There are numerous multi-vendor network automation and monitoring solutions available today. It’s a confusing proposition given administrators and architects need guidance in selecting the right automation solution for their network. Most claim single-pane-of-glass functionality as well as single-source-of-truth for the network. This is often not the case, and rich features and high scalability alone cannot certify a solution as single-source-of-truth. Another important consideration is the number of supported vendors, devices, and functionality ranging from. routers, switches, load balancers, firewalls, ticketing/billing/ITSM solutions and SDN/SD WAN solutions.
Why embrace a multi-vendor strategy?
On the surface, a single vendor strategy seems to provide substantial benefits. A vendor can analyze the network and suggest possible solutions thereby eliminating excessive time and resources spent in network design activities. Procuring from a single vendor also increases the size of an opportunity, often compelling the vendor to provide significant discounts leading to a lower capital expense for the enterprise. Another clear benefit is the fact that there is only a single vendor accountable for any issues that arises in the network, often leading to ease of troubleshooting and remediation. A final benefit is a single interface for all deployment and management activities. However, given these benefits, a single vendor strategy can be fraught with risk.
What are some of the risks? Vendors often sell end-to-end solutions to lock-in their customers. The subsequent design often only includes their products. The reality is that no vendor is best-of-breed for every product and every feature, and as such some components of the network will be under optimized. Vendors will attempt to find workarounds for these shortcomings, but these often lead to an over-engineered and hard to manage network. In those circumstances when integration of other parties is required, often times proprietary components are used making integration difficult if not impossible.
As such, a multi-vendor strategy is almost always preferred over a single vendor strategy. Network administrators and architects can divide the network into various functional components and assign a vendor to each component based on depth of solution offering. In order to do this effectively, a common platform is required for proper communication and interoperability.
Challenges implementing a multi-vendor strategy
Multi-vendor networking strategies are extremely beneficial to enterprises. However, it can be a challenging journey.
- Lack of uniformity in management interfaces – Every vendor designs management interfaces that are optimized for a particular set of products and customers. There is often no uniformity in the CLI or API designs. Network operators and engineers therefore must grasp and remember numerous configurations and parameters.
- Lack of unified analytics – Networks contain a wealth of information. Network administrators get an end-to-end view of their network by consolidating telemetry information across various devices and through unified visualization. Most solutions don’t deliver.
- High training costs – Network engineers have to be trained on CLI/APIs/GUIs and other interfaces for management and configuration of multiple network devices. Enterprises also tend to leverage expensive vendor professional services to provision, deploy, and operate network devices.
- Difficulty in enforcing consistent network policies – Every product differs not only in their management interface but also their capabilities. Enforcing the same policy across multi-vendor devices and multiple domains has become complicated.
Advantages of a multi-vendor network automation solution
Multi-vendor network automation solutions reduce network complexity by automating tedious and manual tasks. The benefits are numerous:
- Automate tedious and manual configurations – Network administrators and engineers do not need in-depth knowledge on the varied configuration formats across vendors. Automation solutions provide a common management interface.
- Enforce uniform compliance across networks – Multi-vendor network automation solutions allow administrators to create policies for the entire network. Network operators no longer have to worry about individual device configuration. Rather, automation solutions generate commands based on network policy and push relevant configurations to all devices in the network. This prevents any human errors or unfinished/stale configurations that might be lingering in the network
- Unified analytics – Multi-vendor network automation platforms can communicate in a variety of ways with network devices. They collect information for diverse devices, normalize various format, and provide a uniform visualization. Subsequently, network administrators receive a common analytics view for all devices.
- Closed-loop automation – Multi-vendor network automation solutions provide the power of defining alerts, notifications and even auto-remediation for the entire network. Any policy violation on any device triggers the same remediation action thereby simplifying troubleshooting and maintenance activities.
- Enhanced end-to-end security – Uniform analytics and closed-loop automation provide a holistic view of the network. Network administrators can closely monitor every network component leading to an enhanced network security framework.
- Standardized procedures – Some procedures like an operating system upgrade, are vendor-defined. Multi-vendor network automation helps to standardize and automate such procedures by providing out-of-box capabilities for every vendor workflow.
- Increased employee productivity – Multi-vendor network automation eliminates manual tasks. Employees can subsequently invest their time on more value-added activities. This not only relieves unnecessary stress on an organization but also empowers employees to skill-up and improve job performance.
Why a solution with maximum vendor support wins?
Multi-vendor support is a critical component for any automation solution. Subsequently, automation solutions that support a multitude of vendors tend to deliver tremendous value for enterprises in several ways.
- Reduced tool footprint – Most enterprises are plagued with too many monitoring and automation tools. Most tools target particular vendor or solve specific problems. Network administrators can’t waste precious time in managing and maintaining a plethora of tools. To reduce tool footprint, automation solutions must be capable of supporting all vendors in the network.
- Single source of truth – Single source of truth enables network operators the ability to manage network policies and device configurations more effectively. Data is dispersed across numerous tools and network administrators need consolidation. In order to provide a single source for all data is to communicate with all vendor devices in the network.
- Integration with business workflows – Automation solutions must integrate with ticketing/billing and ITSM tools to provide effective automation. Open APIs and proper vendor support ensure automation solutions integrate seamlessly with business process solutions.
- Easier tool management – Managing and maintaining a single tool is far easier than multiple tools. This eliminates the need to manage multiple licenses, professional service teams and track tool upgrades.
- Higher employee satisfaction – Network administrators and engineers aim to learn new technologies and improve the performance and resiliency of the networks they manage. Automation delivers simplicity making the operators life easier.
- Reduced staff training – A single tool reduces staff training expenses. Enterprises also mitigate budget spent on expensive professional services
Understandably, it is not possible for automation solutions to have support for each and every network vendor. The automation vendors, therefore, should invest in a modern, flexible, scalable and componentized architecture that enables the addition of new vendors swiftly. Because, in the end, an automation solution supporting most vendors solves most problems.
Anuta ATOM multi-vendor network automation platform is rich with features and functionalities, highly performant and horizontally scalable. To learn more on how ATOM platform simplifies your network operations, visit www.anutanetworks.com.