At this time of dynamic business and market changes, uncertainty, and quickly evolving consumption models for IT infrastructure, every IT executive understands the benefits and necessity of network agility. Agile networks can respond quickly to changes in the market, customer demands, employee requirements, and technology advances. Yet most businesses haven’t tapped into two major capabilities of truly agile distributed networks: scale and automation.
Obstacles to network automation
Looking back, we can see a few reasons for this. Early efforts to automate were limited to initiatives like cost cutting without taking into account how automating certain functions would impact IT staff or customers. Some initiatives were project-based, often varying by person or department, making it difficult to enable the right business outcomes.
There were also limitations in technology. Artificial intelligence and machine learning (AI/ML) were not advanced enough to accurately capture, organize, and interpret the data to make accurate recommendations.
So, it’s no surprise that only a small number of companies have taken advantage of automation. According to a Gartner study, 41% of companies have automated less than 10% of their network activities (Figure 1).
Figure 1. Percentage of Network Activities Automated
Source: Gartner 2021 Data Networking Poll
The cloud, visibility, data, and AI/ML make simplified automation a reality
A lot has changed in the past few years. Today, automating networks is not only possible and desirable, but also highly trusted by IT. Because most automation initiatives are now focused on the outcomes of network users, including IT staff, employees, and customers, automation is orchestrated across an entire network to help reduce and streamline workflows.
By leveraging one common networking architecture and multiple cloud-based devices, users can view and manage a network from end-to-end through any number of interfaces (e.g., web UI, APIs, mobile). It also provides an easier way to implement and manage automation tools throughout a network. Automation can now be used for broad operational and business use cases, such as automating device configurations, security, and firmware updates, alerting, and other routine maintenance.
Machine learning has also greatly advanced over the past several years. We’ve seen how it can gather and organize telemetry data collected from all parts of a company’s network. In addition, AI solutions from networking industry partners can analyze and interpret this data to provide detailed sights into network metrics, including situations like the health of a device, and also recommend better ways to optimize a network (e.g., turn this application off while not in use to increase network optimization by X percent).
IT staff looking to further reduce workloads have tapped APIs for custom automation. Utilizing data and actionable insights from APIs, businesses can also analyze how and why their network is being used (e.g., how many customers are using a banking drive-through window or use Wi-Fi at a chain of restaurants). By applying this information to a wide variety of professional areas, business and operations analysts can make key decisions and identify opportunities. They can also gain insights from sources outside of traditional networking technologies by gathering valuable information from Internet of Things (IoT) devices like smart cameras, kiosks, gas pumps, and physical security systems.
Benefitting from scale and automation
Networks built for scale and automation rapidly increase time-to-value for businesses and their customers while also enabling a more agile business. What used to take hours can now be accomplished in minutes, giving IT staff more time to focus on strategic initiatives like enhanced customer satisfaction and advancing digital transformation.
Don’t want to build automated apps from scratch using APIs? Cisco Meraki has hundreds to choose from across a range of industries as well as use cases available on the Cisco Meraki Developer Hub. You can also learn more about network scale and automation at the Cisco Meraki website.