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Network Automation, An Elusive Dream

Network Automation, An Elusive Dream

The dream of network automation is alluring, but implementing it on legacy hardware can be a nightmare.

The dream of an automated network remains elusive. Network managers are growing disillusioned with the whole concept. This is the primary the result of buzzword fatigue from the multiple platforms entering the channel all promising automation in one form or another. Terms like artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning are particularly problematics, because they are widely seen as effective only if they have access to extremely large data sets related to network operations – a requirement that few organizations are currently prepared to meet.

Few enterprises are comfortable with the security challenges that automation presents, even as many organizations move forward with implementation. As Ciena’s Rebecca Prudhomme pointed out recently, the stakes are much higher when securing an automated network as opposed to a non-automated one. With mundane tasks like provisioning and forwarding now carried out rapidly and at scale, a single error or piece of malicious code can easily be replicated thousands, even millions, of times. Going forward, the enterprise will likely have to de-emphasize traditional security measures like firewalls in favor of more stringent access control and data encryption. And probably the biggest challenge to automating the network is getting started.

Market Dynamics

The network automation market size is estimated at over USD 1.7 billion in 2017, growing at a CAGR of more than 22 percent from 2018 to 2024 by Global Market Insights. It is driven by the advancements in recent technologies like machine learning, artificial intelligence (AI), robotics, and internet of things (IoT). Adoption of such technologies has paved the way for manufacturers to automate their business processes by improving their efficiency, productivity, and speed of the existing enterprise networks. Further, the adoption of automation technologies enables enterprises to enhance troubleshooting of the network issues through real-time data monitoring. The adoption of automation solutions can considerably reduce hardware investment, enabling improved productivity of enterprise networking functions. Moreover, the increase in investments by venture capital companies and large enterprises in technology will drive the network automation market between 2018 and 2024. The rapid adoption of the technology will benefit major industry verticals, such as manufacturing, BFSI, retail, telecom and IT, and healthcare, for improving their operational efficiency as well as service delivery. However, the surge in the availability of open source automation tools is anticipated to hamper the network automation market.

The WAN segment accounted for more than 32 percent share of the network automation market in 2017. WAN allows large as well as medium scale enterprises to efficiently connect with their global operational centers. The technology allows the companies to centralize their network infrastructure that helps them to optimize internal as well as external communications.
The cloud network segment is projected to register a CAGR of more than 31 percent due to the surge in the adoption of cloud-based services by the SMEs. Due to the benefits of scalability and flexibility offered by cloud-based services, SMEs can reduce their CapEx and OpEx and invest resources on enhancing their technological capabilities. Regular updates from the server enables the cloud service providers to secure their IT environment without any lag in the network. Such updates from the server offer greater stability to the network by reducing the implementation time and storage costs.

The SD-WAN was the leading software segment with a share of more than 67 percent in the network automation market in 2017. This demand is attributed to the surge in demand of SDN technologies for wide range connectivity. Further, the deployment of SD-WAN enables enterprises to reduce complexities by eliminating hundreds of small tenant’s address spaces into a single physical network infrastructure. The intent-based networking segment in the network automation market is expected to register a CAGR of more than 29 percent between 2018 and 2024.
The physical network segment is anticipated to lead the network automation market with more than 65 percent by 2024 due to the large-scale investments in legacy hardware network infrastructure by enterprises and their reluctance to readily migrate to virtual network models.
The virtual network segment is projected to register a CAGR of more than 29 percent during this timeline.

The on-premise segment dominated the network automation market in 2017 with an industry share of more than 72 percent. Most of the companies prefer to deploy their network configuration within the organization due to the increasing incidents of data thefts and security issues. On-premise ERP allows enterprises to customize the software with greater ability and flexibility. In-house implementation of software reduces the security risk of data thefts, especially in niche industries such as specialized manufacturers.

The telecom and IT segment held the majority share of 29 percent in the network automation market in 2017. The emergence of 5G infrastructure is expected to offer advanced autonomous driving capabilities, automation, and smart connected devices, strengthening the automation market. Telecom providers are investing heavily on 5G technology to offer the best network connectivity to their end-users.

The manufacturing segment is anticipated to witness the highest growth with a CAGR of more than 28 percent during the forecast period. The advancement in technologies like industrial internet of things (IIoT) and (AI) will help the manufacturers to automate their production process to meet end-user requirements. Further, the emergence of deep learning algorithms, such as cutting-edge technology, will boost the network automation market size in the manufacturing sector.

North America accounted for the highest market share of more than 50 percent in the network automation market in 2017 due to the presence of large key vendors and startups in the region. Asia-Pacific is anticipated to witness the highest network automation market growth with a CAGR of more than 28 percent during the forecast period. The increase in 5G investments in China, Japan, and India by the key players and the surge in disposable income of the population in developing countries will contribute to the automation market demand. Increasing need for improved productivity and operational excellence is expected to have a positive impact on the market. The adoption of networking technology also enables the enterprises to maintain six sigma standards into their production processes. The adoption of six sigma methodology assists the enterprises to reduce the cycle-time of the product. The principles of six sigma help the manufacturers to produce quality products and increase the efficiency by around 30 percent.

The network automation market is highly fragmented due to the presence of a large number of key players in the market. The top companies in the market accounted for approximately 60 percent of total market revenue in 2017. The key players of the market invest in startups to strengthen their market presence. Some of the key players operating in the network automation market are Cisco, Juniper Networks, IBM, Micro Focus International, NetBrain, SolarWinds Worldwide, Riverbed, BMC, Apstra, BlueCat, Entuity, Veriflow, 6Connect, Anuta, Puppet, Gluware, HelpSystems, Wavestone, IPsoft, Fujitsu, Red Hat, Intraway, Arista, Network to Code, Infloblox, Cumulus Networks, Onapsis, EfficientIP, Itential, and HCL.

Way forward

Still, many people remain concerned about adding too much intelligence to the network for fear that it will cause humans to lose control. If the history of evolution has demonstrated anything, it’s that it is not the biggest, strongest or even the smartest that survives in the long run, but the most adaptable. Such a change is likely to be disruptive, however, and will require further development of a number of emerging technologies, including analytics, software control and programmable infrastructure.

Whether the network becomes autonomous, adaptive or something else, the enterprise should take care that it does not evolve from a self-managing entity into a self-governing one. At the end of the day, technology is the tool not the master, regardless of how intelligent it is.

At the moment, manual control of the network is interfering with the business model, but manual oversight will always be necessary to ensure that the needs of the data ecosystem do not supersede the needs of the user.

In the end, network automation is like any other technology: it hit the channel with big promises of a sparkling new way of doing things, then ran headlong into the reality of actual production environments before finding some level of equilibrium between what exists today and what was promised.

It is very doubtful that weill ever have a fully intelligent, autonomous, hands-free network environment. However, it is a good bet that we will get something that is far more flexible, scalable and budget-friendly than what we have now.

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