Modern enterprise IT infrastructure relies on a multitude of tools and processes – used by different groups to accomplish a variety of jobs. Configuration changes, asset management tasks, network and application provisioning, business process revisions, etc. – all go through separate tools supplied by different vendors and rely on their own workflows, gates, approvals and reviews.
Specialized tools monitor and troubleshoot individual parts of the network, sending alerts when certain key areas are impacted. But this approach is still highly siloed and fragmented, making it impossible to get comprehensive reporting or to establish a single source of truth about the state of the entire network infrastructure.
Orchestration aligns the many disjointed parts of the network management process in a holistic approach, bringing it all together with a focus on the application and the common business goals.
Network as a Service
AppViewX is among a small cohort of innovative vendors who use the concept of the network as a service, connecting an assortment of different tools, across vendors and environments, though APIs and command-line interfaces. All your network provisioning, compliance, reporting, remediation, and automation and orchestration tasks – managed through a single platform. Enterprises can choose which tools they want to bind to an orchestration platform and how they want to communicate with them. Any device or endpoint – load balancers, PKIs, CAs, firewalls, proxies – can be a part of an orchestration platform, their administration delivered as a service. This approach streamlines all network administration tasks, eliminating human error and significantly reducing operational expenses. With all tools and data in one place, teams can shift their attention from mundane tasks to more strategic initiatives, focusing on applications and customer experience instead of maintenance, and accelerating the pace of digital transformation.
Network Orchestration and DevOps
DevOps is no stranger to automation – teams have been automating lower-level tasks using basic scripting for years. The emergence of specialized DevOps tools like Ansible, Puppet and Chef allowed for more complex change provisioning and automation tasks through the use of design plans and playbooks. However, a key to successful enterprise-wide orchestration strategy is to look beyond automating individual tasks and focus on delivering automation as a service by integrating with multiple tools in a multi-vendor environment.
Automation vs. Orchestration
Automation is a broad term. As the name suggests, you can use it (through scripts or software) to automate repetitive tasks, which can save you time and reduce OpEx. Automation is not limited to networks – many successful solutions exist in the automation space, each providing services in their own domain. Salesforce.com automates customer engagement processes, while Marketo, for example, automates marketing programs and campaigns.
Orchestration adds the aspect of “service” to your automation initiative. When we talk about network orchestration, we introduce the network as a service concept, where every endpoint, from every vendor, is connected to the same platform. It’s like conducting an orchestra where every instrument plays a different tune, but together their individual melodies combine to make a symphony – a single, beautiful piece of music. With orchestration, you can integrate different tools – DevOps, ITSM, like Remedy or Jira, log forwarding solutions – like Splunk or Elastic, and so on. Orchestration helps streamline and automate the management of all these components.
In their Networking Maturity Model, Gartner describes distinct stages, ranging from having a single structure to manage all devices to investing in a platform to support compliance, enablement, and remediation of devices; followed by automation to eliminate mundane, repetitive tasks; and finally having a solution that automates the complete business process and integrates with a variety of 3rd party vendors and tools. Orchestration is at the pinnacle of this model, having all the data and context required for automation in a single, integrated location.
Achieving Maturity through orchestration
Complete network orchestration takes time, and most companies tend to start small by automating a specific piece of network operation, like configuration of load balancers or switches, and then building on their success. When individual teams can demonstrate the ROI of replacing a tedious, error-prone, repetitive process with automation, especially self-service automation, other groups in the organization take notice. At AppViewX, we have seen plenty of examples where companies who have hundreds of switches to provision could barely handle the process of manually implementing multiple configurations on all these devices, each requiring multiple levels of approval, checkpoints for policy compliance, and constant support from technical experts.
When they could demonstrate that automation can cut the time of implementing required configurations from days to minutes, they start looking into expanding the orchestration capabilities to other components of their networks. Network engineers are sometimes reluctant to accept the concept of software-based automation. But given the complexity of today’s enterprise IT ecosystem and the interconnected nature of NetOps, DevOps and Security services, once they see what broad-scope, context-aware and state-aware orchestration can do for them, it becomes much easier to expand orchestration concepts across the organization to a wide array of endpoints and devices.
Claims of no-code and low-code have become a bit of a buzzword in the world of network orchestration. It typically describes the fact that the product can be seamlessly tied to any device that you want to configure. But today’s networks are incredibly complex, and to manage their multitude of devices, you need to connect to them using REST APIs, which naturally requires scripting. For NetOps engineers who are adept at using APIs, this is a convenient way to control exactly how they want to communicate with each device. Where the no-code feature comes in is when application owners are given an opportunity to use self-service to push required configuration changes in response to application updates or introduction of new functionality.
For application owners, who are typically not programmers and don’t possess extensive knowledge of networks and their components, having the no-code option means that they don’t have to rely on network engineers to process configuration changes. They can use the user-friendly visual workflows to implement all necessary changes, eliminating errors, and reducing delays in application delivery times. Administrators and NetOps engineers use the orchestration platform to enable specific outcomes, and end-users – typically application owners – build and use no-code workflows to accomplish their goals.
Going forward – the future of orchestration
Context-based automation, combined with key technology advancements like machine learning will continue to evolve, enabling network automation to become even more mainstream and widespread among organizations of all types and sizes. At AppViewX, we envision future network orchestration tools to be even more intuitive, complete with an even greater library of out of the box pre-built solutions and building blocks, making deployment even faster and more seamless, with an even larger scope of self-service capabilities.
Even today, context-aware and state-aware orchestration platforms can automate complex tasks that span multiple tools. These capabilities will continue to evolve, with network orchestration platform being able to pick up a log from a device monitoring tool, understand the nature of events that caused the issue, then use a series of logical steps to remediate these issues – all without the need for human interaction. At AppViewX, we are already abstracting the complexities of modern enterprise infrastructure from the application owner. We anticipate that this trend will continue with even more intuitive self-servicing, focused on applications and the end-user experience.
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Anand Purusothaman is a technologist and entrepreneur. In 2005, he founded Payoda Technology- a digital transformation company, serving a roster of several Fortune 100 companies. Then in 2016, Anand set forth with his next venture, AppviewX- a modular, low-code software application that enables the automation and orchestration of network infrastructure. Anand holds BE from PSG College of Technology- Coimbatore, and an M.Sc in Industrial Engineering – Human Factors, from Clemson University.