The Plan’s the Thing, Wherein You’ll Automate Your Networking
Oct 20, 2016
Last time, we guided you through making the business case for network automation and provided thoughts on how to pinpoint the business processes that would benefit most. Keeping with our principle that “Your network should not get in the way of what your business wants to do,” this time, we’ll show you how to map the targeted business processes to the network and then show you how to develop a plan to begin the process of automating your network and winning the approval of management.
Once you’ve identified which services employees can access and what permissions are appropriate to their job functions, you will be able to know what you need to automate and how to map it against your IT operations and network infrastructure.
These questions will help you get to the bottom of what you need to know to do the process-mapping step.
How complex is each change each time you make it?
How often are you making the change?
What is the risk of downtime?
How many times do you need to bring multiple devices online?
If you are supporting users and devices at branch locations, do you have expertise at the local sites?
What are your company’s bring-your-own device policies?
If you are provisioning mobile devices, how will you provide seamless connectivity from wherever the user is located?
Keep Your Plan Simple
At this stage of the process, you’ve identified your business processes and mapped them to your infrastructure. Now, you need a plan and a starting point.
Overall, when building the plan for network automation, there are three important factors you need to consider.
Provisioning and deployment: You want flat and simple networks with switches that can recognize each new networking device as it is added, automating the set-up, configuration and provisioning processes.
Management and operations: Once the network is running it needs to be constantly managed. This is typically the most time-consuming activity for administrators. Adjustments should be programmed to occur automatically, using analytics to deliver current, consistent and accurate information.
Orchestration: The network has to be managed in orchestration with other elements of the data center. When a server or storage configuration is changed, the corresponding network changes should take place simply and automatically.
Find the Starting Point
Where to begin is often one of the more challenging decisions you’ll have to make. One possibility is to start simply with tasks that require auditing and reporting. You can use automation to upgrade activities such as maintaining inventory or assigning network ports. You can satisfy regulatory requirements by using automation to access network devices and collect compliance-related information.
Another potential starting point is to create virtualized sandboxes to set up automated processes that will not impact uptime. Once you are successful with any of these endeavors, you can start rolling out automation tools to other processes that can benefit. This will allow you build trust and credibility with corporate management so they are willing to invest in further automation initiatives.
Remember the Human Element
If something is going to go wrong, you can pretty much count on the human factor. So it’s important that you don’t ignore the human element. That’s often the first step in initiatives that fail to deliver on their promised benefits. In the case of network automation, it is vitally important to clearly communicate the benefits to your network administrators. They may be fearful that automation will put them out of work when, in reality, automation will make their jobs more interesting and their futures far more secure.
Your firm’s executives are another important constituency. You want to show them your plan and make a strong business case for the value of automation. End-users are a final consideration. To them, you want to emphasize the opportunity to be more productive and have faster, more accurate and more reliable access to the applications and information they need to do their jobs successfully.
Next time, we’ll look at some of the tools that can help make automating your network easier. In the mean time, if you would like more information on getting automated, Juniper has a couple of papers to help you get started. One is a high-level, six-step guide to network automation, while the other goes into more detail on how to make the transition.