However, network automation tools can actually help understaffed organizations ensure the continued availability and performance of enterprise networks by streamlining workflows and reducing manual intervention. In this blog, we’ll discuss how four different types of network automation tools can be used to solve major problems caused by the tech talent shortage.
|You lack the staff required to efficiently deploy, monitor, and manage network configurations.||Automated network configuration management solutions like SolarWinds Network Configuration Manager (NCM) and Micro Focus Network Automation Software.|
|You need to extend DevOps automation to networking without purchasing additional solutions or hiring network automation experts.||DevOps configuration management solutions that can be used for server and network automation like RedHat Ansible and Puppet.|
|You want to improve network reliability and performance while reducing management complexity.||Software-defined networking (SDN) and software-defined wide area networking (SD-WAN) solutions like Palo Alto Prisma and Cisco Meraki.|
|You lack full-coverage network security, so you’re unsure where your vulnerabilities are or how efficiently you can respond to incidents.||Network security automation solutions like Palo Alto’s Next-Generation Firewall (NGFW) and Datadog AIOps security and monitoring.|
|To learn more about using automation technology to ensure network resilience, click here to download the Network Automation Blueprint from ZPE Systems.|
Network automation tools to offset the tech talent shortage
The following categories of network automation tools are designed to simplify network management workflows to ensure optimal performance and 24/7 availability.
Automated network configuration management
Network configuration management refers to the ongoing process of creating, deploying, and maintaining configurations for network devices and logic. Some of the tasks involved in network configuration management include device discovery, provisioning, and software and firmware updates. In addition, network configurations are monitored to ensure they don’t drift away from documented standards (configuration shift), and if needed, unauthorized changes are rolled back. This reduces the risk that an undocumented configuration tweak will introduce an unnoticed security vulnerability (such as the recent Fortinet authentication bypass exploit) and ensures consistent quality across the entire network architecture.
However, manual network configuration management is complicated and time-consuming, especially when so many network operations teams are overworked and understaffed. An automated network configuration management solution handles many of these tasks without the need for human intervention. Admins can create network configuration policies and playbooks which are used to automatically deploy new devices and update network dependencies, saving time and reducing human error. In addition, automated configuration management uses these policies to continuously monitor for and correct configuration drift. In the case of the Fortinet CVE, for example, automatic configuration management could have helped teams instantly roll back to the last known good config to close the vulnerability.
Examples of network automation tools for network configuration management include SolarWinds Network Configuration Manager and Micro Focus Network Automation.
DevOps IaC configuration management
Many organizations have adopted the DevOps methodology, which seeks to dissolve the barriers between the software development and IT operations teams to improve efficiency. On the Ops side, this often involves a practice called IaC, or Infrastructure as Code. IaC uses software code and machine-readable definition files to automatically provision servers and manage configurations. IaC enables Ops teams to spin up resources at the velocity required for fast-paced DevOps software projects. It also means that infrastructure configuration code can be stored, managed, and deployed from the same platform as software code, facilitating easy collaboration between developers and sysadmins.
With the recession forcing many IT teams to downsize, organizations are looking for ways to extend the efficiency provided by DevOps automation tools to the networking side of the house without purchasing additional solutions. Plus, many network admins lack the expertise required to operate network automation solutions, and the tech talent shortage makes recruiting such specialized engineers difficult. Luckily, some IaC configuration management tools like RedHat Ansible and Puppet can also be used for network configurations, which helps teams automate without any special programming skills.
That also means admins can deploy, monitor, and manage configurations for network devices and systems across the entire architecture from a single platform, saving money and reducing operational complexity. This convergence of DevOps and network management is known as NetDevOps or NetOps, and it’s empowering organizations to improve efficiency even during the recession and talent shortage.
Software-defined networking and SD-WAN
Enterprise networks are typically highly distributed and very complex. An organization could have 500 branch offices around the world, each of which uses slightly different networking hardware and software solutions. Each of these vendor solutions might have its own management platform for admins to configure, manage, and continuously monitor. Things grow more challenging when an organization uses a hybrid cloud infrastructure, which requires WAN (wide area networking) orchestration across multiple public and private clouds. This complexity makes it challenging for overworked network administrators to maintain optimal performance and 24/7 availability.
Software-defined networking (SDN) and software-defined wide area networking (SD-WAN) help to reduce the complexity of enterprise networks by abstracting network configurations and workflows as software code that’s decoupled from the underlying hardware. Codifying network configurations makes it easier to use technology like automated configuration management, which reduces the burden on overworked admins and reduces human error. SDN and SD-WAN also facilitate the use of centralized network orchestration platforms, which give admins a single pane of glass from which to control the entire network architecture.
This holistic coverage makes it possible for small teams to efficiently monitor and manage large, complex networks, reducing the risk of fatigue, human error, or negligence affecting performance. Plus, SDN and SD-WAN solutions employ automation to continuously monitor and adjust routing configurations as needed to ensure optimal performance. That means these solutions are often able to detect and remediate issues with latency and site availability much faster than a human admin could, ensuring optimal performance and reliability.
Examples of SDN and SD-WAN solutions include Cisco Meraki SDN and Palo Alto Prisma SD-WAN.
Network security automation
With the quantity, sophistication, and cost of cybersecurity attacks rising every year, network security is more important than ever. According to the Sophos State of Ransomware 2022 survey, 66% of organizations were hit by ransomware, a massive increase from 2020 in which only 37% of organizations were attacked.
However, the tech talent shortage and ongoing recession have left many organizations with gaps that increase both the risk that a breach will occur and the time it will take to recover. For example, IBM estimated in 2021 that unpatched vulnerabilities accounted for at least one-third of all data breaches. However, staying on top of patch management for large, diverse, and distributed network infrastructures is difficult when teams are overworked and understaffed.
Plus, when networking and security teams are spread so thin, it can take them much longer to detect a breach that has already occurred, even if the hacker is actively exfiltrating data or changing system configurations. Remediation is also slowed down by the need to manually investigate logs, isolate affected systems, and implement fixes.
Network security automation can help bridge these gaps by reducing the need for human analysts to perform the more tedious and repetitive – but highly vital – tasks involved in ongoing cybersecurity management. Automated security solutions use technology like AIOps and machine learning to manage software and firmware updates, analyze network traffic for threats, and even perform remediation steps like quarantining infected systems and blocking compromised accounts.
Popular examples of network security automation tools include Palo Alto Network’s Next Generation Firewall (NGFW) and Datadog AIOps Security and Monitoring.
Using a vendor-neutral platform to deploy network automation tools
The goal of automation is to make it easier for network admins to maintain and optimize the enterprise network. However, if admins need to learn, configure, deploy, and manage a bunch of additional automation solutions, you could end up increasing the complexity of their jobs rather than reducing it.
The Nodegrid platform can help by directly hosting all of the network automation tools listed above, reducing the need for additional hardware to manage. Deploying Nodegrid boxes in all your data centers and remote sites gives you the ability to extend automation to every corner of your network and manage it all from behind a single pane of glass. Hosting your network automation on a vendor-neutral platform like Nodegrid gives your team an easy way to orchestrate automated workflows across your entire enterprise architecture.
Network automation tools help to bridge the gaps caused by the tech talent shortage, ensuring the reliability and resilience of enterprise networks. To get step-by-step instructions for how to implement the network automation solutions mentioned above, click here to download the Network Automation Blueprint from ZPE Systems.
Ready to learn more?
To learn more about deploying network automation tools with Nodegrid, contact ZPE Systems today.