Low-code workflows offer an essential solution for effective and efficient process automation. By enabling users to create automation packages that streamline repetitive tasks, low-code development significantly reduces the time and effort required to implement automation solutions. Unlike traditional software development, the visual ‘drag and drop’ method in low code workflows makes it accessible even to non-developers, including citizen developers that aim to democratize automation and foster innovation within organizations.
Our aim with this post is to articulate the importance of low-code workflows, how they can be created in ATOM, and how network operators can harness its potential.
What are low-code workflows?
Low-code workflows are a flow chart representation of process automation, enabling users to create software applications or workflows with minimal coding. They utilize a visual “drag and drop” approach designed to create logical functional blocks and connect them in a flow to achieve a desired automation behavior.
Low-code workflows offer effective and efficient ways to automate processes. The considerations are compelling:
- User-Friendly: Designed for easy use, accessible to non-programmers.
- Speedy Implementation: Eliminates extensive code writing, expediting development.
- Cost Savings: Requires fewer skilled developers, reducing costs.
- Innovation: Enables quick experimentation with new ideas.
- Process Optimization: Automates tasks, minimizing errors and ensuring consistency.
- Versatility: Applicable across multiple industries facilitating streamlined operations and increased efficiency.
Creating Automated Workflows within Anuta Networks ATOM
- Step 1: Collect User inputs through UI interaction
A network developer wanting to automate tasks can input information such as device ID, credentials and interface numbers into a given workflow. These inputs are subsequently utilized within a workflow to streamline automation processes. The workflow also features a form builder that allows users to design and provide input seamlessly. Once these user inputs are acquired, they become variables within the workflow.
Fig: Drag and Drop module and reusability
Fig: ATOM Form Builder
In this example, the inputs consist of a CSV file, Infoblox IPAM credentials, and device credentials. A network engineer can utilize the form builder integrated with the workflow to capture these inputs.
The workflow’s progression unfolds as follows:
- Input Gathering: The workflow accepts CSV input containing neighbor device pairs and their corresponding interfaces.
- Data Transformation: The CSV file is parsed into JSON, establishing a mapping between A-side and Z-side device interfaces.
- Interface Configuration Check: Leveraging APIs like REST API or SSH (if devices are onboarded to ATOM), the workflow accesses network devices to verify interface configurations. If an interface is in use, the workflow proceeds to the next available one.
- Subnet Reservation: If an interface is available, the workflow reserves a subnet in IPAM and assigns the reserved IP address to the interface.
- Configuration Verification: Following IP address assignment, the workflow performs ping tests to verify connectivity between neighboring devices and completes post-checks.
This automated approach reduces errors, effort expended and enhances efficiency, making complex tasks more manageable for network engineers.
Step 2: Ingesting Swagger definition and creating RPC for external platform interaction:
As previously mentioned, the workflow seamlessly interacts with external tools such as network automation platforms.
Workflow functional blocks are generated as ATOM processes swagger documentation in JSON or YAML format, creating a ready-to-use API. This API serves as a building block within the workflow, facilitating interactions with tools like Domain Controllers or OSS/ BSS platforms.
For example, by utilizing a JSON swagger API document like the one below for Cisco ThousandEyes, ATOM can construct an RPC for interacting with Cisco ThousandEyes, or an adapter can be developed for communication with the ThousandEyes platform.
Fig: Ingesting swagger API to create RPCs in a workflow
ATOM’s infrastructure integration capabilities support plugin creation to merge external controllers and automation platforms, including Cisco DNA Center, Cisco Viptela SD-WAN, Cisco Meraki, IPAM, Ansible, and popular ticketing tools such as JIRA and ServiceNow.
Once the plugin is built, developers can test REST API calls from ATOM’s GUI or use the REST API call block within the workflow to interact with external systems. Additionally, ATOM offers a webhook API for receiving notifications from external systems, allowing seamless communication between ATOM and external platforms when notifications need to be shared.
- Step 3: Complete the workflow with pre-built adapters.
Drag and drop RPCs and code blocks create logic and the consequential automated workflows. Prebuilt libraries and Java tools also fit seamlessly into workflow blocks. If additional tools are required for a specific task, they can be accessed in ATOM. The good news is that essential tools such as JSON data processing are already built into ATOM and ready to use.
Fig: ATOM Workflow illustration
Example: Facilitating Multi-Domain Automation:
When an enterprise sets up a new branch network with a secure WAN edge, the network provisioner faces the challenge of managing multiple controllers for specific tasks. Once the underlay network is established, a network engineer typically proceeds to provision the campus branch site within Cisco DNAC in this example. Next, they create a WAN gateway with direct internet access, essential for reaching applications hosted on the AWS cloud.
