Network Automation Journey – Where Next ?

In my previous post, I covered few tips for you to start planning your network automation journey. While some of you may see those points as philosophical, they actually set the ground and the right direction for you. For others, you may think they are not important because they are not technical points. Either way, when embarking on this journey, make sure you clearly identify the business benefits and business implications behind it. Try to do this even though you are on a self-learning journey only. Business mindset is as important as your technical knowledge.

  • So, what’s next ?

Now that we have set the scene, let’s have a look on the next steps of the journey.

From this point onward, there are many things to be looked at. I am going to select few things to cover throughout few blog posts. By no means this is an extensive list nor they are in order of importance. The items that I will cover here are: environmental factors, infrastructure and foundations. These are the items you will need in the beginning of the journey. As you and the business get mature in network automation, other things will come into play. We will cover those later. So, let’s start with environmental factors.

Environmental factors

  • DevOps/DevNetOps Culture

As painful as this sounds to many of us, the working culture of a company really affects its capability of delivering. Throughout my career as network engineer, I have seen many types of environments. In all of them, the ability to deliver products and services with quality and speed was really associated with the environmental quality. If you want to read further on this topic, I highly recommend you to read The Phoenix Project by Gene Kim, Kevin Behr, and George Spafford. Even though the book is a novel, it does present very well various environmental factors and their impact on the ability to deliver. It is also a very good introductory book on the benefits of adopting DevOps methodologies.

While I am a big supporter of DevOps approach, and more recently, its sibling in the networking area, DevNetOps, I am not suggesting that every organisation must implement DevOps or DevNetOps. Sometimes, implementing an agile culture in an organisation requires a complete shift on what the company has been doing for many years (in some cases, many decades). However, if the business is at risk of being disrupted or being extinct, then I believe DevOps and DevNetOps must be strongly considered as a matter of survival. These agile cultures are essential in implementing environments that can react quickly to market changes.

  • Blameless Culture

Another important environmental factor is a blameless culture. When moving to an agile environment, this is a must. Many companies that succeeded transitioning or implementing agile environments have also implemented a blameless culture, which also goes hand-in-hand with a continuous improvement culture. A blameless culture doesn’t mean engineers are free to take the network upside down at any time. It means that, every engineer has taken all necessary steps to make sure the things will work in the expected way, i.e., without causing problems. However, there are a series of corner case scenarios (black swans) that are almost impossible to predict. It is better to acknowledge that they exist and that they will occur eventually. When they do occur, the blameless culture focuses in understanding why it happened, what we could have done to prevent it, and what we are going to do to prevent or mitigate their impact in the future. In that way, the work becomes more productive, our systems and networks become more reliable and everyone have the space to explore their creativity.

Even though DevOps/DevNetOps and a blameless culture are big steps towards the right direction, many companies are still relying on the traditional silo’ed organisation structure. Many that failed to implement agile cultures will say that this type of culture doesn’t work for them. In fact, it does. The problem is that the hurdle involved in breaking down the silos and keep everyone happy is usually bigger than the hurdle of dealing with their existing issues and challenges. Raise your hand if you have never been into battles between your Development and Operations departments.

  • Finger Pointing Culture

Last but not least, the finger pointing culture. Often this culture is embedded in all layers of the organisation. This type of culture creates an environment for people to look for someone to blame rather than to look for how they could improve the situation. Whether you are pointing finger at your colleague, somebody in another team or another department of your company, to a partner or a supplier, it doesn’t matter. All you are trying to do is an easy way to say: it wasn’t my fault. There are few problems with this culture. First, it only gets worse. The more you do, the more you want to continue doing it. Second, you are inhibiting people’s creativity. Third, you are creating a toxic environment. And last but not least, you are putting your efforts in finding an excuse that exempts your accountability of the problem. The finger pointing culture is, in my opinion, one of the hardest problem to solve in one organisation because it generally means moving people out of their comfort zone in a very shocking way.

Final Thoughts on Environmental Factors

You may be wondering why environmental factors matters. I can assure to you that it really does. For a sole network engineer trying to improve his work by using automation, it will dictate how aggressive you can go after in implementing these things in production. Also, it will shape the way on how the business supports you implementing network automation. For an organisation, it will shape the length and the speed that the benefits of embarking on an automation journey will be seen. Even though you and the business are not willing to shift gears with regards to the environment factors, it is important for both of you understand where you are on this topic. It will help both of you to understand how much risks the business is willing to take.

I’m sure you are craving to read something more technical ??? No worries, it will come soon 🙂 On my next blog, I will cover some important elements of the infrastructure that is required to implement a successful network automation environment. Till there, happy reading!