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2016 IT Trends To Watch: Automation Domination!

Level 11

One of the thornier new ideas in networking is automation. As soon as someone starts talking about adding automation to a network system there are cries of "taking my job" or "automating me out of a career" from all corners of the data center. The truth is that automation isn't going to cost anyone a job but it might just make yours more interesting.

Big-Boned Finger Mistakes

We've all been there before. It's the end of the day. You've had a long few hours of trying to bring new switches online. You're ready to call it a day after this last device comes online. All you need to do is get this last one in place and it's time to go. You bring up the basic configuration and everything appears to be running just fine. As soon as the routing neighbors establish you're set. It's only then that you realized that you pasted in the wrong configuration! This is the config for the switch across the campus. As you frantically attempt to fix the broken configuration, the routing relationship comes online with the wrong info. Everyone starts dropping. Routes are being black-holed. Your cell phone starts ringing while you try and get back to normal. Users are furious that their end-of-day jobs are failing because the network crashed yet again.

Making mistakes is part of the learning process in networking. As we screw things up we learn how to prevent them from happening again. But what if the easiest mistakes to make were also the easiest to prevent in the first place? Network automation isn't just about configuring switches to provision automatically when they first boot, although that is a function of automation. It's also about taking repetitive, simple tasks that we do every day and making them run in a predictable way every single time.

I've spent a lot of my career doing boring data entry on network system. MAC addresses, IP addresses, and port configurations are about as boring as it comes. Yet making a mistake on one of these could spell disaster for everything. One mistake in a port security access statement could limit traffic to a bad MAC address that locks out everyone in the network from reaching the firewall. Typing in the wrong IP address in a routing statement could cause the whole routing table to fall apart as above.

Making Our Lives Easier

Automation doesn't steal our jobs. It takes the boring parts of our jobs and makes them automatic. It means that we don't have to worry about a mistake taking our job instead. It also means that we could have even more time to learn new things. Take a moment and thing about how much more you could accomplish at your desk if you knew you didn't have to do repetitive provisioning tasks. Imagine a word in which your server team can have VLANs automatically assigned to ports instead of generating a ticket and calling you an hour later wondering why it hasn't been done yet.

Automation means giving us control over things. It means having a second set of machine eyes looking at a task and deciding that it's being done correctly. It means knowing that the junior admins are following best practice guidelines every time they implement something new. It means having a complete audit report available when someone asks so you can say that it really wasn't the network this time.

Automation doesn't have to include a whole system like Puppet or Chef or Ansible to start with. It can be as simple as finding out what scripting languages your network gear supports. It can be as simple as finding out if your NMS supports scripts to do things like provision ports or clear disabled states. Automation really starts with making a list of all the tasks that you find yourself doing every day and seeing if there is a way to have something else do them for you. Once you know what you want to automate, find a way to do it is a simple task.

20 Comments
MVP
MVP

Ah...the whole work smarter not harder thing.

What I tell my team of Level 3 administrators when it comes to my vision of automation is:

     I am not looking to replace you guys with automation. I am looking to automate the tasks that you elitists punks feel are beneath you so they aren't getting done today.

In a previous career and different industry, each time technology or sales trends eliminated the job of one or more people, the owners of the business never even considered down-sizing the person responsible for operating the obsolete systems.  Instead, the owners found new trends for sales and new technologies to purchase and market; the former operator without a job was guaranteed they'd be trained on the new tech, and there job would be there for them.

I felt a bit uncertain when we adopted ACI--a lot of the Nexus FEX work and 5K and 7K configurations kept me busy.  It sounded like ACI would eliminate much of my work.  What would I do?

Hah!  I recently started writing down columns of tasks and projects I'm responsible for, and I've realized that if ACI takes away any of my Nexus work load, I still have enough for ten more people to be busy for the next five years.

Do any of you need a job?  I've got two positions open right now, advertised at http://www.essentiahealth.org, for a Network Architect and a Network Analyst.  Plus I'm making plans for two more Analysts and two Technicians in the future.

Automation lets me get away from the dull items, and lets me cut to the heart of the interesting things.

Bring it!

MVP
MVP

I was working with a client a few months ago who has sent a request to the ISP who manages their site to site network gear and we were waiting on them to get SNMP enabled on the routers so we could add them into NPM.  It took 4 days to get 60 or so devices done, and we could see them knocking them out practically one at a time as we periodically rescanned the range.  It was making me crazy to imagine that our project was on hold while someone was one by one logging into dozens of same model devices to insert the exact same lines of code.

Autobots_Roll_Out.jpg

In all seriousness though, automation is great, if it is implemented carefully by techies, for techies. If it's driven from anywhere else (CFOs, I'm looking at YOU!) it can be a disaster.

Level 14

Automate where possible.  Automate the mundane and boring tasks, allowing you more time to innovate.

MVP
MVP

My work actually runs a competition where you make suggestions for things to automate.

I've always tried to automate things, makes things much easier. Especially if you have to get someone else to do it.

Level 15

interesting

Level 11

So we will know when we have reached automation utopia, when we automate ourselves out of existence.  Right?

Level 17

What I think when I hear the about management Automating the office

automate-me.jpg

Level 14

Somebody has to make sure the automated processes happen as adverised.

Level 17

Only if you do not set your thresholds and enable NPM Alerts to tell us about if before we are all gone.

MVP
MVP

Resistance is futile, you will be automated...

MVP
MVP

Unfortunately yes.

Level 10

Not good if you are paid by the hour, but essential and practical if you are not.

Let's admit it, we are living in a very fast-paced environment nowadays. Everything is instant, from noodles to coffee to food, even underwear for crying out loud! The need of instant results have bled through every part and aspect our lives. No time for waiting anymore, everything must be done as quick as possible, whenever or wherever we can, though there is a caveat on this people (whether we admit it or not, we are all now becoming less and less patient) and automation has been almost  the key for all our instant indulgence and satisfaction. So yes, I concur that automation will dominate the future but taking our job? I guess for some yes..after all where have all the postmen gone these days since the birth of email? but in Information Technology, its not gonna be problem. It will just take the mundane and ordinary for all IT folks out there and turn it into extraordinary especially if it breaks and the guy created it already left the company and did not leave any document for the script he created using some bespoke programming language he learned while watching "Ancient Aliens" in History channel.

Level 15

Resistance is futile, you will be automated..² Jfrazier

Level 17

Instant is the key, who wants to wait for a report?

Level 14

Is that the reason we all try to automate stuff to begin with.... Deep down we all hate mundane tasks ... and we are lazy( admit it!!!) automating them is the solution

Level 14

I agree with you that automation is needed and makes our lives a lot easier.  I would also like to add that it must also be understood.  It is not good to have automation in place with everyone, except the person that set it up, knowing what it is doing.  You must all know what is being done for you.  It needs to be understood, so that when it breaks or causes issues (one of these will happen; just a matter of when), people know how to troubleshoot it.  With that said, I love automation and configure it everywhere that I can.

Level 20

I've definitely seen it get out of control.

About the Author
A nerd that happens to live and breathe networking of all kinds. Also known to dip into voice, security, wireless, and servers from time to time. Warning - snark abounds.