The commoditisation and disaggregation of network infrastructure will lead to dramatically falling prices for hardware and software, but will drive up demand for skilled, non-vendor aligned engineers that can select, integrate and test the wide variety of solutions
The ability for organisations to separately procure and source networking hardware and networking software separately is fast becoming a reality, if not already here. Traditionally network infrastructure deployments have been aggregated, proprietary and closely coupled, and typically with very high profit margins for the traditional vendors (
60%+ at Cisco, read more here).
In the last 5 years, we have seen the tech giants frustrated with these proprietary solutions. Pace of development has been too slow, overpriced, and with feature bloat. The lack of telemetry, monitoring and integration into other open infrastructure management tools have been major frustrations for many in the industry. During this time, major tech players such as Google, Facebook, Microsoft and LinkedIn have embarked upon creating their own disaggregated network infrastructures, many of which have been published as open standards (
such as Open Compute).
Is the future of networking in a white box where the hardware and software are decoupled. Major tech giants are well positioned to build networking infrastructure using a disaggregated, multi-vendor approach, having access to highly skilled and qualified software developers, network architects and OS (Linux) specialists. Organisations outside of these large tech companies will struggle to follow their path, particularly those that were persuaded over the last 15 years to de-skill their internal teams and rely on consultants from the mainstream vendors.
Network startups are popping up everywhere creating vastly cheaper white box solutions. Cisco have had to pivot quickly and adopt the SDN path and are beginning to offer a packaged disaggregated approach. The underlying problem remains that a new type of network engineer is needed to face the new challenges as the network evolves. Without a single, big external vendor to rely upon companies will have to increase their own internal engineering capabilities.
You cannot get a job at Facebook as a network engineer unless you have development/coding skills. There exists a large legacy of network engineers who are Cisco, Arista, Juniper, Alcatel/Nokia qualified having to reskill as the demand changes and customers start wanting to take advantage of the benefits disaggregated networks offer. This will present a huge skills gap in the market.