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3 DDI Ways to Improve your Network Automation Journey

January 22, 2021 | Written by: Surinder Paul | , , ,

Network Automation Concepts

When tasked with rolling out new network automation infrastructure in hundreds or even thousands of retail stores to support the digital transformation initiative of his company, imagine what the Infrastructure Director of a worldwide retail brand has to plan for. The DDI (DNS-DHCP-IPAM) components would likely come last or even not be considered at all. In addition to the design of the new network infrastructure matching the Digital Transformation goals, the technical assessment of the readiness of each site, the logistics, and project management challenges at those scales, there are fundamental means and operational processes to set up to secure the success of the mission.

As Gartner suggests, “Successful digital transformation initiatives require high-quality network service delivery, leveraging network automation.” The goal is to achieve agility and celerity to go as fast as possible while managing all hurdles along the way. This includes improving accuracy and quality; reducing variability by standardizing as much as possible and eventually, all of the above while containing costs and reducing workload. Even though obvious, this is no easy task, and the first question is where and how to begin network automation?

Let’s break this down into three simple questions:

  • How accurate are the available data describing the current state of the network?
  • Are the applicable processes aligned between the operational teams?
  • What are the network management tools in place (e.g. DDI – DNS, DHCP & IPAM)?

According to the analyst, 74% of companies do not maintain accurate network data, 2/3 of network teams use unaligned operational processes, and 70% lack defined network management tool strategy. You can’t navigate safely without an up-to-date map. It seems also difficult to optimize processes and automate operation functions if each team rows in various directions. Lastly, lacking a common framework for the management tools in use critically impedes network automation initiatives. To address these questions, Gartner has 3 recommendations:

1. Create a consolidated network source of truth (NSoT)

This concept is quite straightforward. All network data must be based on accurate and up-to-date information. For example, the management of all IP addresses, all network subnets, all VLAN, all devices, etc. throughout the network infrastructure should be managed within a common solution granting access to the true information allowing scalable automation of service requests and service assurance activities. An IPAM database meets the requirements of a Network Source of Truth for all IP-related information.

The EfficientIP’s IPAM solution enables implementing an IP Source of Truth by consolidating into a unique repository all IP infrastructure information (on-premise infrastructure, private and public cloud data like AWS, Azure & GCP) allowing for consistency control across your network. Lastly, the data can be made available to third-party solutions in the infrastructure ecosystem to achieve integral end-to-end network automation. In the case of our retail brand, the IPAM would implement all the configuration rules derived from the network design while checking in real-time the intent corresponds to the actual network and correcting/remediating differences as and when required.

2. Standardize on repeatable configuration kits

These kits correspond to standardized templates of site-level designs to align network operation processes. The higher the degree of standardization, the lower the variability of the resulting operation processes and the simpler they are to automate. Practically, the kits define what hardware to install, the IP address plan with DHCP and DNS configurations, the VLAN, VRF, etc., the network and security equipment configuration, the local compute configuration if any, and predefined resource meta-data and their properties.

In the case of our retail company, this will define the requirements for small, medium and large stores, warehouses, manufacturing facilities, data centers, and HQs. From this definition, DDI information becomes a vital component of the standardized site-level kit. With SOLIDserver IPAM, you can create your library of standardized kits with predefined templates of DDI resources with required properties such as subnet hierarchy (size, IP ranges, DNS/DHCP options), metadata and properties, naming conventions, etc. Once defined, you select the template to be applied and qualify the required information related to the deployment, e.g. change request reference, internal PO number, etc. From there, the set of DDI resources is automatically deployed in one single operation according to specific options and policies bound to each of the DDI templates included in the standardized site kit.

3. Implement a software-based abstraction layer

A Software-based abstraction layer is meant to obfuscate lower and upper tiers from one another while allowing cross-network vendor platform data exchange, orchestration and automation via vendor agnostics API and webhooks. Implementing this layer, network automation development teams can build and offer to their clients intent-based network automation services without the client having to learn vendor-specific user interfaces or APIs, or having to worry about changes to automation when equipment is replaced. Network operations center (NOC) KPIs also benefit as overall network availability is increased, while manual errors and fault recovery times are decreased. Starting automation & infrastructure as code requires some dev or scripting skills. Use of standard tools accelerates ramp up: Terraform, Ansible are well known by ops & SRE (Site Reliability Engineering), Rundeck for Ops automation procedures.

EfficientIP DDI, as used in most network automation processes (IP addressing, DNS records, DHCP pools…), can be a good candidate for being connected southbound to such an abstraction layer. It then can enable Advanced Network Automation to the northbound exposed services.

Illustration of How Ddi Connects Within the Network Automation Abstraction Layer

Network Automation Conclusion

Your Network Automation initiatives should begin by creating a consolidated network source of truth (NSoT). DDI provides the IP Source of Truth, a foundation for network control & automation. They could be continued by standardizing on repeatable configuration kits. DDI templates simplify I&O teamwork, helping accelerate digital transformation. And they can be pursued by implementing a software-based abstraction layer. DDI offers an API & webhook that can be plugged to this layer and made available to northbound services, so is a key component for global IT automation.

All statements in this blog attributable to Gartner represent EfficientIP’s interpretation of data, research opinion or viewpoints published as part of a syndicated subscription service by Gartner, Inc., and have not been reviewed by Gartner. Each Gartner publication speaks as of its original publication date (and not as of the date of this blog). The opinions expressed in Gartner publications are not representations of fact and are subject to change without notice.

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