The Rise of Network Automation
Part of navigating the world of New IT is understanding and capitalizing on New Network. Today, intent-based networking capabilities are helping companies keep pace with the demands of digital and cloud transformation. But effectively using those capabilities which seek to closely and continuously align the enterprise network with business needs requires a new mindset and approach to the network focused on automation.
Companies should be moving quickly to automate critical network activities because the value proposition is strong. Costs can be reduced significantly, and people can be deployed to work on higher-value activities. Quality improves because less human intervention is required. Speed to value increases dramatically because, with automation, the management and provisioning of millions of devices can happen instantly. Enterprise solutions can be delivered seamlessly as capabilities in a platform.
Today’s highly virtualized, multicloud-enabled networks also require a new security approach to address the high rate of business change and ever-evolving security threats. Automation can provide constantly updated, secure access from device to multiple clouds.
Enabling a multicloud world
Compared to other areas within IT, the network has lagged in adopting effective automation. It has often been the rate-limiting step, taking weeks or months to get changes approved to connect and secure a workload. This has slowed companies in many ways, such as impeding their adoption of public clouds or launching new digital services.
Just because you’ve got a cloud-first strategy and looking to exploit a digital opportunity doesn’t mean you have sufficient business agility to successfully make the move. Your network has to keep up. Automation and service chaining with tools like Ansible (open source software for network automation) and the policy orchestration capabilities of Cisco Network Services Orchestrator mean that workloads and the network and security can all be seamlessly stood up for a new application or for migrating apps between cloud environments.
How Accenture is automating network changes
Seeing the network as a companywide software platform means that the network is no longer a set of physical boxes (that’s dead), but instead a set of virtual software that can be quickly and easily deployed and distributed (long live the network!). The network can also be readily updated, making a company more agile—better able to respond quickly to business needs and opportunities.
One example of how Accenture is working to automate networks is illustrated by our joint efforts with Cisco and Cisco’s Digital Network Architecture (Cisco DNA) built on the principles of intent-based networking. Cisco DNA Center, the network management and command center for this architecture, makes an extensive set of open APIs available for external application development. Accenture has created an application that uses these APIs to make IT Service Management (ITSM) ticket-based software image management requests and resolution an automated process.
Here’s how it works:
- The process starts when Cisco DNA Center detects that a device is non-compliant with its required level of software. Using its event notification mechanism, Cisco DNA Center reports this fact to Accenture’s application which in turn opens a ticket in ServiceNow, a cloud-based ITSM system.
- ServiceNow creates a new change request with all the contextual information on the device. Once the operator reviews and approves the change, and when the designated maintenance window arrives, ServiceNow uses Accenture’s application to instruct Cisco DNA Center to reconfirm the status of the device and to start an upgrade readiness check.
- If the check determines that the device is ready for an upgrade, ServiceNow instructs Cisco DNA Center, through Accenture’s middleware, to begin upgrading the device with the software image marked as golden in Cisco DNA Center.
- After upgrading the device, Cisco DNA Center reports the status to ServiceNow, which marks the change request complete.
Network operators can now decrease their workloads by assigning ITSM ticket response and resolution management tasks to an automated process. Cisco DNA Center becomes the single point for all network management activities and the “source of truth” for the network extending into the IT ecosystem which has never been done before.
Supporting continuous improvement and “dot releases”
When network managers can automatically upgrade everything remotely, they can do it incrementally, without needing a large and lengthy transformation program. This allows the network to evolve, enabling more frequent dot releases of security and performance improvements currently undergoing lab testing.
Many companies today have 25 to 50 percent of their equipment at end of life, and even the equipment that isn’t necessarily ready for retirement often runs configurations and OS code that are years old and full of security holes. Why? Because it’s challenging to physically go to each site and have someone manually update each piece of network equipment with the latest patches and then test that equipment. Automation enables companies to perform updates faster and more seamlessly.
Networks have fundamentally shifted with intent-based networking to become more flexible, intuitive and interoperable—supported through automation and machine learning to become predictive and self-healing. Companies can focus on repeatable changes that have a high success rate historically and apply end-to-end automation to implementation and governance processes.