Last year at Interop, there was a great mini-conference dedicated to the DevOps for Networking community. In that session, I kicked off the day with a general view of where the industry was with respect to the intersection of DevOps and networking with a focus on network automation.

One of the analogies I made was comparing network automation to self-driving cars posing the question, “Are they real?”…“Are they real for us (the consumer)?”

Self-Driving Cars

No, they are not, but I continued to make the analogy. Is complete network automation real today? While, the answer is yes, it’s not really a reality for most…yet.

So, what’s the connection between self-driving cars and network automation?

Start small and expand. Pick a problem, solve it, and integrate it.

Self-Driving Cars are Coming

While self-driving cars aren’t a reality for us to buy and purchase today, intelligent cars are– these are cars that have high-value services and features enhancing the way we drive, our safety, and much more generally, the way we in which we consume the streets and infrastructure around us.

Intelligent Cars

These include automated features like self-parking, back-up cameras, automated beeping as you back-up, automatic-brakes, GPS, and computer systems that give you a plethora of visibility about the inner workings of the car (complex system). So yes, you better believe it. The self-driving car is coming– one feature, chip, feedback loop, and computer program at a time.

Network Automation is Coming

All of the pieces are actually here already!

Achieving network automation is hard, very hard. But it’s actually not if you break it down into achievable milestones. Maybe it’s something like the following:

  • Generate automated reports and documentation for Campus Access layer and expand networks from there. You don’t need to start with every network type.
  • Create proper configuration templates for each new device type or for each new service being deployed. Again, you don’t need to start with every device or network type.
  • Create a compliance check for credentials in one part of the network and gradually expand compliance checks and networks checked against.
  • Standing up a new site? Look into zero touch provisioning.
  • Having a problem with bad switches in a stack or linecards in a chassis? Perfect problem to solve.

As use-cases like this are being solved week after week, you’ll have short-term wins proving the value of automation, but also be moving towards the bigger picture of deploying services, integrating into 3rd party platforms, creating relevant feedback loops, offering APIs to the business, and much more.

The biggest takeaway is to make sure you build a plan, know it’ll take time to achieve, and break it up into achievable milestones. It’ll be a win for everyone involved.