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A Comprehensive Guide to Choosing the Right Network Automation Software

The right network automation tools can improve efficiency in enterprises and reduce operating expenses. They can also help to simplify and streamline the management of networking devices.

However, if automated processes are done incorrectly, they can propagate significant issues throughout the network. This is why selecting the right tool for your business is essential.

Identifying Your Needs

The right network automation tool should have the capacity to provide you with a unified platform where you can visualize device distribution, backup trends, failure rates, and so on. It should also support your favorite vendors and integrate with other network devices. Moreover, it should be able to detect and prevent changes that violate policies and help you make the right decisions on what changes to make to your network.

It can be a good idea to start by listing the most time-consuming processes you can automate. This is usually a process associated with network configuration, such as changing passwords or installing patches. Then, you can move on to other areas that can benefit from networking automation, like creating and executing scripts for change management or other functions.

A more modern approach to network automation involves an API-based platform that replaces manual commands with configurations. These are often based on open-source programming languages like Ansible and Python. Users can then use these systems to coordinate tasks and generate automated actions triggered by events or user input.

This software offers several features to address various network automation needs, including configuration versioning and labeling, role-based access control, and a diff view for configuration comparisons. In addition, it can automatically send change notifications via email, SMS, SNMP traps, or Syslog. It can also detect and respond to unauthorized configuration changes by blocking or allowing them to be executed.

Getting Started

Network automation tools have been around for a while. However, forces are coming together to create a perfect storm driving many teams to adopt these solutions. These forces include the desire to reduce human error and to address dynamic change requests faster. In addition, the current environment demands that IT and security operations work more closely, which means the need for solid network automation is more critical than ever.

The first step in choosing the right network automation tool is identifying your need. This can be as simple as creating a bullet list of your goals and the functionality you need to achieve them. Then, make a short list of the vendors that offer these tools.

Once you have your list, begin researching each one. Start by reading the solution guides and comparing features to your needs. Also, consider each vendor’s approach to network automation. For example, some tools (like Gluware) provide a user interface that allows network engineers to build their automation systems without programming. In contrast, other devices (like Ansible and Python) require significant scripting knowledge.

In addition, the tool you choose should be easy to use. Too many agencies have a long learning curve that can require years to realize their value fully. This can put your company at risk if the network engineering team members that know how to operate the system leave for other jobs.

Choosing a Vendor

Choosing the right network automation software can be tricky. Finding a tool that fits your organization’s needs and budget while providing room for future growth is essential.

When evaluating vendors, seek out demonstrations of their products and read online reviews. This will help you understand how easy a solution is and whether it meets your technical requirements. Additionally, you should seek a vendor that supports multiple operating systems and network devices.

Look for solutions that offer a customizable workflow and an easy interface for non-technical personnel. Often, network teams are forced to work with a tool that is too complex to use effectively, which can lead to severe errors in production environments.

Lastly, ensure that your network automation solution will integrate with your existing systems and tools. This will help to streamline your operations and increase efficiency. This includes integrations with ticketing systems to manage incidents, supply chain management to track inventory levels and procurement requests, and analytics tools to provide insight into your network.

Choosing a multi-vendor network automation tool can be beneficial for your organization. It allows you to automate across multiple vendors without having to rewrite scripts or manually change configurations from one device to another. In addition, it enables you to adjust operating system level parameters, access lists, policies and routing, and other standard configurations across multiple network devices simultaneously.

Implementation

Network automation tools are designed to take the human element out of configuration and management processes. This improves efficiency, eliminates the margin for error, and reduces operating expenses. It also redirects employee time and energy from manual tasks to essential innovation strategies that the modern business landscape demands.

Properly implementing the software requires understanding what it can and cannot do. Choosing a vendor with a proven track record is one way to minimize risk. Following a crawl, walk, and run progression is essential, which starts with simple capabilities and moves on to more complex configurations. This allows engineers to get accustomed to the platform without risking a full-scale deployment that could cause the organization to revert to manual processes.

Feature-rich network automation tools can have long learning curves and require senior engineers to operate them. You can avoid this by selecting a GUI-based tool that is mainly vendor-agnostic and easy for lower-level engineers.

Lastly, your chosen network automation tools should have API capability to interface with other agencies and services. When changing networking devices, you may need to change other infrastructure elements, such as firewall settings. The right tools allow you to quickly test these changes on virtual instances of your production network before releasing them to the live system.

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