Network Automation Is Hard: Here's How We Can Make It Easier
The promise of off-the-shelf network automation remains unrealized. But until the day this long-awaited automation solution arrives, IT pros can make their jobs easier by taking their own steps toward network automation.
For years, we’ve heard endless conjecture about that evasive IT holy grail: the off-the-shelf network automation solution. We have network management products, we have open-source software tools, and we have SAP solutions. What we don’t have is the ready-made, cookie-cutter, one-size-fits-all, set-it-and-forget-it solution that provisions, maps, monitors, and optimizes enterprise networks — the one we were promised, and the one we expected.
The benefits of network automation are as abundantly clear today as they were when the term was first coined. If anything, the emergence of the IoT, BYOD era, and countless other network complexities have made the benefits more clear than ever. There is, after all, good reason for the healthy and continued job growth in the IT sector.
But despite the clear need for automation solutions that can flatten the unruly complexity of enterprise networks, the barriers to such solutions seem only to have multiplied. Unraveling the root causes behind the slow growth of network automation can help us identify the areas where real progress can be made.
The Promise of Network Automation
It seems as though network automation has been “just around the corner” for years now, and while we’re hardly any closer to it today than we were a decade ago, its promise of better consistency, efficiency, security, accessibility, and speed continues to excite great interest.
Without a doubt, the dullest components of an IT pro’s job are the more repetitive, time-consuming tasks, like network mapping and device discovery. Network automation solutions promise to obviate the need to consume an IT manager’s time with such basic functions, enabling more time to be spent on network optimization and future planning. Automated functions can also act faster and with more precision than their human counterparts, as load balancing and provisioning functions can react to network demands in real time.
Automation also reduces the likelihood of human error, which in turn means not only better-functioning networks, but more secure ones as well. Lastly, automation promises significant cost reductions as a result of the reduced need for IT Labor hours.
Network Automation Is Hard
So why has network automation moved so much slower than anticipated? The reasons are many and varied, but the most fundamental reason is this: no two networks are the same. They’re as highly diverse as the businesses they support, as complex as the processes they enable, and as infinitely variable as the needs of their users.
Many networks are patchwork hodgepodges of legacy systems built one on top of the other in response to the intersection of evolving network needs. This highly irregular landscape of corporate networks makes any one-size-fits-all tool a near-impossibility. Contributing to this problem are tightly coupled controller clusters, massive component switch sizes, and a lack of transactional consistency between legacy systems.
What You Can Do Now
There is no perfect, one-size-fits-all off-the-shelf network automation product out there, so there’s no sense in looking for one. Ready-made network automation tools like vCenter tend to be far too simplistic to embrace network complexities. And SAP solutions like those offered by Cisco require so much customization that they’ll only be financially sensible for organizations with massive volume.
In order to achieve network automation today, IT pros will need to build the solution that works for them. They can code the entire thing from scratch or use existing tools like Ansible, but ultimately, the IT managers in charge of their own networks will need to decide which functions it makes sense to automate.
The first rule of thumb for automation should be to ensure that you’re not automating inefficient processes. Optimize your manual processes before you automate them. Then, automate the easiest things first, and the most manually time-consuming things last. Create self-service portals for automated tools. Finally, keep automation top of mind in your day-to-day job. Automate everything you can, including specific manual responses to niche and non-recurring issues.
Network automation is hard, and finding the time to invest in solutions that will save time, money, and hassle in the long run can be near-impossible when IT professionals hardly have time to get a handle on the short-term problem of the day.
That’s why organizations looking to automate their networks may choose to partner with a networking expert like Turn-key Technologies (TTI). With more than two decades of experience in the IT space, TTI has a comprehensive view into the diverse landscape of enterprise networks.
We know how to optimize and manage networks of all sizes and levels of complexity, as well as how to determine where automated functions make sense and where they don’t. Whether you’re interested in a full network assessment or managed IT services, TTI can work with you to deliver network solutions tailored precisely to your unique demands.