Cisco DevNet is the best thing that could happen to the entire networking industry.

DevNet is introducing a change to the whole networking industry, working on multiple fronts at the same time. I think that it will be successful. Keep reading to know why.

The excitement for DevNet500 is a sign of the of interest new and experienced network engineers for coding and automation.

Network engineers are starting to code, coders are joining events that used to involve only network engineers, new certifications for Dev are already out, DevNet workshops are always full during Cisco Live, code is being (slowly) published in CodeExchange.

This can be a bit confusing as the whole DevNet program includes many initiatives aimed to different targets and with specific objectives.

On the website the definition of DevNet is:

Cisco DevNet is Cisco’s developer program to help developers and IT professionals who want to write applications and develop integrations with Cisco products, platforms, and APIs. Cisco DevNet includes Cisco’s products in software-defined networking, security, cloud, data center, internet of things, collaboration, and open-source software development.

DevNet for Network Engineers

Network engineers started early to embrace DevNet as an opportunity to learn to code. DevNet provides Learning Labs for training and free Sandboxe.

For a network engineer coding is usually focused on creating tools to work more efficiently and automate repetitive tasks, just like System Engineers learned to do a long time ago.

It’s hard to expect Network Engineers to give up a career and focus 100% on coding, but it’s quite common for Network Engineers today to write Python code or use Nornir/Postman/Ansible instead of the CLI to apply network changes.

The low hanging fruit of network validation is the first step, tools like pyATS or BatFish don’t even require writing much code to start getting the results.

This aspect of DevNet is important as *cultural change but the impact is often limited to individual contributors or small teams. The real business may not be here. Twitter and Youtube give very much visibility to a few people very active in the community, but visibility is nothing more than marketing, it can be used to gather interest but it may not be enough to get budget.

DevNet for Cisco Partners

The DevNet certifications introduced on Feb 24th 2020 will be valid for Partners to achieve specializations. Specializations for Partners mean access to Cisco programs to increase the business, they translate in actual money.

From the FAQ:

Partners can use these [DevNet] certifications to count towards the specialization in Summer of 2020.

The message is clear: Cisco Partners will be required to use the resources provided by DevNet (training, certifications, events, sandboxes) to include automation and software development in the services for their customers.

More than that, all the new Cisco certifications will include some coding, no matter what is the technology.

For example on the blueprint of exam ENCOR 350-401, the Automation section weights 15% of the total exam score.

Customers will soon start looking for Cisco Partners with Dev skills, validated by some Specialization, as any other skills was validated by some Partner Specialization in the past. To get the Specialization, Partners will need to satisfy the requirements, that means sending people to training with the goal to pass some certification exams, including DevNet exams.

This is nothing new for any existing Cisco Partner specialization, Cisco did it for years and anyone who works for a Cisco Partner is familiar with the process.

The difference here is the profile of people necessary to satisfy the requirements. Of course some Network Engineers will hit the maze and look for the new cheese but reskilling the workforce is not always possible, new hires will be necessary to cover the gap.

The new hires will most likely be coders, or people looking for a career in software development, where Networking skills will be just the minimum necessary to write the code.

The important part here is that money will start flowing from Partners towards DevNet certifications and training.

The process will create a force towards coding and automation, they will eventually evolve from being initiatives of a few individuals inside Partners, to be an actual business, driving budgets and being a differentiation factor against competitors.

The most powerful driving forces for the whole DevNet initiative will be education and training. Cisco has a long experience in training, Partner Programs and Channel. The same tools will be used to shift the industry with the support of Partners, at the same time getting more software companies onboard.

DevNet for existing software companies

The third path for DevNet will be to create an ecosystem of developers. I would not be surprised to see something like an AppStore for automation coming soon.

When Iphone launched on June 2007, only apps developed by Apple where available. On July 2008 AppStore was launched. Steve Jobs was initially against running 3rd party software on the platform but he changed is mind eventually and we all know how it went.

HPE tried to do something like that and failed. The idea maybe was right but the execution wasn’t.

AppHosting on Cat9k is a reality today, some open source projects are already Cisco Validated and other proprietary solutions are Cisco-Approved.

Solutions that pass Cisco compatibility testing will be certified as Cisco Compatible

They are just a few today but as the adoption of platforms like DNA Center and NSO grow along with the professional skills (a.k.a. DevNet certified professionals) the numbers will increase.

This can be a whole new market, with companies joining the Cisco Partner ecosystem to contribute only on the software part, building tools on top of Cisco platforms, not selling hardware. This already exists today but the numbers can increase exponentially.

The Challenges ahead

I see a few points that may represent a challenge, I’m curious what solutions will emerge.

Limiting automation and coding to projects created inside a company seems too small market for Cisco, *where’s the revenue?

Pulling automation projects from GitHub or CodeExchange may not be acceptable for an Enterprise. Where’s the support? Who’s in charge for the code? Have we learned anything from Heartbleed?

Outsourcing the development of custom software to some DevNet Partners may be expensive for small/medium companies. Writing and maintaining code is still expensive.

Maybe an AutomationStore with Cisco validated design and software can be a solution for that market?

But who’ll do support? It could be Partners or companies line NTC, but finding the necessary skills can be hard, or a DevTAC *(I just made up this name) provided by Cisco. Would it worth the investment? Probably not.

We know the use of standard software requires standard platforms, Apple proved that a while ago. AWS demonstrated that standardization has many advantages in terms of design, automation and scalability. Enterprise networks will need to get rid of snowflakes and embrace the same standardization principles for their on-prem networks, to take advantage of the new software. This will be a necessary requirement for automation.

Cisco’s Software-Defined Access , ACI and Meraki may be the starting point, where the infrastructure is standardized and has API open for additional 3rd pary software integrations.

Wrap up

We are watching the first steps of a whole new market being created, a market that will require new skills and, like for Apple, may be lead by the owner of the hardware and of the platforms where software will run.

The cheese is moving, it’s time to hit the MAZE and look for some new cheese!