Automation

Who is network automation for?

Before we dive into the benefits of network automation, it’s very important to identify who network automation is for. Also, want to highlight the difference between partial automation and full automation. Partial automation has been around for years. Partial automation is essentially management via a GUI. Any task that is performed in the GUI triggers a correlating script on the back end to complete the task. Full Automation bypasses GUI and/or CLI to perform desired task. While most vendors will tell you, network automation is for everybody in the name of selling you something, but the reality is that full automation is not needed in every IT organization. There are a few scenarios where full automation is truly needed. First would be a service, hosting, or cloud provider environments like AWS, Azure, GoDaddy, AT&T, Century Link or Rackspace. Scenario two is very large enterprises whose networks more so resemble that of a small to mid-size carrier. Another scenario is an IT organization that has certain tasks that are repeated very frequently. Final scenario is IT organizations do not have adequate staff whether its related head count or specialized expertise.

Why automation matters

How quickly can you respond to alerts, outages , user requests? Is your order process efficient? How quickly can you deploy new products and services? Your answers to these questions (and how they compare to your competitors) can indicate how satisfied your users are and how happy your employees are. Automation can give you better answers to these questions. Network automation is increasingly critical to service provider operations, but what is it? Put simply, network automation allows software to automatically configure, provision, manage and test network devices. Its value lies in its ability to improve efficiency, cut operating expenses and reduce human error. As we transition to the all-digital, all-the-time connected world of people, things and processes — driven by cloud, mobility, IoT and analytics — demands on your network are skyrocketing. By 2020 there will be 4.1 billion Internet users, 26.3 billion networked devices and connections, and datacenter traffic will jump 330%. Networks must become more flexible, scalable, interoperable, easier to manage, secure and supportive of applications to enable this transformation, and this makes automation an increasingly attractive option.

IT decision makers (ITDMs) believe automation is the cornerstone strategy to increase network agility and reliability while controlling OpEx and CapEx, i.e. automating the 20% of networking tasks that take up to 80% of the staff’s time. However, while most ITDMs see automation as essential — i.e. only 16% to 30% of daily network administrative tasks have been automated; 80% of businesses experience network errors caused by human mistakes on a regular basis; and non-automated networks average 5-6 errors per month — fewer than 40% say they’ve managed to deploy automation meaningfully. The top budgets barriers to technology updates are security and compliance, employee skill sets, legacy network technology and organization structure.

Introduction

As we transition to the digital, always connected world of people, devices and processes — driven by cloud, mobility, IoT and analytics — demands on your network are skyrocketing. This year, there will be 4.1 billion Internet users, 26.3 billion networked devices and connections, and datacenter traffic will jump 330%. Networks must become more flexible, scalable, interoperable, easier to manage, secure and supportive of applications to enable this transformation, and this makes automation an increasingly attractive option.

IT decision makers (ITDMs) believe automation is the cornerstone strategy to increase network agility and reliability while controlling OpEx and CapEx, i.e. automating the 20% of networking tasks that take up to 80% of the staff’s time. However, while most ITDMs see automation as essential — i.e. only 16% to 30% of daily network administrative tasks have been automated; 80% of businesses experience network errors caused by human mistakes on a regular basis; and non-automated networks average 5-6 errors per month — fewer than 40% say they’ve managed to deploy automation meaningfully. The top budgets barriers to technology updates are security and compliance, employee skill sets, legacy network technology and organization structure.

Robust automation capabilities are generally recognized as a competitive advantage because they can help improve customer experience, increase revenues, and lower costs. However, automation in the real world is complicated. Application and service requirements are myriad and ever-changing while infrastructure can span technologies, vendors, and generations. The ability to bridge these environments is where MobileNOC Infrastructure Operating System (MIOS) excels. One of the biggest benefits of network automation is lower operational expense. By eliminating tedious and manual processes through automated and orchestrated infrastructures, you not only extend your network’s capabilities but also achieve a faster ROI.

Automation also reduces errors and builds resiliency. In addition to automating manual tasks to minimize network errors, many solutions automatically respond to network errors without intervention, improving business resiliency and ensuring employees have access to the applications and data they need whenever they need it.

MobileNOC’s approach to automation is to reduce operational complexity through simplification and abstraction, enabling customers to deploy new network services faster, and improve capacity utilization and network resiliency through deep telemetry. These ‘zero touch’ networks rely on telemetry, automation, machine learning, and programming with declarative intent. For example, our Zero Touch Provisioning (ZPT) allows you to automate Day One provisioning and configuring tasks on our switches and routers, saving time and resources, and eliminating costly errors.

Nearly every business shares a common set of challenges and opportunities:

  • Improve customer experience through low-friction interaction, greater responsiveness, and increased personalization and relevancy
  • Lower operating expenses to either hit lower price points in competitive markets or improve profitability where price competition is not a factor
  • Find new sources of revenue through new products and services, out-experimenting competitors and leveraging improved customer experiences to increase the lifetime value (LTV) of current customers

Perhaps surprisingly, automation can contribute to success in all three of these areas—the sidebar explains why automation can positive impacts beyond the expected increase the efficiency of operations.

