What it means to be an "automation first" enterprise
// Cumulus Networks Blog
We've previously discussed how automation can give engineers some well-deserved extra free time. So how do those benefits extend to helping the company as a whole? Well, according to TechTarget's article analyzing Gartner's recent report about network innovation, there are some pretty obvious indicators that a company is putting automation first and achieving success. All a business has to do is take advantage of the automation practices used by hyperscale data centers. While it may sound impossible to operate on the same level as cloud giants like Amazon and Facebook, Gartner's report states that there is a remarkable increase in efficiency and agility enterprises mimic from even 1% to 10% of the practices in hyperscale data centers. In this post, we'll discuss what it looks like to be an "automation first" enterprise. And from what we can tell, it looks pretty good!
Adopting automation doesn't just save you time — it also saves you money. Let's start with the fact that proprietary solutions are incredibly expensive on their own. In addition to steep initial costs, proprietary vendors prevent additional savings by not allowing customers to take advantage of automation tools like Ansible, Puppet and Chef. However, these capabilities are available to you when you switch to open solutions. Having the freedom to utilize these applications creates even more savings. By removing the need for engineers to manually configure everything, automation greatly reduces the possibility of human error bringing your network down. Gartner estimates that "organizations that automate 70% of network configuration changes will cut the number of unplanned outages by more than half when compared to enterprises that automate less than 30% of those changes," and these preventative measures can in turn help you save the thousands of dollars that network downtime costs. In fact, Gartner states that you can reduce expenses by 25% over five years by taking advantage of the automation opportunities that open source networking can offer.
Focus on innovation, not fear
One of the main reasons that enterprises gravitate toward proprietary vendors, despite the many advantages of open source solutions, is that they're more interested in the stability that accompanies the status quo than seeking new and better options. Unfortunately, giving into this mindset hampers innovation because closed networks do not allow you to seek out alternate solutions and options that are tailored to your specific needs. As the TechTarget article points out, "To make use of open source technology, enterprises will have to learn how to manage risk, rather than avoid it at all costs. One way to reduce risk is to segment the network into logical building blocks to contain the growing pains of new technology." (If that last sentence sounds familiar to you, it's probably because our very own Pete Lumbis said a similar thing at Networking Field Day 2017 with a Lego analogy. You can watch his presentation for yourself here.) When enterprises value risk aversion over embracing the latest developments and innovations in technology, they're likely to fall behind due to the inability to scale and adapt with the changing technological environment. Embracing innovations such as automation tools actually helps you avoid the risk of becoming outdated.
Thinking outside the box
The traditional buying model for enterprises involves first choosing the hardware and then following along with the applications can be used with it. But what happens when you reverse this model? When you take the focus off of the hardware and start with applications, you give yourself more options and the ability to make sure your network is customized to your needs, rather than being told by the proprietary vendor what you're allowed to use. The choice and power is in your hands. Once you start reaping the benefits of automation, you'll be glad that you didn't allow vendors to make decisions for you.
Of course the technology involved in your network is important, but let's not forget about the priceless value of the talent and dedication provided by the people who make the magic happen. We've talked before about why it's a good idea to spend more on employees and less on technology, and TechTarget backs that ideology, stating "enterprises should shift spending toward retraining network operators and away from buying fully integrated, and often proprietary, networking gear." Once your engineers develop these new skills, you'll find that the risk-aversion mindset you've abandoned gives them the room to innovate and improve your network. Plus, incorporating automation will free up more time for more innovation, so your network can exponentially grow more efficient. You can tell when an enterprise adopts an "automation first" attitude because it's evident in the skills, talent and forward thinking its employees develop.
It's one thing to talk about being "automation first," but what does it look like in practice at a technical level? At Cumulus Networks, we wholeheartedly believe that automation can only make a company better, and we optimize our technology to ensure automating your network is a breeze. Cumulus Linux is a "just Linux" operating system, so we gain all of the benefits of Linux systems since automation tools are geared primarily towards Linux. It works much better than proprietary operating systems, which try to force automation into a closed system like a square peg in a round hole. Cumulus provides the ability to build "workflow" automations, instead of just device automations. Using the same Linux-based automation tools as servers means end-to-end orchestration is possible, where a new server can be deployed and all relevant network configuration is applied.
Searching for a knowledgeable instructor to help you get started with automation? Want to learn more about the differences between automation vs. manual configuration? Watch our how-to video series about automation for expert guidance!
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