Networks are the foundations of today’s business world. No matter what your industry, every single business of every size needs reliable, fast connectivity to be able to communicate with partners and customers, monitor equipment, track vital business metrics, and more.
The rise in remote working and the “global village” also means that many organizations are working across time zones, so networks need to be available 24/7. At the same time, business teams expect IT to deliver new services swiftly and frequently at scale. Network managers need to be agile enough to reconfigure the network at the drop of a hat.
All of which has enormously increased the pressure on network managers. They’re expected to ensure 100% uptime while preventing cyber attacks, maintaining network security, and delivering top performance for all network users. Network operations (netops) teams are struggling to stay abreast of threats, predict network demand, configure and orchestrate every device and connection, monitor performance metrics, detect and resolve faults, all while conducting long-term planning for capacity needs and change management.
Not surprisingly, network managers are eager for every tool that can help lighten their load. One crucial tool that’s becoming increasingly important is network automation, which takes over the burden of many manual tasks. In this article, we’ll explain what is network automation, discuss the benefits and ways that it helps your business, and review some of the top use cases driving adoption.
Network automation refers to the use of software tools and technologies to create, deploy, and manage network processes and functions without manual intervention. The goal with network automation is to streamline and optimize the configuration, management, and operation of networks by automating repetitive tasks, which helps reduce errors, improve overall efficiency, raise network health, and boost performance across the ecosystem.
Network automation automates a great deal of the grunt work of network management, helping free network management teams from tedious and time-consuming tasks such as device provisioning, configuration changes, monitoring, and troubleshooting. This allows netops personnel to focus on other tasks such as long-term strategic planning for robust networks, ultimately enabling organizations to adapt to changing network demands more rapidly and effectively.
Initially, all network provisioning and configuration was carried out manually. However, it didn’t take long for IT engineers to begin writing simple software programs that could automate the most repetitive and commonly-occuring manual tasks, like upgrading the software for a network device, gathering network data, and deploying an IP Access Control List (ACL) to a group of devices. In 2011, off-the-shelf automation tools like Cisco Prime came on the market.
Over the next few years, as network complexity and size increased, Software-Defined Networking (SDN) and its successor, Software-Defined Wide-Area Networking (SD-WAN) were developed and adopted. SDN architectures use network controllers to define and automate network management tasks for a greater range of devices, which enables automation tools to address policy and orchestration as well as setting up specific point products.
Infrastructure-as-Code (IaC), work-flow automation, intent-based configuration, checks for security vulnerabilities, digital twins, and many other automated tools are coming into common use. Meanwhile, newer solutions use artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) to deliver even more automation capabilities, including predictive analytics, predictive monitoring, faster alerts about faults and failures, and self-healing networks.
Organizations are still transitioning from traditional networking to SDN and SD-WAN controller-based networks. According to the IDC’s recent Global Network Automation report, not using automation is no longer an option. However, many companies have a long way to go. More than half still use little to no network automation. Midsize companies are lagging behind, with just 41% using automation tools vs 65% of larger organizations.
Given that the same report calculates an average of 3-5 years for enterprises to reach their automation targets, we can expect network automation adoption to continue strongly for a while, and market reports bear this out. The global network automation market is predicted to grow from $3.57 billion in 2022 to $28.63 billion by 2032, at a CAGR of 23.14%.
Cloud network automation is seeing particularly fast adoption, and organizations are looking for vendor-agnostic automation tools that can address hybrid and multi-cloud environments. The IDC notes that DDI is the top tool for network automation – 66% of companies planning to adopt network automation say they are prioritizing DDI. Security and compliance are the primary areas of focus, followed by public cloud networks, datacenter networks, and self-healing networks.
Network automation helps companies overcome a number of challenges, including monitoring extensive and complex networks, staying abreast of evolving security threats, rolling out changes quickly and accurately, and ensuring consistent configurations across sprawling ecosystems. These come together with a host of benefits such as increased operational efficiency, security, and scalability, as well as lower costs.
Greater operational efficiency
By automating routine and time-consuming network management tasks, network automation can deploy, configure, and manage network devices far more rapidly and with less manual effort. This significantly helps streamline operations, showing how one can improve network efficiency. The IDC reports that 94% of companies saw an increase in overall operational efficiency across the organization.
Automation also streamlines troubleshooting by quickly identifying and addressing issues, thereby reducing downtime and improving overall network performance. By automating more network management tasks, netops teams are able to redirect their focus and energy towards strategic initiatives and innovation, fostering a more productive operational environment.
