Automation in practice

When we hear about automation, we often see the image of robots and machines replacing people and taking their jobs. Let’s not go to extremes and let’s not be deceived by these myths. Let’s look at it from a different perspective.

Automation in practice – let’s warm-up!

To perform low-level, repetitive and monotonous activities, you will no longer need such a large number of people, or at least the demand for such people will not grow so much. They will still be needed in some areas, especially new ones. However, the demand in other areas will definitely increase, where innovation, thinking, knowledge, cleverness and a high-level view, on the whole, will count.

Everything requires constant improvement and from time to time even complete reconstruction from scratch. Especially when it comes to the IT industry and broadly understood information processing. Continuous change and evolution are endless here. The number of new technologies, standards, protocols, products or solutions, as well as the relationships between them and integration methods, are only growing. On the other hand, the scale of what we do increases, as well as size and complexity. The number of different types of devices, systems, users, services and applications as well as the requirements is increasing day by day. The number of new threats and attacks also persists.

This brings us to a place where doing everything manually is no longer effective or even possible. Standing in the middle of it all, automation seems to be the only reasonable direction.

If we want to keep our position, we must automate. Automation is not an expense, but an investment. Thanks to it, you can significantly reduce operating costs, as well as those associated with the production and testing of software or the implementation of new services and functionalities. The time and money saved in this way can be dedicated to improving quality, gaining knowledge, creating new products, improving workflows, further automation and revenue-generating activities. Overall, this allows you to achieve better results in less time and with less work.

Manual work is prone to errors. In addition to typical human mistakes, there is a greater risk of skipping certain steps. Automation minimizes common human errors and leads to increased accuracy and consistency. In this way, it is easier to maintain quality and certainty for the entire environment or product. When everything is consistent and standardized, it is much easier to make changes and improvements. This gives you the opportunity to both easily test them and predictably introduce them on a very large number of elements. In the absence of consistency, the effect is random, and the possibility of prior testing is impossible.

This also translates into greater security, where oversights are its weakest link. With automation, the chance is negligible and much easier to spot and eliminate. However, security can also be automated. This applies to the handling and visualization of all new incidents that occur around the world as well as any internal violations of adopted policies.

Almost always, when we deal with automation, we are also concerned about services orchestration and SDN (Software Defined Network) solutions. In addition, the border between them is becoming increasingly blurred. This is due to the fact that they are so interrelated that they often intermingle in many solutions.

The orchestration looks from a very high level, where the cooperation of all elements of the entire infrastructure becomes one harmonious team. Orchestration is closely related to the effect of the automation of the entire environment.

SDN allows you to control network equipment using an external system. However, the possibilities of such a system are more important than the idea itself. Often, in addition to automation in the area of ​​supported network solutions, they also provide orchestration and very extensive tools for diagnosis, analysis and visualization.

Architecture using SDN, automation and orchestration can be really very complex. The example can be seen below. We will deal with its individual elements in further articles.

It contains many SDN controllers, such as Cisco DNA, Cisco ACI and Cisco SD-WAN. In some cases, you might also consider using typical network service orchestrators, such as Cisco NSO or the Cisco UCS programmable server platform. While each of these solutions addresses different needs, they can be integrated with each other.

You can’t forget about automation in the area of ​​security and incident handling. The Cisco Threat Centric Security architecture is best suited for this. Data security is also important, which thanks to the automated backup can be provided by Storware vProtect, which integrates well with Red Hat and VMware products, such as Red Hat Virtualization, VMware vSphere, Red Hat OpenShift or Red Hat OpenStack.

This is where systems and services operate, whose orchestration is supported by Red Hat CloudForms, Red Hat Satellite, Red Hat Insights and the Red Hat Ansible Automation platform, which additionally binds all areas together.

In some cases, it is worth to use HashiCorp Terraform as an additional orchestrator which can provision and describe some of the higher-level infrastructure elements. Especially where we use public clouds and VMware solutions. Terraform integrates very well with the Red Hat Ansible Automation platform.

Automation also reduces employee turnover and makes their work much more interesting. Daily repetitive and monotonous activities are simply boring and do not bring satisfaction in the long run. Thanks to automation, employees have constantly new challenges and can constantly develop. Their work becomes more satisfying and engaging. This translates into greater employee satisfaction, thanks to which they are more likely to stay in the same workplace.

Automation is also associated with building a certain culture within the organization, whose goal is to implement everything more efficiently and faster while maintaining accuracy, consistency and an appropriate level of security. Individual teams or people who want to be more productive than others may already use automation tools. At the same time, they may not necessarily want to share their best practices with others. When each of such units begins to automate something in its own way, the whole turns into a “Wild Wild West”, which will not be so easy to control afterwards and as a result can have quite the opposite effects. It should be remembered that automation is a powerful tool that can easily automate a major disaster or mess without the right culture.

The key to a proper automation culture is understanding that everyone in the team has their own place, others are there to complement us in some aspects and they are better suited to slightly different tasks than we are. In this way, we can easily choose the direction of the common good that all team members will work on and the effect of this work will be subject to constant improvement.

And that’s what automation is all about, to leave repetitive activities and do improvements in every area!

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Marcin Ślęczek
Senior Network Engineer
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