Back in the day, network management was a resource-hungry tedious process. Network topology and equipment configuration was manual, usually through a command-line interface. Today, with ever-more complex networks supporting more types of traffic, there isn’t the luxury of time for box-by-box network configuration and management.
The current move to Software-Defined Networks (“SDN”), with the ultimate objective of deploying Intent-Based Networks (“IBN”) that are self-configuring, self-managing and self-healing is underway, but we aren’t quite there yet.
To be able to be quickly responsive to network issues requires network management tools. We have moved from CLI to graphic management tools, from bits of paper to policy and configuration tools. The next step is just around the corner.
Business today is demanding more bangs for its buck, and the IT budget is typically under pressure. One area of potential focus is network management operational costs. But, because the corporate network is now a vital part of the company operating environment, the network must be available 24/7/365. That is where Network Automation tools can assist in managing operational costs and ensuring network quality of service.
A decision on appropriate tools is a complex process, depending on what is already in play, and to a greater extent on the longer-term ICT and corporate strategies.
Here are five things to think about when looking at acquiring network automation tools.
There are pros and cons for going for either a single vendor or multiple vendor environment. In a single vendor environment, interfaces between different components are more likely to work and stay working as you upgrade individual items of hardware and software. Major suppliers, including Cisco and HP, have their own automation platforms.
On the other hand, a single vendor might not meet all your business needs or not supply the best-of-breed component you need.
If for example, your network supports data, a unified communications environment and access control, it is unlikely that a single supplier will meet all your hardware and software needs. However, all components must integrate so that the benefits of a single authoritative network management platform is available supporting each element of the composite solution.
Another consideration is futures, yours and that of the vendor(s).
The decision for a single or multiple vendor environment is a critical first decision to make.
You need to have the comfort that the vendor(s) will meet your future needs and that their hardware and software will continue to support industry-standard interfaces. Equipment and software that is standalone today may need integration into a broader environment down the line.
Proprietary and standard interfaces with non-standard extensions might box you in at a later stage, limiting your choices.
In-House or Out-House
The IT industry is affected by industry trends as much as any other. The current trend is to concentrate on value-added functions. Many organisations are outsourcing non-core functions like network management to third-party managed service providers.
A consideration when looking at network automation tools is to look at your longer-term objectives about SaaS. If you intend to outsource your core network management, then there is probably no need to procure network automation tools.
An alternative to outright purchase is to buy the tools as a SaaS model from a managed service provider to make sure that the tools are always appropriate and up to date.
Security and Compliance
Two critical issues on the radar of all IT Heads are that of network and data security and governance and regulatory compliance.
All large organisations will have comprehensive malware and threat detection procedures in place, which may require staff to continually monitor network traffic for unusual traffic patterns or other activities.
Most large organisations have security and governance policies in place. Some organisations, including those in the pharmaceutical, finance and legal environments, need to demonstrate they have them and to prepare standard compliance reports for internal or external consumption.
An integrated network automation environment can help in those two areas:
Many anti-malware and defensive network security tasks are labour intensive. If network automation tools can take over routine network monitoring and alert staff to unusual activity, they can work on more productive tasks.
Governance and Compliance
Network automation tools in which network security protocols are in-built, and which can produce authoritative compliance reports without additional resources ease the burden on the IT function.
All IT departments are under financial pressure. They need to be able to do more with less. They are under continual high-level scrutiny to deliver new features and functions meeting new corporate objectives.
They can manage their staff budget by using network automation tools operated by lower-level staff. The software itself, and the support provided by the supplier must allow them to do this.
Network automation tools can help IT meet its obligations while managing operating costs.