A large portion of enterprise revenue is directly affected by the availability and security of IT infrastructure. This puts IT organizations under extreme pressure to ensure business continuity, accommodate growth, and help increase business value. But they struggle to solve one significant challenge: keeping operations running during economic recessions, natural disasters, or international conflicts, when physical access to sites is limited or outright prohibited. This challenge is exacerbated by an increase in distributed infrastructure, especially edge computing, which Gartner predicts will process 75% of enterprise generated data. Going along with this, Gartner states that the answer lies in complete network automation, also known as hyperautomation. However, network automation comes with a fear-inducing stigma.
Speak with any enterprise IT team and it’s easy to understand why they’re afraid to automate. One mistake, configuration error, or wrong command can bring down the whole production network, or worse, “cut its own legs off” so to speak. This means severing all avenues capable of recovering the network, leaving IT teams to completely rebuild from scratch and becomes a “resume generating event” as one of our working group members calls it.
But there is good news. Over the last decade, hyperscalers and tech giants have implemented and nearly perfected hyperautomation, not only in data centers but across a wide range of edge and branch locations. Having worked directly with these companies, we can now share our solid understanding of the building blocks, components, and automation infrastructure required of at the very least network hyperautomation. This checklist will help any size enterprise begin their network automation journey starting with the right building blocks and best practices.
In a previous post we introduced the building blocks for hyperautomation. These building blocks are summarized below. In this post we’ll draw attention to the elements specific to the automation infrastructure and provide examples of best practices to follow.
|This building block consists of the infrastructure that enables more efficient management of automation, such as machine learning and artificial intelligence to take automated actions.
|Orchestration & Automation
|This building block consists of the Orchestration and Automation infrastructure that enables management of the target infrastructure. To enable hyperconverged automation, this layer must support IT infrastructure like servers, routers, firewalls, and OT (Operational Technology) infrastructure, which includes a wide range of industrial systems, building management systems, power, sensors, and IoT.
|This building block provides the integration and connectivity from the Orchestration and Automation layer to the IT/OT Production layer. This consists of the hardware, which provides an automation control plane network with secure and resilient connections such as 4G/5G out-of-band devices, VPN, IP-based access, and Serial Console connections; and software that enables the automation to occur, which includes file servers, jump boxes, source of truth, and Version Control systems.
|IT / OT Production Infrastructure
|This building block consists of the existing enterprise production infrastructure and operation infrastructure that needs to get automated, such as servers, routers, switches, applications, as well as cloud infrastructure and building management systems, Industrial solutions and IoT
The automation infrastructure is a key foundational element for best practices for hyperautomation and plays a crucial role in eliminating the anxiety IT teams face. Automation anxiety often originates from these facts and scenarios:
To solve these problems, here’s how the building blocks are arranged and how the automation infrastructure breaks down into its essential elements (see graphic)
The automation infrastructure layer provides resilient connectivity and a robust automation environment, with special elements that include security and a vendor- and device-neutral recovery option. This layer combines hardware and software that form the core of the network automation blueprint, which are broken down into these smaller building blocks:
These sub-building blocks should follow a best practice network automation blueprint. To give an example, let’s draw attention to the out-of-band management building block and also the out-of-band connectivity building block.
The key role of these two blocks is to provide a completely separate network and path for automation that is not impacted by automation. Because automation relies on software algorithms, there are bugs and errors that can be introduced that can take down the network. Even with heavy lab testing and mechanisms like ‘digital twin modeling,’ it’s simple to overlook a bug or full log disk capable of locking up a switch. Such little room for error means there’s anxiety abound, and to remove this anxiety, teams must have automation infrastructure that’s truly separate from production infrastructure. Here are two best practices and their advantages:
As you can imagine, automation requires access to all critical components of your network infrastructure. Security must therefore be a top consideration and baked into every building block. For example, the serial console element used in automation infrastructure needs to be secure at the HW layer (encrypted disks), OS layer (secure boot), and software and management layers (two-factor authentication and separation of duties). This prevents attackers from gaining access and moving laterally across your infrastructure.
Follow this checklist to ensure your automation infrastructure implementation includes all the necessary sub-building blocks:
Visibility, Observability & Analytics
Source of truth
Resilient & Secure OOB connectivity
Please click on these resources for additional information:
3 – The network automation blueprint – Download Link