisco soft-launched DevNet at Cisco Live event, hosted in San Francisco. During the conference, developers and network engineers explored learning labs and participated in a hackathon.

"We had live labs with live systems that people could code on," Wee said. "We did a little bit of advertising to attract the hacker community. A bunch of folks came in because they wanted to win the $5000 [hackathon] first prize."

Wee said half the participants at the hackathon were traditional software developers and hackers, but the other attendees were traditional network engineers.

"The first and second place teams were a combination of CCIEs with a couple of hackers, and together they created compelling applications," she said. "That's what we're seeing from that DevOps community. You're not going to take pure software developers fresh out of school and ask them to write applications on top of network infrastructure. You'll pair them with CCIE veterans."

Are network engineers ready for Cisco DevNet?

While developers may be ready for Cisco DevNet -- particularly independent software developers (ISVs) who hope to build a business around new apps -- network engineers may be slower to come on board.

"From the work I've done with Ansible and onePK and giving demos to customers and coworkers, I would say there are very few [network engineers] out there [interested in development]," said Jason Edelman, a network engineer for a system integrator. "A lot of them are still happy working in CLI."

But network engineers need to tear themselves away from CLI and look toward the future.

"Network engineering is a group that Cisco has cultivated and they really don't want to forsake these people," said IDC's Casemore. "They want to make sure these people make the transition that's happening in the industry right now, to learn more about applications and context. And that's not just about MAC addresses and IP addresses -- they want [network engineers] to participate successfully in this future."

Cisco is trying to do the right thing for its customers with DevNet, Edelman said. And, if DevNet is done right, network engineers will acquire some of the expertise they need to become more valuable to their organizations, particularly if they pick up more skills in coding with Python and other relevant programming languages, he said.

But, Cisco also needs to refine its approach. "They talk about 100 APIs," he said. "It would make sense for them to focus on better quality and less quantity, and publish toolkits and ramp up the education part of it."

When it comes to APIs on network hardware, many vendors simply offer up a "CLI wrapper," he said. "I would expect or want a robust API that you could do anything with -- that you could do via CLI, but not necessarily need to know CLI to use."

And while ISVs like Glue Networks and Davra Networks are on board with DevNet, Cisco made little mention of leading DevOps tools like Chef, Puppet and Ansible, a puzzlingly omission given Cisco's focus on bringing network engineers into a DevOps future, Edelman said.

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Attention network engineers and admins: how will you participate in Cisco DevNet?
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So, i quick background will be me, a Cisco network engineer with all but the CCIE certs and currently working with a systems integrator. What do I need to know or do for this DevNet, DevOps or DevAnything transition?
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