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For many enterprises, we don’t need to sing the praises of IT automation – they already get it. They understand the value of automation, have invested in a platform and strategy, and have seen first-hand the benefits IT automation can deliver. However, unlike IT automation, according to a new report from Forrester Research, network automation is still new territory for many organisations.

The report, “Jump-Start Your Network Automation,” found that 56% of global infrastructure technology decision makers have implemented/are implementing or are expanding/upgrading their implementation of automation software, while another 19% plan to implement it over the next 12 months. But those same organizations that are embracing IT automation haven’t necessarily been able to take that same initiative when it comes to automating their networks.

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Even if they know it will be beneficial to them, the report found that organisations often struggle with even the most basic questions around automating their networks.

What’s the hold up in network automation?

According to the report, common frustrations Forrester hears are:

  • Organisations not knowing where to start
  • How to start
  • What to start automating
  • When to scale

None of these questions were particularly surprising to us as we read the report, as these are questions we often are asked from customers when they begin their network automation journey.

One of the areas we’ve seen organisations struggle with when it comes to network automation is where to begin – with many believing they need an all or nothing approach. But that is not the case; in fact, we strongly recommend against that. Instead, deployment teams should consider starting with a focus on small, tactical problems that are common everyday struggles. Emphasising these small wins, helps to form a foundation for a network automation strategy.

Beyond looking at common concerns, the report also examines common mistakes organisations make when it comes to network automation. The findings indicated that these mistakes will make any automation attempts far more difficult, waste precious time and money, and may set back progress for years. With those negatives weighing on organisations, it’s easy to see why network automation can be pushed to the back burner.

But these basic questions and concerns over making a mistake don’t need to be roadblocks. And network automation doesn’t need to be a complex mystery. By starting small and developing a strategy, organisations can slowly introduce automation to their networks without overwhelming admins and reap the benefits over time.

Simplified, holistic approach to network automation

Starting network automation with an automation platform like Red Hat Ansible Automation can help organisations manage their network infrastructure throughout the entire production lifecycle — from building your network and integrating across multi-vendor configurations, to managing day-to-day network production tasks, to helping ensure continuous compliance to check for network configuration drift.

Using Ansible’s simple automation framework means that previously isolated network administrators can finally speak the same language of automation as the rest of the IT organisation, extending the capabilities of Ansible to include native support for both legacy and open network infrastructure devices. Network devices and systems can now be included in an organisation’s overall automation strategy for a holistic approach to application workload management.

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While the Forrester study brought up valid questions and concerns that organisations have today when it comes to network automation, it doesn’t need to be overly complicated and there is no reason to put off automating any longer. A few simple points to keep in mind when beginning your network automation journey include:

  • Pick the right tool – one that is simple and works across vendors, like Red Hat Ansible Automation Platform. Additionally, have your network staff on board for the change in mentality. Without the willingness to change you are stuck in the old way of doing the work by hand.
  • Don’t try to do too much too fast. We touched on this above — discussing how network automation needs to be consumable in bite-sized chunks. Focus on solving small tactical problems at first and as you learn, that automation can be scaled.
  • Fight the urge to fall back to manual processes. Network automation will never take hold if it isn’t made a priority.
  • Define metrics to track success. 

[Article contributed by Red Hat Malaysia.]

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