Business continuity planning has always been important to large enterprise organizations. The current global pandemic has put business continuity front and center. There was a substantial and immediate surge in the number of remote workers, and a first order of attention for many enterprise IT leaders was placed on strengthening remote VPN solutions for their remote workforce. Now the most sophisticated enterprises are fast forwarding initiatives that allow them to operate their core business even in the event that their teams are out for a period of time, and they are seizing the opportunity to accelerate automation initiatives that will pay dividends far beyond the pandemic.
While cloud and virtualization initiatives have accelerated at a blistering pace, corporate networks have been much slower to evolve because they are highly variable and complex. Despite the desire of IT leaders to achieve the benefits of network automation, most of the Global 2000s are still managing their enterprise networks with error-prone manual processes. According to industry experts, a 95% of network changes are performed manually, 70% of network policy violations are due to human error and 75% of operating expenses globally are spent on troubleshooting.
Starting Your Network Automation Journey
Scripting is a common way to begin the journey from manual network configuration to automation. While scripting may advance the needle somewhat, it has serious limitations, especially with multi-platform, multi-vendor networks that have been built over years or even decades. Keeping up with the complexity of brownfield (existing) networks would require an unrealistic amount of scripted code to automate reliably.
Another limitation is the inability of scripting to deliver network configurations as anything but unintelligent blocks of text that are blindly pushed out to the network. This results in a high probability of error with limited to no visibility of the results or, more importantly, what may have gone wrong. Enterprises may also “paint” over their network with layers of scripts that do not reliably deliver commands, creating deviation from the gold standard. As a result, it is not uncommon to find tens of thousands more security violations than previously thought, even in Global 2000 production networks.
Intent-Based Networking (IBN) is a more modern approach than scripting since it is designed to be more tailored to each organization’s actual business needs or intent. It takes end-user policy as input and converts it to the configuration needed for each device. However, most IBN approaches are built for greenfield (new) networks and require IT to either redeploy their network entirely or purchase all new hardware to enable automation. These options are often non-starters in organizations today that need to run lean and smart.
What is needed is a more intelligent IBN platform that can work with the network you have to ingest current state including all of its complexity. Because such a platform would derive or “reverse engineer” intent from a network that is already deployed, leading analysts now refer to this concept as “Intent-Engineering”. A critical requirement for a more intelligent IBN platform is that It must be able to declaratively perform pre-checks, intelligent delivery of commands and post-checks required to accomplish a network change or task reliably at scale. Once you are able to ingest your current network and perform declarative automation, you can then start to standardize policy and “clean” your network in a rapid and reliable fashion. Then it becomes much easier to extend that layer and not only automate what you have, but also automate any future architecture or new vendor.
Intelligent network automation should be the cornerstone of any successful network continuity plan. If automation is done correctly, it will lead to substantial benefits for the bottom line of any enterprise. These include outage reduction, hard cost savings for legacy network tool maintenance, network operations efficiency and planning/design/implementation efficiency. Now is the time to accelerate your automation initiative and seize the opportunity to gain resilient business continuity and additional benefits that will pay dividends into the future.