The pressure to deliver instantaneous network services in the current digital transformation age weighs heavily on the Network Engineers, administrators and IT managers. The result? Sleepless nights trying to keep up with the ever-increasing demands on the network.

  • How can I help the network move as quickly as the rest of the business demands, without compromising on availability?
  • What kind of software or tools can I use to help me implement better processes around my network?

The answer to this nerve-wracking question is adopting Software Defined Networking (SDN), or more precisely, Network Automation.

Automation may seem fairly straightforward; a network engineer learns to write Python scripts and use DevOps tools to execute manual tasks and workflows.

However, unless you already have significant experience, the planning, implementation and ongoing maintenance of network automation processes can be overwhelming. To help you get started, we are going to briefly break down the simple steps you can take to deploy automation in your infrastructure:

1. Narrow down on the repetitive, time-consuming workloads

The first step to a successful network automation project is to pinpoint tasks that are taking up a great deal of time. Prepare a list of all the change requests and workflows that are currently being done manually. For instance, in the event of a link down, your network support team pings the client’s router, access point, checks if they can pick up a MAC address, confirms cable connections and power status onsite. What if all these steps could be Automated?

2. Segment your environment

The next step is to build a decision tree for the process based on the tasks to be orchestrated. This aids in identifying various dependencies, then address cultural differences to facilitate cross-team collaboration. The segmentation should be based on your network infrastructure to better understand how all the moving parts and players interact with each other.

3. Standardize your changes

Come up with standard network service configurations to respond to repetitive tasks and requests. This helps to simplify existing processes and enhance predictability.

4. Settle on the most appropriate automation tools

At this point, you now ought to figure out which DevOps tools are best suited for your particular use cases. These can be in the form of simple, homegrown scripts, open-source automation tools or commercial vendor offerings.

5. Have a sound testing strategy in place

Automation could potentially speed up the rate at which things go wrong in your network. To avoid such occurrences in the production network, make sure you have a sound testing strategy in place.

6. Proactively monitor and maintain automated tasks

Even the minute presumed non-impacting network changes could potentially break the entire automated workflow. Automated tasks ought to be monitored and tested on a regular basis to ascertain a proper operational state.

7. Self-healing and self-servicing capabilities

Continue to optimise and expand on your network automation processes to have much more complex and intelligent workflows. Envision a network that in the event of a degradation in signal quality, automatically optimises the QoS configurations on a link or it immediately analyses the RF signal strength of various available APs and connects to the most optimal one? This could significantly help you meet your set SLA’s.

Leading network and security vendors appreciate the unparalleled impact that automation has on running today’s networks. Towards this end, Cisco and Fortinet have taken the time to curate very helpful content to help you get started with Network Automation.