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Growing importance of NetOps in Network Management

Growing Importance of NetOps in Network Management


With the continuous adoption of Software-Defined Networking (SDN), the introduction of advanced data center fabric designs, and the large-scale implementation of hybrid cloud, networks are becoming even more fragmented, complex, and harder to manage. This has been further amplified by the pandemic, which pushed enterprise networks to evolve rapidly to serve the sudden growth in userbase, which required a broad spectrum of services. As a result of this increased usage, network security threats evolved in parallel. To enhance their network resilience, organizations globally have been adopting NetOps to make their networking operations and functions faster and more accessible.

In a recent survey commissioned by Opengear, 87% of network managers, network architects, and network engineers confirmed that their organizations have increased their investment in NetOps over the past two years, while 48% of organizations revealed that they have increased NetOps spending by around 50% or more.

What is NetOps?

NetOps is much more than just putting together two words: Network, and Operations. NetOps is, in essence, an evolution of DevOps that prioritizes agility and rapid deployments in network operations. By incorporating techniques like automation, virtualization, and orchestration, NetOps helps organizations create and maintain a highly available and agile network in the deployment and configuration stages.

Akin to DevOps, Automation, or Software Defined Networking, NetOps also involves the people, skills, and tools an organization deploys to deliver a network of services for its employees and customers. Thus, it helps break down the silos that exist between network, operations, and data teams.


Evolution of NetOps

Let us now understand how NetOps evolved.

NetOps 1.0:

The differentiating features of NetOps 1.0 are:

  • Reactive mindset – put out fires as they occur
  • Manual intervention/CLI-focused
  • Siloed networking teams that focus more on technology
  • Automation averse

In the earlier days of legacy networks which were hardware-centric, complex, and inflexible, network-related issues were handled in a reactive manner. Whenever any issue arose, the network tasks required manual intervention and were executed through CLI scripting, with network teams working in isolation from application and security teams. As the focus was more on technology rather than business needs, the network engineers were automation-averse. In fact, a Gartner survey confirmed that many network changes were still manually configured as of 2018.

In the pre-DevOps era, maintaining uptime was sacrosanct as availability trumped agility. Temporarily, NetOps 1.0 promotes maximum network availability with minimal disruption. However, it has long-term adverse ramifications as it creates an unrelenting, complex infrastructure that is not amenable to change or scale and is an obstacle to agile development. This spurred the next phase of NetOps, i.e. NetOps 2.0.

NetOps 2.0:

With the advent and widespread adoption of the cloud, developers tuned in to the intricacies of networking, and network teams sought developer approaches to adapt to the changing business landscape. Here’s what changed in NetOps 2.0:

  • Proactive and Analytics-driven problem solving, i.e., preventing fires before they start
  • Use of programmatic APIs, intent-based networking, automation, AI/ML, virtualization, and orchestration to automate administrative tasks across a network
  • Better coordination and collaboration between DevOps and DevSecOps teams
  • Focus on business goals rather than technology.

The topmost priority of all digital enterprises today is to be more agile so that they can match customer expectations. By combining the principles of DevOps into Network Operations, such as continuous network automation and validation, network operations can be further simplified leading to an increase in speed, efficiency, availability, and agility while also fostering innovation.

Implementing NetOps 2.0

The success stories of some of the biggest cloud service providers have triggered enterprise IT businesses to follow their lead by adopting the two pillars of NetOps, i.e. Automation and Virtualization, to optimally ramp up their network infrastructures.

Implementing NetOps2.0 in organizations requires both top-down and bottom-up initiatives. This can include adjustments in cultural values to accommodate managed risk-taking, awarding innovative initiatives, and promoting a spirit of inquiry that challenges the status quo. Effective collaborations between Networking, DevOps, and DevSecOps teams should be encouraged so that everybody is connected and works towards business success.

DevOps + NetOps

One of the primary goals of DevOps practitioners is to automate as many of the software release pipelines as possible. Similar levels of production and programmability are making their way into networking, which accounts for the similarity between DevOps and NetOps. Just like DevOps, NetOps can be implemented using technology.

At the same time, NetOps and DevOps teams can come together to deal with network issues by collaborating and sharing tools that can aid and bolster IT as a whole.

Different NetOps tools are designed to help automate network workflows including network implementations and network operations. DevOps teams can make use of these tools to perform configuration changes and update the devices automatically, such as Alarm & Alert detection services and monitoring to avoid overdue estimated network device licensing, renewals, upgrades, and incident management services. Thus, the application of DevOps tools to Networking has brought agility, availability, and automation in networks.

Benefits of Implementing NetOps in an Enterprise:

89%, who had introduced NetOps, said that it had made their organization’s network more reliable.

  • Strengthening an Enterprise’s Digital Initiative -Organizations worldwide are adopting NetOps to accelerate their digital initiatives. With faster software development, the new features are quickly delivered to the end-user(s), creating a competitive advantage and high sales.
  • Flexibility & Agility -NetOps has two main themes: virtualization and automation. As network teams move away from fixed hardware, they move toward software that provides more flexibility and agility in the network.
  • Resilience – Enterprises that respond more quickly to unfavorable conditions or unanticipated circumstances will be in a better position to achieve everyday business objectives. This is further strengthened by an experienced NetOps Engineer who ensures the underlying physical layer is error-free and always available. After all, healthy networks form the backbone of a healthy enterprise.
  • Transparency -The NetOps approach uses software to monitor network performance by collecting and analyzing usage data. This way, potential problems are spotted early and removed before they become actual issues.
  • Tool Integration- The legacy networking architectures and tooling were not designed for today’s cloud and digital-centric world. For example, due to the manual practice of making changes one router at a time by using CLI commands, even minor configuration changes can take weeks to implement globally. Now, there are different automation tools integrations for customer networks that provide a holistic view of customer networks for utilization and consumption. This visibility helps in planning network transitions accordingly.

Network Security

Security is essential to avoid network downtime, as the consequences negatively affect customer satisfaction and profit. Now, with networks more layered than ever, and subsequently more vulnerable than ever, organizations are investing in NetOps to enhance security and reduce the potential for downtime. NetOps tools and practices have helped in remediating and resolving network and system issues by enabling network management and network monitoring.

In a survey conducted by Enterprise Management Associates, where 366 IT professionals participated, 83% of organizations said they saw increased collaboration between their network and security teams. The security team needs to analyze network data has fuelled this collaboration. The data-sharing and optimizing incident response times between the Network and Security teams has led to a new thought process NetSecOps. But that is a blog for another day!

NetOps is a proactive, data-driven approach to Networking that helps modernize networks and increase their resilience. It is more than the integration of new solutions. It entails a mindset shift both top-down and bottom-up of the professionals that work within it. By transitioning into the NetOps culture, enterprises and engineers will ensure effective integration of NetOps with other key teams, such as DevOps and SecOps, and enable a smoother digital transformation journey.

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