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What is Network Automation?

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by Andre Bowen-Brown

June 16, 2021

Get a clearer picture of network automation

Network automation is a process of using software to automate the configuration, management, testing, deployment, and operating of devices within a network. In a nutshell, if you are doing the same tasks repeatedly, it is time to automate it!

IT automation is not relatively new; it has been employed by sysadmins for some time now. However, with Cloud, DevOps, Automation and all the other buzzwords, it can become a mind field to understand.


Is DevOps not Network Automation?

DevOps is a culture, mindset, methodology which encompasses network automation. DevOps ("Development" and "Operations") brings the two teams together, removing the silos. It allows them to work towards the bigger picture and discuss the outcome before deployment. It would be a culture shift for both teams but reduces the unknown result possibilities.

Network Automation

Network automation is applied using a set of tools, such as Ansible, Python, Jenkins and Jinja2; the list goes on. These tools are readily available for engineers to use, whether building, managing, testing, deploying, or operating devices within a network. Network Automation Engineers can get very creative, developing new tools and functions using programming languages such as Python, which is also native to Juniper and some new Cisco devices. There are many flavours of network automation, such as software-defined networks (SDN), cloud, artificial intelligence (AI), and machine learning (ML). Fundamentally they all come down to one thing, programming.

What are the benefits of Network Automation?

  • Saves time - If you have 10-100s of devices to configure, each with a unique configuration, it can become a nightmare trying to do it all via the cli. Network automation can reduce the time and pressure of getting it right the first time; a proven method can found in our SaaS Genja.
  • Prevents human error - Typing the same commands repeatedly, will lead to mistakes and inconsistencies.
  • Prevents copy/paste errors - Ever copy/pasted configuration only to realise it is the wrong mode, or not all the text has been highlighted.
  • Standardises processes and configuration - Templated configuration requires less time skimming through the output to verifying it is correct because you now have a solid process for configuring devices. You could even automate the error checking process.
  • Network analysis/data collection - You have been tasked to collect data before a site gets an upgrade; one hundred plus devices need their ports checked for VLAN and port activity. It will be the first of many. Network automation will provide the mindset to start automating such laborious tasks.

Do we still need network engineers?

Yes, network automation is fantastic. But, it takes a traditional network engineer to understand the right outcome of a change in the network. It's for us network engineers to start building the right tools.

How do I become a network automation engineer?

There are two options, firstly learn networking, whether that be Juniper or Cisco. You will certainly need to know the fundamentals before attempting to automate any changes. "How will you know what a network engineer does daily?" You would then want to go on and start the Juniper Automation and DevOps track; or the Cisco DevNet track. Both provide learning materials with great content. The second option is you're a software developer and learn networking from either vendor, as they are the top vendors within networking.

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Will I need to know or become a programmer?

As previously mentioned, there are two approaches to becoming a network automation engineer. Whether or not you need to learn how to program will be another topic of discussion. Programming certainly is used, so it would be advantageous to understand the concept. I will go over it in my next blog.

Discover what you can do with automation

Try out my software Genja today to discover some of the possibilities of network automation. The YouTube tutorial will guide you in completing your first build. Register on all platforms to stay up to date on all the latest content.