All set and excited for network automation? Wondering how long it takes to automate your network? Watch the clock!
Network automation is empowering, uplifting, and transforming. It is a force that brings in a burst of benefits such as elimination of human errors, accelerated time-to-market, reduction in OPEX and improvements in quality-of-life – thanks to a considerable shrinkage of both wastage and stress.
Despite this metamorphosis and a new reality that network automation promises, most network administrators flinch at a question they inevitably stumble upon – How long does it take to automate my network?
Maybe you are tired of entering CLI commands and want to know precisely how long will provisioning take to get automated? Perhaps you are interested only in defining network policies, but you still want to automate the entire provisioning, monitoring, and troubleshooting gamut of the network.
The question is bound to pop up – sooner or later. And in all fairness, it is a critical question: Will the exercise take too long before you relax and enjoy the outcomes? Will it be done early enough? The answer depends on what you plan. Let’s explore this further.
Why don’t you take out your goals and put them on the table? Let’s pick them one by one.
How do you decide the degree of automation that you need?
The time taken to automate your network depends, to a large extent, on how much you want to automate. If you are looking to automate a few tedious CLIs, you can probably automate the scope you have cut out in just a couple of hours. All you need to inject here are the right Ansible tools and available playbooks. On the other hand, if you are aiming for a complete intent-based automation solution that can self-learn and self-heal, then, this exercise can easily run into a few years.
The pragmatic side reveals that most administrators would be perched somewhere between these two extremes. So the time taken to automate your network will ultimately hinge upon the level of automation you earmark.
As a thumb rule, if you have to perform an hour-long activity three times or more every month, it could be the right candidate for automation. As you will notice in the ensuing paras, the time taken would correspond to the level that you decide to strike with the automation effort. For every level, the time varies as the level of difficulty and consequences will be different for each stage.
Level 1: Beginner
This level makes sense if you are a small company with a minimal network. Until now commands into devices used to be enough and most of your operations were manual despite some glimpse of Python and bash script automation in place. But now that you are growing and looking for ambitious goals, you realize that you can no longer manage your network without automation.
You start assessing the idea in full glory. You download and learn to use popular automation tools such as Ansible, Chef, and Puppet to automate configuration management on multi-vendor devices. You take the responsibility to define and enforce network policies. You let the automation tool take over tedious command-line configurations. Your automation is rudimentary and not wholly fleshed out. It works in bits and pieces, but that works for you – after all, your network hardly crosses 50 devices.
So the time taken to automate in this case is 4-6 weeks!
Level 2: Intermediate
If at the beginner level, you just dipped your toes and tested the temperature of the water, the chances are that now you feel confident and clear about what next. You are ready to swim more, and you know what more can be achieved from your automation framework. You write advanced Python and Ansible scripts and create a reasonably complex automation framework.
Using Netbox and other apt tools, you manage to create a single source of truth. You can effectively manage device configurations, enforce some compliance policies, and simplify device onboarding processes with the automation framework. Wielding this, you may even have some partially automated software image upgrades on your devices. Your framework is also well armed to collect and display interesting information from your devices.
So, the time that this stage will entail: 2-3 months.
Level 3: Expert
Now that you have been practicing automation for a while and are comfortable in the shallow parts, you could be courageous and better-skilled for the deep end of the pool. With a firm grasp on the technologies that work here, and with an enhanced scenario of your stateless ‘point and shoot’ automation shaping into a more intelligent, transaction-based and stateful framework – the goals and strokes will change as you dive deeper into this area.
Your framework- which already packs the capability to monitor and collect tens and hundreds of devices – is now strengthened enough to display interesting information, as well as to alert and notify you in case of any issues. The entire automation platform is customizable through APIs and extensible through SDKs. You can now integrate the platform to any of your ticketing/billing/ITSM solutions such as ServiceNow, Jira, or BMC ready. You can even integrate these new contours with existing pointed automation scripts.
Do be wary of a possible upshot – the automation framework, often, tends to get bulky and unwieldy; making it cumbersome for in-house maintenance. You have a dedicated network Devops or Netops team up to their knees in writing and maintaining complicated scripts. You have an established CI/CD pipeline. You continuously update scripts as and when new vendor devices are added or existing vendor CLIs change. The scripting knowledge is well distributed across all team members to minimize the impact in case anyone leaves.
Undoubtedly, maintaining such a complex environment is not an easy task. It makes sense and time, at this stage, to consider offloading it to a professional for a scalable and customizable automation solution.
This is where the time taken to automate can now go up to 15-18 months.
Level 4: Master
If all the previous stages outlined go smooth and progress well, you would soon embark upon a robust automation suite. It is likely now that you want to make it future-proof and arm it with cutting-edge technologies. You integrate workflow, approval flows, and multi-tenancy into your automation suite. You implement technologies such as intent-based networking and closed-loop automation to eliminate any human errors further while also enforcing compliance and configuration management. You can define intents declaratively – and the platform will convert it into actions.
With support for a large variety of devices across numerous vendors, you are liberated from all worries about low-level configurations – the automation framework takes care of all that legwork and hassle. You confine yourself to the upper-crust work – like defining and creating policies and methods of procedures. The automation gains bolster you with extensive in-depth analytics to monitor your entire network.
Combining closed-loop automation and monitoring frameworks, you can now create a complete end-to-end automation policy. You can get continuous feedback on your policies through the monitoring framework. Plus, in case of any issues, you can also apply auto-remediation actions – quickly and effortlessly.
Such a complex, extensible, and scalable network has become an imperative and a strategic lever for most medium and large enterprises. Handling an automation solution of this complexity requires a complete dedicated automation team with an automation product line. It makes more sense to procure such a solution from someone who knows it in and out. It is better to invest time and resources on the network rather than on the automation framework.
Done right, and with the right partner, the time taken to automate can be managed within 2-3 years.
It all boils down to picking your battles and goals wisely
The war is against unnecessary time and processes. The idea is to slash costs and decimate wastage. But you can’t kill everything on your own. It is better to deploy troops that know how to do it well and fast. You can build your own contingent, or you can take services from a sharp, able, and seasoned partner.
It would fortify you with both time and network advantages when you pick an expert to automate your networks with a plan. Speed up this journey and get going after your goals. Choose wise and enjoy the power of automation done without wasting any time. The clock is always ticking!