Overview of Network Automation

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Modern corporate enterprise networks don’t just include traditional on-premises installations. They now extend from physical locations to include multicloud and cloud-native environments. Clearly, networks have grown in complexity. To compound problems further, networks also operate in silos, inhibiting corporate enterprises from realizing the benefits of digital transformation.

Burdened with impossible expectations and being short on time, network engineers struggle to monitor and optimize their networks. The result is frequent network outages, misconfigurations, and increased security breaches. Thankfully, network infrastructure can be automated – a growing trend – making enterprise networks more resilient and staff members more productive.

Also see: Best Network Automation Tools 

What is Network Automation?

Network automation is the process of automating everyday network tasks like provisioning, configuring, managing, and deploying, so that networks perform more efficiently with minimal issues. As a result, network engineers get to focus on more higher-value work, enabling the organization to reap a greater return on investment (ROI).

Imagine having to back up configurations manually or do a network inventory of devices spread across geographies; it can be challenging, to say the least. By automating your networks, you speed up the deployment of new apps and devices and enable your networks to scale up and down per your business requirements.

But, network automation doesn’t just solve simple problems; instead, it executes complex network tasks and provides an overarching view of your networks. It also provides more visibility into systems and provides teams with real-time insights into key performance metrics.

Also see: 7 Enterprise Networking Challenges 

Why Do We Need Network Automation?

Manually provisioning networks poses several risks, the most important being misconfigured networks. Misconfigured networks cause network outages and increase the risk of data breaches.

In a survey by ESG, 65% of respondents agreed that implementing network security controls is still a manual process, while 84% believe automation reduces misconfigurations. Yet, while organizations agree on greater network automation, only 18% have existing tools to fully automate their security operations.

The fact is: Organizations are still not entirely ready for network automation. Challenges abound. The biggest impediment is in retraining teams, with IT professionals considering a shortage of skilled workers as a significant impediment to network automation.

How Does Network Automation Work?

Traditional network implementations involved engineers manually configuring networks by coding command-line interface (CLI) operations. However, the problem with this approach is that automation is restricted to a particular device. Plus, engineers need to be very particular about the commands. A slight mistake can cause large parts of the infrastructure to quickly spiral out of control.

However, maintaining 100% accuracy is not always possible with the scripting method. Using application programming interface (API)-based automation software is a more efficient method for provisioning networks. These platforms have a library of commonly used templates that IT teams can apply across their networks. Thus, engineers don’t have to configure or provision each port individually. This saves time and helps businesses improve access management, network deployment, team productivity, and more.

Also see: Best Network Management Solutions 

Benefits of Network Automation

Eliminates manual tasks

Manual processes are a huge drain on resources and time. Replacing repetitive tasks with automation improves IT teams’ productivity and allows them to focus on complex tasks that require human intervention.

Maintains compliance

Engineers spend an inordinate amount of time manually trying to check every device’s configuration. Thus, the governance, risk, and compliance (GRC) function becomes an expensive and lengthy process. However, with drag-and-drop network automation tools, it’s easy, allowing IT teams to maintain compliance with just a few clicks.

Provides greater network control

Automation tools come with dashboards that provide complete visibility into the network life cycle and flag errors and outages affecting the network.

Lowers costs

Automating the network reduces errors and leads to greater efficiency, making it more agile. In addition, automation saves on resources that would have been otherwise spent on managing routine monotonous tasks. Naturally, all of this leads to cost savings.

Improves scalability

With manually managed networks, scaling up takes time, often extending to days or months. In contrast, with network automation tools, IT teams can introduce new services in minutes, thus speeding up the time-to-market.

Best Practices for Network Automation

While automation is the way to go, jumping right in without knowing the pros and cons can be wasteful. Let’s take a look at network automation best practices. 

Do a thorough inventory

The first piece of advice is to do a thorough inventory of your network. Collect all the data about about your devices. The goal is not to automate anything and everything but to look for processes that improve your business outcomes. Focus especially on workloads and dependencies that are repetitive in nature.

Begin small

Continuing in the same vein, begin small. Focus on the low-hanging fruit first. Then, once you get clarity on the process, you can start including more complex cases.

Choose a proper vendor

Don’t try to build an in-house tool to manage your networks. Instead, choose a network automation partner who can provide you with adequate support based on your needs.

Train your staff

Network automation is a lot like DevOps (development and operations). To succeed, you need to adopt a collaborative approach. So, make sure your IT staff is adequately trained to handle networking issues better. Enrolling them in training courses will break down the mental blocks that inhibit them from adopting automation.

Conduct regular audits

Opting for a network platform doesn’t mean you stop checking for vulnerabilities. On the contrary, keep monitoring your automation platform for vulnerabilities, and aim to remediate them when they occur.

Features to Look for in Network Automation Tools

The market is awash with vendor-specific and open-source network automation tools, with Gartner estimating that over 50+ automated tools are available. With so many options available, organizations must make an informed decision when choosing the right automation partner. Here is a checklist of features you should keep in mind when looking for a tool:

  • Orchestration abilities
  • Self-healing capabilities
  • Auto-discovery of new devices
  • Easy to use
  • Intuitive dashboards
  • Traffic monitoring
  • Monitoring for vulnerabilities
  • Artificial intelligence and machine learning-based predictive analysis
  • Role-based authentication

Network Automation: Growing Rapidly

Legacy network management methods are incapable of handling the complexities of modern networks. Network automation streamlines operations across the entire network life cycle, from provisioning to management to orchestration. IT teams no longer have to spend time troubleshooting and can thus concentrate on doing tasks that add value to the enterprise. Clearly, enterprises see great value in network automation. 

Susnigdha Tripathy
Susnigdha Tripathy
Susnigdha Tripathy is a full-time writer and editor based in Singapore, and a regular contributor to Enterprise Networking Planet. She has over 10 years of experience writing, editing, and delivering exceptional content for a variety of international technology brands such as Virtasant, a cloud technology company, and Krista Software, a provider of intelligent automation solutions. She has also appeared in ServerWatch and other industry publications.

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