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Network engineers with software-defined networking (SDN) expertise may be in hot demand but their annual compensation isn’t reflecting that. The latest networking salary data from PayScale, a provider of compensation research, finds the average salary for a network engineer with SDN skills is $105,119. That compares to $97,492 for a tier two networking engineer.
Salary levels may vary widely based on supply and demand and the cost of living in a particular city. But in a world where compensation drives behavior, it appears that network engineers with SDN skills are only receiving an extra $7,627 in compensation per year.
In theory, that gap between network engineers with SDN skills and those that continue to rely on command line interfaces (CLIs) should be much wider. The shift to SDN is now entering its second decade. But the transition to a more agile network management approach has been uneven at best. One of the primary reasons for the slow transition is the lack of available expertise.
Because of that lack of expertise, many organizations have been taking a more evolutionary approach. In other words, these IT organizations only transition to SDN when it is time to upgrade their network switches and routers. That means the upgrade process is extended for many years and many organizations continue to rely on CLIs.
More SDN Skills
Providers of networking infrastructure such as Juniper Networks are, of course, doing everything possible to increase the amount of available SDN expertise to accelerate that transition. Juniper hopes that training will create demand for a new network reliability engineer (NRE) role in the enterprise, said James Kelly, lead cloud and SDN architect for Juniper Networks.
“Most networking administrators are still CLI jockeys,” Kelly said. “The push to develop software skills has gone over like a lead balloon.”
The emergence of the role of a site reliability engineer (SRE) should motivate more networking professionals to develop SDN expertise that would command a significant salary premium.
To help network administrators achieve that goal Juniper has created NRE Labs, a suite of training tools, and JuniperEngNet, which provides access to a set of virtual instances of Juniper SDN and automation technologies running in the cloud. The goal of JuniperEngNet is to give network administrators hand-on SDN experience.
Of course, one of the primary reasons demand for SDN expertise has not be as high as initially anticipated is because the rate of change in networking environments has progressed slowly. One of the major SDN assumptions has been that organizations will need to more rapidly update networks to keep pace with accelerated rates of application development driven by aggressive adoption of highly integrated DevOps processes. But a new study published by the IBM Institute of Business Value finds that only 39 percent of the respondents have implemented some level of DevOps processes. Much of that adoption is uneven at best and tends to occur on public clouds rather than in an on-premises IT environment.
In the meantime, IT generalists have become increasingly exposed to networking fundamentals because every instance of a virtual machine includes a virtual switch. IT generalists are now extending the networking expertise they have gained to implement network overlays such as VMware NSX or network operating systems such as Cumulus Linux.
“There’s already a ton of software-defined networks in VMware sites,” said Cumulus Networks CTO J.R. Rivers. “It’s in the form of vSwitch.”
By building on top of that vSwitch knowledge base it is much easier for IT generalists to make networking more flexible. They deploy a network overlay that either eliminates or postpones the need to upgrade a physical network underlay.
Supply and demand of certain IT skill sets on engineering salaries has always been complicated. Most organizations will move aggressively to adopt SDN technologies. But whether or not that translates to better compensation among network engineers is still uncertain.
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