Being a computer network engineering professional, I have experienced the changes in technology in a very quick time frame. Every person who is using these technologies experienced the same and wants a more convenient, reliable, functional, and secure platform than the older ones. Due to these kinds of requirements, an engineer’s life passes with learning, designing, developing, and deployment of new technologies. This is true not only for network engineer but for any kind of engineering. Let’s remember those traditional analogue telephones and compare them with today’s mobile phones. Let’s take another example: Have you ever worked on earlier versions of Windows like 95 or 98? Compare those with today’s Windows 8. Technology is changing because our requirement is also changing.

It’s all about the requirement. Now CEOs, CIOs, managers, engineers and enthusiasts from various industries are shouting for virtualisation and cloud services. Do you know why? Because they want to upgrade their existing technology with the latest one. Today’s industry is so demanding that every employer is expecting more knowledge and responsibility from their engineers. I have seen many students who came to university in 2008-09, expecting to graduate in 2012-13, who were not able to cope with the demands of industry. It is mainly because the course they studied and learned in 2008-09 changed drastically and become quiet irrelevant in 2013.

In this article, I am going to discuss the job responsibility changes of a network engineer from 2008 to 2013. What are the new technologies that have taken over from the old ones in that period of time? How much do their employers expect from their network engineers?

As a network engineer, you might be employed by an enterprise to manage their IT department or you might simply work for vendors such as Cisco, Juniper, etc., or one of their partner companies, or you might be at a service provider domain. Depending upon your work place and responsibility you will work in different phases of a network deployment and optimization.

In 2008, network engineers with an R&S platform were only responsible for maintaining routing and switching departments, but things have changed very fast. The job of a network engineer is not limited to the tasks of an internet infrastructure engineer any more. She/he has more responsibility to fulfil and needs to know more and more technology in order to survive in this fast, technology-driven industry. Below, I will discuss some of the technologies adapted by many organizations after 2008.

1. IP Telephony and Unified Communication

Though IP telephony came before 2008, it became more popular in the industry after that year. Today, most enterprises have already deployed IP telephony in their offices or are planning to upgrade their existing networks with a unified solution in their branches.

Suppose a Fortune 500 MNC like General Motors wants to deploy Cisco IP telephony in all of their branches across the globe to unify their communication. They will ask a Cisco’s gold partner such as BT, TCS, and HCL, etc., to deploy Cisco’s unified communication solution in their branches. As Cisco’s gold partners, these companies have a team of experienced engineer who can design and implement the network for them.

After deploying IP telephony in their branches, not only they will avoid long distance charges but they will also be able to unify their dedicated voice/video/data line. Previously, they needed a dedicated team to manage their internal telephony network and same for the data network also. With the Cisco unified solution, their unified network can be managed by only a Cisco specialist network engineer/data communication team.

2. Wireless Technology

In Chicago’s last mayoral election, the main agenda of the contesting two parties was to provide wireless infrastructure throughout the city. In the 21st century, wireless technology for the Internet has become a basic human necessity, like water, housing, and food in developed countries. For developing countries like India, China, and Africa, there are huge markets for wireless infrastructure for domestic uses also. But the progress is very slow because there is less computer literacy among population. But businesses all over the world have a huge demand for wireless solutions to provide mobility in their enterprise premises.

Previously a wireless solution was only maintained and installed by a different set of wireless specialists. But in the current situation, after the emergence of wireless LAN (as shown in image below) for enterprise solution, employees are expecting that a network engineer should capable to handle wireless solutions for their network also.

Suppose the manager of a small enterprise network like my previous company, which has a small campus, asks us to provide wireless connectivity within all premises. In this scenario, whether you are hired to provide a routing and switching solution or an IPT solution, they are expecting that you should manage their wireless network also.

But in the case of big MNCs that have a team of wireless specialists, you might need to work only within a specified area of expertise. So, as a network engineer, you depend upon your company requirement and need to keep an open mind about learning wireless technology at any given time.

3. Virtualization and Cloud computing

Every company is looking for virtualization and cloud services instead of purchasing a huge amount of expensive servers and maintaining them. Enterprises are ready to pay cloud service providers as per their requirement. If you are working within the enterprise, you need to understand the cloud services as well as virtualization to manage your company data centre.

Most of us have a misunderstanding that if we are outsourcing any services from a cloud service provider, then we don’t need to think about security. But, in reality, a cloud service provider has only the responsibility to secure its end network, not to the enterprise that they are providing the services. So as a network engineer you have to stay always on your toes to provide end-to-end services whether your enterprise is getting cloud services or not.

