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A zero touch deployment cheat sheet is visualized as a literal cheat sheet used by a student during an exam

Zero touch deployment is meant to make admins’ lives easier by automatically provisioning new devices. However, many teams find the reality of zero touch deployment much more frustrating than manual device configurations. For example, zero touch deployment isn’t always compatible with legacy systems, can be difficult to scale, and is often error-prone and difficult to remotely troubleshoot. This post provides a “cheat sheet” of solutions to the most common zero touch deployment challenges to help organizations streamline their automatic device provisioning.

Zero touch deployment cheat sheet

Zero touch deployment – also known as zero touch provisioning (ZTP) – uses software scripts or definition files to automatically configure new devices. The goal is for a team to be able to ship a new-in-box device to a remote branch where a non-technical user can plug in the device’s power and network cables, at which point the device automatically downloads its configuration from a centralized repository via the branch DHCP server.

In practice, however, there are a variety of common issues that force admins to intervene in the “zero touch” deployment. This guide discusses these challenges and advises how to overcome them to achieve truly zero touch deployments.

Zero touch deployment challenge: The solution:
Legacy systems don’t have native support for zero touch Extending zero touch to legacy systems using a vendor-neutral platform
Deployment errors result in costly truck-rolls Recovering from errors remotely with Gen 3 out-of-band (OOB) management
Securing remote deployments causes firewall bottlenecks Moving security to the edge with Zero trust gateways and Secure Access Service Edge (SASE)
Automating deployments at scale increases management complexity Maintaining control through centralized, vendor-neutral orchestration with version control

Extend zero touch to legacy systems with a vendor-neutral platform

Challenge Solution

While many new systems and networking solutions support zero touch deployment, sometimes there’s still a need to repurpose or reconfigure legacy systems that don’t come with native ZTP support.

Pre-staging these devices before shipping them to the branch is a security risk because the system could be intercepted in transit; plus, they’re likely already deployed at remote sites and need to be reconfigured in place. Without a way to extend zero touch deployment capabilities to those legacy systems, companies often have to pay for admins to travel to remote branches, negating any cost savings they were hoping to gain from reusing older devices.

One way to extend zero touch to legacy systems is with a vendor-neutral management platform. For example, a vendor-neutral serial console switch with auto-sensing ports can connect to modern and legacy infrastructure solutions in a heterogeneous branch deployment so they can all be managed from a single place.

From that unified management platform, admins can write and deploy configuration scripts to connected devices, including legacy systems that don’t support zero touch. Technically, this isn’t zero touch deployment because the system doesn’t automatically download and run its configuration file, but it’s still a way to turn an on-site, manual process into one that’s remotely activated and mostly automated.

Recover from deployment errors with Gen 3 OOB management

Challenge Solution

A new branch deployment almost never goes completely according to plan, and this is especially true when teams are using zero touch for the first time, or aren’t completely comfortable with software-defined infrastructure and networking. In the best-case scenario, when there’s a configuration error, the zero touch deployment aborts, and an admin is able to correct the problem and restart the process.

However, sometimes the deployment hiccup causes the device to hang, freeze, or get stuck in a reboot cycle. Or, even worse, an unnoticed error in the configuration could allow the deployment to finish successfully but then go on to affect other production dependencies and bring the entire branch network down. Either way, organizations must again deal with the expenses involved in sending a tech out to troubleshoot and fix the problem.

The best way to ensure continuous access to remote infrastructure is with out-of-band (OOB) management. An OOB solution, such as a serial console or all-in-one branch gateway, connects to the management ports on infrastructure devices so admins can remotely monitor and control every device from a single place without IP addresses.

This creates a separate (out-of-band) network that’s dedicated to management and troubleshooting, making it possible for teams to remotely recover devices that have failed the zero touch deployment process or brought down production LAN dependencies. Plus, the OOB gateway uses independent, redundant network interfaces to ensure admins still have remote access even if the production WAN or ISP link goes down.

To ensure full OOB management coverage of a heterogenous, mixed-vendor environment, the out-of-band solution should be completely vendor-neutral. An open OOB device also supports integrations with third-party solutions for automation, orchestration, and security. This kind of out-of-band platform is known as Gen 3 OOB. Gen 3 OOB management ensures that teams can remotely recover from zero touch deployment errors no matter what device is affected or how the production network is impacted.

Secure remote deployments with zero trust gateways and SASE

Challenge Solution

Organizations need to secure all devices at all remote sites using consistent policies and security controls. However, for smaller branches and IoT sites, it usually isn’t cost-effective to deploy a security appliance in each location.

Plus, adding more firewalls also adds more management complexity. That means traffic is usually backhauled through the main data center firewall, creating bottlenecks and causing network latency for the entire enterprise.

Using zero trust gateways and cloud-based security services, companies can move security to the branch without the cost and complexity of additional firewalls. An all-in-one, zero trust gateway solution combines SD-WAN, gateway routing, and OOB management in a single device. It also supports zero trust authentication technologies like SAML 2.0 and 2FA. A zero trust gateway also needs to support network micro-segmentation, which will allow the use of highly specific security policies and targeted security controls. Plus, by enabling software-defined wide area networking (SD-WAN), a zero trust gateway facilitates the use of SASE.

Secure Access Service Edge (SASE) is a cloud-based service that combines several enterprise security solutions into a single platform. Zero trust gateways use SD-WAN’s intelligent routing capabilities to detect branch traffic that’s destined for the cloud or web. This traffic is directed through the SASE stack for firewall inspection and security policy application, allowing it to bypass the main security appliance entirely. SASE helps reduce the load on the enterprise firewall, reducing bottlenecks and improving performance without sacrificing security.

Scale zero touch deployments with centralized orchestration

Challenge Solution
Zero touch deployments occur (at least in theory) without any admin intervention, but they still need to be monitored for failures. Keeping track of a handful of automatic deployments may seem easy enough, but as the number and frequency increases, it becomes more challenging. This is especially true when companies kick off large-scale expansions, deploying dozens of devices at once, all of which could be plugged in at any time to begin the automated provisioning process. Plus, different devices need different configuration files, and admins need a way to work together without overwriting each other’s code or duplicating each other’s efforts. A vendor-neutral orchestration platform provides a central hub for network and infrastructure automation across the entire enterprise. This platform uses the serial consoles and OOB gateways in each remote location to gain control over all the connected devices, so network teams can monitor and deploy all their zero touch configurations from one place. An orchestration platform is the single source of truth for all automation, so it needs to support version control. This ensures that admins can see who created or changed a configuration file and revert to a previous version when there’s a mistake.

Simplifying zero touch deployment with Nodegrid

Zero touch deployment can be a hassle, but using vendor-neutral management systems, Gen 3 OOB management, zero trust gateways, and centralized orchestration can help organizations overcome the most common hurdles. For example, a vendor-neutral Nodegrid branch gateway deployed at each remote site helps you extend automation to legacy systems, provides fast and reliable out-of-band access to recover from issues, enables zero trust security & SASE, and gives you unified orchestration through the Nodegrid Manager (on premises) and ZPE Cloud software.

Ready to learn more about zero touch deployment?

Nodegrid has a solution for every zero touch deployment challenge. Schedule a demo to see how Nodegrid’s vendor-neutral platform can simplify zero touch deployment for your enterprise.

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