By Anand Purusothaman
There is no doubt that the clamour for digital transformation is reaching its crescendo. While it may not be yet at the top spot yet, it is surely accelerating its pace to race to the top spot. Close on the heels of digital transformation is another contender to the top spot, and that is Automation. Although digital transformation and automation may be used interchangeably, are they the same? Let’s jump straight in and understand.
At the base of digital transformation is Digitization. In simple terms, digitization is the process of moving from analog / paper documents and process to digital. Next comes the process of streamlining all digital processes to improve efficiency. Digital Transformation is the final phase which is characterised by innovations in an effort to add value to the products, processes, or creating a whole new value proposition by using technology. Information access, anytime, anywhere and from any device is the underlying philosophy and objective of digital transformation.
Digital transformation is characterised by two factors – round the clock availability of services on all devices and the second is agility - that is the ability to respond to changing requirements, quickly. The most important element for round the clock availability of services is Cloud Computing. On the other hand, digital transformation demands IT agility to meet the dynamic application environment changes and new application models. Organizations are looking at rapid application deployment and high-quality service delivery. Recent research by EMA reports that “47% of organizations take more than a week to deliver an IT service request to provision an application.” Network engineering and operational tasks are complex and are manually implemented. To deploy an application, the network engineering team receives change requests from multiple teams including routing and switching requests, Application Delivery Controller changes, Firewall configuration and other networking security changes, DDI changes, etc. Manual management is slow and error-prone.
Let us now see with an example. A bank has hundreds of applications for several of its services which it offers to customers. All the applications sit on the data centre of the bank or cloud or both. Customers interact with these applications for their various transactions. At the same time, banks also add more features to the applications; while also making changes to the applications. In the absence of automation, an error in one application can have a significant impact on the customer experience and business. It can add significant stress on network and security operations of the bank warranting huge investments in IT infrastructure and manpower to deliver the superior experience that is needed in the current digital space. Such errors also exposes the network to potential hacking leading to huge confidential data breach and unsurmountable financial losses. This clearly underscores the need for automation and orchestration. Provisioning and managing cloud devices in the network requires intricate orchestration.
Why automation and orchestration
Before we delve into the ‘why” of automation and orchestration it is important that we understand “what” is network automation and orchestration. Simply put, Network automation is a methodology in which software automatically configures, provisions, manages and tests network devices. It is used by enterprises and service providers to improve efficiency and reduce human error and operating expenses. Network Orchestration on the other hand is the process of automatically programming the behaviour of the network, so that the network smoothly coordinates with the hardware and the software elements to further support applications and services.
Automation and Orchestration is the key
‘Data centre network automation and orchestration’ is one of the top three new initiatives that are driving network decisions to meet business demands as in the recent research report by EMA. SDN has emerged as a way to improve data centre agility but it is not the only route to rely on. The network teams are looking for automation solutions which could automate tasks, streamline workflows, reduce risk and apply best practices for effective application delivery. These network automation and orchestration solutions remove the network bottleneck to enable data centre agility.
Intelligent Automation for network and security services ensures that the overall health and integrity of network systems are maintained. A centralized management and automation console, can help consolidate management of all endpoints and devices into a single platform in addition to providing self-servicing capabilities for application owners. Thereby, businesses can significantly reduce resource costs for managing their infrastructure and gain better management and monitoring capabilities.
The key to achieving success with network and security automation would be:
Reduce vendor lock-in; Democratize automation with enhanced low code tool sets and extended programmability.
An automation framework that delivers TTV (time to value) dramatically shortens the gap between the vendor’s time-to-market and operations TTV.
Architecting the network systems with robust APIs, analytics
Automating business operations to become more reliable and collaborative in the context of your own IT tools, teams, processes, and NetOps, Devops and SecOps workflows.
Policy and compliance driven automation that can significantly improve the efficiency, security and availability of resources throughout the application lifecycle
An Integrated DevOps tool chain with CI/CD pipelines, and agile delivery practices
Adopt and embrace tools - commercial and open source and processes by businesses large and small alike.
(Anand Purusothaman is Founder and CTO of AppViewX)