Photo by Matt Howard on Unsplash

1. What is Happening?

I recently listened to the podcast talking about how great is network automation. Network automation wonderfully addresses challenges in managing network infrastructure. But the question is why it is not widely adopted? Why there is the organization has not implemented network automation?

The underlying principles of network automation are leveraging machine capability to assist network operators or network admins to do their job. The goal of it is to cope with overwhelming tasks of managing network infrastructure as well as making it more consistent. This is related to how reliable and how secure the network setup is.

2. The Reason Why

There are a few reasons laid out in that podcast, but I would like to add what I observed from my experience. In my view, there are 3 big reasons why network automation is not deployed widely:

Wrong Perception of Network Automation

When I discuss network automation with the network operator sometimes it is translated into threatening their job or their role. Often we talked about how network automation can cut costs, makes the deployment faster, etc. The cost-cutting part was translated to eliminating their role and results in savings to the organization. The faster deployment without involving humans is translated into a loss of opportunity to work. Ultimately this topic is translated into job threat.

Network automation is not meant to replace a job or role. It is meant to enhance the quality of workmanship in managing the network. The goal of network automation is to outsource repetitive work to machines so that it can be done at much greater speed.

There is the notion of being strategic and being tactical. Being strategic means thinking long term and focus on the outcome. Being strategic requires more thinking and reasoning. Making sure the network is having capacity and reliable is an example of being strategic. On the other hand, being tactical is more on the nitty-gritty stuff and more concrete actions. Making sure that the routing protocol is converged and having an optimal path is an example of being tactical. Human has to focus on the strategic side while outsourcing the tactical to the machine.

We often forget to elevate the knowledge of the network operator that there is a lot more valuable work to do besides shut and no-shut the port on the switch. Looking at the right metrics to ensure network reliability and ability to optimize it are few of the skills required to manage the network infrastructure.

Network Automation Is The Magic Pill

Network automation is often viewed as a silver bullet of a magic pill which will bring benefits to the organization. However, there is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to network automation. This is because network automation is a journey and each organization might be in different stages of the journey.

Before we can deploy network automation, the underlying pillar (people, process, technology) has to be standardized (if possible, simplified). This is important because automating broken processes is like doing the wrong thing at machine speed. The impact might be unpredictable and unexpected.

When the underlying pillar has been standardized, the automation will result in a predictable outcome. With the right technology, these results will be amplified and ultimately the organization will enjoy the benefits.

Network automation is viewed as technology advancement without addressing the people and processes in the organization

There are 3 pillars in IT organization: people, processes, and technology. These pillars are in order. Trying to change the order might end up with confusion or disconnection between this pillar. For example, when an organization adopts a technology without addressing people and processes first, it might end up with waste because the technology is not used by the people and processes.

What I observed from successful network automation implementation is that people and processes addressed first before the technology. The organization that builds the processes can leverage automation because basically, they automate the flow in the processes.

3. In Summary

  • Network automation is not meant to replace a job, it is to make the outcome more consistent and high quality.
  • Network automation is not a magic pill to solve all network problems. It is a journey.
  • People, process, and technology. Do not rearrange the order.