Network automation: walk your own road

Network automation: walk your own road

24 June 2020 | Teresa Monteiro, director of marketing

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A series of incremental, well-placed steps will get you to your destination, writes Teresa Monteiro, director of marketing at Infinera

Over 100 years ago, a famous Spanish poet wrote, “Wanderer, there is no road, the road is made by walking.”

The same discerning words can be applied to network automation today, as there is no pre-defined road that will suit all operators alike.

Most network operators share a similar vision regarding the future desired state of their network.  They want a network that provides flexible, reliable capacity and services instantly, when and where needed, at the lowest possible cost. They want a network that provides telemetry and diagnostics leveraging analytics and machine learning to identify, predict, and resolve issues before they happen. They want a network that simplifies operations and eliminates rudimentary tasks.

But what is the best road to realising such a networking vision? Getting there requires transformative changes in the network infrastructure and/or the operator’s organisation, which are potentially disruptive to the service provider’s day-to-day business operation and not risk-free.

The reality is that a successful road is made by each operator, in collaboration with vendor partners that are willing to walk together – taking educated, incremental automation steps, each building on the other.

A Lego brick approach to automation is easier to implement, reduces risks by minimising the impact on the current operational model, and is driven by customer needs and expected outcomes. The use of modular software, together with cloud-native microservices technologies, ensures ease of deployment and management of the applications through their lifecycle, in a true “use what you need, when you need” fashion.

When mapping out their individual roads to network automation, operators need to pay close attention to the underlying software automation platforms and the vendor partner involved in their collaboration.

As pointed out by Dana Cooperson, research director at Analysys Mason, in a recent report, CSPs should look for open and modular WAN SDN platforms to underpin their autonomous networks.

Key ingredients to successful automation include open, standard APIs and interfaces; multi-layer, multi-vendor support; and usability and deployability. Equally important is a knowledgeable and experienced professional services organisation that can tailor the solution, provide training for network operator staff, and ensure smooth system integration with existing back-office systems and legacy network equipment.

Network automation is gaining traction in packet optical domains, as noted by Analysys Mason in a recent forecast report that showed multi-layer control growing from $250 million in 2018 to close to $1.4 billion in 2023, with a CAGR of around 41%. With this increased growth, “shopping around” for suitable SDN platforms and engaging in trials with a shortlist of vendors to identify a true partner is more critical than ever. Industry analyst reports from experts in software automation are also valuable resources to help compare and contrast competitive solutions and approaches.