4. IPv6 Addressing

IPv6 addressing was introduced way back in 1990, but only 1% of Internet traffic is shared by IPv6 as of late November 2012. With the characteristics of IPv4 addressing, there were 3.7 billion usable IP addresses out of 4.3 billion available addresses, which is very few in terms of the communication world. Only 10% of world’s population is using the Internet directly, and the new emerging markets such as China, India and Africa will need huge numbers of IP addresses in near future. In next-generation network, where every electronics device could be managed by a smart phone, to get communications done you need to have an IP address assigned to each device. If you have any questions regarding why we need to learn IPv6 addressing, please go through in my previous articles on “Fundamentals of IPv6 Addressing & Routing.

In 2013, whether you are working in a developed or a developing country, employers are expecting you to be able to take part in the transition of an IPv4 network to an IPv6 network.

5. Security

Previously, small companies that outsourced their data centre and software services from a cloud service provider thought their network was secure. But research shows that network has became more vulnerable in these days to the intruder. Hackers are always one step ahead of most of us, so to provide optimum security in a network we need to consider a number of parameters in a count.

Previously in 2008, a network engineer only created access lists and VPN and, after installing a series of first-level security devices such as a firewall and second-level security devices such as IDS/IPS, his/her work was done. In 2013, most of the Fortune 500 MNCs have recruited a special team consisting of an ex-hacker, an ethical hacker, and an information security specialist. As a network engineer coping with fast-changing technology, we need to master these technologies as well to become relevant. Most small organizations have only one set of network engineers who will be responsible for managing security for their networks.

6. Service Provider and Operations

Every network engineer dream of working with service provider, because work with a service provider network can be easily understandable by non-technical friends and
peers. I personally got a chance to do some consulting jobs for some of the service providers in India. It’s a great learning experience for me to be able to plan, implement, and manage huge networks like AT&T.

Most of the advanced routers are used by service providers, so you will get a chance to play with them. After 2008, things have been changed in WAN technology; MPLS came as a major carrier to replace the previous version of packet switching frame relay and ATM. Today, MPLS is dominating the WAN technology; as a network engineer working in a service provider domain, you need to be able to work with it.

Fibre optics also became a major channel carrier, replacing copper wire. Today, 50 Mbps network speed has become common in developed countries like USA and Europe because of high-speed fibre optics.

Another type of service provider became dominant after 2008 in developed countries are Internet Telephony Service Providers (ITSPs) like Vonage. Vonage is providing SIP trunking to their customer to get an almost free call rate. Low-paid migrant workers from India who are currently working in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia have got huge benefits from this technology by calling their peers and friends in India at a very cheap rate. This kind of story will give you a huge satisfaction as a network engineer because your work can be beneficial to the poorest section of people.

Which Cisco certificate can make you relevant as network engineer even in 2013?

In 2013, earning only Cisco certifications such as CCNA doesn’t give you a chance to be competitive in the current market scenario. Technology is changing very fast; even in developing countries like India by 2014 a movie can be released directly to a remote village’s bedroom television set. With a smart internet protocol (IP) television, you can watch YouTube, do videoconferencing, make payments for your utilities, and connect with your PC or phone to do online shopping, too.

I will personally recommend that you first study the basic certifications such as CCNA, CCNP-(R&S), and CCNA-security. Then learn CCNA-voice and video certifications to be able to work as a unified communication engineer. CCNA-wireless has a huge demand for developed and developing countries, so you can also earn that certifications. If you are interested in datacentres and virtualization, then you can earn certifications such CCNA-datacentre. For service providers, there are two different tracks, CCNA-service provider and CCNA-service provider operations.

Table 1: Different Tracks of Cisco Technologies

If you want to know more about choosing Cisco Certifications, then please go to my previous article, “Setting your Cisco certifications goal for maximum success in 2013.

Conclusion

I hope after reading this article you have an idea about the rapid growth of technology. As a network engineer, you need to be always on your toes to be the best not only in your field but also you should be aware of other fields, too. This means it would be an added advantage for CCNA/CCNP/CCIE (R&S) to know at least the fundamentals of other network technologies such as voice, security, wireless, etc. It is not limited to Cisco only but there should be vendor-independent learning also. I am not saying you should learn everything in one day; I know it will take time, so always be ready to learn something new if you want to look at yourself as one of the best network engineers. I am applying the same with my learning. If you go through my profile, you will find me as a data+voice+security specialist. Nowadays, I am learning Juniper technologies and am looking forward to learning wireless. I want to earn a CCIE in R&S, voice, service provider in the next two-three years. If this article can give you more interest and respect for your work, then the purpose of this article will be served. I hope you enjoyed it. If I have missed any new technologies that developed within this time period, please let me know by using below @comment box.

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