Today’s digital world has become incredibly complex, placing huge demands on enterprise networks and overwhelming network operation teams as many legacy systems require significant human intervention. The solution is network automation — the process of using software to automate network provisioning and management to continuously maximize network efficiency and functionality.
Network automation offers a host of benefits to the enterprise:
- Faster network and service rollouts
- Easier network changes
- Standardized processes that automate repeated tasks
- More stable and reliable networks
- Better network visibility
- Faster issue resolution
- Minimized risk, which significantly lowers overall operational costs
These advantages help mitigate, if not eliminate, one of the largest causes of network outages — human error. But even more importantly, network automation relieves team members of a tremendous amount of mundane and often labor-intensive tasks, empowering them to be more productive and carve out a competitive edge in the marketplace.
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A quick primer
Network automation is made possible by incorporating virtualization and software-defined networking (SDN) and network functions virtualization (NFV) technology, along with APIs for faster integration. Combined, these systems enable teams to configure and change the network — often on the fly — to best meet emerging and ongoing business or service goals.
Network virtualization and network automation are especially useful for environments that experience unplanned usage surges, as the automated network can accommodate these surges by automatically redirecting network traffic to servers in less impacted areas of the network. Administrators can create virtual software networks between virtual machines or manage multiple physical networks simply by deploying software. Software defined networking (SDN) controls how the associated hardware devices operate and interact with the software.
Reality hits — Enterprise network automation use cases
Like any emerging technology trend, it is natural to wonder how something that sounds great on paper works in real-world scenarios. Can network automation stand up to the rigors of enterprise-class networking while making operation teams more productive? The answer is a resounding yes, and it’s not as hard as you think. Services like Network Edge and Equinix Fabric™ make network automation easy to implement. Here are seven use case scenarios that demonstrate how network automation can help your enterprise achieve efficiency immediately. These seven use cases are among the most widely adopted scenarios, but with Network Edge Equinix Fabric, and Equinix Metal, the automation possibilities are endless.
1. One-to-Many Cloud Interconnection: Network automation makes it easy to aggregate, optimize and secure cloud connectivity by offering a private cloud on-ramp to all major cloud service providers (CSPs) at the edge. With Equinix Fabric, businesses can leverage one-to-many software-defined interconnection via a single physical port to take full advantage of all CSP connection options available, offering unparalleled flexibility and scalability in addition to maximizing each CSP’s strengths.
2. Optimized Connectivity Between Clouds: Network automation also allows teams to optimize connectivity among CSPs for applications that span multiple clouds or cloud migration. By deploying virtual network services on Network Edge from Equinix, upfront CAPEX dependencies and additional hardware requirements are eliminated. Network Edge offers a wide variety of ready to use virtual network functions devices (VNF) — SD-WAN edge device, routers, and firewalls from leading providers. Organizations can now dynamically deploy VNF devices to support seamless data communication among cloud service providers, allowing enterprises to enjoy the unique features of each CSP. Because the network devices are located at the edge, close to the CSP, the latency is minimal, and data transfer is much more efficient. Transferring the data at the edge using Equinix Fabric also helps save precious bandwidth at the customer premises and avoid any high egress charges by the CSP when data are retrieved via the public internet.
3. Market Expansion: Expanding into other markets is simplified by seamlessly connecting to edge cloud on-ramps via SD-WANs or VPNs without the need for additional hardware. Time to market is radically reduced as teams can spin up virtual routing between cloud instances on demand and in minutes versus months, thanks to automated network configuration. There is no need for a physical presence in a new market, and therefore no need to travel for on-site visits. The high cost of shipping physical equipment and complexity of import/export regulatory compliance is also no longer an issue. Opening a new market, serving users, or accessing applications and data in a distant location is much simpler – and faster. Consumption-based billing ensures companies only pay for what they use and offers the flexibility to test out new markets without making substantial financial or resource commitments.
4. Hybrid Cloud Firewall: Public IP access exposes enterprise network to public endpoints, and that can open up a number of security issues. With Network Edge, network managers can deploy a virtual firewall in minutes without any associated hardware costs. A virtual firewall in the cloud protects the core network and assets while offering a secure way to remotely access the network and applications. Corporate assets are continually protected from public endpoints, whether they are part of the existing enterprise ecosystem or prototypes used in test runs.
5. Branch to Cloud SD-WAN: Branch-to-cloud SD-WAN deployments are streamlined with dynamic bandwidth options with Network Edge running an SD-WAN gateway that streamlines traffic to and from any given cloud. There are even substantial financial benefits as branches can seek out less expensive network options while enjoying the same consistent and predictable performance. SD-WAN is one of the easiest and most popular ways to implement network automation. Network Edge bridges the gap between the SD-WAN and Equinix data centers for enterprises to use as a gateway to cloud service providers and partners.
6. Cross Regional Network Optimization: Network automation with Network Edge and leading provider SD-WAN gateways can also be used to deploy cross regional optimization among remote sites. Remotely deploy new network segments around the world to interconnect distributed IT infrastructure with other enterprise networks.
7. Network Optimization on Network Edge, Equinix Fabric and Equinix Metal: SD-WAN accelerates digital transformation by accomplishing all the tasks of a traditional WAN for less cost and complexity while offering greater performance, security and scalability. Combining Network Edge, Equinix Fabric and Equinix Metal accelerates SD-WAN deployments.
The SD-WAN orchestrator and controller can run and host on Equinix Metal, and Equinix Fabric seamlessly replaces or run side by side existing MPLS and internet connectivity. True end-to-end zero-touch SD-WAN device provisioning via Network Edge enables fast deployments of agile networks in minutes. Apps are perfectly matched with the appropriate service-level agreement (SLA) as the system intelligently maps the best network path to accomplish any given task Enterprises can implement a SD-WAN in one of two ways – they can set it up themselves or set it up as a managed service through a telecommunications company or managed service provider. Those who go the DIY route can easily set up an SD-WAN using Equinix Metal to host the orchestrator and controller.
Terraform simplifies network automation
Developing robust apps requires a testing environment and the ability to test countless different scenarios. Normally this would require custom coding, extensive manual labor, and a variety of other time-consuming activities. That all changes with Terraform.io as it turns many network automation tasks into easy-to-implement plug-and-play actions. Open-source Terraform is a growing community of providers offering plugins for a wide variety of network resource types and/or modules to quickly deploy common infrastructure configurations. Modules are small, reusable Terraform configurations that let developers manage a group of related resources as a single resource.
Equinix is an active Terraform provider, and offers a wide variety of code that accelerates network automation regardless of the enterprise environment. Developers can instantly take advantage of unprecedented connection, marketplace, region and cloud access to test and deploy the next big thing.
Deploying networks at software speed
Network automation allows enterprise businesses to accelerate the deployment of virtual networks wherever they need to be, quickly and for a predictable cost. Enterprises can easily expand their business, extend their geographic reach and meet the opportunity in growth markets — even in regions where importing hardware is a challenge.