Taking a step-by-step approach is key to starting your Network Operations (NetOps) automation journey. With a strong automation system in place, organizations can enable agile IT solutions while reducing errors and lowering costs.
Digital business demands agility: agility in deploying new application services and agility in troubleshooting network problems. Today, organizations largely fail due to lack of agility. A strong NetOps automation foundation helps you deliver an application that is agile in its configuration and reduce data center costs by accommodating an increased number of requests from business teams.
The concept of automation may seem fairly straightforward – you take manual tasks and workflows and allow them to be executed by tools or scripts to eliminate delays, paving the way for a more agile delivery. However, to many, automation is still somewhat elusive given the lack of policy, the individual-centric methods and the tendency to emphasize technology over process.
The initial stages of the automation process can be overwhelming. Where should you begin? What should you automate first, second and so on? To make the process a little less intimidating, this eGuide provides a step by step approach towards automation.
Why Automation Matters and Where to Start
As organizations become more focused and dependent on digital solutions, automation plays an increasingly important role in meeting business needs. Automation is not simply about executing tasks more quickly and efficiently. It is an ongoing process for powering NetOps success. 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.
Most organizations know that adopting some form of automation is vital to achieving true IT agility. However, many struggle to understand where to begin on a successful automation journey and turn to ad hoc automation implementations that expose them to risk and often result in overhead expenses. Whether the organization chooses to adopt automation for brownfield or greenfield environments, two things must be noted here:
1. The focus should always be your business and its applications, not checking boxes or following protocols. Start thinking of provisioning apps, not infrastructure. 
2. Taking the right approach that works best for your organization maximizes the benefits of automation, increasing the level of IT agility and reducing costs.
Evolution towards NetOps Automation
Not all automation solutions are the same. There are many partial solutions that can automate a limited set of tasks. In using these types of solutions, the user must enable proper integration techniques to avoid the overlap of multiple automation solutions, whether they be third party tools or in-house scripting.
To see the real benefits of automation and pave the way for the future (think Cloud), you must use a comprehensive automation approach that allows you to integrate new solutions into existing infrastructure.
If you do it right, getting started can be simple.
- Identify workloads
- Segment the infrastructure
- Simplify and standardize
- Enable self-servicing for the network
- Iterate automation adoption
- Orchestrate the service infrastructure
First, identify workloads and make a list of all the change requests and workflows that are currently being done manually. Second, determine the most common time-consuming or error-prone activities.
If your network team is consistently buried under daily requests for routine changes, analyze the requests that are requiring the most time and resources. Then, move to eliminate obsolete requests or requests that could be incorporated into other tasks and workflows.
Prioritize the requests by taking a business-driven approach. For example, the simplest tasks could be highest on the list based on the amount of time and resources they take up on a daily basis.
This will provide a framework for implementing the automation process – what must be automated and just as importantly, what shouldn’t be.
Segment the Infrastructure
Automation solutions are as diverse as the systems and software in your organization’s data center. When the network team enables an application environment, it involves multiple manual tasks and multiple vendors, introducing multiple opportunities for error. When IT deploys a new application, the network team receives change tickets at multiple layers:
- Routing and switching
- Firewalls, IPS, and other network security services
- Application delivery controllers (ADCs) and load balancers
- Core network services (IPAM, DHCP, DNS)
Once you’ve identified a to-do list of change requests, the next step is to segment based on infrastructure and network service to better understand how they interact with each other.
This will help you to identify various dependencies to then address cultural differences and bring in cross-team collaboration.
Simplify and Standardize
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 thereby, significantly reducing implementation times. New requests can be either be played on top of the existing configuration, or the existing configurations can be modified to meet the new automation requirements.
By creating standard deployment models, a single build can be successfully replicated. Once this standardization process is completed, the user can sequence and align individual service requests for a multi-threaded service delivery.
Transitioning to a standardized change management model,
- Simplifies the deployment process and optimizes overall delivery time.
- Reduces the time to market for new and existing workloads.
- Eliminates manual configuration errors and reduces the risk of network outages due to improper configurations or changes.
Enable Self-Servicing for the Network
Self-servicing capabilities are key to enabling automation. Cultural resistance towards automation within the organization appears to be the primary factor preventing automation adoption. Without the right self-servicing solutions in place, automation can create extra work and costs for network teams.
Segmenting and standardizing network infrastructure to process requests can introduce dependencies across various teams. Based on the priority of tasks that need automation, administrators can delegate accordingly across multiple teams using approved standardized offerings, promoting collaboration between domain groups.
Deploying self-servicing capabilities in the network paves the way for improved operational efficiency and ensures compliance with organization policies. This marks the start of a full-fledged automation solution.
Iterate Automation Adoption
Once you’ve identified the services that must be automated and the team that will automate them, the next step is to get to work on a few of the smaller items from your priority list. This will allow your team to become familiar with the automation process and will provide insight into what other areas could benefit from automation.
Once you successfully automate simple tasks, you can then move on to the more complex tasks and workflows. As with implementing any new solutions, the automation process will take time to perfect before becoming a basic part of your organization’s operations.
Taking a more incremental and systematic approach paves the way for a successful implementation at every level. Soon, slow manual processes will be quickly replaced by fast workflows, resulting in more agile IT.
Orchestrate the Service Infrastructure
“We need to go beyond automating network tasks via SDN into the realm of orchestration and DevOps to eliminate inefficiency.” 
Automation paves way for agility. To deliver applications at the speed of digitalization, automation of the deployment process – or orchestration – is required. The road to enabling the most efficient application delivery requires companies to take the next step in orchestrating their network service infrastructure.
Creating a truly agile data center requires that different elements be managed cohesively across these subject-matter teams.
The best course of action is to invest in advanced automation and orchestration solutions that efficiently deliver applications across a heterogeneous environment.
Organizations want IT to provision applications and not infrastructure. Choose tools that allow you to migrate, manage, and automate application deployments on-premises and in the cloud. The benefits of automation are compelling, and by taking a careful step-by- step approach, it is easy to apply these solutions to your network, ultimately promoting a more agile data center.