Automation has never been more important. As the world deals with social distancing due to the COVID-19 Coronavirus crisis, the value of remote management and IT automation has come into focus in a new way.
Although many people fear automation’s capacity for replacing jobs, others see automated technologies as crucial for freeing humans up to do more rewarding work, while minimizing mistakes. Evidence strongly suggests many companies are now seeking to automate their IT networks in new ways.
The scale, complexity and dynamic nature of today’s modern networks exceeds the capacity that human operators alone can easily manage, as seen in data from the Cisco 2020 Global Networking Trends. The report projects a 42% increase in business-centric mobile traffic from 2017 to 2022, and expects virtual and augmented reality traffic to increase twelve-fold by 2022.
Data networks are getting busier and more complex while proving they’re more mission-critical than ever. However, most organizations still manage their networks manually. Cisco’s study indicates that networks will handle more data in more places in the coming years.
This trend will boost the demand for methods to automate data management with help from solutions like artificial intelligence. Otherwise, you can expect to spend all day soon doing network management yourself and still fall short.
Extraordinary Potential for Automation in Cybersecurity
Maintaining a secure network today is more complicated than in the past, and shortcomings can prove extremely expensive. The Cisco report mentioned that 53% of cyber attacks cost more than $500,000 in damage. IT professionals have their work cut out for them, thanks to increases in overall network traffic and the increased sophistication of hackers’ efforts. Cisco also cautions that the potential attack surface no longer exists inside well-defined and robustly defended borders.
However, automation could tighten cybersecurity without making IT professionals feel swamped. Wendy Nather, head of the Advisory CISO team at Cisco, predicts.
“By 2025, some leading-edge IT organizations will have deployed a limited set of fully automated network-enabled security workflows that will help accelerate remediation and reduce the workload on the SecOps team,” said Nather.
Marisa Chancellor is Cisco’s director of infrastructure security. She gives a glimpse into why humans alone cannot keep pace with the growth of network traffic. “We inspect 47 (terabytes) of network traffic, analyze 28 billion flows and log 1.2 trillion security events daily,” she explained.
Artificial intelligence (AI) is a specific type of automation that could assist IT teams in getting a handle on network traffic. It detects real-time deviations from the norm, which reduces false alarms and helps IT professionals prioritize fixing specific vulnerabilities. Many systems also get smarter with use and can recognize threats without prior exposure to them.
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Despite the clear benefits of automation IT for network security, some obstacles may restrict adoption. For example, a recent study found that half of the respondents felt automation would complicate their jobs. Also, only 40% believed the technology reduces human error. These results indicate that some people are still on the fence about the benefits of automation for security.
IT Process Automation Helps Business Deliver Value
Many countries deal with IT labor shortages that leave roles unfilled and make it virtually impossible for businesses to scale up and meet demands. The Cisco report revealed another issue, in a study of the types of skills gaps that businesses face. Whereas 33% of respondents experienced technology expertise shortages, a lack of business acumen was the top problem mentioned, and 42% of respondents brought it up.
The Cisco report clarified that if a business makes digital transformation a central part of its strategy, network practitioners must devote less time to repetition and more time to the value-added tasks that support company goals. Network practitioners could spend up to 55% of their time and resources on repetitive management tasks. Sometimes, the overall percentage is even higher.
Take the example of Chris Bedi, the CIO of ServiceNow. He noticed that his team spent nearly three-quarters of their time on day-to-day operations, leaving few hours left to concentrate on innovation. IT automation eases the monotony of repetitive tasks by applying the same infrastructure to as many systems or components as required.
Bedi recommends choosing the end-to-end processes that could benefit most from automation and starting with those. He also cautions against diving into IT process automation too fast.
“Service automation can’t just be about quick wins and incremental improvement,” said Bedi. “It’s about creating competitive advantage over the long run: It’s a marathon, not a sprint. You won’t jump from manual to machines completely managing every service in one step,” he clarified.
However, if executives don’t have a thorough understanding of automation now, they may find it difficult to see how automated technologies could shape what’s on the horizon. A 2018 study revealed that 42 percent of respondents in the United States, 24 percent in Europe and 31 percent elsewhere lacked a good understanding of automation and digitization’s effects on future workforce skill needs.
Automation for IT May Make Compliance Easier
Due to new requirements related to data handling and storage associated with the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and similar efforts, staying secure and in compliance are necessities that network professionals must remain aware of during their work. The research from Cisco mentions a type of automation called intent-based networking (IBN) as a possibility to make compliance less cumbersome.
A Network World article clarifies that the need for greater network automation made IBN emerge as an option. IBN provides a unique configuration for a device’s design and usage. It then engages in real-time validation and verification to continually meet compliance needs. A network that uses IBN can also make automatic adjustments when needed so that compliance issues get fixed immediately and do not persist for days or weeks.
Cisco’s report found that only 4% of today’s IT professionals and network strategists have intent-based networks now. However, this kind of automation for IT shows room for growth. The same source revealed that 35% of those polled want to have intent-based networks within two years.
Ronnie Ray, the vice president for customer experience in the enterprise networking segment at Cisco, had a future-minded perspective, too. He noted, “The long-held vision of intent-based policy enforcement will start to be a reality by 2025.” Ray continued, “Networking teams will be able to automate dynamic segmentation and service optimization policies at scale across domains (access, WAN, DC, multicloud, IoT) all the way from client to application and between distributed workloads.”
However, people who want to apply operational automation to assist with these matters should be aware that it’s not a magic fix. It’s a promising option, but not guaranteed to work 100% of the time and may need tweaking for best results.
Network Automation Will Have a Significant Impact
Cisco’s material indicated that a quarter of IT professionals surveyed believe automation will have the most significant impact on networking over the next five years. The coverage above highlights some of the reasons why the potential for improvement exists. However, Cisco’s data identified that 20% of IT professionals said members on their network operations teams felt reluctant to adopt automation or AI.
It’s not possible to come up with a single reason for that hesitation. However, the need to update one’s skills to become more familiar with network automation could be a factor. Cisco recently introduced a DevNet certification track. Something that makes it different from other educational options from the brand is that there is a more substantial focus on automation, specifically concerning automating networks.
You should bear in mind that failing to at least be open to the idea of network automation for IT professionals could make a company fall behind compared to competitors. The push towards network automation is happening all over the world.
A report from Global Market Insights anticipates a combined annual growth rate of more than 22% for the network automation market from 2018-2022. That company cited the increase in Internet of Things (IoT) devices as one of the contributors to the rise. The Cisco report echoed it, too, by including a statistic about there being 14.6 billion IoT gadgets in use by 2021.
The examples here highlight why many IT professionals feel excited about how operational automation for networks could change their work for the better. Still, no technology is without shortcomings. Working through those and dedicating oneself to getting educated about how automated tools and features work are among the best ways forward to increase the chances of success.