A Buyer’s Guide to Network Automation Solutions

Advancements in digital transformation are changing the way networks are managed. Enterprises are looking to automation and investing significant time and resources into agile delivery objectives. There are dozens of different automation categories and solutions on the market today, so finding the best tool that fits your organization can be difficult. And, because choosing the most effective solution is no easy task, infrastructure and operations leaders cannot afford any make mistakes as they could cost them valuable time and money. In this guide, we will explain why network automation matters, identify key capabilities to look for, and provide guidance on how to choose the right tool for your organization.

Who is this Guide for?

  • Infrastructure & Operations (I&O) leaders, Network Engineers, Network Operations, and Application Owners.
  • Anyone interested in the rapid and efficient delivery of applications through automation.

Introduction

Given the momentum of this digital age, network teams are under immense pressure to provide rapid and efficient service delivery. They must rethink their existing network management approaches and collaborate with different teams to achieve the agility that their business demands.

Network automation tools are becoming more and more essential as technology advances and traditional manual network management methods lag behind. When network teams introduce automation, it not only speeds up their processes – it also significantly reduces the number of manual errors that inevitably occur. By leveraging automation, these teams can focus on bigger, more critical business needs rather than getting bogged down by mundane change requests.

As stated in Gartner’s Market Guide for Network Automation1, “By 2021, productized network automation tools will be used by 45% of organizations, which is an increase from fewer than 10% today.”

Gartner defines the network automation market as “tools that automate the visibility, troubleshooting, reporting and maintenance of virtual and physical network device configurations, supporting opportunities to lower costs, reduce human error and improve compliance with configuration policies.”

To build an effective automation foundation, organizations must choose the right technologies and planning methodologies, and collaborate with the people who best understand their organization’s needs. They need to select a solution that helps them move faster, enforce compliance, eliminate errors and reduce costs. The purpose of this guide is to educate buyers about the functions of network automation and how to choose the best solution for your individual organization and its needs.

1 Gartner Report, Market Guide for Network Automation, 26 March 2018

Primary Drivers for Automating the Network

IT has evolved from a business function to a business enabler. In this digital age, businesses demand agility in deploying new application services and troubleshooting network problems, and most organizations crack under the pressure. A strong network automation foundation helps you deliver an application at the speed of digitalization and reduces operations costs by addressing an increased number of requests.

However, network automation doesn’t only address growing business needs. It also supports the adoption of brand-new technologies and policy-driven change management, all while maintaining heterogeneous network infrastructures.

The primary drivers for automating the network are to:

Improve agility and address dynamic change requests

Managing the network infrastructure that serves production can be a daunting task. There is no time for I&O to sit back and relax and attempt to manage these multiple applications at once. There are constant device upgrades and changes to address, as well as new applications to deploy and secure. Application teams are demanding faster delivery times, but it can take several days to implement the configurations needed to deploy a new application in a greenfield environment or modify an existing one in a brownfield environment. Network teams receive thousands of change requests every week, resulting in a pile of unfulfilled change requests, ultimately delaying time to market.

Network automation is key to overcoming these network bottlenecks. By automating network deployments, organizations can stay ahead of the curve, achieving configuration and operational agility.

Simplify and standardize the network

Defining standard network service configurations to respond to repetitive tasks and requests helps to simplify the existing process. In most cases, standardizing service offerings can address more than half of change requests, significantly reducing implementation times. New requests can either be played top of the existing configuration, or the existing configurations can be modified to meet the new automation requirements.

Network automation solutions simplify the deployment process and optimize overall delivery times. Standardization not only speeds delivery, but also encourages code reusability.

Eliminate manual errors

Network configuration changes in brownfield and greenfield deployments involve manual processes and multiple teams, and are therefore extremely error-prone. The most common cause of network outages is unquestionably human error, which ultimately can have negative impacts on the business in the form of reputational damage and revenue loss. Many organizations have experienced downtime from core errors that can cost thousands of dollars or more per incident. To protect against these outages, network teams must adhere to corporate and federal compliance requirements, auditing standards and regulations.

By automating the service requests, organizations can cut back on errors and operational expenses, allowing to deliver applications dramatically faster.

Reduce service costs

Organizations are under pressure to build cost-effective network infrastructure, so they’re always looking for ways to reduce IT spending as a result. According to a Gartner report2, “thirteen percent of an enterprise’s IT capital and operating budget goes toward network services.”

One of major objectives of network automation is cost optimization. Automation speeds delivery, eliminates manual and cumbersome processes and helps to reduce operations costs. With the right automation tools in place, IT teams can do more with less.

Centrally manage and monitor the network

Growing levels of heterogeneity are emphasizing the need for a single console to request network services. With an effective network automation tool, organizations can maintain and support an entire ecosystem of technology alliances without risking lost time and human error.

