Network Automation, what, why and how

Network Automation | What? Why? How?

Cloud Computing, Internet of things, Software-defined Networks, digital organizations, mobility…the list is nearly endless.

we live in an era of digital transformation where business from smaller entities to mega corporations are trying to embrace the rapid changes that are happening in the networking world, and in the era of digital transformation, automation almost always comes on top.

Network Automation

There are many definitions of network automation, The most prominent is “The technique, method, or system of operating or controlling a process by highly automatic means, as by electronic devices, reducing human intervention to a minimum.”, but to put it in a simpler form, Network Automation is an approach or methodology where the configuration, management, and testing are done automatically by software.

The benefits of automating networks

We have to keep in mind that automating your network should be driven by your business goals and the needs, not for the sake of automation itself, and if it’s done correctly, it leads to a more reliable, scalable network. Here are some of the major reasons’ corporations are starting to automate their networks:

The superior performance

Network automation does not only speed things up for you, but it does it with maximum efficiency. For example, it constantly monitors the network and its data flows and alerts network admins to security and performance issues. It also allows you to perform and report SLA tests with far greater speed and pinpoint accuracy.

Man Vs Machine

According to many sources, the majority network failures and downtime are a consequence of human error. The main reason Network Automation appeared in the first place. To reduce the “human error” factor while improving network resiliency. There is a misleading fact that automation will replace human work, but the truth is that you actually need humans to make Network Automation itself work. In fact, almost all the companies that embraced automation struggle to hire the necessary expertise.

The financial factor

Besides extending your network capabilities, Network Automation eliminates a good chunk of tedious, manual operations, thus delivering significant cost savings and giving your business an vastly improved ROI. It also frees up resources (such as core IT teams) to be used in other important operational tasks.

Management… Simplified

Networks are becoming increasingly complex, everyday new tech is revealed or improved, and this complexity pressures both the IT teams and management staff within businesses. Network Automation solves a big problem that always arises with manual network processes as it takes a lot of time and drains many resources. The automation performs these processes more frequently, reducing the risk of network failure and downtime. Also, configurations are consistently applied across the Network infrastructure with less effort, making management simpler, faster and easier to scale.

Analysis and reporting

Imagine a network administrator sitting down across multiple screens monitoring, identify, and troubleshoot problems 24/7 without breaks which is impossible. Network Automation enables more complex network analysis that correlates data from multiple sources, such as routers, switches, event logs, and configuration files, all while predicting any future issues that may arise. Automation also can provide deeper insights into performance, utilization, security and resource allocation.

Network Automation types

Any network resource controlled through the command-line interface or an application programming interface can be automated, and to simplify things, there are two major types of automated networks:

The intelligent network automation is a software-based type that provides an integrated approach; from event management to process automation and orchestration. It also provides templates for creating and executing tasks easily without the need to write any scripts, which leads us to the second type… The script-driven automation. With the Script-based automation types, engineers and administrators can use programming languages (such as Python or Perl) to automatically execute network tasks.

Network Automation Tools

Many Vendors today packages some network automation capabilities in their hardware and software, and it can be controlled manually into command-line interfaces (CLIs) as often used, but it comes with a big drawback as it requires a certain skill level in writing code, that’s where Network Automation tools – often free tools- comes into play to save you from both programming difficulties and vendor locking. Puppet, Chef, Jenkins, SaltStack, and the much-used Ansible are free tools that offer a library of common commands or workflows which can easily be repeated.

Should you start automating your network now?

It’s no secret that managing networks is a resource-heavy endeavor. If your company decided to make the investment in automating its network, it probably means that this network plays a critical role within the organization. But network automation doesn’t come without its own challenges that you have to carefully plan to counter.

First, you have the challenge of “Code”. You will – in one way or another – need the expertise of someone who can write and maintain the automation code and align it to the company’s goals since not all ready-made solution can fit these goals perfectly. And believe us when we say that not only writing and maintaining code is a tedious process, but also debugging it in a critical environment can prove fatal if done carelessly.

Automation is a process that requires time and other resources and must be supported along the way by the entire company. That means the administration, engineering, and even the management teams has to work in unison and in a collaborative environment. Leadership also has to be willing to address any roadblocks along the journey.