Big news at a Juniper Customer Event in Eindhoven the other day: Networks will become fully automated. No need for human interaction anymore, controllers will configure the complete network. But who will configure the controller?

Juniper has launched their take on SDN: while everyone is talking about Software Defined Networks, their take on SDN is the Self-Driving Network. And their philosophy is one of having networks be more automated and ‘self-driven’, if you will. The network shouldn’t be dependent on network engineers to configure them anymore, but instead operated by a controller that can do that automatically. Connect a new application? An operational problem occurs? The controller will reconfigure the network so everything keeps running smoothly. Of course expanding the network is as easy as unboxing the new equipment and plugging it in – the controller will do the rest.

I have to admit that for the major players, SDNs and autonomous controllers are a perfect solution. Actually, the bigger your data centre network is, the more sense it makes. But this is the only bit where it is so perfect. Deviate from the standard “North/South & East/West” data centre setup and the SDN promise falls apart. Or even if you simply start a new network and you would like to have it automated, it will probably take you a few weeks to set up the management infrastructure, before you can even start thinking about unboxing your controller-ready switch. And to be honest, I think that you would require a network engineer to help you – making the term “Self-Driving” a little deceptive.

Utopia

Is a fully automated network without human intervention a Utopia? Well, no. But I do think that there will always be the need for network engineers. That doesn’t mean that I think that SDN’s, Self-Driving Networks, as they are called by Juniper, will not work. I think they will, but with different levels.

Big companies like Amazon and Facebook – and smaller companies who want to become the next Amazon or Facebook – will definitely gain from SDN’s, especially on the already existing managed systems. The bigger the network, the more sense it makes. But for smaller companies and companies that do not per se run in the standard, prescribed SDN way, network engineers will always be around to help configure new networks. For a content provider, it is probably the way to go. For an ISP, not so much.

Looking around me I see many examples of SDN in ISP networks: hardly any network engineer logs into a CLI to configure a single port any more. They are already scripting configurations and using API’s to set up switches. It is a form of automation.

Many feel that this isn’t what SDN stands for. From my ISP perspective, I do. And I also think that network engineers will be around for a long time. Self-Driving Network? We won’t be out of a job soon.