Why Network Automation is Essential to Modernizing Your Data Center Infrastructure

As virtualization has proliferated through data centers, IT departments have been able to apply advanced automation tools and techniques to server and storage infrastructures. Integrating the network into the automation workflow, however, has been more challenging. Deploying, provisioning, operating and configuring data center networks is still a largely manual and time-consuming process that is vulnerable to human error.

When one data center element relies on manual processes while the others are automated, that element can become a bottleneck. By using data center switches and management tools that enable higher levels of network automation, IT departments can eliminate that bottleneck. At the same time, automation will help enhance agility, accelerate deployments, increase reliability and improve the performance of critical business applications.

Network automation is also fundamentally the driver for emerging trends such as software-defined networking (SDN)—which is, at its heart, an effort to make the network more agile and automated. By embracing automation and working with a vendor that offers a clear vision and path to SDN, IT leaders and network designers can begin building and deploying key elements of their next-generation networks.

The Fundamentals of Network Automation
The data center has always been an ecosystem of compute, storage and networking equipment, each typically managed by a separate team with expertise in its particular domain. While that model may have been efficient in the client-server era, today’s virtualized environments require a new approach that enables IT to break down barriers and automate/orchestrate resources across the entire data center.

When IT makes changes to one element of the infrastructure, such as servers, it impacts the other elements of the infrastructure. In an ideal world, network changes should happen immediately and automatically. When a new virtual machine is spun up, its corresponding VLAN should be configured automatically.

When these processes require manual configuration, however, provisioning the network can take days or even weeks, depending upon the network administrator’s workload. In today’s accelerated business environment, that type of delay slows down the pace of innovation and business.

How do network designers bring higher levels of automation to the data center network? The process starts with an understanding of the key tasks that need to be addressed:

  • Provisioning and deployment: Rather than IT going through a time-consuming manual staging process, new switches offer the ability to automatically download the correct image and configuration as soon as they are racked, stacked and powered on. The network recognizes each new device as it is added, automating set-up, configuration and the provisioning process.

  • Management and operations: Once the network is up and running, adjustments can be programmed to occur automatically, using analytics to deliver current, consistent and accurate information. Data center switches should have a flexible scripting mechanism that allows them to automatically respond to simple alerts and events. They also need to be programmable by third-party tools, simplifying and accelerating their integration into the data center workflow.

  • Orchestration: The network can’t be automated in a silo: It has to work in orchestration with all other elements of the data center. When a server or storage configuration is changed, it often requires a corresponding change in the network. Those changes need to take place immediately and automatically. To enable orchestration in the data center, switches should:

    • Support orchestration tools such as OpenStack and CloudStack;

    • Support SDN solutions from a variety of vendors, such as Juniper’s Contrail Networking product;

    • Support IT automation solutions, such as Puppet or Chef, so the network can be managed in concert with the overall data center infrastructure.

Taking the Next Step
Data centers are in transition, moving towards solutions and models that enable IT departments to be more responsive to the needs of the business and more service-centric in their approach to delivering value. Network automation is an essential element in that transition, and organizations that lag behind in modernizing their networks are running the risk of losing an important competitive edge. If you’re ready to learn what it takes to bring next-generation automation capabilities to your network, here are resources to get you started. http://www.juniper.net/us/en/dm/switchforthefuture/