Jeff Gray is the CEO and co-founder of Gluware, the leading provider of Intelligent Network Automation. 

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The global pandemic thrust businesses into a state of rapid change and uncertainty. As a result, many businesses jumped headfirst into digital transformation initiatives to increase enterprise agility, accommodate newly remote workforces and bolster operational capabilities. Yet, a year since the widespread onset of the pandemic, business growth is not universal.

Even pessimistic outlooks point to a resurgent economy in 2021. The United Nations estimates 4% global growth this year, with the global health crisis continuing to accelerate the shift toward digital business. Organizations already on the path toward digital transformation will find success more easily, with the ability to work remotely being one of the critical factors ensuring business growth. 

Investments in digital transformation and modern infrastructure will help position a company to emerge from pandemic economic conditions successfully. But to glean the full value from these efforts, newly remodeled business operations must interconnect with IT operations, particularly networking and security. There is also the added challenge of ensuring ample flexibility and performance to support business when faced with uncertainties. This is where automation and self-operating networks are critical.

The Impact Of Transformation

Digital business has thrived in the pandemic. But this puts added pressure on IT teams increasingly responsible for supporting operations in uncertain business environments — an often unexpected consequence of digital transformation. This leaves IT teams to cobble together tooling to support both businesses and employees, who are working remotely in unprecedented numbers or located across multiple headquarters and/or branches. In many cases, this requires an infrastructural shift away from legacy monolithic architectures to modern environments built on top of multivendor, multidomain and multicloud infrastructures. 

The combination of new data and application-centric environments with increasingly distributed networks adds a level of complexity that IT organizations might not be prepared for. This makes routine tasks like network management more difficult as networks span devices and domains. Costs spiral out of control, network security is threatened and interoperability suffers — which can bring transformation efforts, or worse, business operations, to a halt. Disruptions that have even a marginal impact on customer experience, employee productivity or revenue growth are dangerous. 

Automation Matters

Conversely, the right combination of infrastructure and automation can just as easily enhance network performance and security, delivering rapid time to value, business agility and ROI instead of interruptions and vulnerabilities. Investments in automation effectively facilitate this shift away from costly, error-prone and time-consuming network management. 

When considering network automation, it’s important to think about the needs of a business and the functionality of the network — it’s the heartbeat of the modern enterprise. Data must flow unobstructed by bandwidth constraints or security vulnerabilities to the outer limbs (or branches) of the enterprise. Underpinned by insightful, intent-based software, automated networks deliver the scalability enterprises require as business demands, employee needs and other external factors change rapidly. Despite the complexity and uncertainty enterprises face on the outside, network automation improves security, flexibility and holistic IT health from the inside out, extending a lifeline to IT teams that must ensure business continuity and network performance. This is one of the promises of self-operating infrastructure.

The Continuous Next 

The business impact of the pandemic will be everlasting. Accelerating digital transformation and IT modernization might be a positive outcome from a not-so-positive experience. The adoption of digital operations and investments in infrastructure modernization empowers enterprises to flex and scale as future needs mandate. Network preparedness needs to be considered if IT teams are to eschew the fire drills that have become associated with legacy network management. Self-operating infrastructure will facilitate this strategic focus on an enterprise’s operational success instead of the limitations of IT. 

Gartner says that organizations that can automate more than 70% of their network changes can reduce the number of outages by at least 50% and deliver services 50% faster. This is essential to successfully adapt to the coming era where constant change and an emphasis on perpetual innovation, integration and delivery will be the prevailing enterprise strategy, referred to as “the Continuous Next.” Self-operating, intelligent infrastructure is necessary to achieve the flexibility, performance, scalability and security necessary to fulfill the promises of the Continuous Next for long-term competitive advantage. 

The journey toward automation starts by considering the most important repetitive, time-consuming and manual use cases. Performing a comprehensive audit is critical and will help you understand how close your organization has kept to corporate and regulatory standards. Once this baseline is understood, the next step is to bring the organization back to its intended state, leveraging a platform that is intent-based, declarative and idempotent to ensure safety and reliability when executing global network changes across your on-premises and cloud environments.

When shifting from manual or scripted to fully automated, tasks like troubleshooting, validation and pre-checks/post-checks must be defined to create the strongest, most reliable environment. Once the network is brought back to its gold standard, it is time to introduce closed-loop automation that constantly checks the actual state of the network against the intended state. This initial step toward self-operating sets the stage for advanced use cases.

The pandemic has been a stress test, unearthing the ways IT infrastructure is ill-prepared to meet the inevitable uncertainty of the future. Even as global circumstances evolve, IT teams will still struggle with the complexity of massive enterprise networks unless they think strategically about expanding network footprints to support holistic IT health. In this regard, automated, self-operating infrastructure promises advantages by reducing operational overhead, limiting network outages and enabling agile operations to accommodate uncertainty where few other enterprise technologies can.


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