NetDevOps & The Shift Left Movement for Networking
As we look forward to networking and cloud technology in 2023, there are many existing trends likely to accelerate as organizations look to improve their networking among the many facets of infrastructure: traditional enterprise, cloud, and hybrid cloud. One of the biggest trends likely to take place is a “shift left” for networking, as DevOps and NetOps merge into one movement called NetDevOps.
If you haven’t already heard of shift left, it’s a concept that originated in the DevOps world describing the need to create more dynamic, automated systems for handling code and applications development. The goal is to shift testing and validation earlier in the development process – that’s the shift left – so that it’s easier to improve and build applications while they are in production.
The notion behind the shift left for networking – the NetDevOps movement – is no different. Networking professionals are interested in moving networking management closer to applications, and they would like to integrate infrastructure more deeply with applications.
NetDevOps = Better Testing & Automation
You might have heard something like, “Networking doesn’t talk to DevOps,” or “DevOps doesn’t understand the network.” Often, the network is something to solve after the fact – once the application is ready to go live. The way to solve this problem is to shift the network to the left, making it part of the development process. This will also require more integration among NetOps and DevOps teams, resulting in NetDevOps.
The main reason that DevOps needs to interoperate with NetOps is that all applications need infrastructure and networking to operate. With cloud platforms proliferating, this is more important than ever, as distributed applications typically draw on data and connectivity to many types of infrastructure ranging from traditional enterprise resources to public cloud services. There’s also elements of testing and compliance in the NetDevOps process. For example, as infrastructure is provisioned, NetDevOps tools can be used to validate and test for compliance of the configurations.
Just as the DevOps process has shifted testing and validation of code earlier in the development process, NetDevOps seeks to merge the orchestration, validation, and testing of networking with the development process. In DevOps, you test the code or the features early in the development process to identify defects or needs. In NetDevOps, you want to do the same with networking, to assure that once the application goes live, the network will deliver the functionality it needs.
How Will NetDevOps Be Implemented?
But that may not be enough. Some organizations would like to manage a wider range of networking tools and infrastructure – in some cases multi-vendor environments – in which case they might seek a neutral, third-party NetDevOps platform. That’s why a larger ecosystem of third-party NetDevOps tools is starting to grow.
These tools can even evolve into wide-ranging platforms that can be used to integrate complex environments. On the technical level, NetDevOps can use low-code or no-code integrations to build multi-vendor networking management directly into an application. The applications can be built to automatically provision, orchestrate, and connect infrastructure, including networking or communications resources.
Goals of NetDevOps & Shift Left
Just as the modern DevOps movement is about releasing and testing software faster, NetDevOps will be about provisioning and managing networking infrastructure faster. This is key to the shift left movement.
Another benefit of NetDevOps and the shift left will be automation. By building goals such as orchestration, testing, and validation into the applications, networking teams will be able to focus on high-level problems, improve the performance of networks, and reduce the number of faults.
This exciting NetDevOps process has just started and is part of a long cycle of building more programmable networks. In the first stage of this evolution, the SD-WAN movement introduced the first elements of the shift left to NetDevOps: It was focused on how services could be deployed more quickly over a network using software, rather than focusing on manual configuration of hardware devices. SD-WAN makes generous use of APIs, and it is a “service first” approach to networking. For example, an SD-WAN platform can be used to deploy new cybersecurity services, such as Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) protection or malware filtering, directly into the network.
But SD-WAN was only the start, concerning itself with mostly enterprise branch networking and in some cases connections to cloud data centers. There is a wide range of additional networking infrastructure that needs to be tied into NetDevOps, such as traditional enterprise networking in the Local Area Network (LAN), private datacenter, and more focused environments such as Internet of Things (IoT).
The key to NetDevOps success will, as is often the case, come down to managerial and cultural cooperation. With cloud-native operations having proved that DevOps and NetOps can come together, it no longer makes sense to segregate the operations – but these directives will have to come from the top.
Implementing NetDevOps is possible today with existing innovations in network automation technology. But it will take more than just technology. One of the key challenges is convincing teams to work together at the organizational level.
To dive deeper into what the shift left means for networking, check out this new white paper or this webinar where I join Itential’s CTO Chris Wade to explore how IT leaders can enable a true shift left by adopting automation.