Network automation is the combination of networking and automation. Networking refers to using hardware and software to send data between nodes. This includes switches, ethernet cables, software-defined networking (SDN), network functions virtualization (NFV), and network interface cards. Automation refers to using technology to replace tasks previously performed by humans.
Network automation removes the manual processes involved in planning, deploying, operating, and optimizing networks and their services via chained scripts programmed at an automation or operating system's command-line interface (CLI) level. It describes the process of using software to automate network provisioning to increase and optimize the functionality of the network. Furthermore, network automation significantly speeds up network operations—including configuration, protection, network infrastructure integration, and application services.
The cost of network operations has always been problematic for network managers, and this is one of the issues that network automation has been able to correct. However, data and technological advancements grow more rapidly than IT capabilities, making manual processes an unfeasible solution.
Networks are built, operated, and maintained manually, but when network configuration and updates are also done manually, it becomes too slow and error-prone to support workload requirements effectively.
Network automation affords the network operations team the much-needed agility and flexibility to keep pace with the digital world’s business demands. This increases developer productivity and overall business success and relevance.
Some benefits of network automation include:
Data breaches pose problems for many business organizations, and many reports have attributed them to human error. According to CNBC, 47 percent of businesses who have experienced a data breach pointed to employee negligence as its cause.
Implementing automation where possible reduces the risk of human error, which could unintentionally introduce the potential for a data breach or compliance violation.
Forbes reports that network downtime costs businesses an average of $300,000 an hour — growing up to $450,000 an hour in truly detrimental outages. Network automation decreases the chances of errors resulting in (expensive) network latency or downtime.
One of the goals of every business organization is to reduce running costs while also maximizing profit. Network automation reduces the complexity of infrastructures, helping to reduce the number of hours needed for routine provisioning, configuration, and network management. And because errors are less likely to occur, costs associated with downtime and resolving configuration issues are minimized.
Network automation uses analytics to ensure IT operations are highly responsive to change, providing better understanding and more visibility into the network. This allows you to control and adapt your network as needed, performing updates, altering configurations, or improving network security.
Network automation often involves both software automation and command-line automation.
As mentioned earlier, standard CLI commands and arguments can be used to configure network components for automation. These commands can do various tasks, including configuring the network card, setting an IP address, enabling/disabling high-availability, and resetting the network. You could also build command lists into text files (shell scripts) that you can execute using a single command.
You can use software for network automation to determine the most efficient method of mapping, configuring, provisioning, and managing a network. API-based automation can support or replace manual command-line instructions. You can use automation APIs directly or use programming languages like Python, Java, and Go. These APIs check network resources during provisioning and confirm that the network can handle a configuration request before it’s implemented.
Additionally, machine learning (ML) and programmable algorithms like Artificial Neural Networks (ANN), Support Vector Machine (SVM), and others have enabled AI-powered software to be trained to maintain networks and infrastructure.
You can use ML in network automation to build highly trained models that can integrate into the network or infrastructure that you build to support network automation. These models will be trained and integrated with network maintenance tools that you currently use to implement end-to-end network automation—where the infrastructure is proactively configured, monitored, and maintained.
There are several components of network development, configuration, and maintenance that you can currently automate. Here are a few areas where you can implement automation today.
Different configuration tools are used in the development process to manage and maintain the system. Configuration is an essential part of network building, and if it’s improperly done, it can cause network outages and delays. With automation, you can configure your network with minimal—or no—human effort, reducing the risk of human error and making it easy to manage and maintain your network effectively.
You can automate your network’s load balancing process to automate the distribution of incoming network traffic across a server farm. Load balancing can be done using TCP/IP networking protocols. With load balancing, servers are more efficient, as there’s less workload for each server—ensuring optimal performance, speed, and responsiveness of the application.
An integral part of the development cycle is monitoring. Monitoring provides you with necessary information about the performability of your network’s infrastructure, enabling you to identify and fix issues that may arise in the application/infrastructure. With network automation, the infrastructure is effectively monitored, and the system can also repair minor problems or notify the team automatically.
For many organizations, downtime means incurring unplanned costs and potentially losing users, revenue, and credibility. A failover is a system to help mitigate situations like this. Failover describes moving an application/infrastructure from a server or system to a backup plan due to a service event or unforeseen downtime. You can automate failover in your network to ensure this transition happens automatically, preventing downtime from occurring.