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What is network automation?

Network automation is the process of using software to configure, manage, and automate network functionality. The software is intelligent enough to make decisions that maximize efficiency and functionality of the network at all times. Network automation is often used in conjunction with network virtualization.


IT departments are always looking for ways to increase efficiency and save money. One way to achieve this is using network automation software to configure and manage a network. Any type of network can be automated, from a local or wide area network to a data center or wireless network. The automation of a network can include automated resource provisioning, network mapping, and network testing. Different types of network automation software are designed to focus on different use cases and networking environments.


Examples of network automation

When using network automation with virtualization, software-defined networking (SDN) is combined with network functions virtualization (NFV) technology to configure and change the network according to business or services goals. The SDN controls how the hardware devices operate. Administrators can create virtual software networks between virtual machines or manage multiple physical networks with networking software. Network virtualization and network automation are especially useful for environments that experience unplanned usage surges because the automated network can accommodate these surges by automatically redirecting network traffic to servers in less impacted areas of the network.


There are several open source projects dedicated to establishing standards for network automation through virtualization. For instance, the European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI) Industry Specification Group (ISG) for NFV Management and Orchestration (MANO) is focused on the management and orchestration of network resources in cloud-based data centers. These standards will enable better and more efficient communication between SDN and NFV platforms.


Network automation tools come in many types, and there are a wide variety of network automation companies that offer different types of network automation software. Network automation ideas are still emerging—smart organizations will start with their most pressing network automation use cases and choose a tool that is well-suited to help with those processes.


How does network automation work?

A network automation platform finds the most efficient way to map, configure, provision, and manage a network. Instead of typing in instructions via a command line to manually configure each networking device, these processes are automated with scripts. The scripts can be written in several different programming languages, including Perl, Python, and Ruby. Scripts are only one aspect of network automation—a fully automated network monitors network resources when provisioning, and it verifies that a network will be able to handle a configuration request before implementing it.


Artificial intelligence and network automation

A more sophisticated form of network automation is intent-based networking , which uses artificial intelligence to determine how best to configure and manage a network to meet a specific business goal. Intent-based networking uses a high-level, centralized view of the entire network to determine how a network should function to meet these goals, instead of configuring each port or device individually. 

An intent-based network takes a holistic view of how a business request will affect a network and offers different solutions to fulfill that requests. Intent-based networking starts with testing and validating a business request and suggesting different configurations to meet the business goal. It allows a network engineer to test the different configurations and decide which one to deploy. Intent-based networking is popular because network engineers can easily scale the network to meet different goals and reduce the number of misconfigurations due to human error. This can save an organization time and money, although there may be up-front equipment investment costs. Not all legacy networking equipment works with intent-based networking.


Why network automation?

Network automation can result in significant time and cost savings. They are much more efficient than traditional networks, especially as networks grow in complexity and integrate with virtual machines and the cloud. Here are five important reasons to make the switch to an automated network:

  1. Automated networks are more efficient. Instead of a human programming a network and introducing the very common possibility of human error, software can easily find the most efficient way to program a network, balance workloads, and automate time-consuming tasks. In addition, devices do not need to be individually configured, added, or removed when the amount of network traffic changes. The entire network can respond dynamically to a surge in usage.
  2. Lower cost. Replacing manual tasks with software-defined automation means less hands-on time for network engineers. Fewer engineers are needed, so they can be redeployed to focus on other tasks. The engineers that do remain on staff can stay in one place to manage a software-defined, automated network—there is less travel to remote locations to put physical hands-on network devices when those devices can be managed by one centrally located interface.
  3. Centrally managed. In automated networks, the entire network is managed through one pane of glass, making it easy to administer broad policies and scale the entire network on command.
  4. Easier performance monitoring and management. It is much easier to identify performance issues in an automated network where all of the devices are managed by one piece of software. Instead of optimizing the network device by device, the administrator has a bird’s eye view of where performance is suffering throughout the entire network, including analysis of how devices are interacting.
  5. Overview of the entire network. Most network automation software can display a visual representation of the network and how it is all connected, which makes troubleshooting network issues much easier. As the network complexity increases, an automated snapshot of the network becomes even more valuable. 


Related Topics
IT automation
Network Virtualization
Intent-based Networking


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