Why are some networking teams opposed to network automation, given the benefits of cost savings, improved efficiency, and risk reduction? Many view it as too complex or costly to implement reasonably. Some networking staff fear that automation could eliminate jobs. These beliefs are widespread, but they're myths.
It’s essential that network teams understand the truth (and the nuances) about network automation. By challenging three common misunderstandings, practitioners will discover that network automation can serve a purpose for infrastructure of any scale, save money and time, and create a substantial number of jobs for networking staff willing to learn new skills.
Myth: We Aren’t Ready to Implement Network Automation
Many networking teams simply don’t think that they are ready to implement automation. Perhaps they don’t believe they have the skills or resources, and it is easy to keep pushing networking automation discussions to the next quarter.
In any shift like this, there will always be later adopters, and rightly so. Solid debate around technology shifts is vital to help people understand when and how they should get involved.
There were people who argued against VMs for performance reasons, there were people who argued against containers for a multitude of reasons, and there were people who argued against DevOps because “the developers can never understand what we do.” While there’s truth in these objections, the benefits of embracing change were too substantial to ignore — and the same applies for network automation.
According to Gartner, teams making network changes manually can expect around 2% of all changes to result in a failure. Failures require investigation, which eats up more time. As business demands increase, this becomes a vicious circle.
Faced with increasing external demand and crumbling internal processes, networking teams naturally “protect themselves” by creating increasingly detailed ticketing systems, change control boards, and other ways to try to control the influx of demands. Networking teams can become regarded as “slow” as demand increases, and if they add more staff to cope, they are both “slow” and “expensive.” This can lead to entrenched behaviors such as risk aversion at a time when remaining open to new ideas is essential.
Companies may not need to dive head-first into network automation, but it could be damaging to ignore it completely. The best thing network engineering leaders and practitioners can do is start to learn more about the pros and cons to help them understand when to invest, and this is a fantastic time to start. There’s never been more written about network automation and NetDevOps, and the market seems like it’s at an inflection point.
Myth: Network Automation Requires Significant Investments of Time and Money
NetOps teams often express concern over the cost and time required to implement network automation.
There are too many variables involved to give a definitive answer for when a team would start to see a positive ROI from networking automation, but what I recommend all companies do is start now and start small. Try to make time for small experiments to reduce risk and show early wins. This could unlock excitement in your team, and a series of small experiments that you can learn from can add up to be something of real value given enough time.
If your team is financially constrained, there are many excellent open-source tools out there that can allow you to get started with minimal financial outlay. Many of them have huge supportive communities of fellow network engineers who can help you to take your first steps.
Discussions of ROI need to account for the emotional impact of network automation on the networking department. Given how network team dissatisfaction has grown over the past few years, there’s value in seeing your networking department feel in control, have high morale, attract ambitious staff, emerge as a profit center, and play a growing role in product and engineering discussions.
Myth: Network Automation Puts Jobs at Risk
The biggest fear with any type of automation is that it could replace human roles, but history doesn’t support this. When companies can move faster with the aid of automation, they are able to capture more value and hire more people.
What we've seen before with operations engineers and DevOps positions, and what we’ll likely see with NetDevOps as well, is that automation has caused available positions to grow, and those who are willing to expand their skillsets will likely see an associated uptick in their salary.
Future network roles will look a little different and will require new skills, but many in the industry already recognize the importance of continually learning. Fortunately, there are plentiful high-quality resources online — both free and paid — to acquire in-demand skills such as scripting, particularly in Python. For network engineers who don't yet know how to code, there's good news: It's much easier for a network engineer to learn Python scripting than it is to teach a developer network engineering.
Entering the Era of Network Automation
The best thing NetOps teams can do is learn more about network automation to help them understand when to invest, and this is a fantastic time to start. The market is at an inflection point, but education is still needed. Once misconceptions about network automation are dispelled, network teams are in a good position to begin implementing automation, make a compelling business case for NetDevOps, and remain competitive in an era of unprecedented complexity.
Mark Coleman is general manager at NetBox.