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BackBox 2024 Predictions: Network Automation Becomes a Go-to Capability for Network Engineers in 2024


Industry executives and experts share their predictions for 2024.  Read them in this 16th annual series exclusive.

Network Automation Becomes a Go-to Capability for Network Engineers in 2024

By Josh Stephens, CTO, BackBox

Network automation is important to network operations and network security professionals, as a survey we commissioned in early 2023 reaffirmed. 98% of respondents said that having more automated network operations would allow their team to focus on more impactful work and 96% said that scaling the business is impossible without automating network operations. 

However, nearly half (48%) reported they had not implemented or deeply invested in network automation. 

Here are five trends that are rapidly advancing network automation and that I predict will help put more network engineers in the driver's seat when it comes to optimizing infrastructure performance and enhancing network security in 2024 and beyond. 

1.  Convergence of data center, cloud, edge, and enterprise networks drive multivendor support as table stakes for any network offering. Digital infrastructure has become incredibly complex, and network equipment manufacturers and network security device companies each have their specific tools and processes to monitor, manage, and protect their devices. Network teams struggle to address these requirements and keep pace with the speed of network updates. A simple configuration change or even a typo can sometimes have a ripple effect that results in costly network downtime, with more than two-thirds of digital infrastructure outages now costing more than $100,000. The move away from hardware vendor software offerings to vendor-agnostic network automation platforms that enable multivendor tooling gained traction in 2023 and will become a "must-have" in 2024 as network complexity continues to mount.

2.  Vulnerability management will be a key tactical element of every company's continuous threat exposure management (CTEM) as risk scores start to be used to gamify vulnerability remediation. NIST lists over 2,500 Common Vulnerabilities and Exposures (CVEs) a month. Staying ahead of CVEs is such a challenge that a recent CISA advisory found that in 2022 the number one exploited vulnerability was more than two years old. Network teams need to track and remediate network and security device vulnerabilities (CVEs and more) in a way that ties together device inventory with a threat and vulnerability intelligence feed to allow for risk scoring for every connected device on the network. Gartner calls this "evidence-based security." Incorporating these capabilities into network automation tools will empower network teams to quantify the vulnerability state, see a complete picture of vulnerability patching, and automate remediation to reduce threat and risk exposure. 

3.  Customers will shift from legacy network configuration management (NCM) solutions to automation platforms with out-of-the-box NCM capabilities. NCM tools have been around for decades and have become integral to managing and protecting digital infrastructure. However, many network teams are now realizing that because legacy NCM tools are intended to be used with an engineer at the keyboard, the ability to scale is limited by how much work a human can get done manually. Keeping up with basic best practices, such as nightly configuration backups and grooming configurations back into compliance when drift occurs, is incredibly difficult and further complicated by the speed of infrastructure change. In 2024, network teams will evolve toward network automation platforms that allow them to cover the basics out-of-the-box, with a no-code way to build additional automations as their maturity with automation grows. 

4.  Machine learning and specifically Large Language Models (LLMs)  will be used to help network teams accelerate transformation. As trends like Zero Trust Network Access (ZTNA) and CTEM continue to gain momentum, the amount of change that will need to be injected into corporate networks will be both continuous and massive. 92% of network teams already say they have more network updates than they can keep up with. Predictive AI and machine learning using LLMs will play a key part in solving this problem in the years ahead, allowing network teams to scale up.

5.  Observability and network automation will continue to gain momentum through combined use cases. Monitoring as a way of managing the network is rapidly losing effectiveness as teams are inundated by alerts with little ability to determine which alerts matter and what actions to take. Tasked with managing legacy, virtual, and public cloud networks, network teams are reevaluating their path forward and in 2024 will continue to move toward observability integrated with network automation. Working in combination, these capabilities address common use cases including API-driven configuration backups and rollbacks, compliance audits and remediation, and OS updates and vulnerability management, helping network teams manage their entire environment as one ecosystem at scale.

The future is bright for network engineers as network automation continues to mature and expand its capabilities to offload time-consuming, daily tasks to enable best practices. This will clear the way in 2024 for teams to be more proactive and better keep pace with the needs of their organization and evolving networking models.



Josh Stephens 

Josh Stephens is a 30-year veteran of the network engineering and cybersecurity fields. Josh's career began in the US Air Force as an active-duty airman focused on network and systems engineering and cybersecurity. Josh left the Air Force to join International Network Services (INS), where he led several large network design, network management, and network security projects. Josh was then a part of the founding team at SolarWinds, led product strategy and engineering there for many years, and founded their user community, Thwack. Josh has held senior leadership positions at several other companies including Itential, Idera, ActivTrak, and Evo Security. Josh is an avid angel investor and serves as an advisor and board member for early-stage tech companies.

Published Monday, December 11, 2023 7:35 AM by David Marshall
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