Circle Opinion

How does network automation drive competitive advantage in today’s market?

Alex Ankers

This blog is the first of a two-part series that will uncover the value that network automation can bring to a business and how to effectively persuade the C-suite of its value.  Part two explores strategies for keeping the C-suite interested in pursuing network automation and mistakes to avoid when developing strategies. 

Why is network automation critical in a business? 

Network automation allows you to automate planning, deploying and optimising your business’ operations, networks and services. It is a game changer because it enhances the efficiency, reliability and capacity of your business’ management of its network infrastructure. This minimises the risk of human error, maximises scalability and helps you maintain a competitive edge in the market. 

With an increasing focus on digital services and data connectivity, ensuring that network automation becomes commonplace in a business has become paramount to long-term operational success. The importance and prevalence of network automation in businesses has skyrocketed in recent years, despite a reported 77% of technology professionals seeing room for improvement in their data centre network automation strategies.

This, coupled with the expectation from 45% of organisations expecting their data centre network automation investments to earn an ROI within two years stresses the need for businesses to get the C-suite on board with network automation and ensure they invest in a network automation strategy. But how do you go about effectively and strategically selling the value of network automation to the C-suite?  

How to create a successful business case

Step 1: Lead with evidence 

According to an article by Enconnex, the weakest link in data operations tends to be humans, with human error accounting for ~80% of all outages. Existing pipelines in businesses tend to operate sequentially and manually, increasing the probability of human error through the involvement of multiple individuals in the chain of events.   

Step 2: Outline a strategic software development process  

Ensuring each step of the operational process from integration to delivery is tested and accounted for and outlining this in a cohesive plan for the C-suite level will help earn their trust. Developing a process flow that outlines a long-term strategy and what the business will achieve through network automation will further encourage this crucial buy-in. A visualisation tool or platform to convey this can significantly enhance their understanding. 

Step 3: Stage a production deployment in a test environment 

Unlike application testing, network testing is often difficult because the network itself doesn’t exist in isolation and is nearly always the lowest level of the technical stack. This makes performing tests complex. While the applications within a development or pre-production environment are often considered non-production, the underlying network to these application test environments is nearly always considered “production” in that it must work, in a production-like, always-on, fault-free state for the applications atop it to be tested and fulfil their function. Replicating complex enterprise, data centre or even cloud networks often come at a price. Organisations can typically only duplicate or approximate small proportions of their network estate. As a result, staging looks more like unit testing in software development by making small but incremental gains and applying them exponentially to the production network looking to be automated.   

While many organisations may opt for a waterfall, agile or other project management approach, we nearly always find that an agile-like, iterative, unit-tested approach to developing network automations – such as scripts, runbooks, playbooks and modules — are more beneficial in pushing automation both into the organisation and into wider adoption than any other approach.  

Step 4: Prove that benefits will be reaped through the staged production 

One of the benefits of modern network engineering is quickly leveraging the commoditisation of the vertically integrated network hardware stack the industry has embarked upon over the last decade. It is now easier – and cheaper – than ever before to spin up a virtual machine, container or other VNF/NFV-equivalent of a production router, switch, firewall, proxy or other network device that will look, feel, act and fail in the same way that its production network equivalent device would. When combined with software development approaches like CI/CD pipelines for deployment and rapid prototyping of network automation code, this can be a winning combination to rapidly pre-test activities within ephemeral container-like staging environments and maintain dedicated staging areas which look like production. 

How can CACI help?

CACI’s Network Services team comprises multidisciplined IT, networking infrastructure and consultant and automation engineers with extensive experience in network automation. We can support and consult on every aspect of your organisation’s network from its architecture, design and deployment through to cloud architecture adoption and deployment, as well as maintaining an optimised managed network service. 

To learn more about the impact of network automation and how to sell its value to the C-suite, please read our e-book “How to sell the value of network automation to the C-suite”. You can also get in touch with the team here. 


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Alex Ankers