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You Want to Replace Me With a Robot? Overcoming Our Fears of Network Automation and Realizing its True Potential

Posted on Jan 16, 2018 by Sara Aly
Tags: Advanced Network Services, Advanced Networking, Frontpage News, Internet2 Member, Network Performance

Michael Carey, Director of Operations at KINBER, shares his perspective on network automation.

By: Michael Carey, Director of Operations at KINBER

 

A common and inevitable reaction to talking about network automation with engineers is the idea of replacing the work they do with a robot. Coincidentally, it’s the perfect response to lead into the conversation about the true value of network automation.  

Yes, network automation will replace things you do. It will replace inefficiencies, improve processes that can be streamlined, and remove mundane and repetitive tasks to free up engineering resources that focus on higher level activities.

Network automation starts with an inward look at what your pain points are and trying to figure out if automation can improve them for your team. At KINBER, the Keystone Initiative for Network Based Education and Research, we found that 80% of engineering resources were being diverted to provisioning tasks that allow us to onboard new customers and services.  

Since we onboarded our first customer in August 2012, our organization has grown tremendously and we now serve 128 institutions. Managing this growth stage means that we have many projects competing for limited resources. We prioritize onboarding customers as quickly and efficiently as possible, while ensuring a high-level of customer service throughout the process.  

So when we were considering network automation at KINBER, our approach and strategy began with answering this basic question: what aspects of our team effort should we focus on to improve the workflow around provisioning?

This mindset can be applied not just to an organization as a whole, but to an entire department or engineering team. Afterall, we all use technology as a means to an end, but do we utilize it in the best way for ourselves?

In my opinion, one of the more interesting aspects of network automation is a focus on the break/fix side of the business. For KINBER, this is the other 20% of our focus, but probably the most critical to ensuring good customer service.

When aspects of your network break, there’s a triage process that occurs to determine the root cause and this involves people making decisions. What aspects of network automation could be implemented to improve this triage process to get to that root cause faster?

What if a BGP alarm prompted a Tier I technician to push the “BGP Outage” button and collect information in advance of escalating the ticket to the next step? What if an alarm with Optical Errors already collected light levels along the entire service path? What steps can we automate in triage to offer a better customer service experience during break/fix situations?

There are no-cost tools out there to help us with these issues and I encourage you to take the steps towards implementing a network automation strategy. Investigate your vendor’s version of Zero-Touch Provisioning (ZTP) for faster provisioning of new infrastructure. Deploy Ansible as a tool that can touch all your networking infrastructure for faster answers to your questions or system-wide configuration changes.

And join your colleagues in the Internet2 community through our new Slack channel #i2-network-automation to discuss what we’re all doing in this space.