5 Network Automation Tools a Network Engineer Should Use

5 mins

The world of network engineering is evolving at a breakneck pace, with the global network en...

The world of network engineering is evolving at a breakneck pace, with the global network engineering services market expected to grow at a Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of 9.4%, increasing from over $48 billion recorded in 2022 to more than $76 billion by 2027. As a result of this growth, professionals operating in the space require first-rate technology and network automation tools to help them keep up with demand. 

Network automation tools are now essential to the network engineer, with manual approaches proving increasingly unable to cope with the growing number of devices and data points. But what are network automation tools, and why are they important? In this guide, we will delve into both of these valid questions as we explore the 5 network automation tools a network engineer should use.

What is automation?

To give some context, network automation is the process of setting up software that can automatically manage, configure, test, deploy, and operate network devices, whether physical or virtual. It allows organisations to speed up their practices, rapidly scale elements of their networking processes and improve the intelligence of their systems.

Why is automation important?

An automated network management system, under which various tools sit, helps an engineer map out the infrastructure, discover and configure devices and provide systems that can more efficiently manage various networks.

In automated network solutions, Application Programming Interface (API) based automation replaces traditional, often more time-consuming, manual instructions to configure networking components automatically. These APIs may be used directly or through programming languages like Java, Python, or Go.

A high-quality network automation platform will also assist a network engineer in determining whether or not a network can tackle a configuration request first before network resources are assigned.

All these benefits can result in improved efficiency, reduced operating expenses and removal of the human error associated with manual management.

However, if completed incorrectly, network automation can also spread significant issues on a large scale, making it paramount that the most suitable tools are selected for the job from the outset. The search for the perfect network automation tool is neverending for a network engineer, and although we cannot possibly cover them all here, we thought we’d at least make a start.

What are network automation tools?

There is a diverse range of tools for network automation, categorised into script-driven and software-based network automation tools, as well as several variations of platforms and interfaces.

Before deciding if the tool you are reviewing is designed for your purpose, think about what you are trying to achieve. You should consider your organisation’s needs and any factors that might impact your choice, such as the time sensitivity of the work required. 

Additionally, take into account whether you’re looking for something for a sizable IT management system, a small business, or just an opportunity to run tests. Tools such as Puppet and Chef are well-known, but they take time to set up and may not be suitable for businesses needing tools they can use from the get-go.

To help answer the question of what are network automation tools and to give you an idea of which tools would be most suited to your network engineers, let’s explore the 5 of the best network automation tools a network engineer should use.

1. SolarWinds Network Configuration Manager (NCM)

SolarWinds Network Configuration Manager (NCM) is software network engineers use to manage and restore the configuration of their business's network devices. NCM is easy to install with a user-friendly interface, making it simple and quick to develop a complete network configuration automation system.

The software establishes a precise inventory of network devices and can ensure information and data are kept updated across all the network devices within an organisation. Additionally, NCM allows network engineers to manage firewalls, switches, load balancers, wireless access points and routers all in one place.

NCM can also prevent human errors from occurring, automating some of the mundane tasks in managing network configuration and therefore increasing the efficiencies by saving the engineers time, allowing them to focus on other mission-critical network-related tasks. 

Another benefit of NCM software is that it can locate and schedule the backups of files as and when needed while also notifying engineers about any configuration errors. NCM also reports on and ensures the configuration remains compliant, with features such as vulnerability scanning and change management to enhance the security of a company's networks. Overall, it’s no surprise that SolarWinds NCM is a popular network automation software used by network engineers worldwide.

2. ManageEngine Network Configuration Manager

The ManageEngine Network Configuration Manager is another NCM that works as a multi-vendor network configuration and change management (NCCM) solution that helios network engineers configure routers, switches, firewalls, and other network devices.

ManageEngine NCM allows users to perform quick and widespread configuration changes, utilising network automation to make these adjustments in bulk. NCM also offers the capability to design change templates and configurations which can be rolled out automatically to hundreds or thousands of devices when needed.

This NCM software allows network engineers to back up and restore configurations when unwanted changes or human errors happen. NCM also enables network engineers to audit network configurations, ensuring they meet the relevant compliance regulations. As the software offers centralised management, engineers have greater visibility over multiple networks, allowing them to compare, deploy, and automate network configuration tasks in a way that saves valuable time. 

If you are a network engineer or a business that employs network engineers responsible for managing the configuration of network devices, then the ManageEngine NCM is a valuable tool that can help you to save time, minimise the risk of errors, and improve the security of your network.

