Network Automation Enables DevOps Programmability
March 01, 2022

Shamus McGillicuddy

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Nearly 97% of DevOps teams are integrating their orchestration solutions with network automation tools, according to new research from Enterprise Management Associates (EMA).

EMA recently published The Future of Data Center Network Automation, a report based on a survey of 359 enterprises and services providers. The survey explored technology strategies and challenges for automating data center networks.

Integration between data center network automation tools and DevOps tools are nearly universal, but the depth of that integration varies. More than 50% of companies have or plan to have only loose integration between NetOps and DevOps automation, meaning that many NetOps teams are limiting the extent of network programmability that they offer to DevOps.

This conservative approach may mitigate risk, but it could be shortsighted. DevOps groups require agility to achieve their goals. When network engineers limit network programmability, they will inevitably have to respond to a larger number of change tickets from DevOps, leading to human latency in overall operations. Network engineers may maintain more control over how the network operates, but it comes at the expense of agility.

More than 46% of networks teams have or plan to implement tight integration between NetOps and DevOps automation, meaning that they are going to allow DevOps to program most or all aspects of their data center networks. This approach is most popular with best-in-class data center network automation strategies, suggesting that it is a best practice.

Network Automation Strategies are Cloud and DevOps Centric

The typical data center network automation strategy is multi-tool. More than 48% of network teams use two tools for network automation, and 45% use three or more. Quite often, DevOps tools are part of the picture, not just something to be integrated with. More than 42% of network teams use DevOps automation or infrastructure-as-code tools as one of their network automation solutions. DevOps tools are most popular as a network automation solution in companies that have many data centers (11 or more).

Beyond DevOps integration, EMA research found that most companies are thinking about how their data center network automation tools fit into their overall hybrid cloud architecture. Nearly 78% of companies require that their data center network automation tools be extensible to public cloud environments, thus allowing the orchestration of network automation across both data centers and clouds. This requirement is more common among best-in-class companies, against suggesting that it is a best practice.

"The push toward the cloud is one thing that is driving our [data center] network automation," a network automation engineer with a $3 billion retailer told EMA. "With day-to-day operations, we want to be able to provide our new cloud applications with access to resources that are sitting in a data center."

EMA's research is clear. As network engineering teams formulate a plan for data center network automation, DevOps and cloud will be a major factor. If you have a DevOps team, you must be prepared to integrate your network automation solutions with the DevOps toolset. You should also consider how your network automation strategy will be extensible to public cloud environments. And DevOps tools may offer solutions to some of your network automation requirements.

Shamus McGillicuddy is VP of Research, Network Infrastructure and Operations, at Enterprise Management Associates (EMA)
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