In plain English, we’ll describe network automation, how it works, why it matters so much, what tools you can use, and where to learn more.
What is network automation?
Network automation is the use of software to automate configuration, provisioning, management, testing, maintenance, and operation of the network, its devices, and its services in order to reduce human intervention and increase network efficiency.
On many private cellular networks, organizations can deploy Self Organizing Networks (SON) such as the ones enabled by Celona’s integrated solution for private LTE / 5G wireless. These AI-powered networks use algorithms to assist network administrators by automating device configuration, enabling self-healing when the network is confronted with dynamic spectrum changes and optimizing the network to enforce service level agreement (SLA) performance guarantees set forward against critical applications; a core benefit of Celona’s unique MicroSlicing technology.
In simpler terms, network automation is when software takes the lead in managing aspects of the network. Here’s how it works:
How does network automation work?
Traditionally, human network administrators manually configure devices by coding command-line interface (CLI) commands and scripts.
Network automation is sometimes confused with network orchestration, which is slightly different. The key difference between the two is that orchestration describes automating many tasks together, while automation focuses on only one or two.
With the advent of machine learning and programmatic algorithms, AI-powered software can now be trained to automatically perform specific tasks, and even maintain certain networks. Some of these features leverage self-learning algorithms that consistently get smarter with time, and learn the specific nuances of the environment in which it operates.
Examples of what network automation can do
Different tools can be set up to automate a variety of tasks. To make things concrete, here are just a few examples of what automation can help with.
- Network planning and inventory management / status monitoring
- Device configuration, deployment and provisioning
- Network monitoring and SLA management
- Load balancing and high availability for user traffic
- Automated root cause analysis
- Self healing across network components
- Network data collection and analysis
Different automation tools can do different things, so the points above are only examples of what automation can do. But why would you want to enable these capabilities within your enterprise network infrastructure?
What are the benefits of network automation?
Traditionally, network administrators manually input command-line instructions (like Bash commands and shell scripts) to configure each networking device. This took time, effort, and technical knowledge of coding in different programming languages. Naturally, manual effort was prone to human error, which then cost even more time and effort to diagnose and repair. This was a common task especially applicable to traditional implementations of private cellular since each were built as a result of multiple product components, configured separately, each with their own user interfaces and software releases.
With network automation, GUI-based software for the end to end infrastructure can simple be used to automatically configure a set of provisioning rules and policies as the infrastructure components are added. Product components of an integrated solution, such as the one from Celona, can be pre-provisioned across many sites - even if they are not physically installed, simplifying the scale of any network rollout.
This approach saves time and effort, and doesn’t require the ability to memorize CLI and scripting language, accelerating adoption and deployments. Once the automation is set up correctly, it eliminates the requirement for human intervention and as a result unforeseen errors.
On the technical side, automation enables network processes to perform faster with higher efficiency and fewer issues. This also helps larger networks perform at scale with more reliable service levels.
On the human side, automation frees up network admins from working on low-level troubleshooting and management. Instead, teams can be more flexible and agile in adapting to new technologies and supporting DevOps. At the same time, automation can automatically turn off underused resources during low-usage hours to reduce energy consumption and cut costs.
Even when automation fails, conditions can be put in place to delegate tasks to the appropriate human intervention to setup the next set of rules and policies - further improving the next set of automation tasks. For example, many automation platforms have a failover condition, where if the issue is not resolved by an automated event, a contextual alert can be sent to the administrator with recommended actions - similar to Celona Assistant, an integral part of the Celona platform.
Alternatively, in larger environments you’ll see similar failover systems that automatically create help desk tickets for technicians to work on. Overall, automation can help streamline network operations, cut costs, free up your team to do more strategic work, and reduce network issues and downtime.
Private mobile network automation
Automation has come a long way in a short time, with the future of this technology rapidly developing in the private 5G space. Since the Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS) wireless spectrum and its international variants have been made available, it has opened the door for enterprises to gain access to private cellular - and the need for solutions that rely on network automation to simplify private 5G adoption has increased significantly.
In the world of private 5G, automation is used to help devices maintain reliable connections, meet strict performance and reliability requirements per application SLA requirements, and enable auto-provisioning for new devices as they join the network.
Self-organizing networks can automatically schedule and optimize wireless airtime availability across connected devices based on pre-programmed service level agreements, and the current level of private spectrum availability for a specific site and location.
Powerful automation tools will combine prewritten customized algorithms that are designed to serve specific network environments, with self-learning and adaptive technology that would even outpace technology experts - enabling them to focus on future applications and use cases, rather than expensive manual tasks.
The Celona Solution
Celona platform uses state-of-the-art network automation techniques as part of its private mobile networking offer, enabling an enterprise-ready solution that’s designed to scale. This turnkey approach utilizes both hardware and software components to make private cellular deployments as simple to adopt as possible.
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