NetOps vs DevOps: Bringing Automation to the Network

In a survey conducted by Enterprise Management Associates, 77% of organizations consider Network automation a high priority. A new way of thinking about network operations and development operations is emerging, with DevOps replacing the long-held idea of siloed development and network operations teams. 

The goal of any IT professional is to bring efficiency and stability to their IT environment. However, as an organization’s IT infrastructure becomes more complex,  IT professionals find it increasingly difficult to keep up with changing technology trends while maintaining that high level of efficiency they strive for. This is where NetOps can come in handy. Its focus on automating processes and creating smooth integration between different components of your network enables you to maintain the integrity and reliability required by your users.  

What is NetOps?

Network operations (NetOps) is an IT department’s umbrella term for activities that involve network management, performance optimization, and security. NetOps is typically concerned with monitoring for bottlenecks or failures, resolving issues or outages when they occur, ensuring uptime during business hours by applying patches and updates in a timely manner, and collecting network statistics for reporting purposes.  

What is DevOps?

DevOps refers to a movement that seeks to bring an automated approach to software development. Specifically, it focuses on breaking down barriers between operational tasks (those performed by sysadmins) and development tasks (those performed by developers). This enables sysadmins to work with developers — collaboratively — to deploy changes without downtime or service interruption.  

Also read: Poll: Digital Transformation Drives Growth of NetOps

NetOps and DevOps: How are They Different?

The first distinction between NetOps and DevOPs is how they’re defined. NetOps refers to networking operations, meaning it focuses on network engineers and their activities. DevOps, or Development Operations, encompass a broader view of IT operations, often involving application developers as well as other IT pros. 

Focus on automation 

One of the main differentiators between NetOps and DevOps is that NetOps focuses on automating day-to-day network operations, while DevOps focuses on automating every aspect of application delivery. DevOps integrates Ops into application development. 

Tools 

As mentioned above, automation is key for both NetOps and DevOps, however, NetOps tend to use Ansible, an open-source automation tool for activities like configuration management, application deployment, and software provisioning in the IT world. While DevOps uses Chef, a configuration management tool that automates, tests, and deploys infrastructure by writing code rather than using a manual method; or Puppet, an open source configuration management solution that allows you to centralize and automate configuration management.

Operational views of applications 

Another difference between NetOps and DevOps comes down to operational views. While DevOps can plan releases across multiple applications, their scope is limited because no one group owns everything from start to finish. NetOps owns a smaller scope but can impact any part of it at any time because nobody else touches it. 

Approach to deployment 

There’s an important distinction between how DevOps and NetOps approach deployment. NetOps lean toward micro deployments, which require less configuration management than traditional monolithic environments. 

Scope of Work 

NetOps are responsible for configuring and managing network hardware. They manage switches, routers, firewalls, etc. DevOps engineers on the other hand focus on working with development teams to ensure development environments are provisioned quickly.  

Also read: Best DevOps Tools & Software of 2021

Bringing NetOps and DevOps Team Together

Many networks and IT departments suffer from siloed teams, where network administrators work in one part of an organization while developers work in another. As a result, certain tasks don’t get accomplished because nobody on either team understands what it takes for them to be completed. Ultimately, if you want your team to reach its full potential and become more efficient at doing its job, you need to find ways of bringing DevOps and NetOps teams together. Here are three key strategies that can help you do just that. 

Involve NetOps in infrastructure as code

Infrastructure as code is essentially automation applied to systems administration tasks such as provisioning servers or creating networks. This enables quicker deployment of new systems or additional resources within existing ones. To involve network administrators in infrastructure as code, simply let them know how much time and effort they’ll save by setting up environments through automation rather than through manual steps. Additionally, show your NetOps team how they can use developer tools to accomplish their own goals. This ensures their own processes aren’t slowing down application engineers, who don’t have time to wait for manual processes during test times or other high-demand situations. 

Get Devs involved with operations communication

Emergencies happen in every company. It’s important to make sure both teams understand each other when these scenarios come up, and both NetOps and DevOps personnel clearly understand each other’s roles in handling any crisis. Having constant conversations about common problems will also help develop strong working relationships between these two groups. 

Make Ops support developers better

Your entire organization will benefit from increased collaboration between development operations teams.  The less time each group spends dealing with things like bug fixes or upgrades, the more time they have to focus on meeting business needs. Look for opportunities to lighten developers’ workload by automating repetitive system tasks, so they can shift their attention toward building better applications.

Impacts of NetOps and DevOps in an Enterprise

Due to increased dependencies and complexity within today’s data centers, many organizations are moving away from siloed teams toward a more collaborative team of NetOps and DevOps. According to research from 451 Research, automation is one of the top reasons for developing a combined NetOps/DevOps team. But what does that mean for your day-to-day work?  If you bring development operations personnel closer together, their efficiency and yours will increase significantly.

  • Cost reduction. Automation helps keep costs low because it allows for the continual reusability of code across multiple platforms. 
  • Faster time to market. Through continuous integration/continuous delivery (CI/CD), network operations teams can continually improve their product(s) using feedback from customers or automated checks based on metrics. 
  • Better infrastructure management. With CI/CD and automation tools, dev and ops folks no longer need to manually configure and change things. Instead, focus on what needs to be changed — instead of changing everything just because something changed. 
  • Improved infrastructure utilization. IT capacity isn’t just about optimizing compute resources, such as servers or virtual machines (VMs). It also includes storage as well as networks including switches, ports, routers, firewalls, etc. 
  • Higher customer satisfaction. When you deliver applications with NetOps/DevOps processes coupled with effective monitoring capabilities, your enterprise improves its ability to anticipate its customers’ changing requirements. This not only boosts your customer’s satisfaction, but also opens up new opportunities for future partnerships and new revenue streams.

How Can you Integrate NetOps with DevOps?

Whether NetOps and DevOps are integrated is one of many indicators of how effective an organization is at automating its processes. The more seamlessly NetOps and DevOps work together, the higher level of automation that can be achieved within an organization. Achieving a state where all changes to a network happen from a central control panel can dramatically reduce errors in configuration and overall network downtime. 

This brings us to understand what areas need attention when integrating both operations roles into an automated environment. The starting point should always begin with improving visibility into what’s occurring on your network right now (DevOps) as well as what has already happened (NetOps). Then you need to build relationships, streamline processes, and share services between both groups using automation tools like Puppet, Ansible, or Chef, these tools help enable repeatable patterns by managing configurations across systems. 

Once implemented, they give you insight into what’s actually running on your network versus what was initially provisioned. Going beyond just applying any given tool once, but rather establishing processes around them takes some effort initially, but it yields significant benefits over time; no longer do manual procedures slow things down due to human error, miscommunication, or loss of knowledge. 

Bringing Automation to the Network

NetOps have historically been focused on monitoring and running the network, while DevOps have been primarily concerned with building new features and applications. However, these two groups share a common goal, to automate as much of their work as possible, so they can focus on improving customer experience and service levels while reducing operational costs. In order to achieve that goal, both groups need to work together on the best way to automate their tasks in order to bring automation to the network.


Read next: The Future of Network Management with AIOps

Aminu Abdullahi
Aminu Abdullahi is an award-winning public speaker and a passionate writer. He writes to edutain (educate + entertain) his reader about business, technology, growth, and everything in-between. He is the co-author of the e-book, The Ultimate Creativity Playbook. Aminu loves to inspire greatness in the people around him through his actions and inactions.

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