Is Network Automation Worth the Money?
by Adam Carpenter on Apr 1, 2021 1:00:00 PM
Back in 1929, the “Spokane Sun-God” became the first aircraft to fly non-stop across the country. It went from Spokane, Washington to New York City. After that, flying soon became the go-to method of traveling ‘from sea to shining sea.’ Taking a car, horse and buggy, or even train no longer makes sense for most travelers. Network automation is the aviation of IT infrastructure. For many organizations, there’s no other way. Why slog through endless manual configurations when you can deploy one config across the network in seconds?
But it ain’t free. If you use something like Cisco’s DNA, you have to pay hefty subscription fees. And while using an open-source tool like Ansible doesn’t come with an upfront price tag, the time and resources it takes to train your team demands an investment. So is it worth the money?
Why It Pays to Automate
Just like it made perfect sense to drive cross-country before the advent of transcontinental flight, there was nothing wrong with manually configuring individual components up to, relatively, a few years ago. It was the only option. When done right, you had a network that worked great.
But for a lot of organizations, it doesn’t make sense to gas up the Model T and set out on a bumpy four-day trek to NYC. For healthcare organizations doing research, fintech firms, or anyone else that has to deal with big data, maximizing throughput using a hybrid- or cloud-based infrastructure necessitates automation.
On top of that, an automated network opens up the possibility for creative ways to discover novel efficiencies and even new revenue streams and products. Some of the benefits, regardless of the organization, include:
- Lower operational expense because automation gets rid of tedious processes that had to be done manually—consuming valuable time and human resources
- Fewer errors because the element of human imperfection is removed from many processes
- Lower network expenses because you can automate processes in a way that gets the most out of your network’s components and bandwidth
How to Get the Most Bang for Your Automation Buck
To return to the cross-country flight illustration, if it would cost $7,000 to fly your family from L.A. to Boston, you may think, “Well, a few days on the road aren’t lookin’ too bad.” Similarly, if network automation is prohibitively expensive, then you may feel forced to settle for the old-fashioned way. To do an apples-to-apples comparison, let’s put your automation choices into three buckets:
- Try to DIY it with a tool like Ansible.
- Use a service like Cisco’s DNA.
- Hire someone to come in and teach your IT team how to automate your network.
The Cost of DIY’ing Your Automation
On the surface, giving it a go with Ansible has the prettiest price tag: $0. Zilch. Free-99. Ansible is open source and free for all.
However, as many engineers have learned, once you get started, you have to shoulder at least two costly expenses:
- The time it takes you and the team to learn how to use Ansible,
- The opportunity cost associated with having to crawl before you walk—early in the learning curve, you can only do so much with Ansible.
If engineers are willing to dedicate many hours on the weekends and after-hours figuring out Ansible, after a while, you may get up to speed. But all those uncompensated man- and woman-hours may hurt both morale and productivity. For this reason, some have dabbled with solutions like Cisco’s DNA.
The Cost of Pre-Packaged Subscriptions Like Cisco’s DNA
Cisco’s DNA may be an attractive option for organizations dedicated to Cisco, but it comes with a hefty price tag. To manage switches for a medium-sized health care company for nine years, you’re looking at around $500,000. After you agree to shell out half a million, you have to tangle with a few other challenges, as well:
- Limited usage. Organizations often don’t use it to the full and only automate a few elements of their system,
- You’re stuck with Cisco. Some companies aren’t ready to commit to a Cisco-only line-up for several years,
- The cost of upgrading if your operation grows.
Learning How to Fish—The Cost of Having Your Team Trained in Ansible
For some organizations, the most logical investment—and the one with the highest ROI—may be paying an Ansible expert to come in and teach your team how to use it. While the price tag may still be steep for some companies, the pay-off is exponential—especially when you consider that those who learn can turn around and teach others as you acquire new staff.
How much you end up paying will depend on the provider, the length of service, the number of people getting trained, etc., but for the sake of argument, let’s say you pay a trainer $75,000 for a 4-month course that meets three times a week. Here are some of the benefits:
- Your team knows how to use Ansible (or whatever platform you choose) by the time the program has finished.
- After they go through the basics, you can have the trainer focus on the kind of automation you envision for your organization.
- Your IT team—the students—gets to ask questions as the program progresses, gaining comfort and confidence along the way.
- Your team learns faster with direct, need-based instruction than they would plugging along on their own.
- The team grows closer as they enjoy the learning process as a unit.
Regardless of how you choose to incorporate network automation, the answer is, “Yes. Network automation is worth the money.” Whether you do it to realize short-term cost savings as you create immediate solutions or simply use it to enhance agility in the hopes of long-term pay-off, it’s worth the investment. Getting the most immediate ROI, on the other hand, depends on the approach you use, the equipment you run, and your budget. For Cisco-dedicated organizations—with ample capital—that know exactly how they want to incorporate automation, DNA may be a viable solution. For organizations with a more diverse equipment list and a limited IT budget, investing in your team’s education may pay the biggest dividends.
Now that we know it is worth the money, download our ebook to see how companies have used it to implement it into their systems and IT ecosystem.
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