Network Orchestration

Reflecting on NANOG 87 & The Cultural Shift Toward Network Automation

Rich Martin

Director of Technical Marketing ‐ Itential

Reflecting on NANOG 87 & The Cultural Shift Toward Network Automation
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Posted on March 2, 2023

Last month NANOG 87 was held in Atlanta, which happens to be the home of Itential HQ. It was a given that we should attend, and personally, the double benefit of convenience and a chance to network with people about networking was too good to pass up. Selfishly, I knew there would be quite a few of my past colleagues and old friends attending that I hadn’t seen in many years, so there was much catching up to be had. Plus, NANOG is a community with all kinds of great people who have a wealth of network knowledge and experience, so the prospect of meeting new people and discussing networking and automation is always exciting. So it didn’t surprise me how interesting this event was – there were some key things that stood out as especially interesting worth sharing.

The Network Automation Journey

One of the things that really stood out to me at this year’s NANOG event was the number of sessions that focused on network automation – more specifically, focused on helping network engineers start or progress their network automation journeys (check out the agenda here).

Not only were there quite a few sessions around this topic, but the topics were quite diverse. Everything from providing some initial strategies to overcoming challenges as you start your network automation journey (watch it here) to how to leverage APIs to network devices for more efficient network automation (watch it here) was discussed. Even the event’s Hackathon was focused on building automations to interact with common Sources of Truth (watch it here).

In addition to this expanded set of network automation sessions, there were also a few really interesting sessions focused on cloud networking and the challenges network engineers will encounter as they expand their skills into this unique domain. All these great sessions led up to some enlightening conversations I had with attendees around network automation and where teams are at on their automation journey.

Looking back at the event, I feel even more confident that this year is a turning point for network automation, a cultural shift where automation is making big moves across the industry. More and more network engineers are putting aside old ways of managing networks and actively looking for new methods to utilize automation across the network infrastructure. For most, it starts with looking at open source, technical tooling, like Ansible or Python, to build scripts that accomplish simple day-to-day tasks. These tasks may initially focus on traditional, CLI-based network devices, but the network also includes more modern network services and solutions that can be controlled and managed using APIs.

As a team’s automation journey continues, automation using both CLI and API techniques becomes achievable so more of the network can be automated, saving time and reducing error. As engineers become more skilled at using APIs for network automation, other API-enabled systems and cloud services can be integrated into the automations they’ve created to manage the network. Integrating IPAMs and other Sources of Truth, ITSM and ticketing systems, and even cloud network services from AWS or Azure becomes the logical next step in the journey and fuels a true shift from narrow-scope task-based automation into an end-to-end automation of full processes. This makes automations more efficient by eliminating the swivel-chair process of manually accessing and copy-and-pasting between different web GUIs, consoles, and dashboards for these different systems and services. At NANOG 87, there were sessions that hit upon all these steps in the automation journey and the discussions validated the thought that many more practitioners are focused on bringing more automation to their teams this year.

Find out where you are your automation journey

Stepping Foward with Itential

If you’ve been following Itential, you’ll know that we’ve been enabling network teams to adopt network automation at any stage of their journey for many years. If you’re are at the beginning of your journey, we help network engineers quickly build useful automations using a low-code canvas with a library of freely available Pre-Built Automations and Integrations to both network and IT systems. For teams that already have a stable of script-based automations they use day to day, Itential provides the ability to securely host those assets for the network team to utilize, build APIs for their external use, and integrate them into the cloud-native platform so they can be used and quickly integrated with other IT systems, like NetBox, ServiceNow, or Slack. This supercharges the process of moving from task-based automation to end-to-end process automation, because utilizing integrations in a workflow through Itential is a drag-and-drop process and managing those integrations over time is simplified. The result is that developers can skip the integration tax that occurs as IT systems and their associated APIs change.

It was so good to be back at a NANOG event and interact with my fellow network enthusiasts, and it was even better to see such advanced and varied discussion around some network automation topics I’m passionate about. There’s a lot on the horizon in networking and this kind of knowledge sharing is key so we can evolve as a community.

If you want to see how easy it is to use Itential, check out our interactive tour here. Or if you want to learn more about how Itential can you get you where you want to be on your journey, schedule some time to talk with our experts here.

eBook: Scaling Network Automation from Ticket Creation to Ticket Closure
Rich Martin

Director of Technical Marketing ‐ Itential

Rich Martin is the Director of Technical Marketing at Itential. Previously, Rich has worked at several networking vendors as a both a Pre-Sales Systems Engineer and Systems Engineering Manager but started his career with a background in software development and Linux. He has a passion for automation in the networking domain, and at Itential he helps networking teams to get started quickly and move forward successfully on their network automation journey.

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