The data center interconnect (DCI) is emerging as a key element in the enterprise strategy to transition to a more digital-oriented business model, one that encompasses multiple data processing and storage sites on the cloud and the IoT edge.

At the same time, however, static network connectivity both within the data center and over the wide area is becoming increasingly virtualized and software-defined, meaning that in the very near future organizations will take to managing and optimizing their DCI infrastructure as code.

But how will this affect the DCI both physically and operationally? And are we headed toward a world in which programming skills take precedence over network management?

According to IHS Markit, the DCI hardware market is surging by 26% per year. This will nearly double its value from $2.6 billion last year to more than $5 billion by 2022, when it will comprise nearly a third of the total WDM hardware spend. Much of this activity, however, is gravitating away from integrated, branded solutions in favor of disaggregated commodity infrastructure overseen by software-defined networking (SDN) controllers and applications. And once these get proven out in the DCI, we can expect to see their gradual expansion into broader metro and enterprise settings.

This trend dovetails nicely with the emergence of DevOps and agile development environments, which are heavily dependent on automated continuous integration/continuous deployment workflows. As these ecosystems start to span multiple data centers, the wide area network will have to become more LAN-like in its ability to coordinate the back-and-forth nature of production-level traffic, as opposed to its current role of simply shuttling massive data loads from one facility to another.

This makes it crucial that the programmable DCI and other WAN constructs must not only bolster network flexibility, like it does in the data center, but do so at scale, says CIMI Corporation’s Tom Nolle. At the moment, this is a significant challenge, but the emergence of 5G wireless, network functions virtualization and other technologies all but guarantees that scalable SD-WANs will emerge sooner rather than later because they are the only viable means to accommodate advanced services like network slicing and multi-tenancy.

At the same time, one of the key value propositions of 5G and advanced mobile content is edge hosting: the ability to push services and content cache points close to the user. By nature, this will require numerous small data centers and virtual pools of edge-hosting points, each of which is far less adept at handling the variable workloads of a typical central facility. To harness all of this power, the same SDN architectures that emerge within the data center will have to extend across a DCI that is both stable and programmable.

The seeds of this emerging infrastructure are already being planted by data service providers like Telehouse America. The company recently deployed the FSP 3000 CloudConnect™ platform to add programmable DCI capabilities to its NYIIX connectivity solution for colocation centers in the New York City area. The system scales from 200Gbit/s to 400Gbit/s, which, when combined with the FSP 3000’s QuadFlex feature, can extend to multi-Terabit performance in a single chassis. At the same time, it offers the flexibility to support the numerous networking requirements of a broadly diverse customer base.

Clearly, the world of network is moving toward virtual, programmable architectures across the board, and this will undoubtedly impact the way in which networks are managed and the skills needed to manage them. But this is unlikely to result in today’s network admin having to learn the intricacies of coding in order to stay employed. More than likely, much of the actual programming will be done by the intelligent, automated systems and services that need to utilize advanced network architectures in order to complete their tasks. The admin, then, will become responsible for defining the goals of these advanced services, leaving the messy work of actually provisioning and configuring the network to the app itself.

Building programmability into the DCI, then, is not only a way to gain maximum performance out of the network, but networking professionals as well.