Its not complicated (natch). Its distributed. And we don’t have visibility to know.
What makes networking hard ? A network is a distributed system where state must be shared between devices that are unreliably connected. Its a fallacy that a network will ever be reliable or predictable.
Network technologies and their fundamentals are simple. We know this because technical training for network operators, such the Cisco CCNA/CCNP training programs, require so little time. So, for example, lets say that its about 120 hours to master the CCNA content and about 320 hours (8 person weeks) to master CCNP. There are no prerequisites – no maths, programming or computing skills needed – just turn up and learn.
Creating a “well-trained and certified professional” in just 12 weeks of full time effort is not a lot of time. 8 weeks is about the length of vocational training for blue collar trades and marginally longer than it takes to train any basic skill.
Demonstrably, networking isn’t hard to learn. Its just learning like any other skill.
Networking hasn’t changed much in the last 30 years. Someone time travelling from the 1996 would easily recognise a router or a switch. Network protocols like IP, Ethernet, BGP and OSPF are basically unchanged since 1980’s. Even IPv6 has been happening for more than 20 years.
Its getting simpler too. Only DNS, SSH and TLS are needed for day to day compare with dozens of protocols in the 1990s. Network devices are simpler to operate and network virtualisation of devices and paths is simplifying operations.
Faster and Smaller
I’ll grant you that faster makes things harder but faster networks are also smaller networks. WAN Carriers that increase their the speeds of backhaul to avoid more connections. Data Centre networks have less devices as servers use virtualisation to host up to 150 virtual machines or more per server. Containers increase this density further.
Network complexity is increased by the number of node in the network not the speed of the network. Faster speeds tends to result less devices.
The Network Edge is Gone
The Corporate WAN is less important as tablets and smartphones use Internet. TLS encryption in the application has moved rapidly to replace the absolute need for VPN services. The edge of the network has been erased.
The network is now part of the application. The network edge is the device. Network complexity has been reduced. Application complexity has increased.
Im my view, the hardest part of networking is the lack of visibility. The tools don’t exist that can inform me when an application is running slow because of the network. Or that a carrier isn’t meeting their SLA.
Thats why I’m very interested in Telemetry as the next generation of change in networking. The network isn’t really a problem anymore, its the lack of visibility that creates complexity.