IT service management (ITSM) includes activities to design, plan, deliver, operate, and control IT services. Typically, Change Management, Asset and Configuration Management, and Incident and Problem Management are core ITSM use cases involved in the end-to-end network management process. Network automation efforts should include integration with these key components. Let’s explore the various use cases and challenges associated and how intelligent automation can overcome barriers.
Network Automation Integration with Change Management
Change management is a crucial activity for enterprise network operations. All network changes must go through the proper approval process to ensure network changes aren’t being made without the context of the network’s overall health and performance.
When integrating change management with an automation solution, the solution needs to consider more than the single network change being requested. Automation must assess the entire network and the impact of that change. Current script-based network automations assume change management has been handled offline. This takes place through people logging into the system, entering tickets, notifying approvers, getting approval, and notifying the engineer to execute the script(s) needed to make the change. The lack of an enforced, programmatic control before the engineer executes the script is a security gap and exposes a risk for outages.
Intelligent network automation understands that a change request is required to even begin the process. Intelligent network automation will utilize APIs to the change management system to create change requests whenever a network change process is initiated, eliminating time consuming manual steps and preventing execution of the change until approved. Alternatively, the request can begin within the change management system and trigger the automation process via API, communicating the approval to proceed along with the initiation. This removes swivel-chairing between the change management system and the execution of the procedure. As the change proceeds, updates are shared via an API notifying status and completion.
Network Automation Integration with Asset and Configuration Management
An enterprise network is a conglomeration of connected devices and represents a significant capital asset. Every device must be tracked as to its value, where it is deployed (if it is), where it is located (if it is not deployed), how it is configured, the role it is deployed to perform, and utilization of the device.
When integrating asset and configuration management with an automation solution, it must consider not only the device configuration, but also the deployed device location. For example, new device deployments pull hardware from a warehouse or vendor and deploy it into the network. For accurate asset management, the automation process updates the location of the device and the status of that device (in service, warehoused, etc.). Automation must focus on the end-to-end process by integrating with asset management via APIs for these updates.
Software upgrades, patches, port turn-ups, and service configuration all impact the configuration of the device(s). A key part of these maintenance activities is periodic snapshots of the device configuration. The challenge is managing the storage and lifecycle of the configuration of each device. An intelligent network automation solution does not just store this data, but instead federates data from the various configuration management tools and automates the routine creation of backups.
Network Automation Integration with Incident and Problem Management
Incident and problem management are responsible for monitoring the network and triggering key defined events to initiate incident and problem tickets. While traditionally a manual process, an incident in the network can easily trigger an automated workflow that re-routes traffic or makes a configuration change to restore network service until a more permanent resolution is implemented.
When integrating incident and problem management with an automation solution, it must have the intelligence to know what change to make in each incident. This requires not only integration with the monitoring systems, but also a full view of asset and configuration data. This allows the solution to take an incident, see what devices are involved, where they are, their configuration, what capacity levels they are operating at, and use this data combined with alarm and fault data collected by incident management to decide what should be done. Automation can be triggered based on this data to change a configuration, remove a device from service, add capacity, initiate a device deployment action to either replace or add to the number of devices present, or turn up additional ports. This fully integrated solution provides the beginnings of closed loop network automation and ultimately reduces network down-time.
To solve ITSM integration challenges, an intelligent network automation tool should integrate with all ITSM components including change management, asset and configuration management, and incident and problem management. Script-based approaches can’t provide this integration at scale. Taking an approach that focuses on the end-to-end process and data federation can successfully automate and scale network operations.