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Innovating with Network Automation

By Aziz Ali, Country Manager, Brocade Malaysia

Today’s changing IT landscape is becoming increasingly complex to manage. Organisations across industries need to support agile systems encompassing a variety of solutions that must be integrated across different teams and IT domains.

But, according to a global CIO survey1, 75 percent of respondents stated that the network is impacting their organisations’ ability to achieve business goals. And the lack of network automation and integration of the network with other IT operations and tool chains is the single biggest inhibitor to capitalising on digitization.

As companies move to digitize their business, they need an underlying network architecture which supports business agility so that the network can become a platform for innovation and for developing, delivering and securing new applications.

To keep a workforce productive and the business competitive, IT must be flexible, provisioning applications and services at a moment’s notice to ensure the right people have the right access to the right data at the right time. But it isn’t all that easy for IT personnel, who face a number of challenges—one of which is manual network configuration.

While other components of the IT infrastructure, such as compute and storage, have become automated, networking has not kept up.

Manual network configuration is anything but efficient. Performed in isolation rather than across systems throughout an organisation, this method of configuration only focuses on particular hardware or software rather than looking at its role holistically across the entire IT infrastructure stack. And what about those legacy platforms that also stand alone in their own separate silos?

Coordination of tasks and sharing of knowledge between those who design networks, respond to service requests, troubleshoot, approve changes, and perform remediation is often performed manually. Thus, inefficiencies and errors accumulate, depriving these teams of the opportunity to perform activities that provide higher value to the organisation.

While other parts of the IT infrastructure, such as compute and storage, have benefited from automation, the network hasn’t. According to ZK Research, human error accounts for 35 percent of network downtime. Network automation can reduce that downtime to zero to save time and resources, reduce human error, speed time to resolution, and increase business and IT agility.

Once silos are bridged, cross-functional execution can happen quickly. Each team in network operations uses a separate tool for managing the network—the help desk uses a ticketing system, a network analyst uses a troubleshooting tool to find a potential solution, and a network administrator uses another tool to implement that solution. Simultaneously, a storage administrator may be diagnosing a performance problem with a network-attached storage system. Wouldn’t it be more efficient if those tools worked in concert?

Network Automation: Greater IT Agility and Operational Efficiency

Network automation comprises tools and solutions that assist in reducing manual network management tasks such as planning, configuration, compliance auditing, monitoring, validation, troubleshooting, and remediation.

With consistent configuration aiding IT agility, organisations can save time and resources, as well as reduce risk of human error that may have previously occurred due to manual configuration, such as through command line interfaces. Inserting network automation into the service delivery chain will reduce overall errors.

Organisations can also enjoy improved service levels due to frequent fine-tuning to meet changing service requirements, ultimately providing faster, more efficient configuration of the network and related IT infrastructure elements. The IT knowledge captured during software-driven network automation processes provides quicker responses and consistent actions, and enables repeatability and scaling to large environments.

Automation can also simplify and, to some degree, facilitate, collaboration across IT silos. By codifying and centralising operational knowledge, tasks can be easily delegated to IT teams throughout an organisation, making the job of network configuration easier, while reducing provisioning time.

Better, Faster, Smarter: Cross-Domain Network Automation

While automating the network offers a number of organisational benefits, being able to integrate network automation with other constituencies can have the greatest impact on business agility, going forward. Cross-domain collaboration is an important component that can propel overall efficiency and productivity throughout an organisation.

A Workflow-Centric Approach to Automation Increases Business Agility

To enable cross-domain automation, organisations must think in terms of workflows. Workflows have emerged as a fundamental part of IT operations within hyperscale cloud providers because they are proven mechanisms for converting business rules and policies into IT services delivered at scale. Since a workflow is a collection of tasks that are often executed manually and routinely, it serves as a strong foundation for developing automation.

Workflows can be single-domain, such as provisioning a network device, or cross-domain, such as detecting a network device issue and automatically creating and assigning a help desk ticket to a network operator. With cross-domain workflow automation, the manual steps of detecting an issue, identifying the potential cause, performing remediation actions and even creating a trouble ticket or paging a senior engineer can all be eliminated.

As a result, IT can minimise human-induced errors, improve operational efficiency and greatly reduce time-to-resolution – enabling enterprises and cloud service providers to improve their IT operations and drive greater business agility with DevOps-style network automation for provisioning, validation, troubleshooting and remediation of multivendor networks — while integrating with workflows across multiple IT domains for end-to-end automation.

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