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Taking a look at network automation tools to ease oversight

This week, bloggers explore network automation tools, how vendors must promote disaggregated switching and if it's time for a networking version of Maslow's hierarchy of needs.

In a recent post on Network Sherpa, blogger John Harrington explored the subject of network automation. Even though the use of network automation tools is currently a hot topic, the discussion has focused largely on edge-port provisioning. Harrington, however, cautioned that port provisioning is not the only challenge facing network automation tools.

One of the first steps toward automation, Harrington said, is to streamline the steps now required to get access to a client data center or cage in a colocation facility. A Web portal through which these approvals could be managed is a must-have when evaluating sites, Harrington wrote.

In addition, linking return merchandise authorization IDs with tickets or maintaining separate licenses for current and replacement units may help to overcome the cumbersome hardware-replacement process.

Finally, Harrington recommended that data center managers take a long, hard look at WAN tracking and management. While software-defined WAN and its ability to optimize WAN links is growing in popularity, simply inventorying WAN links -- and eliminating costs associated with unused or underused links -- is an important step in the process of putting network automation tools in action.

As Harrington examined network automation tools, he said many of the challenges associated with cutting waste and inefficiency are the sum of "mundane processes," rather than deep technical issues.

Learn more about Harrington's thoughts on network automation.

Validation for disaggregated switching

Mike Fratto, an analyst with Current Analysis Inc., in Sterling, Va., recently explored disaggregated switching. While many enterprises are seeking integrated IT systems to deliver internal and external services for end users, most companies lack the personnel to authenticate disaggregated switching products. In networking, disaggregation involves the separation of the network operating system from network hardware.

In Fratto's view, networking vendors will not succeed unless they take the lead on validating integration between the hardware and software, and, as a result, offer a combination of professional and technical support services to guide the process.

Out-of-box integration is in high demand, given DevOps challenges. So far, interoperation and integration in enterprise networking have focused on basic functions, such as supporting Ethernet, routing, Simple Network Management Protocol and IP. Fratto pointed to IPsec VPN connections, which still cannot necessarily guarantee connectivity or interoperate across commonly used configurations, as a good example of integration challenges that still remain. "Nothing is different with disaggregated networking," Fratto said, where interoperation will be essential for product success.

Explore Fratto's thoughts on disaggregated switching.

Networking hierarchy of needs

Jeremy Stretch, a network engineer at New York-based DigitalOcean Inc., and blogger with Packet Life, referred to Abraham Maslow's famous hierarchy of needs psychological model and devised a networking equivalent. In place of the physiological base that underpins Maslow's hierarchy, Stretch substituted a functioning network, which includes hardware components -- such as routers, switches, power and cabling. Many small businesses never move beyond this base stage, running a handful of computers with only a few access points, a modem and a router or switch.

Above that foundation, Stretch placed personnel, the systems administrators and the network engineers who manage a network. Step three -- abstraction of network state -- defines the network components and how they should operate. This level also spans configuration templating and infrastructure management. While it may be fairly easy to understand connections on a switch, it is usually much more challenging to understand how networks should best be configured.

Automated provisioning builds off of abstraction, as manual provisioning shifts toward automatic configuration. In its best form, systems can be automatically configured to keep the network synchronized with its abstracted state. Stretch concluded his networking hierarchy with automated remediation -- networks that fix themselves. Terming this the "holy grail," Stretch envisioned networks with external monitoring sufficient to address subservice-level agreement performance per ISP, routers that can detect line card hardware failure or dynamic virtual machine migration when access switches fail.

Take a closer look at Stretch's hierarchy of networking needs.

Next Steps

Understanding network automation

Exploring disaggregated servers

Special needs for cloud networking

Dig Deeper on Network management and monitoring

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