Network Automation & Orchestration: The Answer To Business Continuity Before we tackle the question of business continuity, let's discuss the factors that contribute to it, and can possibly disrupt it, by taking into account the current scenario

By Anand Purusothaman

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The COVID-19 pandemic has driven companies worldwide to take precautionary measures such as travel bans and enforcing work-from-home policies for employees. But the restrictions are directed at people, not business itself. Most enterprises are digital, offering Web-based applications and services to both employees and customers. As long as the applications work well, it's business as usual.

But how can CIOs ensure business continuity is kept up and applications are up and running when the employees responsible for the above tasks cannot show up for work? Before we tackle the question of business continuity, let's discuss the factors that contribute to it, and can possibly disrupt it, by taking into account the current scenario.

The restrictions on travel have led to many people increasingly taking even those activities that they generally do offline, online. As a result, applications are seeing a spike in traffic. To ensure users don't experience slowness or unavailability issues when accessing applications, the underlying network infrastructure needs to be managed efficiently. Keeping applications up and running smoothly involves several coordinated operations on the network side, such as monitoring and managing traffic, deploying critical updates, troubleshooting anomalies, ensuring application security, etc.—all of which require the network engineer's presence on-site.

Apart from keeping the existing applications in good health, there's also the ever-present need to churn out new applications and services, which is another contributor to business continuity. Not keeping the new releases going can result in services going stale, and the enterprise revenue takes a hit. At the same time, enterprises are also making a shift towards cloud computing. And with multi-cloud gaining momentum, this also entails managing and securing of applications hosted on both on and off-premises, and across different clouds. The end goal is to manage applications in the multi-cloud as if they were in one cloud. Organizations rely on complex multi-vendor, multi-cloud network infrastructure, with limited skill sets in order to monitor and maintain their infrastructure, and applications. It requires teams—NetOps, DevOps alike to be nimble-footed.

So, what is the solution?

The answer to this question lies in "network automation' and "orchestration'.

The idea is simple enough; automating, or better yet, orchestrating IT and network processes remove the need for extensive human intervention. Application-centric network operations are taken care of by the intuitive automation tool, so the applications can stay up and available at all times, regardless of whether the engineers are present and working. This way, the CIOs can rest assured that the desired results are delivered and business continuity is kept up, while at the same time giving due importance to employee safety by allowing them to work remotely.

Embracing network automation and having a phased automation strategy is key to addressing these challenges to avoid disruption and ensure business continuity. Well, the journey to network automation can be difficult, especially given the paucity of required technical skills within many organizations and siloed business operations.

Simplifying network automation and empowering broader participation through easy to build and manage automation workflows presents organizations with an opportunity to mature efforts around network automation, but also allows them to execute against broader business digital transformation objectives as part of the enterprise automation strategy.

From an agility standpoint, this requires augmenting network automation with CI/CD pipelines and API services. Applying these well-known principles that are already in use outside the networking domains can pay big dividends in the automation of complex networks.

And for businesses looking to scale, and easier network automation enablement for non-developers with integrated DevOps principles and cloud architect participation can ensure a successful migration to network automation across multiple value streams.

But naturally, no stakeholder would be willing to relinquish complete control over the network—the enterprise IT's a most critical component—to the software. An ideal proposition in this scenario would be one where NetOps teams can remotely keep tabs on the network operations that the software automates, by looking at performance dashboards and receiving alerts. If NetOps gets alerted of a potential issue brewing in the network that cannot be solved by the automation software, they should be able to remedy the issue remotely.

Finally, the automation software should allow for a good degree of collaboration between the application owners and network teams, and also greater control of application-centric network processes to the application owners, especially where application delivery and traffic management are concerned. This is possible if the software has self-servicing capabilities, where application owners can provision certain workflows themselves without relying heavily on network teams (since they'll all be working from their respective homes) and integrates with third-party ITSM and ChatOps tools to support collaboration.

The enterprise, therefore, need not compromise on productivity, and can seamlessly deliver applications and services even while working remotely, further augmenting business continuity.

Anand Purusothaman

Founder and CTO, AppViewX

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