Design considerations for network automation solutions

Network automation is becoming widely popular amongst network engineers. And there are many approaches towards building network automation solutions either using network automation tools, software, scripts or using software defined networks. Further, application of network automation spans across different network segments both at service providers and enterprises. However, irrespective of the approach, there are factors which should be considered when building network automation solutions.

Let us have a look at some of the fundamental factors that should be considered when deploying a network automation solution.

Atomicity- a typical transaction with network automation often involves making multiple operations on more than one device. Atomicity is a concept that allows either all operations to be occurred or non. In simple words this means either execute ‘all’ or ‘nothing’. This is an important consideration as it helps networks to be in a known state. Without atomicity, a failed network automation transaction could easily result with your network going in to an unknown or unintended state.

Co-existence with humans- it is true that network automation solutions can run on its own. However, there are incidents when network engineers do manual operations on network. Therefore, a network automation solution should take this into account. Network automation solution should have the capability to co-exist with changes often made by humans on the network. This is also a best practice if you are new to automation and when you want to have a hybrid environment with automation and manual practices.

Single source of truth- network automation is a function that’s purely data driven. As such, a network automation solution should maintain latest data such as configuration, state, utilization, telemetry to ensure automation decisions are made accurately. Network automation solutions rely on nothing but data and its of paramount importance that near real time data is considered prior to execution of an operation. More data means more accurate and informative decisions. Therefore, a network automation solution should consider integration with multiple sources to collect as much as possible data to achieve your objective.

Predictability — network automation solution should work consistently in a predictable manner. As we are still not talking about AI based dynamic modeling, network automation solution should always give the expected output for a given input as rules are pre-defined. A deviation to the expected outcome is an indication of a shortcoming that should be immediately sought.

Error handling- it is quite important to do extensive planning, vigorous testing before you put your network automation solution to production. It should absolutely give zero errors to ensure that your network will not change unexpectedly. Unlike with manual operations where an error is siloed, in an automated environment error too will be repeated across a high volume of transactions and may propagate to magnify.

Security- security of any IT system is crucial. A network automation solution will have much valued data about your network and more importantly will have access to your network devices. Therefore, a network automation solution should have extensive controls to ensure security of its system.

Scalability — network automation solution should be able to handle high volumes of peak transactions. Therefore, it should consider peak values and should be scalable to support expansions. As with any digital system, peak traffic handling should be considered to ensure scheduled transactions occur uninterruptedly.

Fail safe- one of the most crucial factors when deploying a network automation solution is ensuring a known network state. Fail safe concept will help you maintain known network states in a rare event of an automation system failure. Fail safe suggest that your network environment should not be harmed during a failure of your network automation solution. As it suggests, building network automation solutions with fail safe mechanism will minimize disruption.

Above are some of the fundamentals you should consider when developing a network automation solution in your environment. How they can be applied and implemented will be determined based on your deployment and objectives. However, if you are building network automation solutions for mission critical operations, it is important to consider all above fundamentals and beyond. For more insights related to network automation, follow InSync Information Technologies Pvt Ltd on