By Ashley Georgeson – Enterprise Networking & Data Centre Solutions Architect
We live in an era of ever-increasing automation. Just think about how it now touches and has changed visible aspects of life:
- In the home with Alexa and Hive helping integrate lighting, heating and entertainment systems.
- During a supermarket top-up shop at the self-checkout - just consider Amazon's completely till-less concept store.
- Home delivery and returns - I lose track of the clothes I have ordered online, decide they do not fit then simply scan back in at my local corner shop for a free return.
I'm sure you can think of many more you experience on a daily basis.
This is the new app economy, which is in large part driven by systems with automation deeply ingrained. The examples I have given above are traditionally large multinationals or hyperscale technology companies. Are these the only places where automated processes and supporting tools can provide businesses value?
Benefits of Automation & The Changing Data Centre
The reasons the big boys employ automation techniques are no different to those that any other organisation would; namely to improve efficiencies, reduce risks and minimise costs. This may be to increase the rate of software releases as part of a CICD pipeline with the goal of integrating testing using temporary container infrastructure in order to fully test prior to production.
The data centre of today looks very different to when I first came into the industry. A traditional DC network would simply need to provide static connectivity to fixed physical servers and network functions typically following a simple server farm campus modular network design.
The changes that first hit, or were introduced by, the hyperscalers have filtered down to enterprise businesses, and are having a significant impact on the traffic flows and assumptions used in traditional network design:
- Changing traffic patterns, density and network performance requirements though Virtualisation and containerisation.
- Virtualisation of L4-7 network services.
- Reduced opex costs with converged data/storage networks; hyperconverged infrastructure.
- Shifting security boundaries with Cloud edge, hybrid and multi-cloud integrations.
- Changing malfeasor attack vectors and the need for microsegmentation and application dependency mapping.
- Improved business continuity measures and reduced risk through multi-site L2 extension and optimisation / availability zones.
All of the above trends provide significant benefits to the enterprise business in terms of cost and efficiencies and have been widely adopted by the market. In order to derive the best value from these investments it is best to adopt an internal practise that leverages automation tooling and processes.
Automation vs Orchestration
There is an important distinction to make between automation and orchestration, which I have found to be confused at times. Automation can be defined as the capability to make something work without any human input (or not much). For example, you could automate the deployment of switch port configurations or UCS server policies through an ansible playbook. Orchestration, on the other hand, is the means of leveraging the elements of infrastructure that are being automated and constructing them into something meaningful which achieves a business goal, for example to allow for the self-service provisioning of infrastructure services and applications for business users with minimal delay. The IT Ops team have already created the automation tasks and orchestration policies for users to run, and can focus on adding value to the business. Thus. we need both to truly deliver on making best use of the benefits provided by the above trends.
My take is that automation, once the province of the development community and large scale data centre and ISP players, is now far more approachable for traditional networking engineers due to an abundance of supporting enterprise infrastructure, available tools and easily approachable concepts and training materials. nd from a people perspective, I see genuine interest and passion in utilising automation tools in adapting to and benefiting from current networking trends which is leading to increased adoption and collaboration.
Indeed even the market-watchers are reading the tea leaves - Gartner have recently predicted that by 2023 the number of automated data centre networking operational activities will double.
If you are interested in Data Centre Automation and are keen to find out more, take a look at our upcoming DevNet Express event on the 15th and 16th of October. Click here to find out more and to save your space.