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Cloud-like Automation of Enterprise Datacenters
Arun Kanchi
CIO-Arista Networks
Tuesday, October 20, 2015
Software-based network provisioning tools are no longer only used and enjoyed by large-scalecloud operators and service providers. CIOs of mid to large enterprises are also now looking for tools to help them better manage their network infrastructure. With Software Defined Net working (SDN) gaining higher momentum in enterprise network infrastructure, CIOs need ways to easily provision and enable cloud-like automation in their datacenters to rapidly respond to changing business landscape.There are just too many devices to care for each one manually.

With software-based network provisioning tools, automation can be extended to the network layer, where complex topologies can be configured once and then rolled out on the fly as needed. Intelligent systems architectures can balance the load among physical and virtual resources, bringing networks and systems online or offline as enterprise demand dictates.

However, unlike in the case of large cloud providers who have built their own custom software tools or invested in proprietary tools, the criteria for selecting a suitable software-based network provisioning tool for enterprises is a bit different. The top 3 such criteria to be considered are discussed below:

1. Support for open-standards-based protocols
2. Integration with other datacenter software tools such as an IT ticketing systems and network monitoring tools
3. Provision and support for implementing IT General Controls

1. Support for open-standards-based protocols
Avoid tools that are built for a proprietary stack that forces you to use vendor specific hardware and SDN controllers. Why go through an expensive hardware refresh? Instead, look for tools that are hardware agnostic, based on openstandards protocols like open source OpenStack and tools that can interoperate with a multitude of SDN controllers and best-of-breed players like Dell, HP, Microsoft, VMware, etc. This is important because a typical enterprise IT infrastructure will have a variety of physical and virtual resources from several different hardware and software vendors.

In the compute and storage world, system administrators are already used to generically available software tools that allow them to centrally manage, orchestrate and configure the compute and storage resources. So it only makes more sense to invest in software-based network provisioning tools with similar capabilities and flexibility.

2. Integration with other datacenter software tools such as IT ticketing systems and network monitoring tools
Most enterprise IT organization use a ticketing system like ServiceNow or BMC Remedy to capture business requirements and track changes to physical and virtual IT assets in their datacenter. A need to change the enterprise network configuration usually comes in the form of a business request. The IT organization must be able to quickly translate such business requests into an actionable response. A progressive IT organization relies on automation and leverages Software Development Kits (SDKs) and Application Programming Interface (APIs). These SDKs and APIs should be openly documented and comprehensive across the feature-set to provide maximum flexibility in effecting the provisioning and making configuration changes to the physical and virtual assets.

Software-based network provisioning tools that provide such SDKs and APIs for enabling custom integrations and provide an open framework for automation from an IT ticketing system should be ranked higher.

In addition to SDKs and open APIs, also look for integrations and plugins to commonly used tools like Chef, Puppet, Ansible etc. to help enable DevOps-style automation that system administrators are already familiar with.

3. Provision and support for implementing IT General Controls
Configuration changes made to the network resources may also change application behavior and user's access to corporate information and resources. This makes it all the more important to have appropriate system change controls in place that are thorough in all aspects and fully auditable to satisfy the requirements of IT General Controls (ITGC). While it is true that most network systems and devices provide a decent system log of whatever changes are made to the configuration, gathering all these logs and compiling a central audit report has always been a significant challenge for network and system administrators. In addition to these challenges, it is difficult to track the workflow of a change control since the original network change request, management approvals, change execution, testing and verifications are all performed in disjoint systems. In many enterprise IT organizations, these steps are likely to be processed manually in the form of emails or memos. Software-based network provisioning tools that provide a robust support for implementing standardized IT General Controls via easily configurable policies, workflow based triggers, and change rollback support etc. should definitely be ranked higher.

In conclusion, with the growing adoption of SDN and cloud-like automation of datacenters by enterprise IT organizations, the need for enterprise grade, turnkey, extendable and IT compliant tools for network provisioning is becoming a must-have. Software-based network provisioning tools currently available from the industry may not yet satisfy all the criteria and requirements of an enterprise CIO. The growing demand for these capabilities is undeniably influencing the requirements of future network automation products.
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