Drive for networks to switch to auto

Automation allows networks to better cope with modern workloads, provide increased agility and greatly reduce operational costs.
Paul Stuttard
By Paul Stuttard, Director, Duxbury Networking.
Johannesburg, 13 Jun 2023

The increasing complexity of modern networks is putting pressure on operators and managers who have realised that manual methods associated with network management are no longer optimum. 

What’s required is a means to automate many of the repetitive manual processes that often lead to errors, network malfunctions and costly downtime. 

By implementing automation tools and practices, networks can better cope with modern workloads, provide new levels of agility and greatly reduce operational costs.

According to prolific US-based author and IT industry executive John Maddison, as networks become more complex and the threat landscape evolves, organisations are coming under increasing pressure to keep pace.

“Automating network operations and security processes can help organisations reduce complexity, improve agility and enhance their overall security posture. As a result, we're seeing a rapid increase in the adoption of network automation technologies, and we expect this trend to continue as organisations seek to improve their network efficiency and security," he says.

Automation addresses these challenges by helping organisations to rapidly respond to changes in network traffic and identify security threats. With higher levels of agility and responsiveness, the likelihood of a successful attack is minimised.

Another important benefit of network automation, as highlighted by Maddison, is improved efficiency. Network configuration, monitoring and troubleshooting are typical tasks that may be automated to help organisations save time and money, while freeing up IT professionals to work on more important projects.

Many organisations are turning to newer, more advanced forms of network automation, such as intent-based networking.

Similarly, network automation makes it easier for enterprises to scale their network infrastructures without adding more staff members. This is crucial for companies that are expanding quickly, or that are seeing unexpected spikes in customer demand for their goods or services.

There are various types of network automation. For example, software-based network automation refers to the use of software tools and platforms to automate network tasks and processes. This method typically involves deploying automation software onto the network devices themselves or a separate server or cloud-based platform.

Numerous network operations, from straightforward tasks like device configuration and software updates, to more challenging tasks like network provisioning, security management and performance monitoring, can be automated using software-based network automation.

Networking technologies like software-defined networking (SDN) can be implemented using software-based network automation. By offering a centralised platform for network administration and orchestration, enabling policy-based automation and supporting new network automation technologies, SDN plays a crucial part in network automation.

By using a centralised SDN controller, the automation and management of a wide range of network tasks − including device configuration, network provisioning, security management and performance monitoring – is possible.

Script-driven network automation is another type of automation option. It employs scripting and programming languages to execute tasks − ideally those with precise triggers and consistent procedures.

Script-driven automation can be employed to automate many network tasks, ranging from backing up configurations, or applying software updates, to complex missions such as provisioning virtual network resources or configuring network policies.

One of the major advantages of script-driven automation is that IT employees can design specialised automation workflows that are catered to the particular requirements of their organisations.

However, this method has some drawbacks, including the requirement for strong programming abilities. Additionally, script-driven automation setup and upkeep might be time-consuming tasks.

In this light, many organisations are turning to newer, more advanced forms of network automation, such as intent-based networking (IBN). IBN is an increasingly popular form of network automation that uses artificial intelligence and machine learning to automate network operations based on business intent or desired business objectives – which can be defined in natural language terms – rather than specific configurations.

Significantly, IBN enables network administrators to implement other advanced network automation technologies, such as predictive analytics, to further improve network performance and efficiency.

Complementing IBN is network function virtualisation (NFV). This is a networking architecture that allows network functions, such as routing, switching and security, to be virtualised and run on software-based platforms.

In traditional networks, functions are implemented on dedicated hardware devices which are designed and optimised for specific tasks. This method can be inflexible and expensive, as it requires the purchase and maintenance of multiple hardware devices to support different network functions.

With NFV, network functions can be virtualised and run on software-based platforms, such as virtual machines, which can be deployed and more flexibly managed.

In addition, NFV can improve network agility by enabling network administrators to rapidly provision and de-provision network functions as needed and to dynamically allocate resources to support changing business requirements.

NFV can also improve network performance by enabling network administrators to deploy virtual network functions closer to the network edge, reducing latency and improving responsiveness.

These fast-evolving automation technologies will be ramping up their abilities in the coming months and years to provide deeper insights into performance utilisation, security and resource allocation, which will significantly reduce the workload on network administrators, while improving the overall efficiency of network operations.