In this installment of our 2021 Networking Trends blog series, we discuss Trend #4 – Automating operations for faster recovery.

Prioritizing network automation to address disruptions

In our recent 2020 business resilience survey, 50 percent of IT professionals responded that they need to prioritize network automation in order to address disruptions today. However, from my experience, while most organizations have deployed some programmable infrastructure, few have achieved the network automation required to respond quickly and efficiently to major disruptions. In my conversation with customers, I have heard many reasons why automation has not proceeded as fast as it could have. These are some of the myths I recall hearing:

Myth #1:  Automation will take my job.

Network automation will certainly reduce some of the repetitive (and often mundane) tasks like configuring and provisioning network devices.  However, taking away tasks does not equate to taking away jobs.  In fact, our 2020 Global Networking Trends Report reveals many new and elevated roles for both network strategists and practitioners.

New roles for network practitioners and network strategists
Figure 1. New roles for network practitioners and strategists

One of those new roles is the network orchestrator who will focus primarily on the needs of the business and translate those needs into network policy.  This will require mastering how to employ infrastructure automation tools, automation protocols, and data models.  This is just one example of how automation will create new high value roles.

Myth #2:  Automation will increase our risk.

Deploying network automation capabilities like any other new technologies has an inherent amount of risk.  However, I would argue that the bigger risk is not automating, especially when the vast majority of downtime is caused by operator errors. Of course, it’s important that we aren’t just automating bad policies and processes, automating in pockets, working in silos, and propagating human error throughout our infrastructure.

Implemented correctly though, network automation is extremely powerful to enable our networks to self-heal, self-protect, and self-optimize by repairing and optimizing infrastructure from the inside – without interruption or human intervention.

Myth #3: An automated network must be fully automated to reap the benefits.

Network automation doesn’t have to be an ‘all or none’ nor a ‘one and done’ strategy.  Many organizations choose to invest in low-hanging fruit areas first or those that address immediate pandemic-related needs, like onboarding network devices, automating network provisioning, configuration, and software image management when physical access to remote sites is not an option.  For example, using “plug-and-play” functionality, a new network device can be plugged into the network.  The network will recognize and authenticate the device and automatically configure it as you pre-determined.  This not only reduces the number of manual hours spent configuring individual devices as well as eliminating the need for travel to branch sites, but it also removes the chance of human errors from the equation.

In our latest 2021 Global Networking Trends Report: Business Resilience Special Edition we recommend taking a step-by-step approach in your automation journey.  Once you’ve experienced the initial benefits of automation, it’s time to analyze those next opportunities.  In particular, we need to be looking at where automation can help us increase business agility and flexibility in the event of a next disruption.

Figure 2. Network automation

Myth #4: Automation solutions aren’t fully mature, so it’s too early to start investing in it.

Of course automation continues to evolve and benefit from technology advances like AI, natural language processing and service orchestration all the time. But from my perspective, a good question to ask here is whether today’s network automation solutions have reached the levels of maturity needed to add value for you?  Today, network automation can help reduce complexity, accelerate troubleshooting and resolution, reduce errors, increase agility, and improve application performance.  All of these will add value to the business, and even more so during the next crisis.  Read here for more on the measurable business value of an advanced network.

Suppose your business needs to roll out a new Point of Sale application across all of your stores.  You also need to prioritize that application’s traffic over less critical, non-customer facing applications.  With network automation, you can not only prioritize that application, but the network itself will report when either network or application issues occur and guide the network manager to the root cause and suggest the recommended remediation.  This is already available today with intent-based networks and will only continue getting more intelligent at detecting and resolving issues.

Myth #5:  Our network has been doing well so we do not need automation.

As we all know, we are in a period of constant change, and the future is going to look much different than it does today.  Devices, clients, applications, IoT…it is all trending to be more distributed.  So manually managing the complexity today might not be the right strategy for tomorrow’s networks.  Business models are continually changing and organizations need networks that can automatically secure and optimize workloads that are dynamically changing at an accelerating pace.

Share your story

We do not have to look back very far to realize how quickly we may need to support our organizations during a disruption.  Have a great automation story?  Would love to hear how your networks are enabling your organizations to be more resilient.  I invite to share those below.

To learn more about preparing your network to enable business resilience, please check out these complimentary resources:

Share your thoughts below and watch out for the next installment of our 2021 Networking Trends blog series.


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Prashanth Shenoy

Vice President of Marketing

Enterprise Networking and Mobility