Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Network Field Day 21 - Itential - The Steady Progression of Network Automation

At some point you run into tool overload. Given the diverse number of tools coming out for networking thing can get complex in a hurry. With automation all the rage along with software defined networks, intent based networking, SD-WAN, underlays, overlays, controllers and new security solutions it is incredibly hard to integrate everything. Never mind the streaming telemetry and analytics, logging, cloud networking, cloud security, IP address management and tracking all these resources too.

So how do you stitch all this together into something that is usable, practical and matches the workflow that your team has adopted? How can you allow these things to work together but not invest years in your networking team to build up coding skills that are not core to their daily jobs? Finally, is there anything flexible enough and extensible to allow your team of low code or no code network engineers to be functional quickly but leverage some of the gains of automation and tool integration?

This is where Itential comes into the picture because they are a network software automation company that is trying to address this core transformation problem. They are not trying to replace any of the best of breed tools that you have (or are considering adopting) for your environment. Instead, they are trying to provide the widest capabilities to integrate them together and do it in a low code or no code manner with the right API and third-party support. What is great is that your network engineer team today can likely integrate and extend the tools they are using (or are interested in using) right away. This means they can replicate many of the common tasks and workflows they are doing manually and making them repeatable and audit-able in the Itential world. Most of those tasks are likely run-book or step by step guidelines for getting changes made to an environment or updating settings or parameters on a variety of networking gear. This is where Itential can have the greatest impact of helping you to understand what you have in your existing environment, managing a workflow and providing the building blocks to get to more complex and interesting automation.

In the overview presentation by Chris Wade, Co-founder and CTO of Itential, he outlines the typical phases of network automation. Starting at Legacy, which starts at manual (CLI) and some scripting. Next moves to the Current view, what they term assisted manual. The Next view covers machine first and finally Future covers programmable. The following Diagram show the specifics. It helps frame the journey and the likely steps you will take in automating your environment.

The descriptions and diagram don’t do justice to how Chris explains it, so it is worth the time to go watch what he has to say. It is a quick 20-minute investment of time but super helpful because he explains many of the typical challenges and the process many organizations go through in moving to network automation and how their product is built to match up to that.

I’m very interested in what Itential is doing because it can have a broad and meaningful impact on many organizations to help move them forward in adopting network automation. But the move isn’t a huge burden or hurdle, it is incremental, builds on existing investments and provides a clear road-map of what you would tackle next. This is often missing in many other solutions, so it is nice to see a company who gets the longer term journey and shares that in an upfront way with their customers.

ps: You can also check out fellow #NFD21 delegate Amy Arnold's blog post on Itential where she does a great job covering the API aspect of what Itential is up to with their automation gateway solution.

In a spirit of fairness (and also because it is legally required by the FTC), I am posting this Disclosure Statement. It is intended to alert readers to funding or gifts that might influence my writing. My participation in Tech Field Day events was voluntary and I was invited to participate in NFD21. Tech Field Day is hosted by Gestalt IT and my hotel, transportation, food and beverage was/is paid for by Gestalt IT for the duration of the event. In addition, small swag gifts were/are provided by some of the sponsors of the event to delegates. It should be noted that there was/is no requirement to produce content about the sponsors and any content produced does not require review or editing by Gestalt IT or the sponsors of the event.

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