Itential Upgrades Network Automation for the Hybrid World


By: R. Scott Raynovich

One of the common hits on networking is that it hasn't evolved as fast as other areas of cloud infrastructure -- such as compute, storage, and DevOps. It seems widely recognized that other areas of the cloud infrastructure world have reached a higher level of automation, while network remains mired in the world of manual command-line interfaces (CLIs) and scripting.

As we've written in our piece on shift left for networking, this requires a shift in the mindset -- thinking about developer and management workflows ahead of defending your hardware licensing model. Tough stuff. Itential is a startup that has been thinking and working hard on this problem, with the goal of shifting the network left into the world of low-code or even no-code automation.

This week at the Cisco Live event, Itential took another step in that direction by announcing the latest release of its low-code Itential Automation Platform (IAP) -- version 23.1. The features help network teams to deliver and scale automations and enforce network compliance faster and with greater accuracy, according to Itential.

Dragging Networking Toward Low Code

Itential CTO Chris Wade has been focused on the mission of low-code and no-code automation for a number of years, explaining the details of how hard it is to move networking into the modern world of cloud automation, which is driven by application programming interfaces (APIs) rather than CLIs.

According to Wade:

“With our latest platform enhancements, Itential is further empowering network teams to extend network management and automation across on-prem and cloud infrastructure — facilitating collaboration and standardization.”

While it's true that platforms such as Red Hat's Ansible and HashiCorp Terraform help managers automate infrastructure, Ansible relies largely on a low-level scripting approach and Terraform doesn't have configuration capabilities for networking devices. On the vendor side, many vendors are entrenched and need to be dragged kicking and screaming to expose their APIs because they would rather remain a closed environment -- it's easier to lock people in. Managers need help -- they need better third-party tools.

Here's another challenge. In the current tech environment, there's a tendency for tech tools to be geared to either legacy environments or hybrid environments. Not everybody is going to rip and replace their Cisco routers to connect to the cloud -- they want to adapt traditional infrastructure for the cloud. This is what the software-defined wide-area networking (SD-WAN) market accomplished.

This is where Itential fits in. Itential has made it a lot easier to manage multivendor networking gear by providing unique networking software that enables practitioners to build, test, and deploy low-code automation and orchestration workflows for managing deployments, network changes, and configuration and compliance across hybrid, multi-cloud network infrastructure. With the latest release of IAP, Itential says that customers get more advanced capabilities for API configuration and compliance as well as brand-new workflow automation capabilities, greatly simplifying how users build and manage automations.

Automating Multivendor Environments

In our one example of how networking has been modernized, SD-WAN disaggregated hardware and software and enabled end users to lower the cost of hardware, as well as manage and configure devices from templates in the cloud. The only problem is that SD-WAN environments are largely proprietary -- but they have APIs! That means they are programmable, which is why SD-WAN was the first market Itential attacked.

The key is that proprietary platforms and programmable are not mutually exclusive. Itential was one of the networking companies that recognized this fact, making it easier for network managers and programmers alike to configure, test, and deploy SD-WAN products from multiple vendors.

Some of the key features in Itential's new release:

  • A new workflow canvas ensures better user experience with optimal workflow design and usability.
  • Automation Studio enhancements include rich context menus, keyboard shortcuts, and the ability to snap-to-grid and free-float make building workflows more intuitive all while maintaining compatibility with previously created workflows.
  • Support for Blue/Green Architecture.
  • Container support for OCI-compliant images that can be managed by your platform of choice such as Docker & Kubernetes.
  • Service Accounts for increased security and authorization of northbound systems that utilize Itential APIs.
  • Open API 3.1 support.
  • Expanded Itential Automation Gateway support for the latest versions of Ansible, Netmiko, and Terraform.

This Atlanta-based startup continues to push the envelope with innovative network management technology that isn't typically found in a single-vendor platform. It's worth a look, and I wish that more networking vendors would pay attention to shifting the network to the left, which will benefit all users.