Automation. It’s a common term. Some may call it a buzzword, even. When it comes to building a network, it’s usually not your first consideration. After all, what’s most important is getting users and devices online—and keeping them there.

Isn’t automating the network an advanced step?

Are we even capable of making network monitoring and management automatic?

In our recent report for O’Reilly, authored by Auvik’s Director of Product Strategy Steve Petryshuck, we dig into network automation planning to see where we’re at, where we want to be, and how to get there. You can download the full report yourself, right now, but if you want a taste of what’s inside, keep reading.

Ebook cover - Network Automation Roadmap

Let’s look at a quick overview of some network automation stages you’re likely to go through on your journey.

1. Network automation now

The first step in any automation process is to minimize user input. Yep, we want to initiate less typing and fewer clicks. Auvik has this part down pat. Our cloud-based network monitoring and management software helps IT teams move from doing everything in the CLI (so much typing!) to a GUI where they can find the information they need in just a few clicks.

2. Network automation next

After that, the next step in the automation process is to put task initiation in the hands of the user. When a device needs an update, or has a problem, rather than having the user open a ticket with IT, they could submit info directly through their device, saving a step on both sides.

If device management is also automated, the entire process—from issue reporting to resolution—could be seen to with limited interaction from IT. We aren’t quite there yet, but development trends happening in the tech industry as a whole point toward these types of smarter devices.

3. Network automation nirvana

Finally, there’s “automation nirvana,” or the ideal scenario. Picture it: a program or device automatically detects a need for change and takes the proper action to accomplish it, possibly when the user logs in or when they request an action.

For example, if a user needs to access a VPN, then that VPN is automatically configured, enabled, and connected with no human intervention. This could occur as a “just-in-time” provisioning as the user attempts to access the VPN they need to use.

How to get from here to there

Network automation has to start with network design. The best network design is one where the composition, topology, and configuration are always known. You may say, “Hey Steve, if I want to automate my network, should I not start with automating the design?” You could… but if you already have a network up and running, you don’t need to start from scratch.

You can also begin your network automation journey by automating the documentation of your existing network.

diagram - patchwork design vs planned design

When network documentation is incomplete or out-of-date, you start to have a network that looks like the “patchwork” figure above. Sometimes, this happens due to mergers and acquisitions, but often it is just the result of unplanned organic growth and documentation that can’t keep up. If you implement current network automation practices, you’ll be more likely to end up with “planned design.” Here, services are centralized, and access paths (to devices, to support, etc) are clearly defined. Doesn’t that look much more user-friendly?

Steps for the future

  • Involve the stakeholders. Collect the information up front, so you know what everyone needs and can plan to meet as many of those needs as possible.
  • Set up your documentation. Automated network documentation will help you complete step three in this process.
  • Collect your baselines. Gather data on all the metrics that are important to your stakeholders, for example, you could track Mean Time to Resolution (MTTR), network uptime, and costs for issues such as device replacement. Note: it certainly doesn’t hurt to have a single dashboard with all of these metrics visible, that way, in one click, you’ll see everything you need to know!
screenshot of Auvik dashboard

Key Takeaways

Auvik terminal + dashboard on screenshot

Network automation is an ongoing process. It starts with understanding your network to the best of your ability, and, well, it doesn’t have an end yet. But the future looks bright, and the sooner you start, the sooner you’ll have access to improved technology as it becomes available.

So to review, the important steps you can take right now are:

  • Standardize and centralize documentation.
  • Identify and acquire a single dashboard of metrics that matter.
  • Enable team members to access the dashboard, so you never have to rely on a single Subject-Matter Expert (SME) for information.
  • Implement processes for as many tasks as you can to ensure consistency.
  • Track, report, and repeat!

With even the most basic network automation in place, you’ll start to see improvement in both the time to resolve issues, and the probability of human error during network maintenance.

Cheers to the network automation adventure, and don’t forget to bring your roadmap!

Every journey, even one toward network automation, starts with a single step. If you haven’t already, why not give Auvik a try? Get your free 14-day Auvik trial here. You’ll see the difference that automated documentation, config backup, and alerts will make to your network management. You’ll also be able to see the metrics we discussed, and you can build a dashboard that works for your company’s and your networks’ needs.

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