Using the right tool, enterprises can automate the management of end-to-end services provided by application delivery controllers, security devices, certificate authorities, DNS servers, routers/switches and more, all from a single window. An effective tool can enable self-servicing for different teams, making the services they need easily accessible, all on their own. They can centrally manage and monitor the network and ensure the critical applications are always available and secure.

2 Gartner Report, How to Optimize Your Network Spending and Save 20% to 50%, 25 January 2018

The Checklist: Key Capabilities for Success

Procuring an automation solution is a daunting task. Network automation tools can be extremely advantageous, but only if implemented successfully. While many of the automation tools currently on the market are designed to do the same thing, they can vary substantially in their approaches. This means that choosing the right one for your environment requires careful evaluation of available systems and resources. The next section of this buyer’s guide offers a checklist of important factors to consider when comparing solutions. Opting for a solution that meets these criteria will help you receive the best possible return on your investment.

1) Auto Discovery of Network Configurations

The value of a network automation tool is directly tied to the ability to discover and understand the topological mapping of all your network devices. Before moving forward with an automation solution, you must examine the breadth, depth and simplicity of configuration data discovery. The tool should also provide visibility into the live state and status of network infrastructure, and update an initial discovery based on unknown and known changes to the network environment. This allows users to not only discover the network environment, but also to easily identify and track all the changes made over a course of time.

2) Automated Provisioning of Network Services

Enterprises add new network services to ensure application security and availability. As new network devices are added, the network automation tool needs to support a systematic approach to bringing these devices to the forefront in a much simpler, automated way. Maintaining these devices according to organizational standards and the recommended patch levels is also critical. However, automated provisioning of network services will limit the opportunity for human error by introducing a standardized process and procedure for change policy.

3) Auditing and Compliance Enforcement

The increasing requirements for auditing and compliance initiatives demand network teams that adopt a more disciplined approach. Policy enforcement ensures that organizations remain in compliance, and perform their checks in a consistent and controlled manner. Network automation tools must assist in the adherence to these standards. They should also keep track of any changes made on the network devices, and in the event of any failures, they should have the ability to roll back to the last working configuration, ensuring minimum downtime.

4) Role-based Authentication and Authorization

The network automation tool should provide role-based access control. This means restricting access to all or part of the network infrastructure based on a user’s specific group or role – a process that can be simplified when centralized through the solution you choose. The tool should leverage and integrate with the different existing systems that drive business processes. This includes integrating with IT service management applications that address change, release, configuration, incident, problem and asset management. It also means providing out-of-the-box integration with DDI systems to address IP management.

5) Alerting and Reporting

The network automation tool should have the ability to send alerts in the case of outages or other issues. It should track configuration changes and provide real-time notifications via emails or SNMP traps. This enables organizations to ensure the delivery of critical change data to the right team. The network automation tool must also have the ability to present network information through a dashboard and via email. It should have the ability to display the managed and monitored network through interactive topological mapping, giving the user complete visibility into the network infrastructure.

6) Scalability

The scope and scale of application delivery infrastructure is likely to expanding just as your enterprise does, requiring the addition of new devices and the implementation of new services. Therefore, the right network automation solution should scale with you, allowing you the capacity to grow into an organization with hundreds to thousands of network devices that span different data centers.

The AppViewX Solution

The AppViewX platform helps Enterprise IT manage, automate and orchestrate ap-plication delivery and network security services. Application, network, and security engineers may self-service and initiate automation workflows that deliver compli-ance and true business agility.

The platform is a modular, low-code software application that enables the automa-tion and orchestration of network infrastructure using an intuitive, context-aware, visual workflow. It is closed-loop and state-aware, capable of verifying that intent has been achieved and providing actionable insights and automated remediation.

Conclusion

With the advent of digital transformation, network teams are finally realizing that traditional approaches to application infrastructure management and deployment are time-consuming, inefficient and error-prone. Enterprises that fail to take the next step in automation are beginning to feel the detrimental effects that will inevitably impact the continuity of their business.

The right network automation tools enable organizations to take the leap required to maintain total control of their increasingly digital enterprises. With the right network automation solutions in place, enterprises can make the best use of their network infrastructure, improving efficiency, enhancing productivity, saving time, money and resources and minimizing the human errors that end in network downtime.

It is becoming increasingly clear that a network automation is critical to an enterprise’s success, and their ability to choose the right tool will ultimately determine their future in the organization. Make sure you are using the right tool to help you to achieve agility and provide value to your business. Try AppViewX today.

Control Your Certificates Before They Go Rogue!

30 Minute live demo.

READ MORE →