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Next-Gen Network Management: Unlocking the Potential of Automation Tools

Network automation has emerged as a pivotal technique, leveraging software to streamline the provisioning of networks and enhance security measures. This approach aims to consistently optimize network performance and efficiency, often in conjunction with network virtualization. In today’s dynamic IT landscape, the pursuit of efficiency, flexibility, and uniformity is paramount for managing both traditional and cloud-native applications. Modern network automation software plays a pivotal role in achieving these objectives by automating essential networking processes, including resource provisioning, network mapping, and testing.

Key Elements of Network Automation:

The most efficient way to map, configure, provision, and manage a network is through the use of network automation software. This replaces manual, command-line instructions with API-based automation, where APIs are leveraged directly or indirectly through programming languages like Python, Java, or Go. Contemporary automation platforms ensure network support for configuration requests by validating network resources during provisioning. Notably, scripts are just one facet of the broader network automation landscape.

Topics Covered:

In this article, we will delve into essential aspects related to Network Automation Tools, including:

  1. Why You Need Network Automation Solutions
  2. Selecting the Right Network Automation Solution
  3. Overview of Top Network Automation Tools:

Ansible

Anuta ATOM

BMC Truesight Network Automation

Chef

Cisco Crosswork;

Cisco DNA Center

ConnectWise Automate;

Gluware

HPE Network Automation

Infoblox Cloud Network Automation

Itential Automation Platform

Juniper Apstra

Micro Focus Network Automation

NetBox

NetBrain Network Automation

Netmiko

Puppet

SaltStack

Terraform

Why Do You Need Network Automation Solutions?

In the contemporary landscape, the operation of enterprise networks has become more complex than ever, posing a substantial challenge to efficiency. The proliferation of scattered IT resources and diverse workloads has led to intricate network setups with limited visibility. Compounding this complexity is the historical reliance on manual, command-line entries for administrative tasks, resulting in a time-consuming, expensive, inflexible, and error-prone operational paradigm.

Network outages represent a critical issue in workplace networking, compounded by the broader challenges of complex networks that elevate costs, stifle innovation, and hinder essential security changes. Recognizing these shortcomings has spurred a quest for more effective methods, catalyzed by the transformative influence of DevOps on application development and deployment. The question arises: why can’t networking and security enjoy the same level of speed and efficiency?

Fortunately, the evolution of network virtualization and automation has paved the way for achieving the desired agility and seamless consistency in networking practices. Network automation brings forth a multitude of advantages, making a compelling case for its adoption to unlock significant commercial value. Let’s delve into the key benefits of network automation:

  1. Elimination of Manual Labor: Automation replaces human processes with repeatable, predictable network modifications, freeing up IT resources to focus on strategic opportunities that drive business growth.
  2. Enhanced Service Delivery Speed: Critical data services can be delivered more rapidly, network performance can be optimized, and the deployment of new services and applications can be expedited.
  3. Standardized Processes with Templates: Utilize uniform templates to accelerate network changes, promoting efficiency across stakeholders.
  4. Agile Change Implementation: Execute network changes more frequently, overcoming the constraints imposed by manual labor and resource-intensive processes.
  5. Infrastructure-as-Code Approach: Manage the state and configuration of your network using an infrastructure-as-code strategy, mirroring how programmers handle source code from the data center to the edge.
  6. Improved Network Visibility: Employ comprehensive performance monitoring tools to identify network failures, enhance resource utilization, and address performance issues.
  7. Proactive Problem Assessment and Resolution: Utilize network analytics to gain insights into performance, utilization, security, and resource allocation, replacing reliance on manual methods for issue resolution.

In essence, network automation represents a transformative gift package for IT environments, offering the promise of faster, more cost-effective service delivery while enabling IT teams to shift their focus towards strategic initiatives and innovation. Embracing network automation is not just a modernization imperative; it is a strategic move towards unleashing the full potential of network operations in a rapidly evolving digital landscape.

How to Select a Network Automation Solution?