To secure the internet gateway via SD-WAN edge routers, the engineer employs Cisco Umbrella to establish SIG tunnels. This complex scenario involves navigating the Cisco Umbrella dashboard, vManage NMS, DNAC, and AWS cloud platform- concurrently updating tickets in service management tools like ServiceNow. Juggling these tasks across various platforms and teams can be overwhelming, time-consuming and prone to error.
This is where ATOM shines since its integration adaptors can be developed for other network platforms via API calls. Service tickets can also be seamlessly created in ServiceNow and routed for approval within the organization, all through ATOM.
This example illustrates how automation alleviates the burden of managing multiple platforms across multiple teams, making the entire process more efficient and less reliant on external dependencies.
- Workflow Planner:
During regularly scheduled maintenance windows, a network engineer must initiate pre-checks before the maintenance is initiated to carry out the necessary tasks. Customers are typically informed about the maintenance schedule and resource access often experiences downtime. After the maintenance window runs, post-checks are conducted to verify proper functionality.
Each maintenance operation has a Method of Procedure (MOP) to streamline this process. Creating a workflow allows one to automate these MOPs, such as device software upgrades, complete with pre-checks and post-checks. These workflows can also be scheduled to start conveniently and finish within the allocated time limit. The planning tool, integrated into the system, provides an effortless method to plan and manage workflows. It also displays a calendar view, offering a clear overview of the scheduled tasks.
Fig: ATOM Workflow Scheduler
- Performance optimization (Heat Map):
To optimize workflows with resource-intensive processes, network operators can identify bottlenecks in workflow duration and CPU usage using ATOM’s Heat Map feature. This visual tool highlights process-intensive blocks and areas where ATOM’s engine spends the most time, shown with distinct indicators.
By utilizing the heat map, engineering workflows become more efficient. It also facilitates optimization of tasks and workflows, ensuring that resource consumption is evenly distributed and justified, resulting in a streamlined and well-optimized process.
Fig: ATOM Heatmap
- Workflow Dashboard:
ATOM’s workflow dashboard displays statistics for scheduled, completed, and pending tasks, providing a clear overview of both deployed and pending jobs.
Fig: ATOM Workflow Dashboard
Efficiency through AI-powered workflows
- Auto-Workflow Creation via Prompts in Natural Language:
With its AI-powered workflows, ATOM simplifies the task of the automation process that traditionally demands network programmability skills. ATOM’s Generative AI-powered virtual assistant (AVA) enables workflow creation accessible to operators regardless of their programming skills. When defining an intent—like diagnostics, configuration retrieval, or device commands—AVA translates it into code, creating a functional workflow within minutes.
This efficiency is a result of ATOM’s rich collection of Remote Procedure Calls (RPCs). Upon defining an intent and requesting a workflow, AVA identifies suitable RPCs and constructs the workflow accordingly. By automatically incorporating essential libraries and arranging blocks in sequence, AVA empowers NetDevOps to create manageable workflows swiftly.
Fig: AUTO creation of workflow using ATOM Co-pilot
- AVA Doc Assistant Knowledge Base:
For developers unfamiliar with ATOM’s internal components, AVA provides insights into libraries and artifacts used in low-code automation workflows, bridging the gap between conceptual ideas and operational knowledge for a smooth transition.
- AVA Workflow Co-Pilot:
ATOM AVA Co-pilot aids in the process of selecting RPCs or libraries for workflows. This feature assists step-by-step workflow creation, fetching necessary blocks and configuring them with appropriate RPCs. The user-friendly Copilot feature ensures a guided and seamless workflow creation experience.
Low-code workflows are a testament to the democratization of automation, eliminating barriers and enabling individuals with various skill levels the ability to create robust automation solutions. The journey highlighted in this brief highlights the power of ATOM’s automation capabilities in facilitating high degrees of efficiency, innovation, and collaboration.
From simplifying complex tasks to facilitating multi-domain orchestration, ATOM empowers organizations to navigate complex network operations quickly and easily. The ability to seamlessly interact with external tools, generate functional blocks, and optimize performance through visual insights sets a new standard for process automation.
Embrace the capabilities that ATOM unlocks and embark on a journey where innovation meets simplicity. Don’t miss the opportunity to take your organization’s automation journey to new heights. Book your demo now!
Additional Contributors: Sukirti Bhawna