Network automation implements standardized security configurations across the entire network infrastructure, with the IDC reporting an 84% improvement in security and compliance. Automation tools can deploy security policies quickly and consistently to all devices, ensuring that they follow established security standards. This reduces the likelihood of misconfigurations and vulnerabilities that could be exploited by attackers.
Automated processes also facilitate timely and regular security updates and patches, strengthening the network’s defense against evolving threats. Finally, automation speeds up detection of security incidents through continuous monitoring and can trigger immediate response mechanisms, such as isolating compromised devices or blocking malicious traffic.
Network automation enables organizations to seamlessly adapt to the growing demands of their network infrastructure. By automating repetitive tasks such as device provisioning, configuration changes, and scaling processes, organizations can efficiently manage and accommodate the expansion of their networks.
Because automation ensures consistency in configurations and reduces the risk of manual errors, it accelerates the deployment of new network components and enhances the overall reliability of the expanded infrastructure. With automation, organizations can easily scale their networks without a proportional increase in the complexity of management tasks, allowing for a more agile response to changing business requirements.
Automating network management tasks allow organizations to make better use of their workforce, reallocating skilled personnel to strategic initiatives rather than repetitive, time-consuming tasks and producing substantial cost savings. Although cost wasn’t a primary driver for network automation adoption, the IDC reports that 93% of organizations saw that costs fell as a result.
The consistency provided by automation reduces the likelihood of errors that could lead to downtime or security breaches, which cost far more to fix than to prevent. Automation also facilitates better scalability, so networks can grow without a proportional increase in operational costs, and drives faster ROI.
All the above network automation examples translate into a panoply of advantages that help every business to maximize profitability and boost resilience. Here are some of the main reasons why your business needs network automation.
While businesses in every industry can benefit from network automation, there are certain ones that need its advantages far more than others. For example, healthcare organizations need to transfer patient data securely, complying with health data privacy laws. It’s also vital to maintain seamless communications between different healthcare systems. As remote healthcare and patient monitoring increase, network reliability and stability become critical not just for efficiency, but also for patient safety.
Manufacturing companies are highly dependent on reliable networks for safe operation. Network automation enables plants to run Industry 4.0 systems like predictive analytics and robotic process automation (RPA), which improve operational efficiency, reduce downtimes, and reduce the risks of incidents which could harm employees or the environment. Automation enables predictive maintenance and real-time monitoring for production processes, resulting in agile and adaptive manufacturing that can respond swiftly to market demands.
In the retail sector, network automation ensures that retail networks operate smoothly and efficiently, which allows businesses to optimize inventory management, customer transactions, supply chain coordination and other aspects of operations. This leads to improved customer experiences, faster transaction processing, and better overall business performance.
Naturally, network automation technology is also vital for telecommunications companies and businesses that deliver managed network services. With network automation, these companies are able to streamline the management of enormous and complex internet, telephone, and other communications infrastructures. It gives them the capacity to offer more reliable connectivity, improved performance, and increased uptime, while also empowering them to deploy new services much more quickly.
For example, Elauwit Connection, a fast-growing network service provider in the US, implemented ML-based network automation to improve efficiency and differentiate themselves in the crowded network services market. It used NetOp’s network automation technology to automate network operations. With network automation, Elauwit can proactively predict and resolve network issues before customers notice any drop in performance
NetOp is a leading provider of network automation capabilities for network management teams. The company uses AI and ML to deliver workflow automation, proactive network monitoring, and streamlined network operations. NetOp allows users to automate network provisioning and configurations across hybrid environments, monitor alerts and network changes in real time, and spot and act upon spikes in bandwidth demands before they become pressing.
Network automation has come a long way since the early days of basic recurring scripts. Today’s network automation, powered by AI and ML, is able to deliver far more impact and far-reaching benefits, and adoption is rapidly gathering steam. With modern network automation technology, organizations can benefit from more streamlined operations and lower costs, while also increasing security, scalability, and reliability for their networks.
Network automation ultimately delivers improved end user experience and enables organizations to innovate more quickly to keep up with evolving customer demands and market fluctuations. With network automation, organizations can develop and maintain a competitive edge that helps differentiate them from their rivals and advance their bottom line.
See the difference for yourselves by trying out NetOp’s Managed Services or Enterprise solutions.