The depth and vastness of network infrastructure required to sustain operations is often too much to manage on a daily basis using traditional methods. Staying ahead of business requirements requires network automation through all stages – from Day 0 (design and initial configuration) through Day 2 (continuous deployment, maintenance, monitoring and optimization).

The telecom industry has been talking about network automation for the past decade, and service providers (SPs) don’t invest in automation just for the hype of it. They do it to achieve business outcomes: faster time-to-market, reduced operational complexity and costs and higher-quality digital experiences.

As data traffic volumes explode and operators introduce new business offerings such as 5G, edge cloud, Internet of Things (IoT), fixed wireless access (FWA) and more, network automation has become a top strategic priority for SPs.

But it’s important not to rush automation, and follow a systematic approach and strategy. Service providers and enterprises can implement network automation by using hardware- and software-based solutions.

Many operators’ networks are nearly fully automated and operation support system (OSS) vendors have virtualized solutions but still, others have the opportunity to embrace it to avoid being left behind. 

Before, when networks were still smaller in build, manual processes were not too bad. but at present, the size and complexity of corporate networks have grown. To minimize human error and improve efficiency in all aspects, automation powers the tools behind gaining control over the scale and complexity of network validation and configuration.

Why Do It Now?

When predictability, repetition and efficiency are required, an automated network with well-defined inputs and outputs is ideal. Network automation simplifies planning, design, and operations for network teams, reducing configuration errors, maximizing user efficiency and maintaining service availability in an easier manner.

The shift to automation is not the first fundamental technology evolution we have witnessed. We have seen the adoption of multi-protocol label switching (MPLS), voice over Internet protocol (VoIP) and cloud-native, software-defined networking (SDN) technologies over the years.

Each change required a new set of templates, processes, troubleshooting techniques and monitoring systems. Although the syntax may remain unchanged, almost everything else in the network configuration process is changing. The new knowledge and skills acquired level up from the typical configuration of routing, switching and firewall.

Without a doubt, automation will require new processes to streamline the workflow and utilize data to drive those processes while continuously validating the network’s operation. This is where automation works best. Apart from routine tasks, it is possible to automate the provisioning of equipment racks or even entire data centers using data-driven automation systems.

The next phase of self-service operations and overall IT orchestration is where a complete chain of network automation provisioning occurs, and as time passes, more innovation and enhancements will fit this model.

Network Automation Challenges

Automation and data go hand-in-hand. Data is the fuel that powers automation as it opens the door for the smooth and efficient flow of information.

Despite this, many organizations still restrict access to their data, preserve data silos, and discourage data sharing, undermining the efforts to leverage business and social value from data and analytics.

Other reasons why network automation is so challenging include the new on-demand skillsets lacking in current talents, SLA delivery, customer expectations and network complexity.

Despite the massive layoff phenomenon experienced globally, skills in automation, AI, and digital marketing are said to be critical in the long run. The demand for technological skills will gather pace until 2030 and whether to stay relevant in the current position, survive a company reorg or secure a new role, investing in these skills is beneficial.

In fact, research findings suggest that by 2030, the time spent using advanced technological skills will increase by 50% in the United States alone.

Service-level agreements (SLAs) are also evolving and getting more stringent as businesses increasingly view connectivity as a mission-critical resource than a mere luxury. It is a must to track and deliver on these commitments.

SPs must also compete in response to customer expectations. With hyperscalers like AWS offering real-time provisioning, the same is expected from telcos. With telcos now becoming more digital-driven than ever, network automation is done to keep up with the rising demand.

Telecom network automation transforms provisioning into cloud infrastructure and network functions, offering increased network availability and resiliency.

Amidst this, network complexity becomes overwhelming due to system upgrades, particularly on virtualized systems and legacy tools and technologies. With a new paradigm, the mindset should not only be on automation but how to make a network more intelligent.

Despite the difficulties, innovation in network automation is the answer to scale and be more productive. Taking inventory, choosing a platform, devising policies, rolling out gradually and troubleshooting, when necessary, should be done rigorously.

Suitable for Digital

Taking into consideration the current hype cycle, automation is the thread that weaves digital initiatives together to bring better value. Infrastructure and operation leaders are viewing automation in harmony with hybrid cloud computing and an engineering-driven approach to operations.

Forces such as digital businesses, cloud adoption, DevOps and AI are driving network automation to greater heights. Automating automation, in the case of AI, is a process that is expected to be mainstream with intelligent operations being programmed in various industries.

From a consumer’s point of view, automation means having a rich digital experience when interacting with the CSP. This involves getting service requests in no time and being able to get any information fulfilled by an automated network.

From a CSP’s business perspective, automation means minimal involvement of people in the operations and putting the system in a more responsive and visible manner to get easier service provisioning, diagnosis and repair services.

The popularity of automation serves a purpose that not only sits on the surface of networks but impacts internal operations as well as external processes. When done right, network automation brings key advantages that SPs, and other adopters, can monetize and drive forward for a successful feat.

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