IP infrastructure automation: a primer

We are taking a look how to help you adopt or enhance IP infrastructure automation in your network environments.

Feb 25th, 2020

Your IP infrastructure (that is: DNS, DHCP, and IP address management, or DDI for short) is critically important, which should come as no surprise. If it does, you may want to peruse some of our previous articles.

However, setting up your IP infrastructure is one thing; managing it is quite another. DDI is not a horribly complicated concept, but because of its deceptive simplicity, it lends itself to confusion.

To avoid the inevitable service outages (and thus lost business), certain best practices are advised. Automation is one of those core practices.

Two layers of IP infrastructure automation

'Automation’ usually invokes images of scripting and other programmatic processes. But automation can also mean (if done right) user experience. IP infrastructure automation (sometimes covered under NetOps, DevNetOps, and other mosaic words), too, comes in those two primary flavors.

Automation =/= automated: the value of automation in user experience

Automation in user experience means creating tools that cut down on time wasted by users not having to do the task they aren’t supposed to. Why have the user scroll manually for a free IP address, and then copy-paste it into a command line to ping it to see if it responds? Just put a UI option in for it. Why force administrators to bottleneck DNS changes because they’re sent via email? Just let the user make the change and add it to a queue for a quick approval.

Good automation extends to and creates good user experience. However, the idea of a simple but functional user interface isn’t as common as you’d think. Vendors are so focused on bells and whistles of features they often forget that the most common tasks are simple.

Automation through the UI can ensure they’re simple to do as well.

”Never send a human to do a machine’s job.”

Then there are times when human interaction is not only unnecessary but counterproductive. Tasks that require speed and precision generally fall under this category. Validating DNS configurations, managing subnet utilizations, or troubleshooting DHCP leases — to name a few that would be slow and error-prone if done by a human.

This is where an Application Programming Interface, or API, comes in. APIs are control mechanisms for automated tasks. They’re faster, and — if well-written — don’t allow mistakes. Businesses utilizing APIs for automated tasks can re-deploy their human resources to tasks that need more complex decision-making and creativity.

Agent Smith approves.

Automation tools for automation best practices

IT best practices are many, but most of them sprout from the need to simplify processes. Automation is an excellent way to do that.

That said: if two separate but interlinked aspects of IP infrastructure automation weren’t confusing enough, let’s talk implementation. Here there’s good news and bad news.

Bad news is that every vendor and every platform, be it DNS, DHCP, or IPAM, has its implementation of automation on both levels. (If some don’t, they shouldn’t be a serious consideration anyway.) Most organizations looking to automate but also prioritize redundancy and cost-effectiveness find their main pain point here.

Moreover, even though IP infrastructure data by itself is standardized, in practice it becomes almost impossible (or at least prohibitively complex and/or expensive) to move it between services. Combine that with entirely different user experience and APIs, and the “cloud” becomes just another on-premise environment.

Good news is, however, that overlay solutions (such as, wink-wink, the Men&Mice Suite) can bypass the “many APIs” problem, and in the same motion fix data compatibility as well. The solution is a single unified API that can “translate” to any number of native automation interfaces. On top of that you can build a single unified interface that eliminates barriers to visibility and smooths user experience.

With an overlay solution, challenges in automation become problem-solving instead of working around compatibility issues. Automating processes that increase productivity and efficiency can focus on that and not solving puzzles stemming from the idiosyncrasies of vendors.

IP infrastructure automation in practice

In the coming weeks, we’ll cover IP infrastructure automation in detail. Starting from a real-life use case for a global enterprise, we will examine the challenges in automation and the tools to solve them.

By the end, you should be well equipped to adopt or enhance automation in your network environments. And to make it even more useful, we’ll be sharing many code snippets and solutions to common problems for easy reference.