In the realm of network automation, organizations face a pivotal decision when selecting tools or products that align with their unique needs. This decision often boils down to choosing between proprietary services offered by established commercial providers or opting for the open-source route.

Large network suppliers frequently advocate for their proprietary automation products, exemplified by offerings like Extreme Networks’ Workflow Composer or Cisco’s Crosswork Network Automation portfolio. Proprietary solutions can be an excellent fit for networks that predominantly rely on a single-vendor service.

Alternatively, an organization’s automation goals can be achieved through the utilization of open-source automation and scripting tools. Examples of such tools include Ansible, Python, Salt, Yang, and OpenConfig.

Off-the-shelf, vendor-specific automation platforms present advantages over open-source alternatives in terms of integration ease and the immediate availability of network automation benefits. Many of these solutions come equipped with pre-built automation workflows and the ability to analyze current configurations to determine which automated procedures may be beneficial in a given environment.

The transition from manual to automated network configuration and deployment processes is facilitated by the vendor-backed support available for proprietary tools, allowing organizations to navigate the change with less planning.

However, it’s worth noting that proprietary products can be costly and are often practical only when the underlying network primarily comprises hardware and software from the same vendor as the network automation tools.

For those with limited resources or operating in networks with multiple vendors, open-source automation technologies emerge as a preferred option. The trade-off is that additional planning and preparation may be required before realizing the benefits of these solutions, particularly in large, intricate networks.

The silver lining lies in the vibrant internet communities that offer assistance for open-source endeavors. Troubles encountered during the automation process can often be addressed with the help of individuals who have either resolved similar issues or are willing to provide guidance.

Let’s break down the advantages and disadvantages of each approach:

Advantages of Open-Source Network Automation Tools:

  • Lower vendor costs
  • Quicker updates and vulnerability fixes
  • Flexibility through customization
  • Reduces vendor lock-in risks

Disadvantages of Open-Source Network Automation Tools:

  • Higher overhead
  • Poor or lack of documentation
  • More programming cost and complexity
  • Lack of support or roadmap

In navigating this choice, organizations must weigh these pros and cons to make an informed decision based on their specific requirements, available resources, and the nature of their network infrastructure.

What are the Best Network Automation Tools?

In the dynamic landscape of network automation, selecting the right tools is a pivotal decision for organizations aiming to streamline operations and enhance efficiency. The choice between proprietary and open-source solutions hinges on various factors such as vendor compatibility, scalability, and alignment with existing systems. Below is an extensive list of top network automation solutions, each offering unique features and advantages.

1. Ansible

  • Description: An open-source platform initially designed for Linux-based system automation, Ansible has evolved under Red Hat’s ownership. Its agentless design, utilizing SSH or APIs, makes it well-suited for automating network devices.
  • Pros: Easy adoption for DevOps teams, extensive pre-built modules for various vendors.
  • Cons: Limited configuration-awareness, lacks pre- and post-validation checks, requires scripting expertise for the free version.

2. Anuta ATOM

  • Description: Anuta ATOM provides cloud-ready network orchestration and monitoring, supporting multi-vendor environments. It offers stateful service provisioning, workflow management, configuration compliance, and device life-cycle management.
  • Key Features: Comprehensive network lifecycle automation, multi-vendor support, customizable monitoring, closed-loop automation.

3. BMC Truesight Network Automation

  • Description: Focused on security, Truesight Automation for Networks integrates with BMC’s broader AIOps platform. It automates security-conscious provisioning processes, supporting various third-party tools.
  • Features: Network equipment vulnerabilities automation, compliance checks, configuration verifications, integrates with Cisco, Entuity, and Ipswitch.

4. Chef

  • Description: Chef is a set of automation tools that streamline server, application, and network settings management. It requires client software installation on network devices for automation.
  • Pros: Streamlines server and network settings, widely adopted among server and development teams.
  • Cons: Requires client software installation, supports fewer network vendors due to agent requirement.

