Network automation is the process of automating the configuration, management, testing, deployment, and operations of physical and virtual devices within a network. Every day network tasks and functions are performed automatically. Using a combination of hardware and software-based solutions, large organizations, service providers, and enterprises can implement network automation to control and manage repetitive processes and improve network service availability.
Today, networks are fully capable of undertaking the following tasks:
- Discovering topologies
- Managing bandwidth and finding fast resources to implement the best computing paths
- Performing root cause analysis
- Updating and installing routes
- Setting performance benchmarks
- Updating software
- Implementing security and compliance
Working together, automation and orchestration simplify network operations involving complex configurations and device management while providing business agility to adapt to an ever-changing environment. You can think of automation as accomplishing repeatable tasks without human intervention, and orchestration as the process of stringing together a series of these tasks to accomplish a process or workflow.
Driving network automation is the rapid expansion of network infrastructure required to support the exponential growth of network traffic generated by video, social media, data, and application usage. Additionally, as computing power continues to decline in cost and virtual computing continues to grow, network automation becomes more available to many businesses. Various types of network automation can apply to local area networks, virtualized environments, data centres, and public and private clouds.
For many organizations, the lack of agility to adapt to network changes has become a bottleneck, preventing those companies from deploying a robust and highly responsive data centre infrastructure. For service providers, automation is the cornerstone strategy to focus on to increase network agility and reliability while controlling operational expenditures (OpEx) and capital expenditures (CapEx). To improve operational efficiency, margins, and customer satisfaction, service providers can automate routine and complex tasks that may be time-consuming, repetitive, or error-prone. The openness and interoperability of automation support APIs, standards-based protocols, and open-source automation frameworks (such as Ansible, Saltstack, Puppet, and Chef). Service providers and enterprises can leverage those automation frameworks to expedite their network automation migration.
By automating networking features and implementing software products that offer automation, organizations benefit from the following:
Lower costs – Because automation reduces the complexities of your underlying infrastructure, dramatically fewer person-hours are required for configuring, provisioning, and managing services and the network. By simplifying operations, consolidating network services, reducing floor space, and cycling underutilized devices off, you need fewer staff to troubleshoot and repair, and reap power savings.
Improve business continuity – By removing the chance of human errors, companies can offer and deliver a higher level of services with more consistency across branches and geographies. For example, Juniper Networks’ Service Now is a remote, automated troubleshooting client that enables Juniper to detect quickly and proactively any problems in a customer’s network before they become aware of them.
Increase strategic workforce – By automating repetitive tasks subject to human error, companies increase productivity, which helps drive business improvements and innovation. As a result, new job opportunities arise for the existing workforce.
Greater insight and network control – Automation helps make IT operations more responsive to change through analytics. You gain more visibility into the network and understand precisely what is happening in your network with the ability to control and adapt as needed.
Increase business agility – Automation enables companies to develop operational models that improve time-to-market. You can add new services, test new applications, and fix problems. Time to realize improvements is reduced, resulting in greater competitiveness and elasticity, and ultimately, more profits added to the corporate bottom line.
Network Automation: Build or Buy?
Once you’ve decided that you want to automate your network, the next decision is do you do it yourself, outsource, or some combination of both. Answering these questions can help you make your decision:
- Which network automation technologies are best suited to your needs?
- Do you have personnel who have expertise in automation technologies?
- Do you have sufficient personnel resources to deploy automation technologies?
- If not, does your vendor offer professional services that can assist your team with automating your network?
- What are the risks of automating, and how do you mitigate the risks?
- What are the benefits of automating sooner rather than later?
- Do you know how to begin automating your network?