MIOS

  • A model-based programmatic interface that allows for control from simple device turn-up and configuration management to sophisticated, full lifecycle service management
  • API- A fast, highly scalable, highly available configuration data store that is the definitive source of reliable information about the network
  • Integrations – A device abstraction layer that uses network element drivers (NEDs) to mediate access to both MobileNOC and more than 150 other-party physical and virtual devices
  • Mobile/IOT – mobile and IOT devices that will provide engineers the visibility and flexibility they need to manage, configure, or automate their infrastructure.

Taken together, these components allow MIOS to provide a single, network-wide interface to all network devices and services—both physical and virtual—using a single-state model and configuration database. Through this common model, MIOS acts at the operations manager between applications and service owners and infrastructure operations.

Automation delivers broad benefits

  • By handling monotonous processes that take up the vast majority of operations’ time, it frees your teams to work on higher-value tasks such as better understanding the needs of customers and stakeholders.
  • Automated processes are executed in a consistent way so that downstream processes do not have to deal with errors and variability, and customers get predictability and a better experience.
  • Automated processes run on demand, at machine speed, night and day. This shortens development, testing, and deployment cycles for everyone. For the organization, this translates to faster time to market, increased productivity, and lower costs.

Building better automation

The MIOS architecture provides a number of functional benefits when developing an automation framework:

  • A rich and diverse set of northbound APIs and software interfaces from programmatic or RPC-based protocols (such as NETCONF/RESTCONF) to language bindings such as Erlang, Java, Python, and C, to human-to-machine interfaces, such as a web-user interfaces (UIs), and a set of command-line interfaces (CLIs). This allows straightforward integration into existing business systems and operational tool chains such DevOps continuous integration and deployment (CI/CD) pipelines
  • A multivendor device abstraction layer to mediate access to both MobileNOC devices and more than 150 other-party physical and virtual devices that to allow automation of multivendor and cross-domain workflows
  • Integrated capabilities for maintaining the integrity of the environment, sophisticated troubleshooting of infrastructure and services, and granular auditing and logging.
  • Extensibility of the MIOS platform with pre-built function packs for use cases like NFVI MANO and secure agile exchange or through custom development and customization

Digging a little deeper into MIOS reveals a set of capabilities that highlight why MIOS is a leading automation solution today.

A true model-driven system

MIOS can automatically generate a single, well-defined API into the entire network environment. Using the standardized YANG modeling language, you can model and automate any type of device—layers 1 through 7, physical or virtual, addressed traditionally or via software-defined networking (SDN) overlays. Beyond devices, you can also model any type of service or policy.

Real-time configuration database (CDB)

MIOS captures the real-time configuration state of every device and service in the network. In a world where network provisioning and operations teams often work with data that is as much as 70 percent inaccurate, MIOS can provide a single, scalable, continuous source of reliable data for the network.

Stateful convergence

To achieve end-to-end automation, an orchestrator should be able to receive the “intent” of the service and translate that to real change in the network. Your networking operations may currently rely on workflow definitions to accomplish this—and may soon find themselves overwhelmed by a constantly growing collection of workflows to account for each unique case. MIOS takes a different approach through the concept of state convergence. Using the same common data models and modeling language to describe services and devices, MIOS fully automates the creation, deletion, and run-time modification of network services. It maps design-time service definitions to run-time network operations through a single, flexible data model for a service. MIOS’s stateful convergence algorithm then derives the minimum network changes required to meet the service definition and executes them.

Multidomain orchestration

Automation tools have typically been bound to a technology domain: a tool for the data center network, a tool for the WAN, a tool for the optical network, and perhaps tools to manage firewalls and other L4–L7 devices. MIOS can span multiple technology domains allowing you to create and automate cross-domain service chains much more easily and dependably. Furthermore, MIOS does this in a loosely coupled manner so that the operations teams responsible each technology domain can work cooperatively with the teams building the service chains.

Extensibility

MobileNOC MIOS is not so much an automation tool as an automation platform—it has the power and flexibility to serve as a substrate for your overall automation and orchestration strategy. To help accelerate you automation plans, MobileNOC has developed a number of extensions to the core platform, which are discussed in the sidebar on the prior page.

Role Benefit
Network or infrastructure engineer Use task or platform-level automation to increase efficiency and accuracy and tame complexity during day-to-day operations
DevOps or deployment engineer Frontline for customer experience—needs robust tooling that can provide end-to-end automation or easily integrate into a larger tool chain
App or service owner Deliver growth by quickly developing, deploying and iterating new apps and services

MIOS Core Function Packs

MobileNOC also offers function packs that extend the core platform to address specific use cases:

  • NFVO – provides network function virtualization orchestration. Paired with MIOS and ESC it forms a full ETSI NFV MANO solution
  • Secure Agile Exchange – automates secure agile exchange workflows that connect users to private data center and cloud-based applications
  • SD-WAN – automate processes associated with deploying SD-WAN services (mostly relevant to service providers)
  • vBranch – automates workflows associated with turning up a virtualized branch office

Why MobileNOC?

The team that built MIOS has a decade of experience working side by side with the world’s top financial institutions, service providers and a growing number of large enterprises to help them automate their environments. Those real-world insights have shaped MIOS not just in terms of a robust set of automation capabilities but also in areas like scalability and trust, which are equally as important in production environments.

Successful execution of an automation strategy is as much about people and process as it about tools such as MIOS. You may find you need to augment your capabilities in these areas as you embark on your automation journey. In support of that, MobileNOC Services offers a full portfolio of services across the project lifecycle from advisory services to implementation and support to customization.