In a new article published on Accenture.com, “The network is dead! Long live the network!” Ryan Wickham and I look at the increasing importance of automation to improve the quality and security of today’s software-defined networks.
Seeing the network as a companywide software platform means that the network is no longer a set of physical boxes (that’s dead), but instead a set of virtual software that can be quickly and easily deployed and distributed (long live the network!). The network can also be readily updated, making a company more agile—better able to respond quickly to business needs and opportunities.
Why is network automation important?
From one perspective, automation in a network context is not new. Yet traditional approaches to automation only meant things like pushing out some basic configurations to routers and switches.
In a more complex environment of larger and growing networks, automation is one of the technology-based solutions that is vital to turning distributed networks into business value. Today’s IT has a heavy focus on rapid development and a DevOps mindset. New network automation capabilities are critical to keep pace with rapid-release cycle times and constant iterations of capabilities. Automation is the key to making sure that network changes or updates are seamlessly configured and translated across different IT environments.
Network automation capabilities are reducing human error and providing more and easier ways to automate the deployment, management and change of network services. More of the tasks that were previously done manually get changed out by massive waves of scripting, coding and systems automation.
This has an immediate positive impact on quality. Whenever you introduce people into a network management environment there’s a risk of errors in rekeying information such as configurations. This applies to your development and management ecosystem, as well. If a provider uses people to manually key service tickets or make changes to the network, they can make errors much more readily than an automated deployment.
Automation means network deployment processes can happen seamlessly with minimal human intervention.
Today, networks must be designed from the beginning with security in mind, rather than having security added after the fact. Trying to meet dynamic security requirements with multiple touchpoints could result in taking days and weeks to implement a single change. The network supporting New IT requires automation to handle one-touch security policy updates.
Making network automation happen
What should companies be doing to increase the presence of automation in their network capabilities? Here are a few imperatives:
Pilot and evolve. Find critical areas that are ripe for automation. Many times, companies are so busy working to restore outages that they do not have the time to perform routine upgrades. That, in turn, causes security and performance vulnerabilities throughout the network.
Focus on integration synergies. When supporting cloud development, integrate cloud deployment and management tools into a platform. The Accenture Cloud Platform is a great example of this type of capability.
Find scale. A key value proposition of automation is how quickly it scales. That means companies need to find their most important present and future capabilities that need rapid scaling and support those.
Rethink processes and governance. Having the technology won’t help if you have the same cumbersome committee and review processes. Most companies will need to rethink governance and signoff processes to fully take advantage of automation and enable agile operations.
Conclusion: The future depends on network automation
In addition to its quality and security benefits—as well as its ability to support frequent releases of new features—automation is essential to meet the scope and scale of IoT and other new technologies. The old way of manually updating network equipment doesn’t work for upgrading tomorrow’s virtual networks of sensors. Future technologies like artificial intelligence and blockchain will require flexible new network capabilities. In other words, the future really does depend on network automation.