Stuck on Scripts? Leverage Script Decoration to Extend Your Automation Reach

January 17, 2023 | Dan Sullivan
Stuck on Scripts? Leverage Script Decoration to Extend Your Automation Reach

Throughout my time at Itential helping customers get the most out of their automation efforts, I’ve had the chance to meet with IT and network teams at many organizations to talk about their network automation needs and goals. In this time, I’ve seen a shift start to happen firsthand — organizations are going all in on automation, and they’re finally seeing some progress. Teams are developing Python scripts, Ansible Playbooks, and Terraform Plans to automate specific tasks, covering a small portion of their daily networking activity. However, there’s much more progress to made.

The problem is, even with the progress they’ve made, organizations are stuck — they aren’t seeing the payoffs that automation promises since they’re only automating a small portion of an overall process. Too many processes are still manual, and network engineers aren’t seeing the time savings they need to actually manage the network. The challenge? Making the jump from specific single-function automations to true end-to-end network automation and orchestration that takes on not just single tasks but key processes like validation, remediation, and integration, and handles the ITSM needs that surround every single network change.


Scripts Aren’t Enough

The thing is, scripting a specific automation outcome is just one small step in a much longer process. Team members tasked with implementing device-specific or task-specific automations aren’t necessarily experts when it comes to the ITSM systems needed for ticket processing and inventory systems, and they’re stuck in a spot that automation really should be getting them out of. Responsibilities for each system might lie with different teams, each with their own skillsets, and getting every link along the chain that makes up a network change to work together is a much bigger challenge than just automating a scripted task.

So once a script is completed, how should it be exposed to users? End users shouldn’t just be handed a script to execute themselves. That’s simply not scalable. Features like input validation and role-based access control need to be baked in to ensure automations are run securely and successfully across every step of the network change.

It’s at this point in the automation journey when organizations tend to come up against the big barrier that is automating comprehensive end-to-end processes, and they start to look at commercial automation solutions. To a NetOps team that’s spent months building automations, learning Python, Ansible, and other tools, that might sound like a slap in the face. You can’t just ask teams to throw away all the work they’ve done to adopt a commercial solution that might not even work in the exact way they’ve built their scripts to. Plus, it’s a hard sell to ask organizations to re-invest time and money into use cases they’ve already tried to solve.


How Script Decoration Powers Up Your Network Automations

This is where an integration-focused network automation solution comes in. At Itential, we’re always talking about using the “right tool for the right job.” NetOps teams have to employ different tools to solve for different automation needs. Scripts, Ansible Playbooks and Terraform plans are each examples of different tools our network automation customers use to solve for specific use cases. A viable automation platform can’t ask teams to move away from that — it needs to accommodate these disparate tools that are needed for implementing complex solutions. It’s not enough to say that a single tool can solve for every automation use case. We need to go further and allow integration of all the different tools needed to automate different networking activities.  

That flexibility and integration is exactly what Itential Automation Platform delivers. Our platform allows users to onboard their existing automation assets directly into the platform without requiring a re-implementation effort. Using Itential’s Automation Gateway (IAG) within the platform, users can onboard their assets and decorate the bare scripts using a JSON schema that delivers a simple form-based interface where end users can define input variables. The automations, whether they be scripts, Playbooks, Terraform plans, or something else, then can be used as they build larger automations in the drag-and-drop canvas interface, allowing easy creation of automation workflows and enabling automation to scale.  

This supercharges the automations you already have, extending their capabilities by allowing them to be plugged into any number of end-to-end automation workflows as the need demands. Script decoration also allows you to build in an input validation layer, alerting end users who may not be familiar with the script (or even with Python or YAML themselves) as to what variable type is needed in each field. The script decoration capability that Itential provides puts the power in your hands to really get the most out of automations you’ve already built. They’re no longer just siloed automations that live on one system to accomplish one task. Now, they can be leveraged by anyone in the automation team to build workflows with a simple drag-and-drop interface. Plus, the nature of the decoration capability is such that, as business needs change, the decoration can be easily adjusted to reflect different validations and variables required by the script — one person changes the script on the backend, and the end users still get a simple form in which they can input variables. 

The Itential Automation Platform delivers a workflow-based approach to end-to-end network automation that allows customers to democratize existing automation assets, leveraging the full potential of automation work that’s already been done. Script decoration expands the reach, applicability, and efficiency of automation solutions that aren’t maximized in the outdated silo model.  

To get your hands on a free demo and see how things work, sign up for a test drive here. You can also check out my recent demo showing step-by-step how you can integrate your existing automation assets into a low-code workflow. 

Integrating Python Scripts & Ansible Playbooks with Itential for Network Automation
Dan Sullivan

Principle Solutions Architect ‐ Itential

Dan Sullivan is a Principal Solutions Architect with Itential who has spent his career focused on networking and distributed systems, holding roles within software development and architecture teams, professional services, and sales organizations. During the past 10 years, Dan's focus has been delivering and deploying automation solutions for Service Provider and Enterprise customers alike. At Itential, Dan is focused on working with customers as they implement Itential's automation solutions.

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