What is Network Automation and Why We Need It?

Network automation is the process of automating the provisioning, orchestration, and management of network and their services. There are lots of benefits network automation can offer. It allows network operations to be automated, which reduces human-to-machine interaction and, therefore, greatly reduces the chance of human error such as typos.

Network automation can also save time and manual labor because it provides Zero Touch Provisioning (ZTP) that configures network devices automatically without someone needing to configure it locally, hence reducing the operational expenditures, especially for service providers and enterprises.

Finally, one of the more important benefits of network automation is guarantee consistency in your configurations. With automation, you can create a script and then instruct the controller to deploy that to the devices wherein each device receives the same configuration. This ensures that you are familiar with the configuration of each device, and it also means minimal configuration errors because the administrator is not typing the same configuration commands over and over on each device. It also greatly helps in troubleshooting and in generating reports.


Traditional Network Management

With traditional networking, you can only manage network devices one at a time using SSH to the command line. This process is time-consuming, labor-intensive, and prone to human error. While this can work well in smaller networks, it does not work well in a large enterprise and does not also scale very well.

Traditional Network Monitoring Systems (NMS) such as SolarWinds, CiscoWorks, and Cisco Prime Infrastructure have also been available for a long time and use protocols such as SNMP and Netflow to gather information reports on the state of the network. While SNMP uses MIB and OID to collects useful data and can also be used to push configuration to devices, it does not build for real-time programmatic access and has limited functionality.

SNMP also has security concerns and can be complex to implement and operate. These are the main challenges of traditional Networks:

  • Scalability Issues
  • Management Complexity
  • Slower Issue Resolution


Controller-Based Networks

A Controller-based network uses controller software or appliance to automate network operations. Software-defined networking uses a controller for network automation. It allows you to centrally manage your network device’s configuration and enable programs to automatically configure and operate networks through the power of Application Programming Interfaces (APIs).

Intelligent network automation through a controller-based network provides ease of management to your network than traditional networking because all of the configuration settings can be easily managed in the GUI of the controller.

SD-Access is Cisco’s solution for network automation that replaces traditional network management. It offers a single point of automation, orchestration, and management of networks through the Cisco DNA Center controller. SD-Access has two key components:

  • Cisco Campus Fabric Solution- it is a network virtualization overlay built on top of the network underlay.
  • Cisco DNA Center – SDN controller for centralized management and NMS.


Controllers can also provide central aggregation points for monitoring and data analytics for more visibility and easier troubleshooting, particularly on a large network enterprise.


Network Automation Tools

Multiple methods can be used to automate network management – Python scripts, NETCONF, RESTCONF, Ansible, Puppet, SDN, Cisco DNA Center, etc. However, not all methods are supported by all devices so you should choose which is most suitable for your environment.

Network configuration management tools provide an automated method to execute and monitor changes to our networks. Some tools even offer network automation frameworks wherein a library of commands and workflows are already provided. If such changes do occur, it either reconfigures the device or informs the network engineers to make the change. There are two types of configuration management tools:

  • agent-based tools – need the installation of a code (agent) on the managed device, such as Puppet, Saltstack, and Chef.
  • agentless tools – does not need the installation of any code (agent) on them, such as Ansible, Saltstack SSH, and Puppet Bolt.


Cisco DNA Center

The Cisco Digital Network Architecture (DNA) Center is an SDN controller that is used to support Cisco’s Software-Defined Access for network automation. The DNA Center provides centralized management on your system, automates configuration changes, and performs analysis of the devices

Cisco DNA Center Assurance is a tool for monitoring and network management. It monitors traffic statistics, the health status of the network, and an overview of all issues in the network, It also correlates issues and provides recommendations on what may cause such network issues to help you assist in diagnosing and troubleshooting.

Cisco DNA Center also enhances network visibility use that visibility to improve performance, It enables proactive prediction of network-related and security-related risks by using telemetry to improve the performance of the network.

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