3. Ansible

Ansible is another of the best network automation tools, a highly utilised open-source suite of software tools. It is a free tool written in Python – a famously beginner-friendly programming language – that enables network engineers to start automating networks with very little knowledge of the language. All that’s needed is basic Linux know-how, an understanding of YAML and a task you would like to automate.

Widely regarded within the industry, Ansible is one of the most powerful network automation tools that are not only free and easy to set up and use, but it is also agentless, meaning it’s a type of software that does not require installation. Ansible is a flexible software solution that can be used to automate various IT tasks regardless of the environment, freeing up the time of network automation engineers. 

The Ansible software has free-to-access playbooks that engineers can utilise to automate specific networking tasks like:

  • Installing software
  • Provisioning new servers
  • Deploying applications
  • Configuring network services
  • Orchestrating complex IT workflows

Overall, Ansible is a powerful, flexible, and easy-to-use tool that can help IT professionals automate various tasks. It is one of the most versatile open-source network automation tools on the market. 

4. Kiwi CatTools

Kiwi CatTools is one of the most simple yet effective network automation tools and change management software designed with the needs of small business networks in mind. The tool makes scheduling automated device configuration backups for switches, routers and firewalls easier, improving efficiencies and saving time for network automation engineers. 

It also allows network automation engineers to customise the automated network alerts that send email reports when it detects device configuration changes, allowing users to monitor unauthorised changes and potential security risks. At the same time, it can back up network configuration and support engineers with auditing and reporting to ensure an organisation's network operates compliantly.

Another reason why Kiwi CatTools is one of the best network automation tools is that it's robust, secure and versatile, with the reliability of being capable of managing networks of all sizes. 

Kiwi CatTools offers a comprehensive network automation and management solution, providing network automation engineers with the tools they need to manage network configurations and ensure network uptime efficiently.

5. NetBrain Automation

Our final entry of the top 5 best network automation tools is NetBrain Automation. The NetBrain Automation software is an adaptive network automation tool that creates an operating system for a network. It works by building a 'digital image' of the live network based on the collection of network data taken from device configurations and third-party solutions through an API.

NetBrain Automation monitors and automates the health of a hybrid network, providing engineers with visibility of multi-vendor infrastructure, including Software-Defined Networking (SDN). The purpose of NetBrain's Intent-Based Automation is to identify how a network intends to operate and troubleshoot any issues within a network before they occur and cause severe damage to a company. 

This type of network automation tool can reduce the downtime of a hybrid network, ensuring it's operating at optimum levels around the clock. Netbrain Automation can also resolve problems within a network quicker than it can be done manually while also diagnosing the root cause of the problem. This form of interactive automation offers change management and transparent, enhanced security aligned with the business's policies. 

To summarise, NetBrain Automation delivers a comprehensive solution for network automation engineers, allowing users the tools they need to efficiently manage network configurations, troubleshoot network issues, and ensure network uptime, making it one of the best network automation tools.

The future of network automation tools

Looking forward to the future of network automation tools, one of the most rapidly growing areas of network automation includes using Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML) driven networks that use the power of predictive analytics to identify and learn the intent of network behaviours while simultaneously providing recommendations for network improvement. In other words, watch this space.

There will also likely be a greater focus on end-to-end automation. In the past, network automation tools have typically focused on automating individual tasks, such as configuring a router or troubleshooting a switch. In the future, we can expect to see more focus on end-to-end automation, which means automating the entire process of deploying a new network service or making a change to an existing network.

Additionally, network automation engineers will likely see increased adoption of cloud-based automation tools, offering a number of advantages over traditional on-premises tools, such as scalability, flexibility, and ease of deployment. As more and more networks move to the cloud, we can expect to see an increase in the adoption of cloud-based automation tools.

Another expectation regarding the future of network automation tools surrounds the growing importance of security. As networks become more complex and interconnected, network automation tools will need to be able to automate security tasks such as vulnerability scanning, intrusion detection, and patch management.

Ultimately, as network automation tools and platforms become more widespread, accurate, and integrated, there will likely be significant developments in the space as providers race to remain competitive.

Looking to power your future? Talk to us

With the knowledge of five of the best network automation tools under your belt, now’s the time to power your future. 

If you’re seeking the best network automation engineers on the global market to help pioneer growth for your business, get in touch with our enterprise networking team today, and we will connect you with the talent you need to meet your recruitment needs.

Alternatively, if you’re looking for your next career opportunity with the latest network automation engineer jobs and are unsure which tools employers are looking for experience in, speak to our expert team today, who will help you navigate the exciting, face-paced job marketplace.