Ad Image

What Network Administrators Want in a Network Automation Tool

Network Automation Tool

Network Automation Tool

As part of Solutions Review’s Premium Content Series—a collection of contributed columns written by industry experts in maturing software categories—Jim Burglin of BackBox talks about the four features network administrators want in a network automation tool.

SR Premium ContentModern network operations teams are tasked with managing extremely diverse ecosystems full of products that each require a specialized skill set to operate, optimize, and secure. According to Gartner, only 35 percent of enterprises use network automation, and 74 percent of all their network activities are manual. But more organizations are looking to network automation tools to help ease the burden on their teams in managing network security. In evaluating potential solutions, it is crucial to consider the user interface and capabilities, as these impact the end-user. The following are several key factors on what to look for in a network automation tool.

Download Link to Data Integration Buyers Guide

Network Automation Tool: Four Features to Look For


For a network automation tool to be valuable, it must be easy for administrators to create and modify automation tasks. An administrator’s job is not like working on an assembly line, where the entire process consists of a properly optimized, linear sequence of tasks. To be effective, each automation, even the simplest process, must be cost-effective in terms of the effort that needs to be put into its development. Writing dedicated programs to handle tasks is less of an art than it is a time commitment. But the amount of effort that even the most talented administrator would have to spend developing an automated tool will not necessarily be justified by the resulting time savings. Moreover, maintenance and operational processes are subject to change, so a process that took time to create can be rendered obsolete the moment an underlying process is modified. Furthermore, network device manufacturers are always updating their software, which can introduce new elements that affect the viability of home-grown processes.

When creating a process for the immediate task at hand, administrators often overlook creating and updating documentation. Tools created on the fly, i.e., a script, without any reference to the purpose of the tool, or the purpose behind the steps used to develop the tool, will later require detailed analysis to clarify. Therefore, automation tools need to be as transparent as possible and allow for quick identification of all the elements of a given process without the need to produce and update dedicated documentation or time-consuming code analysis for backtracking.

An effective automation tool is designed to speed up the execution phase of a one-off process with a short maintenance window. Therefore, the automation tool must allow for the creation of tasks with as little effort on the part of an administrator as possible while allowing for quick and easy adjustments to processes.


Network automation tools must allow for any kind of operation, regardless of whether the system is managed through the command line interface (CLI), application programming interface (API), graphical user interface (GUI), editing configuration files on the device, sending dedicated packages to the device, or through a combination of the above. Network infrastructure is in a constant state of change – so the combination of systems currently on the network is likely also to change. An automated solution must keep up with currently available technology to remain usable.

There is a concern about the consistency and stability of the process flow when it comes to automation. Especially regarding critical maintenance activities whose failure may result not only in temporary unavailability of the service, but sometimes even a failure of the device itself. That is why, when creating automation, particular attention should be paid to whether the tool being used allows for easy verification and testing of the system’s responses on an ongoing basis.

Versatility of Use

Administrative actions on network or security devices are, to a small extent, a completely closed process. When performing administrative, operational, and maintenance actions using automation, it is important to be able to work with local variables in the process (e.g., local system parameters), global variables (e.g., parameters that we want to configure on the device), and files or data coming from external sources. A comprehensive network automation tool will quickly and easily combine and streamline these tasks/processes.


An administrator performs tasks that go well beyond executing a sequence of commands in the CLI. Many processes require additional tasks performed outside the user interface itself. Especially if the task requires that files be sent to the device, or that the state of the device is verified before performing an action. In such cases, analytics becomes an important part of the actual process. For example, to find out if a feature is enabled or if the state of a device will allow for the action to proceed, an administrator must analyze the system’s expected response to executing the command. However, even if a given system allows local scripts to be run, it is still best to perform such analysis outside the device in question so as not to overload it with unnecessary tasks. Ideally, your automation tool can run such analyses in parallel to the primary task, without the necessity of constant connecting and disconnecting from a given system. This avoids introducing the additional risk of operational failure when resuming an administration session multiple times.

Automation in an administrator’s role is a necessity. The demand for network technology is constantly growing, vendors are always adding new features or implementing new methods of managing traffic and access to services, the configuration of individual network devices is becoming more complex, and new layers and security systems are always being added to the network. But with the right approach to automation, taking into account the factors above, a network administrator’s job gets much lighter.

Download Link to Data Integration Buyers Guide

Share This

Related Posts