Delivering Time To Value For Operational Impact

Jeff Gray is the CEO and co-founder of Gluware, a leading provider of intelligent network automation.

Gartner analysts estimate IT spending to reach $4.5 trillion in 2022, a more than 5% annual increase following an 8.4% increase in 2021. With spending at an all-time high, business leaders need to ensure that IT investments pay off quickly and drive positive business outcomes. In the cloud era, the ability to support mission-critical operations with IT turns investments into a competitive advantage that delivers value far beyond material costs. The unifying feature of the modern IT stack — the network — and its performance, security and scalability are the key factors that can redefine IT investments as profit centers and ensure a quick ROI.

However, the impact of the cloud is such that the dynamics of modern networks are ever-changing while enterprise environments grow more complex and chaotic. The management of these environments — the discovery, analysis, updating and maintenance — and the ever-growing number of devices, domains and clouds they are composed of has emerged as a significant source of business risk. With human error being the No. 1 cause of network outages and responsible for 70% of policy violations, it is no surprise that enterprises are spending 75% of network operations opex in a year on troubleshooting. Achieving IT time to value has never been more critical, nor has network performance and security.

Accommodating the speed and scale of the cloud must be a priority. This cannot be done by humans alone. Automation is essential as it reduces operational overhead, limits network outages and enables agile IT operations. It alleviates the burdensome labor associated with legacy, manual approaches to network configuration and change management (NCCM) and provides more secure, stable IT environments as a result.

But before an enterprise can get started on its automation journey, it must consider several strategic factors that will contribute to such investments’ success (or failure).

Build Versus Buy For Long-Term Growth

Network downtime kills business performance, costing enterprises as much as $300,000 per hour, on average, and up to $540,000 per hour in worst-case scenarios. Prioritizing the elimination of this risk relates directly to the long-term health of a network. Automation makes networks more sustainable as enterprises grow. On the one hand, building network automation requires extensive scripting and development expertise. On the other hand, buying off-the-shelf software could limit the value of automation if IT teams are bound by a lack of customization and extensibility, with unnecessary features that do not fit their needs. IT leaders need to weigh the pros and cons of building versus buying network automation. Their decisions will determine how beneficial their investments are for enterprise growth.

Creating Flexible, Stable And Secure Networks

The increasing complexity of enterprise IT and reliance on the interoperability of network touchpoints means there is much more room for error in modern environments. This can be a challenge when self-building automation. The frequent use of open-source software, while cost-effective and flexible, can restrict long-term business value. Bad scripting, logging issues, lack of integrations and increasing numbers of assets, domains and devices can make self-built network automation a losing proposition. The larger, more complex and more chaotic a network is, the longer time to value will be.

However, the same level of customization, flexibility, extensibility and openness can be advantageous. Enterprises gain greater control over feature sets and can tailor solutions to the unique elements of their business. While time to value generally lags behind an off-the-shelf solution, it can be improved by experienced development and network teams. In this approach, planning to accommodate future investments and business growth is critical or an organization risks losing its investment.

There is a perception that limited customization and control over automation, coupled with potentially high upfront costs, make the time to value for an off-the-shelf solution an insurmountable roadblock. But these solutions often deliver simplicity and all the benefits of automation that help tame the inherent chaos of modern IT.

This is an important point as one of the industry’s most well-known build-your-own network automation shops, Facebook, suffered an outage in October 2021 that cost the company more than $100 million. Even the most prominent organizations with the most complex infrastructures can suffer severe outages from network changes. An automated audit command could have prevented the issue, de-risking production network changes and ensuring the continuity of service instead of business disruption.

With built-in capabilities that make systems more extensible, manageable and scalable despite the influx of domains, vendor devices and clouds, off-the-shelf automation solutions can deliver often-overlooked advantages. They come with prebuilt automation processes and automatic asset discovery to help provide value to IT teams quickly, without the level of planning and operational overhead needed for self-build automation. Off-the-shelf automation makes the shift from manual network change and configuration management less disruptive and error-prone. It rarely requires the same level of coding and development expertise as self-built automation. However, there are multiple workflow UI vendors that require significant upfront coding with ongoing script maintenance, so during the decision process, always beware of the amount of hidden DIY in each vendor alternative.

The Perfect Storm

Even with the full benefits of intelligent network automation, tackling the networking challenges of the cloud era takes planning, dedication and an eye on both the future needs of an enterprise and the demands of business today. Let automation provide the guardrails as the network flows unobstructed by the risk, complexity and chaos of IT today.

The ideal network automation solution lies in between the build-versus-buy extremes. Enterprises of all shapes, sizes and industries will inevitably benefit from a hybridized approach that is intelligent enough to deliver built-in, off-the-shelf capabilities that make achieving rapid time to value easy yet has a range of options for customization and extensibility. Intelligent automation with both low-code development and full scripting capabilities can deliver on both sides of the spectrum. This balanced approach, buying with the ability to build, enables enterprises to achieve both short-term and long-term benefits, delivering the capabilities they need now and a platform for innovation in the future.

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