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New Career Opportunities in Networking
Whether you're thinking of getting into networking or have already been a part of it, you'll find a bright growth path ahead of you. Starting with network or system administration, career opportunities can open up in a lot of areas ranging from security, storage, WAN management, wireless, data center management, Unified Communications, and many others. Here's what you need to know about making it big in this exciting area
Anetwork is the basic foundation of every IT setup. A little glitch in the network can bring the whole enterprise to a grinding halt. One can't imagine how an organization would carry its functioning without being dependent on a network; from basic intra-office network to connecting to the Internet for global business. And that's what's made it imperative for organizations to have all-rounders who can take care of various aspects of network management independently. Even though every organization can't have a full-time network administrator of their own, they can outsource network mgmt to a third party. That's why it won't be wrong to say that a network engineer is one of the primary drivers of an organization's success. Networking encompasses a range of technologies and areas of specializations. A network administrator has to have specialized skills in one of the many domains and technologies of Networking. They include Wireless, Mobility, Security, Storage, Server Consolidation, MTLS VPNs, VoIP, Mobile IP and Optimization to name a few. A network professional can specialize in any of these and shape his career. Network professionals are in demand not only from enterprises where they are hired for LAN and WAN administration, but they are also needed by consulting firms to audit and impart consultating services to organizations for their networking requirements. Service providers like ISPs and Telecom companies also demand a great number of networking professionals.

What is required of network professionals?

Ensuring 99% plus uptime for users, delivering a faster ROI for the company, and better utilization of available resources are just a few of the key responsibilities of a networking professional. The job has only become more complex and demanding with the advent of IP-based networks like VoIP and VPNs. It has also added to the responsibility of balancing technology trends with business objectives of the enterprise. The IT market changes so fast that what's in demand today may become obsolete tomorrow. For instance, the evidence of changing technology can be seen in wireless security, where Wi-Fi Protected Access (WPA) overtook Wired Equivalent Privacy (WEP) in a span of few months. Thus it's imperative for networking professionals to keep up with changing technologies. Also, it becomes necessary to possess some sort of certification apart from core networking knowledge. Enterprises seek professionals to have solid understanding of the network techniques, network operating systems, backup capabilities, as well as a fair understanding of network infrastructure issues and cabling. Since networking has a diverse range of technology platforms ? Microsoft, Cisco, Unix/Linux, Novell, CA, etc., it becomes important for an aspirant network professional to choose a platform early on.
Career path
In an enterprise, a professional will typically start his career as a LAN administrator. Later with some experience he can take responsibilities of a senior level network manager who will be into planning and designing of LAN, including wireless and security. After acquiring some years of experience in planning and designing the network, a professional can take the role of a consultant as he would have experience in implementing the network setup and also have knowledge of technologies and hardware requirements. But to grow, he'll have to enhance his skill set beyond the knowledge of LAN configuration and administration, and look ahead to technologies that are part of networking. A few of the specialized streams of networking domains, where network professionals are in demand, include Storage, Security, WAN, Virtualization / Consolidation, Wireless and Mobility. The networking domain has a plethora of job titles, many of which refer to very similar and at times identical job roles, like Network Engineer, Network Administrator, Network Analyst, Systems Administrator, etc. Now with specializations coming into picture, new job titles that are coming up in the enterprises include Security Analyst for network security, Network Storage Administrator for storage management and Wireless Network Engineer for a Wi-Fi consulting agency. Let's have a look at various specialized domains where a network professional can build his career.
New areas
Professionals can choose from either IT or Telecom to shape their careers. Within telecom they bet on technologies like MPLS VPN, VoIP and wireless technologies as these are the fields where networking professionals are in demand. In IT, a networking professional can become a specialist in Security, Storage, Server Consolidation, WAN Management, etc. Some hot areas where a networking professional should try to improve his expertise in are:
Unified Communications: Convergence is touted as the mantra for future communication. Various forms of communication are being unified to provide a common platform that can be accessed or controlled by an array of devices ranging from a desktop to a mobile device such as a cell phone or a palm top. Voice over IP (VoIP) is one of the pioneering technologies in this field and also gaining a lot of mileage these days. A professional who forays into UC needs to have a thorough knowledge of an enterprise's Call Manager, IP network deployments, and configuration and deployment of UC solutions. There are certification exams from Cisco for networking professionals that leads to an enhanced skillset.
We interviewed Ram Kumar to find out hot career opportunities for pros in networking. Here are excerpts from the interview.
Ram Kumar, Executive Director, Gemini Communication Ltd.
What is your advice for a beginner in networking domain and what are the lucrative areas?
Networking domain is very wide and involves core networking technologies and other network related fields. When we look into core networking technologies, certifications in Cisco (Data), Nortel (Date/Voice) with specialization in optimization will be helpful for beginners. After few years of experience, they can enhance their skill set by specializing in areas of Security, Storage, Virtualization & also in Wireless technologies. In telecom, MPLS VPN, IP based voice, Wireless would be in demand.
How can a network professional build a career as a Network Security Manager/Analyst?
Security focus is shifting from desktop to servers or Internet gateway security. The sophistication of security appliances has increased. They are viewed as a complex black box. The capabilities of a security appliance for a given security requirement need special understanding of the problem. A security analyst is expected to understand security signatures of various appliances, with capabilities and operating protocols, including zero-day security issues. The recent migration towards Wi-Fi, WiMesh and WiMax, SCADA initiatives have opened up new avenues for networking professional. The fixed/portable broadband wireless equipment market (sub-11GHz) has grown from a $430 million market to $562 million. It is predicted that, the fixed Broadband wireless market will pass the $ 2 billion mark by 2010. Networking and the security professionals are expected to handle these requirements. Thus there is a career path available for such professionals since the threat landscape is dynamic and new security appliances are emerging.
What areas or domains of networking will be the hot-spots and what would be the future demands for such networking professionals?
WAN traffic management, traffic engineering, WAN and LAN security, Wi-Fi, WiMesh and WiMax security, Wireless BOTs identification and management, Patch management, Risk and threat mapping, Threat mitigation, Business continuity planning, disaster recovery, etc. are some of the hotspots where professionals will be of high demand.
Wireless technologies: The wireless domain encompasses technologies that are coming up in the mobile telecom arena as well as technologies pertaining to satellite communication, VSATs, RF, Microwave, etc. A professional can look forward to expertise in niche areas such as VSAT or Microwave as career options. WiMax and 4G are other new technologies that are coming up in the cellular space. A professional with interest in telecom and communications can choose to be a wireless expert or a Wi-Fi consultant by gaining knowledge on the latest wireless technologies.

