As the adoption of cloud computing, IoT devices and edge computing increases, the size and complexity of enterprise networks continue to grow as well. This complexity only adds to the workload of IT teams – who are already overburdened.
A generation of network engineers are beginning to age out of the workforce, and replacements aren’t readily available. A 2021 study from The Uptime Institute showed that 47 percent of data center operators are challenged with finding qualified candidates for open jobs, an increase from 38 percent in 2018.
This gap within the workforce has created a serious burden for operations teams. Simply keeping the network up is becoming a challenge, as more customers and employees are connecting to networks from more devices and more locations than ever before.
Network automation, from integrated “autonomous networking” to ad-hoc automation that IT teams write themselves, can offer network professionals the lifeline they need to keep up.
The Impact of Automation
Network automation software can improve experiences for IT technicians, both new and experienced, by helping streamline network processes from designing to provisioning to ongoing network management and operations. This can be especially impactful for large enterprises with large facilities or multiple locations. Application programming interface (API)-based automation can replace manual, command-line instructions to simplify large-scale management of multiple devices.
This streamlining of processes also opens the door for organizations from a recruitment perspective. Engineers no longer need to learn to manage a huge number of disparate applications and systems with unique CLIs, simplifying training so that organizations can feel more confident in training inexperienced engineers.
Enterprises can also leverage automation to monitor the network when provisioning, actively verifying that configuration requests are compatible with the network as they’re implemented. This can help safeguard networks against the natural growing pains of working with the next generation of IT technicians as they learn and grow, reducing the chance for human error and making problems easier to identify and solve.
Network automation can be used to reduce work overall by automating simple, manual tasks. For example, to keep networks secure, engineers need to keep up with the latest patches, firmware updates and bug fixes across all of their devices. Network automation can handle these updates without human intervention, freeing up technicians’ time to focus on other tasks.
However, in the rush to implement tools to keep networks high-performing and stable amidst rapidly increasing demand, organizations can’t afford to make mistakes during implementation. Automation can help address this by minimizing the pervasiveness of errors that often accompany manual and CLI-centric operations.
Implementing Network Automation Effectively
Because automation has massive implications for the network, it also has massive implications for IT teams. There will be initial difficulties as teams implement technology and find new ways of working. To get the most out of investments in network automation, enterprise networking teams should rethink their IT workflows altogether, focusing less on manual labor and asking new, forward-thinking questions about how they can optimize their networks.
Automation can be used to help preserve institutional knowledge amidst staff turnover – but only if the time is taken to train the tool correctly. Organizations can find themselves in trouble if software adoption is incomplete. A report from WalkMe showed that an average of 35% of investment in new technology is wasted – largely due to a failure of employees to shift their workflows onto new technologies.
IT leaders should prioritize change management as a key enabler of any investment in automation. Ensuring that the full team understands how new solutions will benefit their specific workflows is critical to increasing adoption.
Solutions must also be adaptable. Every team operates differently, and no automation software is one-size-fits-all. When evaluating network operations tools, ensuring that the solution is architected in an API-centric manner rather than a solution that has a limited set of “bolt-on” API interfaces, is critical to giving organizations the flexibility to increase or modify their use of network operations as their team’s understanding and use of the technology increases.
This focus on adaptability is critical as the solutions themselves evolve and mature as well. Artificial Intelligence for IT Operations (AIOps) is on the horizon, and holds massive potential to further simplify workflows, creating additional efficiencies through networks that diagnose and solve problems themselves before IT teams even realize there’s a problem. Leveraging automation solutions with a tangible AIOps roadmap further enables IT team to grow their experience with a key technology, AI, preparing them best for the future of networking while also helping their business stay ahead of their competition and deliver great experiences for their customers and employees.
A Better Network
For many organizations, it has become nearly impossible to manually manage and provision the resources complex networks need to enable modern computing – especially with an increasingly inexperienced workforce. The use of widespread network automation, and the proper implementation of it, is essential for organizations to keep up in a rapidly changing world.