Thursday, March 12, 2015

RHT: Network Architect: Past and Present

by Robert Half Technology
March 12, 2015

In the 1990s, the network architect’s job was largely centered around telecommunications networks and making sure that a handful of servers and clients could send basic text back and forth during business hours.

Though the network architect has been a major player in the world of IT for quite some time, over the last twenty years, the role’s challenges have evolved along with the Internet.
Companies that relied on network architects to design telephone and fax machine networks twenty years ago now depend on email, VPNs, the Web and other network-connected tools to get the job done. Let’s take a look at how these changes have affected the role of the network architect since the 1990s.
Network load: Then and now
In the 1990s, the network architect’s job was largely centered around telecommunications networks and making sure that a handful of servers and clients could send basic text back and forth during business hours. Just twenty years ago, the only way most people could connect to the Internet was through dial up. In 1997 the United States Census Bureau reported that a mere 22.2 percent of adults used the Internet at all, and only 35.2 percent of adults used it at home.

In contrast, in 2013, the Census Bureau reported that 74.4 percent of households in the U.S. had Internet access, with high-speed access accounting for all but one percent of households. The explosion in Internet use put pressures on networks that did not exist before, and that changed the network architect’s role forever.

As media streaming, websites with large amounts of back-and-forth traffic, networked video games and other new network uses all demand tons of bandwidth and low latency, the network architect now has to support a worldwide operation that stays up and runs fast all day (and all night) long and can handle spikes in use with ease. The rapid growth in network usage has also transitioned the job from “keeping the lights on” to constantly learning and using new technologies to meet the demands of the enterprise. Users expect and demand that these applications work flawlessly, and the network architect must deliver.
From mainframe applications to the Cloud
The growth of the Web has changed the way organizations work internally as well, and that, in turn, has affected the responsibilities of the network architect. The typical business applications of 20 years ago were either mainframe applications or client/server applications. Mainframe applications would put very little load on the network, with just enough bytes moving around to accept users’ input and update their screens. The network architect’s challenges at the time were things that are basic tasks now, such as connecting two corporate sites securely or ensuring that a server could receive a nightly data file from a third party in a reliable manner.

Now, we’re in the middle of a big change in how IT delivers services — and what the challenges look like for network architects. As more companies depend on outside services or expose internal services to the outside world, the Internet connection is an increasingly critical piece of infrastructure. Today’s network architects need to be able to deliver a robust network that can access and service the outside world. They must be able to create a highly available solution that can adapt quickly to the enterprise’s needs, including unexpected surges in network traffic, cybersecurity concerns and the introduction of new technologies like smartphones and tablets.
Security concerns of the past and present
Twenty years ago a “network” meant “all of the wires within our buildings” and some very limited Internet access. If you were not on-site you probably could not access the network in most organizations. The network architect usually only needed to worry about the people actually in the building. Now that organizations are exposing parts of their networks to the outside world through the Web, mobile applications or VPNs, and since WiFi networks allow visitors or people nearby to jump onto the network, security concerns have become a top priority.

One-third of organizations polled by Robert Half Technology allow workers to bring their own devices (BYOD) to work. And Gartner predicts that by 2017, half of companies will ask employees to bring their own devices instead of the company supplying them. In addition, roughly 75 percent of IT workers consider a work-from-home option to be “somewhat” or “very” important to them and 26 percent favor working remotely, which often requires the use of personally owned or unsecure devices. Network architects are faced with the tough task of keeping things secure while still allowing remote and BYOD users to get their jobs done.
Today’s skills requirements and salary expectations

The responsibility of today’s network architect remains the same: Keep the enterprise running smoothly and safely. But the challenges have changed and so has the pace. Network architects continue to see strong demand for their skills and good salary growth:

Skills: A network architect in 2015 needs an extensive background in all aspects of networking technology. Candidates must possess excellent written and oral communication skills, along with strong interpersonal and leadership abilities. Employers generally seek a bachelor’s degree in a computer-related field, along with at least seven years of experience with network operating systems such as Cisco, Novell and Windows Server. Network architects also should have experience working with routers, switches, cabling and other essential network hardware. A networking certification from sources such as Cisco, Microsoft or Novell also is highly valued.

Salary: Newly hired network architects in 2015 can expect to receive a starting salary in the range of $115,000-$165,250, depending on factors such as experience, industry, local market demand, specialized skills and company reputation. This represents a 5.5 percent increase from 2014.

Check out the Robert Half Technology 2015 Salary Guide for more details on IT trends.

— Robert Half Technology

With more than 100 locations worldwide, Robert Half Technology is a leading provider of technology professionals for initiatives ranging from web development and multiplatform systems integration to network security and technical support. Visit our website at

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