How to Conquer the 3 Common Roadblocks and Objections to Network Automation
Many organizations have implemented some form of automation within their IT operations. However, the notion of a fully automated network is still a pipe dream for most enterprises, resulting from a laundry list of roadblocks and objections. Even with network automation offering a compelling vision of agility and speed, most enterprises are slow to adopt due to the perceived cost, complexity and lack of skilled resources needed to make the transformation to a modern network.
So what are the 3 common roadblocks and objections? How do you conquer them? I’m glad you asked.
Cost has always been a major roadblock to network automation mainly due to the lack of available tools capable of automating complex network activities. This has led to organizations attempting to build a solution themselves or leveraging expensive vendor-specific point solutions, that are unable to address multiple functions or scale across diverse assets. Both approaches inevitably lead to an increase in people and skills needed to keep pace with the volume of work required to implement and maintain these complex solutions.
The reality is that with the open source options available in the market today, the cost of network automation has come down significantly. Adding to this are new low-code software solutions that make it much simpler and faster to create and deploy network automation intelligence models across diverse assets and domains. These solutions have a much lower price point than traditional vendor solutions, and enable enterprises to realize higher ROI faster.
Some examples of the advances in the open source space include the improvements Red Hat has made in their support of network configuration with Ansible and the move of AT&T’s ECOMP over to the Linux Foundation to form the ONAP project. Itential’s focus on providing a low-code platform with inherent network intelligence and pre-built integration with the leading open source projects is a good example of how leveraging vendor participation can take automation to the next level at an affordable price tag.
Most operators will say that it’s nice that they can get started with automation at a lower cost, but where do they find the time or the people with the right skillset to execute the strategy?
Lack of automation has resulted in many highly educated and skilled engineers doing work that brings little value, compared to what they are capable of accomplishing. I have often told customers that you want to automate the mundane, repetitive things that engineers do, so they can actually function as an engineer. Engineers should be working on plans to optimize the network, innovating on how the network is deployed and used, and working on lab trials to design how the modern network will be defined in the future. Engineers should not be using their highly valuable skills to read from a document or ticketing system and just typing in the commands as instructed. Repetitive tasks and functions can easily be accomplished by some pretty simple automations using a tool like Ansible.
It is easy to bring in a vendor that specializes in a certain area to do the work for you as well, and many vendors have made a living off of operators that hire them to automate portions of the network. Those vendors usually do nothing more than throw bodies at the problem, write some scripts that they conveniently need to stay engaged to maintain, and ride the cash cow they have created. The Itential approach is very different.
We provide an environment that allows people with development backgrounds to leverage their abilities to create network automations even without deep networking knowledge. Our low-code solution has built-in network intelligence that allows network engineers, who have little to no development experience, to leverage their deep understanding of the network itself to create quite sophisticated automations quickly. Conquering the skillset roadblock by narrowing the skills gap is central to our value.
It’s no surprise that we are seeing the introduction of new technologies all the time. Between NFV, SDN, SD-WAN, and the various flavors of cloud that come into play, the networks of most operators are indeed becoming very complicated. This complexity drives the need for more people resources and makes any effort in the network very expensive. The added technologies widen the skills gap that already exists, and there is rarely time to do much else than try to keep your head above water.
Itential’s approach to conquering complexity is to provide an abstraction of that complexity from the users of the solution. This abstraction uses the built-in network intelligence we have gained from working with operators of the world’s largest, most complex networks. We understand areas are vital to maintaining a view of the network’s complexity, and those areas that are not. We have found that there are certain complexities that must be handled, but there is no reason for a user of our solution to be exposed to that information or activity. This simplifies the automation experience, while still providing visibility of all required data, in a way that repetitive activities can be assigned to less skilled resources.
These three barriers are not reasons to avoid automation. These are reasons to adopt an “automation-first” mentality that moves network automation to the top of your priority list. By automating your network, you will benefit from faster deployment times, and protect your network investments; better align your resources onto high value activities and lower your cost of maintaining and managing your network; and you will simplify the workflows, not create an overly complex environment. It’s really a no brainer!