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Network automation raceNetwork automation is a doubled-edged sword that as far as managed service providers are concerned is about to cut both ways. On one side, network automation has the potential to significantly reduce labor costs for MSPs. On the other side, network automation also has the potential to sharply reduce demand for services in an area that most MSPs rely on heavily to drive revenue.

Networks are complex, which is why so many organizations seek out the expertise of MSPs. But those same organizations are now moving to automate the management of their networks as part of an effort to reduce costs.

A global survey of 208 decision-makers from 200 different service providers and large enterprises conducted by ACG Research on behalf of Ciena, a provider of network infrastructure, finds 75 percent of respondents expect to achieve full or significant network automation in the next five years. To achieve that goal, respondents say they will increase investments in network automation by approximately 30 percent between now and 2021.

The top reasons cited for making those investments are faster service delivery, improved customer satisfaction, the ability to support more complex and innovative services, and increased business agility.

Customer competition

The good news from an MSP perspective is that respondents also recognized there are many issues with achieving network automation that go well beyond budget. Top concerns and gaps they must address to make this transition include security, intelligence/analytics, and a lack of a skilled workforce that not only understands traditional telecom networks, but also IT infrastructure and software. A full 82 percent also said they plan to use open source software from vendors or a mix of sources.

Of course, reliance on open source software will raise a host of integration challenges. A total of 60 percent of respondents ranked openness and interoperability as being “very important.”

Clearly, something of an arms race is now on between MSP and their many of their end customers. If MSPs can master the intricacies of network automation first, chances are high their end customers will never bother to do it themselves. Many of them will be looking for outside expertise to help them automate the management of their networks, though. MSPs need to gently nudge those organizations to rely on an MSP to provide those services, which require a considerable amount of expertise to set up. After all, open source software does not provision and integrate itself.

Avoiding the inertia trap

This all assumes the MSP has the expertise required to automate the management of the underlying network. In one of those classic “chicken and the egg” scenarios, MSPs need to first acquire and master the frameworks needed to automate a network, and then guide end customers toward making the appropriate network infrastructure upgrades.

Right now, ever vendor that provides an automation framework or sells networking gear is falling over themselves to help MSPs make this transition. In fact, arguably the only thing standing in the way of most MSPs is not the technology, but rather inertia. It’s simply too easy right now to keep making money manually managing networks. But one day soon, many MSPs will realize the networking world has been making it very clear the time has come to either change or die.

Photo: Olga_i/

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Mike Vizard

Posted by Mike Vizard

Mike Vizard has covered IT for more than 25 years, and has edited or contributed to a number of tech publications including InfoWorld, eWeek, CRN, Baseline, ComputerWorld, TMCNet, and Digital Review. He currently blogs for IT Business Edge and contributes to CIOinsight, The Channel Insider, Programmableweb and Slashdot. Mike blogs about emerging cloud technology for Smarter MSP.

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