5. Cisco Crosswork

  • Description: Cisco’s Crosswork Network Automation offers a comprehensive framework for sophisticated automation procedures. It utilizes real-time data for data-driven insights and integrates AI and ML technologies.
  • Features: Full-featured automation, AI and ML-driven intelligent network management, scalability for complex network infrastructures.

6. Cisco DNA Center

  • Description: Cisco DNA Center is a centralized platform for Cisco networks, providing features like policy-based automation, network provisioning, and SDN.
  • Features: Network automation, SDN capabilities, simplified network provisioning.

7. ConnectWise Automate

  • Description: ConnectWise Automate is an agent-based infrastructure and network monitoring software emphasizing network discovery and IT management.
  • Pros: Self-service choices, third-party integration, efficient infrastructure monitoring.
  • Cons: Certain functionalities require plug-ins, installation specifications for on-site use.

8. Gluware

  • Description: Gluware offers model-driven intelligent network automation, leveraging Intent-Based Networking (IBN) technology for multi-vendor, mission-critical networks.
  • Features: Intent-Based Networking, multi-vendor support, closed-loop automation.

9. HPE Network Automation

  • Description: Formerly part of HP Network Management Center, HPE Network Automation focuses on providing integrated solutions for network management.
  • Features: Task automation for compliance and configuration, improved Mean Time to Repair (MTTR), early security vulnerability identification.

10. SolarWinds Network Configuration Manager (NCM)

  • Description: SolarWinds NCM is a powerful tool for network configuration and compliance management, supporting hybrid networks.
  • Pros: Configuration automation, compliance monitoring, rapid issue rectification.
  • Cons: Requires admin permissions for certain operations, relatively higher cost.

11. Itential Automation Platform

  • Description: Itential is a multi-domain network automation platform with a focus on cloud and SD-WAN, providing end-to-end network automation solutions.
  • Features: Network lifecycle automation, low-code automation, configuration compliance.

12. Juniper Apstra

  • Description: Juniper Apstra offers intent-based networking, translating corporate intent into policy and device-specific configurations for multivendor environments.
  • Features: Intent-based networking, multivendor support, continuous validation.

13. Micro Focus Network Automation

  • Description: Micro Focus Network Automation software emphasizes compliance management for large networks, popular in government and service sector enterprises.
  • Features: Task automation, portal for network management professionals, improvements to MTTR.

14. AppViewX Automation+

  • Description: AppViewX Automation+ is a network security management tool providing an application-centric perspective on network security and application delivery architecture.
  • Pros: Increased productivity, separation of applications and on-premises infrastructures, multi-application control.
  • Cons: Requires better UX and user manuals.

15. NetBrain Network Automation

  • Description: NetBrain creates a dynamic “digital image” of live networks, offering real-time, dynamic maps for comprehensive network insights.
  • Pros: Multi-vendor support, visual programming interface, dynamic network mapping.
  • Cons: Limited orchestration skills, primarily used for network topology mapping.

16. Netmiko

  • Description: Netmiko is an open-source Python library simplifying SSH-based automation for network devices across various platforms and vendors.
  • Benefits: SSH-based automation, support for multiple platforms and vendors.

17. Puppet

  • Description: Puppet is a prominent infrastructure automation tool with both open-source and enterprise versions. It focuses on agentless network automation modules.
  • Pros: Agentless network automation modules, alignment with existing Puppet infrastructure.
  • Cons: Requires Puppet Enterprise for additional network automation features.

18. SaltStack

  • Description: SaltStack, an open-source automation technology primarily used for server automation, offers proxy minions for network devices.
  • Features: Proxy minions for non-standard devices, integration with Saltstack server management.

19. Terraform

  • Description: Terraform is an open-source IT automation tool for configuration management, known for provisioning infrastructure across multiple cloud platforms.
  • Benefits: Cross-platform solution, built-in support for HashiCorp Configuration Language (HCL), declarative infrastructure management.

This comprehensive guide aims to assist organizations in navigating the diverse network automation landscape, enabling them to choose tools aligned with their specific needs, IT systems, and business processes. The decision-making process should consider factors such as vendor support, scalability, and compatibility with existing solutions.

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