Dimension Data > Networking > Speeding into the future of network automation

Speeding into the future of network automation


Anthony Langsworth: Principal Enterprise Architect; Digital Platform Architecture

In our increasingly digital world, the ability to adopt and leverage new technologies is essential in giving organisations a competitive advantage. We are continually looking for ways to bring together the best technology, and our skills and capabilities in order to optimise our client’s environments.

The launch of Cisco’s Network.Intuitive last year brought with it a new way to design, build and operate LAN and WAN networks. Cisco’s plans to release their Digital Network Architecture Center (DNAC) network management appliance later this year has created the opportunity for us to take advantage of the programmable nature and open APIs supported by this platform.

In June this year at the Cisco Live! conference in Orlando we will be showcasing what having a programmable platform like DNA Center will mean for our clients and how we can use the latest technologies to add value.

The scenario we are demonstrating applies automation to a real world problem: traditionally, conference centres have used a single wireless network with an static password. While convenient, this ends up becoming a source of free Internet for locals and a target for abuse. Network changes, like adding new wireless networks, required expensive technical expertise.

With DNA Center’s automation capabilities, we built an easy-to-use, self-service web portal that creates a wireless network and removes it when it is no longer needed. For example, a client booking a conference could pick their own wireless network name and passphrase. The complexities are hidden and security transparently enforced while giving a personalised experience.

This is just the start. What if presenters want to stream a video? The conference organisers could create a dedicated wireless network for them with no restrictions. What about the conference staff that need to print out name badges for late registrations? They could create a dedicated wireless network that gives them access to on-site printers.

DNA Center’s monitoring capabilities are also useful. For example, if attendees are regularly hitting the bandwidth cap enforced by the wireless network, DNA Center could detect this and suggest the client upgrade to a higher bandwidth cap through a self-service web portal.

Many people think of networks like air: when it is there they forget about it but when it is not, they notice very quickly. DNA Center creates an opportunity to turn customers’ networks in to business differentiators. Looking beyond the demonstration at Cisco Live!, DNA Center has many features that enhance our support, managed and consulting products. It can automatically discover and monitor Cisco devices on a client’s network and provide intelligence around which issues are serious and which can be ignored. It abstracts the differences between the myriad Cisco devices present in a network, providing a consistent view. All this is managed, not just through a web portal, but through APIs. DNA Center can be integrated into our Managed Service Platform and mundane or time-consuming tasks can be automated in your preferred language. For those less technical, it even includes a visual, drag-and-drop style editor.

DNA Center is also multi tenanted: a single appliance can manage multiple clients, keeping their data safely separated. This means we can host a DNA Center appliance on behalf of many of our smaller customers who cannot afford one for themselves.

However, the real power of this example is that it changes the rules about what is possible. Networks used to be static, complex, and expensive to change. Clients are now demanding that networks do more for them and turning to companies like us to provide that.

In order to deliver these services to our clients we have had to make significant investments into our people and processes. These include the creation of skills transformation programmes such as a modern learning and content platform (DDU Pathways) which provides our people with curated learning paths such as Learn-to-Code and Network Automation Superhero. Our focus on IP sharing and acceleration through the InnerSourcing programme and adoption of the Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe) supports our evolution into an agile organisation. This all contributes to setting us apart from the pack. We are uniquely positioned to help our clients adopt new technology but more importantly, ensure they get maximum value from their infrastructure to deliver the outcomes they want.