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Reasons to build and buy network automation tools

Most enterprises are building and buying network automation tools, and the reasons for both approaches are abundant. Find out why your organization might want to do the same.

While it might seem like the choice of network automation is between build vs. buy, enterprises are doing both.

Experts debate which automation approach is best. Building DIY automation tools offers network teams more customization, while vendor tools provide more available features. But enterprises tend to use a mix of both methods, according to a recent webinar by Enterprise Management Associates (EMA) and Network to Code, a network automation consulting firm. The webinar presented information from a February 2022 EMA research report that surveyed 359 IT professionals. Approximately 93% of respondents said their organizations developed in-house network automation tools, and 98% said their organizations used commercial tools.

While it might seem redundant for enterprises to use multiple types of network automation tools, organizations have reasons to use both, said Shamus McGillicuddy, vice president of research at EMA. In-house and commercial network automation tools have different use cases and adoption drivers, McGillicuddy added. An organization that uses a combination of both approaches can have greater control of the automation controls across their network environments but also implement specified capabilities unavailable from commercial vendors.

Reasons to build and buy network automation tools

For the most part, different factors fuel the use of in-house network automation tools and commercial tools. One factor, however, drives adoption of both in-house and commercial tools: security and compliance requirements.

Reasons to build network automation tools

Security and compliance factors ranked as the top reason why organizations choose to use in-house network automation tools, according to 50% of respondents. One reason for this preference, McGillicuddy said, is some commercial network automation tools run in cloud-based environments. Enterprises that want to keep their data secure prefer to leave it on premises and use in-house network automation tools instead.

Respondents who said their organizations were more successful with network automation were more likely to list security and compliance reasons as a driving factor for in-house network automation tools, McGillicuddy added.

Additionally, the study found that respondents who reported using open source tools to build in-house tools experienced more success with network automation. According to McGillicuddy, 84% of respondents said their internal automation tools used some open source components, such as Ansible, OpenConfig and Python library tools.

Other reasons why respondents said they built network automation tools included the following:

  • Specific functionality.
  • Specific features.
  • More control.
  • Cost savings.

Reasons to buy network automation

Approximately 37% of respondents whose organizations use commercial tools also listed security and compliance factors as a reason for purchasing tools. Enterprises that need reliable network automation systems prefer to purchase vendor tools because of the added security measures compared with in-house tools.

Respondents said the following were common reasons to buy network automation tools:

  • More visibility into data across the organization.
  • More features and functionality.
  • Existing relationships with vendors.

Consider staffing and workflows for automation strategy

Regardless of how enterprises decide to implement network automation, they likely contend with staffing issues. Around 37% and 35% of respondents said they find it difficult to hire staff with networking and automation skills, respectively.

Organizations that can't find employees with the right automation skill set likely won't be able to build the in-house network automation strategy they want. In that case, they might prefer to buy a commercial tool that requires less hands-on management.

Another challenge of hiring skilled workers is the separation between network pros and programmers. While network pros manage networks and programmers code systems, they rarely cross over into fields outside their purview. To close this gap, McGillicuddy said organizations should focus on training and collaboration best practices. First, teams should train existing personnel and help professionals develop additional skills. Organizations should also encourage cross-team collaboration between network professionals and programmers.

Network to Code Founder and CTO Jason Edelman added another important step when planning an automation strategy: document workflows. Adopting a workflow helps teams learn what they're trying to automate in the network, Edelman said.

Then, they can decide whether it'd be more beneficial to build or buy automation tools. These workflows include gathering data, issuing pre- and post-checks for changes, and creating automated rollbacks in the event of post-check failure.

"If you can't document it, can you automate it, or should you be automating it?" Edelman said. "It's really [about taking] that leap and thinking about documenting workflows. Once you understand them, you can do a better analysis of building, buying or consuming open source."

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