Getting Started with Automation – Streamlining Network Operations

Author
Terry Slattery
Principal Architect

Adopting Automation

Automation offers a promise of cost savings, reduction in errors, and faster implementations. However, many organizations are reluctant to adopt automation, often because, if it is not properly applied, it can take down an entire network very quickly. However, repetitive, read-only operations like network validation, device location lookup, and troubleshooting data collection are prime candidates for automation because there is no risk of an outage due to an incorrect configuration change.

Let’s look at some examples that demonstrate where your organization can get started with automation.

Site Operational Validation

Automate the collection and analysis of per-site data that verifies key infrastructure links, network device config backups, and routing tables. Full site validation requires the execution of tens of commands, each of which requires automated verification of the desired values. There’s additional value if your organization is going through a hardware or network operating system upgrade where post-upgrade verification is valuable. A site validation process can also be used for daily verification that each site continues to function as it should.

Device Locator

One of the most useful automations is the integration of a device locator with your organization’s instant chat/collaboration system, an integration known as ChatOps (see references below). The device locator runs commands to locate a device within the network, a time-consuming and frequently used process. Integration with your collaboration chat function allows easy access to the function.

Trouble Ticket Status

The trouble ticket status lookup function is similar to the device locator and can also use the ChatOps approach.

Troubleshooting Data Collection

Resolving repetitive problems can be streamlined by automated collection of troubleshooting information. For example, when an end user is unable to access a particular service, a self-service portal or a ChatOps interface could be used to trigger collection of troubleshooting data at the time of the problem, a crucial factor for proper diagnosis.

Similarly, more advanced troubleshooting data collection could be automated to aid in more complicated troubleshooting scenarios. Imagine the network team trying to diagnose an intermittent network problem. By the time it is detected, and an engineer starts to work on it, the problem has disappeared. By automating the trigger and data collection, it could be possible to collect the evidence needed to resolve the problem.

Benefits of Automation

Replacing the read-only, manual tasks with an automated system yields many benefits.  Start simple and select a small process that is frequently used. But don’t let the ROI of a project stall its progress. As you know, other factors apply such as employee satisfaction from avoiding menial tasks.

Once implemented, organizations observe numerous benefits from automation:

  • Time Savings – Reduction in the time required to look up information or query the network about its current operational state.
  • Error Reduction – The elimination of manual errors, which are particularly prevalent when an engineer is interrupted in the middle of collecting and verifying data. Errors also tend to increase as the process becomes tedious and boring.
  • Easy Documentation & Data Collection – The output of automations like network validation becomes the record of implementation, and you gain immediate access to useful information without interrupting network engineers.
  • Employee Retention – Finally, a good set of automation tools can help retain your network engineers—they are doing fewer menial tasks and can enjoy working on the network.

Summary

There are real benefits for applying automation to regular network operations tasks, and it can be a good starting point for implementing automation in your organization. You’ll need to enlist some developers or a network engineer who can program to make it happen.  An alternative to in-house development is to hire a consultant. Look for someone who has built similar automation systems in the past and knows how to interface with your networking equipment and management systems.

Additional Reading

Evaluating the ROI of Network Automation

Success Story – Automation Improves Efficiency for Healthcare Implementation

Is Network Automation Necessary for Network Security?