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Network Automation Meets Network Challenges

November 17, 2017

It’s difficult to discuss the current networking landscape without hearing about network automation. Open source tools like Python and Ansible are mentioned alongside vendor products and third-party cross-platform solutions. Some foresee a world in which automated configuration relegates network engineers to a simpler role that requires fewer skills and has a lower barrier of entry.

This view, however, is short-sighted and does not take into account the changes that are taking place in our networks.

Most of us have participated in projects where applications and services are moving to the cloud. We’ve watched the role of the Exchange administrator die as mail moves to Office 365 in the cloud. Yet for network engineers, the move the Office 365 has created new challenges. Resilient, high-speed Internet connectivity is a requirement, not just for the data center and corporate office, but all locations. The WAN struggles under the weight of Internet-based apps. Security requirements for centralized traffic flow is juxtaposed against the need for high-speed connectivity everywhere.

What does this have to do with automation? Quite a bit, actually. Unlike your idle Exchange servers, the demands on the network have never been greater. We have more devices on the network with higher availability needs and greater security challenges than ever before. Contrary to the latest marketing hype, the network is growing increasingly complicated. If network engineers are going to keep up with the increasing demands on the network, we’re going to have to up our game.

Automating configuration allows network engineers to apply consistent changes throughout their environments in ways that are predictable and repeatable. Whether you’re implementing a QoS policy across several WAN routers, updating all of your wireless APs via a controller, or building configs offline to be applied manually, automation tools can reduce your configuration time and improve the reliability of your changes.

In order to implement configuration automation across your environment, whether you’re using open source tools or a vendor-provided solution, you’ll need to carefully evaluate your network. Are like models of networking gear running the same code versions? Are device configurations consistent? Do you know your network well enough to anticipate how configuration changes will impact the entire system? Can you validate that your changes had the desired affect on your network?

Analyze configuration from the map

With NetBrain, you can analyze configuration right from the Dynamic Map.

As we consider these questions, it becomes clear that automated configuration changes, while incredibly powerful, are only one piece of the network automation puzzle. In order to have a holistic view of the network, you need tools to audit, validate, and troubleshoot your network.  NetBrain’s Dynamic Network Maps provide a full picture of your network before you automate a change. To validate changes, Executable Runbooks can be triggered, manually or via API, to ensure that changes were successful and effective. When changes are complete, the Dynamic Map automatically updates to reflect current state.

As network engineers, we all feel the strain of delivering mission-critical services as the cloud transforms applications and user expectations. We know we must work differently. As you consider how to transform your network by automating configuration, don’t overlook visibility and validation. The combined forces of automated configuration and NetBrain’s mapping and visibility tools will build a platform with which you can meet the challenges of an ever changing business.