The Evolving Role of the Network Architect

network architect

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: not just "keeping the lights on" 

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, and not many adults used the Internet at all

In contrast, about 74 percent of households in the U.S. currently have 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.

Today, network architects have to support a worldwide operation that runs 24 hours a day and can handle spikes in use with ease. The rapid growth in network usage 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. 

Find out the starting pay for a network architect in your area with our Salary Calculator.

From mainframe applications to the cloud

The growth of the Web has changed the way organizations work internally as well, and that has affected the responsibilities of network architects. The typical business applications of 20 years ago were either mainframe applications or client/server applications. 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. 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.

Find out more about the public cloud vs. the private cloud. 

Evolving security concerns

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. 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.

Find out how to implement a strong telecommuting program

Network architect skill requirements and salary expectations

Network architects continue to see strong demand for their skills and salary growth. A network architect needs an extensive background in all aspects of networking technology, and the following skills: 

  • Excellent written and oral communication skills, along with strong interpersonal and leadership abilities 
  • 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
  • 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

Newly hired network architects can expect to receive a starting salary in the range of $120,000-$175,000, depending on factors such as experience, industry, local market demand, specialized skills and company reputation. 

Check out our Salary Guide for more details on IT trends:

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