A Gap in the Network: Why does the NetOps engineer training gap exist, and how enterprises can fix it.

How did the skills gap emerge? 

In its current iteration, NetOps 2.0, which stands for network operations, embeds a growing amount of automation, virtualization and orchestration to make networking operations faster and more accessible. A major aspect of NetOps is that it’s an evolution of DevOps – an IT mindset that fosters communication, collaboration, integration and automation among software developers and operational IT teams, while also highlighting the importance of physical hardware, despite the drive towards system virtualization.

NetOps is incredibly relevant today as it’s rapidly gaining momentum amongst network leaders and experts. In a recent survey of network managers, architects and engineers from the UK, US, France and Germany, 97% of respondents said that NetOps was important to network infrastructure planning across their organizations.

From digital transformation and business continuity to saving money and enhancing security, most survey respondents believed NetOps was fundamental to network management. In fact, NetOps was so important to these businesses that 87% of them said that they increased spending on NetOps, with nearly half doing so by upwards of 50% or more.

Network engineers using NetOps tools managed to successfully automate repetitive routines, minimize human error, boost efficiency and reduce the need to send an expert to the site. However, the swift growth of NetOps has inadvertently led to a significant problem for enterprises – namely, an engineer skills shortage. Essentially, there are not enough skilled network engineers to keep up with the demand. Hence, businesses will need to address this gap by upskilling their network engineers to leverage NetOps successfully.

NetOps for Network Engineers 

Today, many organizations are combining NetOps with automated systems, yet they are not fully supporting their engineers in the transition to NetOps – causing the skills gap to develop. The same survey found that only 32% of network management/engineers went through formal training for NetOps. Likewise, 53% of engineers admitted to self-training their spare time. Thankfully, there are plenty of training courses and resources for companies to leverage, and many organizations are willing to support the development of their people. Moreover, optimizing NetOps will require companies to reevaluate the modern network engineer’s role.

The responsibilities and expectations of the network engineer have grown exponentially. Today, network teams have many more locations to look after than they would have had in the past, including much more equipment and data to manage at each spot. Additionally, the survey revealed that 87% of network experts believe that NetOps will accelerate the growth of edge computing. Nevertheless, it is not economically viable to use redundancy as a solution at every edge location, nor do you have a skilled network engineer (already in short supply) at each site to remediate issues. Finally, network resilience becomes essential as edge computing continues to push infrastructure further away from the data center.

NetOps console servers give engineers the ability to monitor, manage and remediate devices remotely. Moreover, they offer the presence and proximity layer needed for programmability and automation; however, many engineers lack the necessary skills and training for optimal network management. Hence, putting NetOps in place will require enterprises to invest in their current staff.

Solving the skills gap by investing in engineers 

Rather than waste months searching for a qualified network engineer (whom every other business is also trying to hire), organizations should invest in the staff they have already. Solving the skills gap will require network engineers to learn various proficiencies to utilize NetOps effectively.

Fundamental skills such as how to use a software repository and understand common scripting language. Some advanced skills engineers can consider becoming a CCIE (Cisco Certified Internetwork Expert) or a CCNA (Cisco Certified Network Associate).

Encouraging network engineers to learn more about NetOps won’t be difficult. Unsurprisingly, engineers are eager to learn more. The survey discovered that 67% of network engineers thought NetOps “added value to their role and made their work more rewarding.” Likewise, as mentioned before, more than half of engineers have already taught themselves how to use NetOps. By recognizing the need for in-house training and building off the existing commitment and dedication of networking teams, organizations can resolve the skills gap. Best of all, investing in engineers will benefit enterprises in the long term.

No Network, No Business

Increasingly, DevOps tools get applied to networking, which, in turn, fosters a NetOps approach to building and maintaining a reliable infrastructure to support the virtualized world. A network that is automated, agile, and available is vital to the overall success of an enterprise. Why? Because the health of the network intertwines with the health of the company. Without the network, there can be no business. That means no answering emails, no posting blogs, and no responding to customer inquiries. More reason why investing in network engineers in learning NetOps is so important.