At the heart of network operations are repetitive tasks and processes that require active network management to maintain the operation’s efficiency, consistency and reliability. When performed manually on a scaling network, the NetOps team’s abilities may be limited to just repetitive and boring tasks, and the outcome may not be desirable. Network operators have adopted automation to allow your team to focus on more strategic and creative aspects of network management. This allows them to manage everyday NetOps tasks and functions and control repetitive processes to ensure network service availability improves. Let's explore network automation and orchestration support network management software.
Understanding Network ManagementNetwork management refers to the process of overseeing and controlling a network to ensure its efficient and secure operation. It involves various tasks, tools, and protocols to monitor, configure, and maintain network infrastructure, devices, and services. Effective network management is essential for organizations to achieve optimal network performance, reliability, and security. Some key aspects of network management are:
- Monitoring:Monitoring is a fundamental aspect of network management. It involves continuously tracking network performance, traffic, and device status. Network administrators use monitoring tools to identify issues such as congestion, bandwidth utilization, and downtime.
- Configuration Management:Network configuration management involves setting up and maintaining network systems and devices like routers, switches, and firewalls. It includes tasks like defining network policies, configuring IP addresses, and ensuring device settings are consistent and secure.
- Security Management:Network security management protects the network from threats and vulnerabilities. This includes implementing firewalls, intrusion detection systems, and access controls. Regular updates and patches are crucial to keeping the network secure.
- Performance Optimization:Optimizing network performance is essential for delivering reliable and fast services. Network managers may use techniques like load balancing, Quality of Service (QoS) settings, and traffic shaping to improve network performance.
- Fault Management:Fault management involves promptly identifying and resolving network faults and issues. This can include troubleshooting connectivity problems, diagnosing hardware failures, and responding to alarms generated by network monitoring tools.
- Traffic Analysis:Analyzing network traffic helps understand usage patterns, identify bottlenecks, and plan for capacity upgrades. It is crucial for managing bandwidth effectively.
- Inventory Management:Keeping an accurate inventory of network assets, including hardware and software, is vital for maintenance and planning. This information helps in tracking license compliance and equipment replacement.
- Policy and Compliance Management:Ensuring the network adheres to organizational policies and regulatory requirements is essential. Network managers must implement and enforce security, access control, and data privacy policies.
- Documentation:Proper documentation of network configurations, procedures, and troubleshooting steps is crucial for efficient network management. It aids in knowledge sharing and simplifies future maintenance.
- User Support:Providing support to end-users is part of network management. This includes assisting with connectivity issues, configuring devices, and addressing user-related network problems.
Understanding Network Automation and OrchestrationNetwork equipment vendors have incorporated automation solutions (such as Cambium Network’s cnMaestro) for their ecosystems. The aim is to make it easy for operators to configure, manage, test, deploy, and operate physical and virtual devices within a network infrastructure. While it may be a win for the network operators, it is not always the case that they will use equipment from one vendor as different vendors have different strengths. For example, one may prefer MikroTik’s routers and switches for their core and distribution and Ubiquiti or Cambium for their radio access network. How would one manage equipment from different network vendors and integrate different services (such as billing via M-PESA) all on one pane? Two words…Network Orchestration. Network orchestration refers to automating interactions across multiple types of devices, domains, and even potentially other related systems in the network. Orchestration typically requires interacting with many device types and vendors and across multiple domains and management systems requiring programmatic interfaces, including Restful APIs. In technical terms, orchestration is the process by which a centralized (often hosted in the cloud) network controller can quickly and securely set up devices, applications, and services within an entire network. It helps network management attain the desired objective in service delivery. Network automation and network orchestration are related but distinct concepts. While network automation focuses on automating individual tasks within a network, network orchestration focuses on automating the coordination and management of the entire network, including network management software. Network orchestration is often used in conjunction with network virtualization to provide a higher level of control and flexibility over the network.
Tech deep diveNetwork orchestration and automation leverage different technologies to ensure seamless interoperability in network management:
- Software-defined networking (SDN): to separate the control plane from the data plane, enabling centralized network management and programmability, allowing administrators to define network policies through software, facilitating rapid configuration changes and real-time adjustments.
- Network Function Virtualization (NFV): to virtualize network services traditionally performed by dedicated hardware appliances. NFV decouples network functions from proprietary hardware, making deploying, scaling, and managing services like firewalls, routers, and load balancers easier.
- Configuration Management Tools: to automate configuration tasks across network devices or network infrastructure. These tools allow network administrators to define desired device states and ensure consistent configurations across the network or network management system.
- Orchestration Platforms: to manage the deployment, scaling, and operation of network services, ensuring seamless integration with application services. Orchestration platforms like SPLYNX are not limited to application deployment; they can also orchestrate network functions.
- Network Monitoring and Analytics: to provide insights into network performance, helping administrators to detect anomalies and trigger automated responses.