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Emergence Of Automated Networks And The Future Of Network Professionals

It is all about results and the impact of automation on end users and/or business objectives

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It’s an open secret that automation is providing every industry with an overwhelming sense of simplicity that is changing how they function. It is being called the Fourth Industrial Revolution and the emergence of Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning is disrupting many industries. While many are focusing on the products and technologies, the impact of this simplicity is being seen in another field that is going under the radar - network engineering and people management aimed at the innovators who are building the automated future.

The skills needed to succeed in this era are very different from those needed even a few years ago. Gone are the days when network engineers could be judged on the basis of how many tools and APIs they have built. Now it is all about results and the impact of automation on end users and/or business objectives- and this requires network engineers who are inspired and educated as they work on complex architectures in sync with automation. As such, it is crucial that automation does not remain an afterthought  – it has to be well considered and integrated into the early phases of strategy and development planning. 

Bringing human intelligence to automation

In network stacks that have traditionally been siloed for many years, blind automation can be self-defeating. Automation thus requires a level of intelligence and network engineers need the right skills and collaboration to make that a reality. Unifying automation across inter-linked architectures can improve efficiency and lower costs when done in the right way. This also enables network engineers to better focus their efforts on more strategic initiatives as opposed to driving mundane transactions. By leveraging human intelligence to achieve automation, human operators can better apply their knowledge on matters that require strategic expertise. Therefore, what the industry needs to be asking itself - are network engineers skilled and equipped to implement intelligent automation across different workflows and networking operations?

People, Processes, and Data are among the most important and interdependent components for any business to achieve its peak performance – no organization can exist or thrive without them. All businesses aim at optimizing their human resources and automating their processes to ensure a seamless flow of data across functions. 

As automation projects often require complex undertakings spanning process, operations and technology, these skills need to be cultivated in today’s information age. People are still the most important component of this equation and they need to be trained and up-skilled to succeed in the automation era. They need to understand how automation is actually consumed by the end user and that this is a two-way street. To build simplistic engineering products is easier said than done, and it requires a deep understanding of processes, technologies and people behind the scenes.

Skilling network engineers for the future

The automated future is already here, and network operations teams need to be prepared for this change or risk falling behind. Forrester reports shows the readiness of mainstream enterprises to transform IT infrastructure and operations. The next step in this process is to ensure that the people are equipped with the right mindset and knowledge to see through this transformation. This includes constant training, up-skilling, collaborating and implementing open-source projects into previously working DevOps network models.

Needless to say, these initiatives can have a positive impact on efficiency, reliability, and agility of products. Self-driving networks require crystal clear implementation from the very beginning and this is not possible to achieve without preparing the workforce and network engineers with the right knowledge and tools to succeed in the automation era. Enterprises too must be open to the fact that people are at the centre of this new wave of operations, and they should thus be given greater responsibility and reward than ever before. It is said that network engineers are moving from becoming technicians to technologists, and this cannot be achieved without the contributions of mainstream enterprises themselves.

Future of networking as a profession

Thus, the question that many industry watchers are now asking is - what does this mean for the automated networking industry and the professionals in it? As manual network management tools get consigned to the past, command-line interfaces are becoming more irrelevant and it is leading to the rise of what is known as Intent-Based Networking or IBN. Network professionals well-versed in IBN are soon going be in greater demand and mainstream enterprises thus need to focus on getting the best out of collaborative communities that exchange tools and applications to accelerate the adoption of automation.

In fact, for network engineers to automate their day-to-day network operations, they need to focus not just on advanced training and education services, but also on collaborating and partnering with the wider engineering community for success. Gartner says that by 2022, only 25 percent of NetOps teams will use CLI as compared to more than 70 percent today. This implies that simply focusing on technology is not enough anymore. What needs greater focus is the people, and to ensure that they are ready for this shift. 

While several attempts have been made to integrate automation in the earlier phases of network development, not many organizations have yielded the desired results completely. One of the many reasons is the heterogeneous siloed legacy systems that have been put in place over the years which has impacted the rate at which businesses integrate automation as part of their network. Today, technology transformation and new construct models are being adopted, hence, it is an optimal time to consider automation as a requirement at the start of each networking phase. This will help enable a new network architecture – be it greenfield or brownfield – with automation as an embedded functionality, in addition to the standard routing and forwarding functionalities.

Modernizing networks to keep pace with computer, network and storage requirements is critical. For this purpose, the education and up-skilling of personnel in the automation era are of utmost importance.  After all, the cultural change of automation can only be fully realized if the people and processes both evolve together. 

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.

Sriram TV

The author is Head of Business Development and Consulting, Juniper Networks - networking & cybersecurity solutions company.

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