Why CIOs Need to Care More About Automating Network Operations
March 07, 2023

Song Pang
NetBrain Technologies

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It is a challenging time to be the CIO of a large enterprise. In early January 2023, Salesforce laid off 10% of its staff — the most recent in a string of sizable layoffs among technology companies (many of those who aggressively hired during the height of the Covid-19 pandemic) as they cut operating costs in anticipation of an economic downturn. But as staff and budgets become more tightly scrutinized, and investment strategies become more conservative, IT departments will be asked to be even more proactive and responsive to the IT needs of the business to prevent service disruptions and security breaches, without the traditional linear relationship between infrastructure size and operational overhead.

At the same time, reported network outages globally continue to grow in frequency, duration and fiscal impact. And as migration to the cloud continues at a pace of nearly 5% per year, the amount of control over those cloud-based services typically decreases, which further increases operational risk and the potential for increased costs.

Overall outages were still alarmingly high in 2022 and each outage was getting more expensive

The Uptime Institute's Global Data Center Survey 2022 found that overall outages were still alarmingly high in 2022 and each outage was getting more expensive for those involved. Uptime suggests that more than two-thirds of all disruptions cost them over $100,000 in losses and a quarter of respondents said their most recent outage had cost them over $1 million- a significant increase over 2021. Alarmingly, the migration of IT service to public clouds is only exacerbating the situation since these behemoths are not immune from the outage issue, regularly reporting widespread and long in duration outages that affect hundreds or thousands of their clients which in turn affects millions of users across the globe.

Why are network service disruptions still such an issue?

There are several reasons including rapidly increasing network complexity including cloud-centric virtualized components, limited operational staff with the needed experience and knowledge, no good processes for leveraging knowledge from previous troubleshooting when the same problems reoccur, and most importantly, manual and bespoke network operational processes and approaches that have stagnated for decades. These processes are almost always inconsistent, non-repeatable and focus on individual device health rather than IT service delivery outcomes.

Modern Networks Demand Modern NetOps

Managing growing networks doesn't need to be complex even though the networks themselves are highly advanced. And the cost to manage these growing networks should not increase in a linear fashion either, since SME experience can easily be leveraged through no-code tools. And while the word "automation" may be associated with many IT projects that have come and gone over time with varying levels of success, network automation can now more easily be applied to any modern network to capture and replicate subject matter expertise to produce a high-quality and consistent network service delivery. Applying no-code network automation to the NetOps function allows the same approach to be used to proactively verify operational needs and prevent issues from occurring in the first place.

The first big shift in thinking for CIOs is to renew their focus on the business reasons that the network exists. This will yield a long list of desired outcomes (delivering essential applications running at required levels of performance, maintaining important security policies, etc.) that can be used to create an operational automation strategy. And since the list will be focused on business-aligned outcomes rather than device health, business leaders can incorporate their lists of needs as well.

For instance, the security operations teams may choose to automate the continuous verification of security boundaries to assure the hardware and software in place is always providing the protection it was designed to provide. The unified communication ops teams may also choose to automate the management of the network in the context of Voice-over-IP to assure that the quality of phone calls remains high, regardless of other applications and their use of the same common infrastructure.

4 Benefits of Network Automation

Applying no-code network automation to modern network operations enables:

■ Prevention of service failures long before they impact production. Automation can verify and validate long lists of operational parameters continuously, comparing the real-time observations to known expected behaviors, detecting problems in the making before they affect the bottom line.

■ Automation of preliminary problem diagnostics to make the network engineer's time more productive and speed up root cause determination. This can reduce service disruption duration and remedial costs by 75% or more.

■ Capturing and execution of SME remedial best practices allowing their knowledge to scale across geographies and timezones. Creating a repository of each subject matter expert's knowledge and making it available to be executed by the entire team enables engineers to solve issues that they may not specialize in and would otherwise result in escalations.

■ Accurate network visualization, performance and mapping in real-time. Every aspect of IT service delivery management relies on accurate understanding of the real-time digital infrastructure. Outdated documentation increases risk and costs time and money.

No-code network automation can make modern NetOps dramatically more effective when compared to the widely used and decades-old manual device-health-centric approaches. Automation revolutionizes NetOps with a strategic and forward-looking approach, far beyond the capabilities and scale of existing processes in place today. With the strategic goal to directly support business initiatives, while at the same time reducing risk and the overhead costs, no-code powered network automation becomes transformational. One of our customers recently estimated that no-code network automation reduced their operational servicing costs of their network by more than half, and even more astounding, reduced the duration of service degradations by more than 75%.

I'd urge any CIO or IT Director looking for the means to get in front of the chaos that defines their daily routine, to immediately consider how no-code network automation can be adopted as their strategic plan for the long haul.

Song Pang is SVP of Engineering at NetBrain Technologies
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