What is Network Automation?

Network automation is the combination of software and processes to provision, configure, and manage all physical and virtual devices within an organization's network. With everyday functions automated and repetitive processes streamlined and controlled, network service availability and the overall user experience improve as a result.

Network automation can be used in diverse settings. It reduces human error, improves efficiency, and ultimately, lowers costs. To improve an organization's overall productivity levels, with network automation, employees will be connected to the network when they need to and faster, without the need to contact IT. With zero-touch provisioning, new devices can be configured and made ready for use by employees right out of the box, enabling them to get to work faster with no downtime.

Further, with so many tedious processes now automated, your team of IT professionals can focus on mission-critical work that delivers higher value to the organization. 

 

How Network Automation Works

To achieve network automation, organizations need to take the following seven steps:

Take Inventory

The first step to a fully automated network is to get a complete picture of all the devices in use across the organization. This process of inventory and discovery includes identifying all desktops, laptops, tablets, and smartphones used by employees, whether corporate owned, personally enabled (COPE), or part of a bring-your-own-device (BYOD) arrangement, as well as network routers, printers, Internet-of-Things (IoT) devices, and other office hardware. A thorough understanding of the infrastructure in place—for example, wired and wireless connections—is also imperative.

Isolate the Most Time-consuming Tasks

Start with the largest, most time-consuming IT tasks. Often, these involve provisioning and configuration of devices for new employees or the retiring of devices after employees leave. BYOD policies are also driving multiple device usage, according to a 2016 study conducted by mobile content provider Syntonic, as 87% of companies are now dependent on their employees’ ability to access mobile business applications from their personal smartphones to get things done. 

Choose a Network Automation Platform

Senior IT leaders must take the time to evaluate and select the right network automation platform. Because most corporate networks are manually built and "homegrown," this process takes effort to find the perfect fit. Some factors for consideration include out-of-the-box features, extensibility, and support.

Devise Policies

Audit capabilities are important. While the network can be automated, policies such as connecting to a public Wi-Fi network must be created for each network feature before deployment.

Roll Out Gradually

Network automation is not a one-and-done effort. IT teams will need to roll out network automation technology gradually in stages. For example, new device setup will be the first task to undergo automation, or one office location will be the first to be automated. For network automation to work optimally, continuous integration is to be expected.

Troubleshoot and Iterate

Over time, manual changes to the network will not be needed, as all parts of the network eventually become automated. However, because the process is continuous, troubleshooting and iteration will be the norm. In the overall scheme of things, this is change management, and the organization's senior management should be kept abreast of the entire process.

Benefits of an Automated Network

The benefits of a fully automated network are numerous. What might seem like a long process rolled out in stages will eventually yield the organization several benefits. Even employees who are not usually informed of the goings-on in the IT department will take notice.

 

Reduce Risk

Human errors can lead to risk. According to a study cited by a CNBC report, employee negligence is the main cause of data breaches. Forty-seven percent of businesses pointed to human error as the reason behind a data breach at their organization. 

Network automation reduces human error and lowers the possibility not only of a data breach but also of compliance violations. For example, Wi-Fi routers in retail establishments that accept credit and payment cards must be set to the strongest protocol as mandated by the PCI Security Standards Council.

Further, network automation technology takes care of all security updates and patches at scale. This removes the need for IT staff to manually update the software on employee devices and network hardware, which can often take months. Additionally, post-patching activities such as testing and verification—to ensure the patch did not break anything—can be taken care of by network automation tools.

Make Quicker Changes

With automation, necessary changes can be made much more frequently. IT admins can set up alerts to notify them of network issues, allowing for quick adjustments when needed. Further, the system can be configured to dynamically adapt based on user demand or business need. This enables the organization to roll out new services and applications.

For example, when employees are using high-bandwidth applications, such as those involving video, the network can automatically re-route those applications to a local internet connection instead of having the application use up system resources.

More Reliable Network

Over time, an automated network "learns" to predict and prevent future issues. The network captures data from a diverse array of sources, including routers, switches, event logs, configuration files, and employee devices, allowing for a much more reliable network. This improves overall performance, utilization, security, and resource allocation.

Optimize Performance

Automated network management includes support and monitoring tools that alert IT admins to performance issues. Instead of handling these manually, they can be managed from a network operations dashboard, helping users at scale across the organization. Network analytics and diagnostics not only measure performance but also provide insight into how to strengthen security and optimize resource utilization. 

Simplify Network Management

Once network automation goes into effect, many organizations notice that many parts of the network were not managed properly, if at all, likely because they required more hands-on management. Network automation technology enables network management to be performed more frequently and much more simply, ensuring that the network is running optimally with zero downtime. 

Configurations can be applied consistently across the infrastructure with less effort, making management of all employee, network, and IoT devices faster and easier to scale.

Fortinet's Role as an Authority on Network Device Management

Fortinet offers multiple network automation solutions for protecting your organization against the key causes of cyber breaches.

 

FortiManager

As networks become much more complex, they also become much more vulnerable to attacks. The Fortinet FortiManager solution simplifies operations across the network, enabling enterprise-grade security for existing workflows. FortiManager offers enterprises centralized management, high availability, and secure software-defined wide-area network (SD-WAN) provisioning and monitoring, among other features.

FortiAnalyzer

FortiAnalyzer automates compliance tracking and reporting of industry regulations and security standards. 

Many organizations are held back by endpoint security products that have been added over time, each operating in its own silo. These fragmented and often complex structures prevent IT leaders from managing all potential threats against the organization. Through Security Fabric analytics and automation, FortiAnalyzer provides stronger detection of and response against cyber threats.

FortiAnalyzer features and benefits include end-to-end visibility with event correlation and threat detection, enterprise-grade availability, advanced compliance reporting, security automation, and enterprise-ready integrations, among others.

Fortinet Security Fabric

Because of the varying, disjointed security products in use in most organizations today, each with its own console and framework, network operations teams rarely have clarity regarding the controls and configurations set up across the security infrastructure. 

As a key element of the Fortinet Security Fabric, the Fabric Management Center simplifies network security operations through automation and reduces human error and potential misconfiguration. The Fortinet Fabric Management Center includes FortiManager and FortiAnalyzer and addresses three key use cases for effective network operations: centralized management, network automation and orchestration, and Security Fabric analytics.

The Fortinet Fabric Management Center also includes such features as simplified deployment, zero-touch provisioning, configuration management, and compliance management, while Security Fabric analytics include real-time network monitoring and reporting, real-time indicator of compromise (IOC) detection, and security operations center (SOC) adoption.