Networking is perhaps the only career that opens you up to such a large number of areas

Another hot technology today is Radio Frequency Identification (RFID). It's a complex networking model of tagging, tracking and identification of objects based on the attached RF chips. RFID finds massive usage in industries such as logistics, retail, manufacturing and warehousing.

Security: A network professional who has honed his skills in intrusion detection systems and firewall maintenance, can look forward to becoming a security expert. A security analyst reviews the abilities of a security appliance and operating protocols that will be used. Security is not just about wired networks but also entails the complete wireless network as well as the communication mediums like secured VoIP systems. With more and more security appliances coming up to meet the ever increasing threats, a career in Security is the need of the hour.

Storage: Storage professionals take care of daily storage tasks such as provisioning, storage connectivity, storage allocation, problem solving and change management in the storage infrastructure. They are involved in planning and designing of the best storage facilities and also need to have the ability to solve problems pertaining to servers, storage area networks and associated devices.

WAN: A networking professional with good knowledge in routers, switches, firewalls, VoIP, VPNs, etc and with relevant certifications, can foray in this field. That's not all, there's WAN optimization that's growing into a completely new domain and involves efficient utilization of WAN bandwidth by compression, load balancing, caching, etc. WAN acceleration too is a hot trend to boot. The knowledge of products from Cisco, Radware, Juniper, Citrix, Riverbed etc. will only add to feathers to a network professional's credentials to be a WAN specialist.

A valid certificate from a particular vendor acts as a value-add to all the on-job experience a network professional gains. Certifications for core networking include Microsoft's MCSA/MCSE/MCP, Cisco's CCNA and CCDA, Novell's CAN/CNE, and specialty certificates for storage, security and VoIP. Also there are OS-specific certifications for professionals who would be working on Windows, Linux, and Mac OS X. Certifications only authenticate your skill. So, excessive certification don't guarantee a successful career. A network professional needs to choose certifications at the right stages to boost his career and also match his experience level. For a beginner it makes more sense to gain some experience before going for advanced level certification such as Microsoft's MCSE or Cisco Certified Security Professional. Within the diverse networking domain, the growth prospects for a networking professional are very high. Enterprises increasingly seek specialists for their high-end technology solutions and network professionals can secure their future with the right choice of specialization and certifications to compliment their core networking skills. The table on the next page shows the various certifications available from different vendors.

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