Network automation tools save IT teams time and effort by automating manual device configuration tasks. They also allow IT to make more agile changes and reduce costs by reducing floor space, cycling underutilized devices, and staffing.
These tools are available as proprietary, purpose-built, or software-defined platform products. The right choice depends on your organization’s precise needs and goals.
Automation of Network Configuration
Network automation tools offer a variety of configuration management functions. Most notably, they enable admins to automate the creation of configuration files and push those changes to network devices. It reduces the need for admins to launch Secure Socket Shell (SSH) sessions into every router, switch, and firewall and manually change text-based configurations, saving time and reducing errors.
The best network automation tools also offer templates that enable admins to create standardized configurations across all network devices, reducing the risk of error. They typically include version control systems to record and roll back configuration changes. Additionally, they provide methods for analyzing and testing configuration scripts and templates to ensure they function as intended and do not have unintended consequences.
Some open-source network automation frameworks provide a combination of configuration management and workflow automation features. However, these solutions originated from the server domain and may need to scale better in distributed infrastructure environments. Others have emerged as more network-specific network automation tools that support configuration, task, and policy management.
Automation of Network Operations
Network automation tools streamline routine operations by enabling administrators to create scripts and templates that automate network tasks. These tools can also help administrators create, deploy, and roll back configuration changes on network devices. These tools can configure network switches, routers, servers, access points, load balancers, and other networking equipment.
Many open-source programming languages are popular with network administrators for their usability and versatility. Other commercial tools, such as those offered by most network infrastructure vendors, offer automation capabilities through a specialized API for their hardware and software. Some network equipment manufacturers have started to provide open API access for their hardware and software, making it possible for third-party network automation tools to be used in multivendor environments.
When network teams first start to use network automation, they should concentrate on more straightforward, low-risk projects that don’t require any changes to a device’s existing configuration. By doing this, they can test the tool’s functionality before deploying it into production. Then, if the project doesn’t work, it can be easily fixed.
Automation of Network Security
A comprehensive network automation toolset can help administrators manage their networks more efficiently while cutting costs and boosting agility. It also helps reduce human error and ensures compliance with regulations and security laws.
By automating network monitoring and management, administrators can keep track of network device performance and detect any anomalies that may indicate potential threats or security holes. It allows them to quickly change the network, avoiding delays or disruptions in business operations.
Additionally, network automation technology can automate routine tasks, such as patching and updating software across multiple devices, which can take weeks or months to complete manually. It enables IT teams to deploy necessary changes faster and more frequently, helping them improve service levels for critical applications.
Network configuration automation can also ensure consistency and accuracy in device configurations by automatically backing up and restoring critical data. It can also scan for vulnerability threats and check the status of all device firmware, ensuring they’re up to date. It can even notify admins of any new devices added to the network or any changes made to existing ones.
Automation of Network Monitoring
Network automation tools reduce human intervention on networks, leading to fewer errors and improved efficiency. For example, an automated network can automatically restart services after an unexpected usage surge rather than require the IT team to restart them manually.
Additionally, network administrators can use network automation tools to store critical device details in a centralized location. That makes creating standardized device configurations easier and leveraging automation workflows to update multiple devices simultaneously. It also helps IT teams conduct more detailed and accurate network analysis, including resource utilization, security, and performance.
Another benefit of network automation is the ability to perform routine maintenance tasks more accurately, such as deploying patches and updates. In addition, these tools can help improve the mean time to resolve (MTTR) of issues, a critical business metric. Lastly, many network automation tools can support multivendor equipment and provide API access to network hardware. It enables them to be integrated with software-defined networking technologies.
Automation of Network Analytics
Organizations can automate network analytics tasks using network automation tools to help them plan, develop, operate, and optimize their networks. It helps reduce operating expenses and human error while delivering better value for the business.
The automation of network analytics can include a wide range of activities, from device discovery to performance monitoring, vulnerability assessments, and standardized configuration management. Other capabilities include change tracking, version control, backup and restore, and more.
To leverage these automated capabilities, a solid data foundation is critical. A high-performance platform that collects and processes data at the source can solve the traditional barriers to packet-level visibility, enabling new analytics solutions like intent-based networking.
Before implementing network automation, starting small with well-defined goals and involving IT teams throughout the process is essential. It helps ensure a smooth transition and provides valuable feedback for future optimizations. It also enables teams to test and validate workflows before implementing them across the network infrastructure. The resulting closed-loop automation can provide more efficiency, reduce downtime, and lower operational expenses while reducing risk and ensuring security.