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The death of rock 'n' roll and the future of SDN

If you think electronic dance music killed rock 'n' roll, wait 'til you see what SDN can do to traditional networking. The good news? If you learn programming, you'll be the next SDN rock star.

Gene Simmons, legendary front man and now impresario of the KISS licensing revenue machine, recently declared rock not only dead, but murdered. Simmons lays the blame squarely at the feet of the Internet and file sharing.

I can't argue with his central thesis that rock has been slayed, at least in part, by hackers. But this didn't happen the way that Simmons thinks. Rock, hip-hop and several other genres have been eclipsed by music hackers --artists who program rather than perform music --and there's a great lesson here about the future of SDN, and what it means for network engineers.

For a musical genre to be "alive," it needs a certain critical mass. With rock, teenagers filled garages and spent countless hours developing a sound that worked, and occasionally they gained some talent along the way. Over time, those teenagers became adults, went to school and became distracted with careers and family. Now, they're being replaced by programmable keyboard converts. Live MIDI-bridged synths gave way to behind-the-scenes sequencers.

Electronic dance music and SDN are cousins

Today, electronic dance music, or EDM, is exploding, driven by teenagers who aren't in garages playing with groups; but rather, honing their craft with notebooks and keypads. They shoot YouTube videos and deliver everything online for free. There are no studios, just geeks with a beat. 

SDN is the EDM of networking. For the most part, we’re still rocking out with our CLIs in our IT garages, hammering the keyboard with faces contorted like John Mayer (or hopefully more like Albert King or Stevie Ray Vaughan) when a sweet QoS map config goes just right.

They are the natural conclusion to the hacker ethic applied to music. Adi MetroGnome is a great example. Launched from New Delhi and now working in Los Angeles, he succeeds not by investing hours in learning guitar or drums, but programming and practicing NI Maschine finger cording.  

SDN is the EDM of networking. For the most part, network pros still rocking out with our CLIs in our IT garages, hammering the keyboard with faces contorted like John Mayer (or hopefully more like Albert King or Stevie Ray Vaughan) when a sweet QoS map config goes just right.

We're cheered by an audience that gets classic networks, and it's been a great ride. But the SDN geeks are coming. They don't need access to our carefully built hardware labs. Their axes are notebooks, software development studios and their own form of MIDI-network gear with reliable northbound APIs.

And before long, like rock stars before them, network admins will cease to light up their audiences with virtuoso live keyboard performances, but instead will rely on pre-programmed routines, where they plug in their laptop and mix policies to get the party jumpin'.  The question for us is, will we be Deadmau5, Tiësto, David Guetta or just Paris Hilton? 

Want to be the future of SDN? Start programming what you have

Look around your environment and you'll probably find a muse buried in the admin guides for many of the network management products you already have. Most now have APIs that will at least let you use your network configuration management platform as an automated CLI bridge, abstracting the actual device connection for you. Others will offer methods and interfaces to scan topology and apply monitoring programmatically. Some even offer you a choice of API flavors and protocols, such as WSDL, SOAP, REST, XML, JSON and more.  If possible, select a multi-interface system to start, because in step two, you're going to have to learn to program.

One of the best things about a system with multiple interfaces is it lets you implement (and then re-implement) the same functionality in many different ways. Normally, this is not how we get things done. Instead, we do things the expedient way once and then move on. But for this exercise, you’re going to have to deliberately take steps to learn, such as building a perfectly workable Python REST/JSON interface, then putting it aside and setting up a PowerShell environment and using WSDL. For extra credit, fire up Eclipse or Visual Studio and try it in an IDE. Create actual code that does network-y things. Rediscover the journey of the solution, and put aside the destination of a solved problem, a closed ticket.

Consider the progression from rock to EDM and ask yourself a question: Five years from now, will you be the one pouring over deep packet tunnels, virtual firewall topologies and creating righteous, autonomous security and application delivery policies that make the packets dance? Or, will someone else program the network while you just push play?

About the author: 
Patrick Hubbard is a head geek and senior technical product marketing manager at SolarWinds, with 20 years of technical expertise and IT customer perspective. His networking management experience includes work with campus, data center, high availability and disaster recovery, and storage networks, as well as with VoIP, telepresence and VDI in both Fortune 500 companies and startups in high tech, transportation, financial services and telecom industries. He can be reached at

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This was last published in September 2014

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Will SDN mean the death of traditional networking?