Network Operations: Evolve or Get Left Behind

By CK Lam, Director, Data Center Fabric and Virtualization for Asia Pacific, Brocade

 Despite the fact that IT organisations largely aspire to emulate hyperscale cloud architectures in their own data centres, most network operations teams are still using tools and methodologies developed in the 1990s. The command-line interface (CLI) remains king, making device configuration and troubleshooting laborious and time-intensive.  Traditional enterprise network management applications are also not agile or extensible enough to keep up with increasingly dynamic network requirements.  As a result, far too large a percentage of network budgets are utilised simply for network maintenance, rather than for enabling the network to be a platform for innovation.

CK Lam

CK Lam

The reality is that far more modern automation technologies and methods have been applied successfully to the other domains of IT, such as applications and compute.  As a result, the network is often the bottleneck in deploying new services, and suffers from being seen as the least agile element of data centre infrastructure.  Further, the network itself is undergoing historic transformation with overlays, NFV-based services and SDN control.  To leverage the full value of these technologies, a new automation strategy must be front and centre with the network operations team.

Today, DevOps-style tools and methodologies for cross-functional collaboration and rapid IT deployment have become prevalent in the application and compute space. These same tools and methodologies now have the potential to revolutionise network automation, speeding network provisioning and troubleshooting, and freeing up valuable human resources to create new innovation capacity within the network team.

Similarly, SDN technologies are making automation of new networking behaviours and services more easily achievable, fueled by the growing prevalence of open source projects, such as OpenDaylight.

Ultimately, this evolution of network operations is likely to be as much of a cultural shift as a technology shift. It will require building new skillsets that will allow operations teams to develop automation using programmability, eventually weaning themselves from CLI as the dominant network operations tool.  In addition, operations teams must develop the skillset to properly integrate network automation with the automation that exists in other domains within the IT infrastructure in order to automate end-to-end workflows.

Given the accelerating innovation in other areas of IT, the writing is on the wall that networking operations must catch up now, or be left behind.  The vision for agile, open and dynamic networks exists today.  If we commit ourselves to embracing the need for a new type and level of network automation, we may actually realise the vision.

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