What is NetOps?

How can businesses adopt this broad school of thought, and what is its relationship with DevOps?


NetOps might seem like another abstract tech buzzword, but its an important area relevant to a whole host of roles, procedures and protocols within a business. From app developers to network engineers, NetOps has a benefit to many in IT. 

NetOps is short for "network operations", but that doesn't tell the whole story as it represents far more than that implies. Similar to DevOps and automation, or even software-defined networking, NetOps encompasses the people, skills and tools deployed by a business to deliver a network of services for its end users or employees.  

It aims to improve network agility and help engineers meet the needs of their business, and is about linking changes in a network with the applications and services as and when they are deployed. This also includes automation, analytics and some cloud-based services to provide a connection between the teams that run them and the engineers that maintain and fix them.

What does NetOps entail?

Through NetOps, workplace teams are expected to overcome the traditional barriers that exist between network, operational and data teams. As such, any NetOps project must span beyond just the networking realm.

Implementing NetOps in your organisation isn't as simple as flicking a switch and seeing through an overnight change, however. Rather, it's a process made up of incremental steps, and businesses must factor this into any decision to embrace the ideas behind NetOps. The process, as a result, involves making changes to internal structures and culture rather than a quick-fix reorganisation.

One of the keys to implementing such a change is through network automation. In such a structure, applications are deployed with constant improvement in mind, and a network must support new features and services quickly.

Ordinarily, one team would examine the issue before handing it on to the next, but this is inefficient. Engaging in this process via NetOps could bring the relevant teams together under one umbrella to create an automated process. This will involve the design, documentation, testing and operating processes involved in solving the issue. An automated system would be able to collect diagnostic information the engineers would seek anyway and bring it together in one place.

NetOps vs DevOps - How do they overlap?

Development operations, or DevOps, is commonly defined as a set of practices that combine software development and IT operations to shorten the development cycle when delivering features, fixes, and updates.

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The DevOps movement changed the way software engineering was done by borrowing inspiration from the manufacturing industry. Likewise, the world of NetOps has taken inspiration from DevOps, but focuses on transforming networking within an organisation.

DevOps does account for networking, but it isn't a priority indeed, there's something of a natural conflict between the two. Whereas networking prioritises uptime and minimises risk, DevOps adopts a risk-taking and iterative approach.

So while DevOps inspired NetOps, in many ways it was these opposing attitudes that ultimately necessitated the creation of NetOps.

A tech team in discussion

Getting started on a NetOps project

As in most walks of life, keeping up momentum may often prove more difficult than the process of starting from scratch. Issues may be encountered at any stage, from the researching and planning of your project to the execution. Teams may encounter difficulties articulating to senior managers the business benefits of engaging in a NetOps project - or they may even find it hard to choose which project to pursue in the first place.  

While physical and logistical barriers are difficult to overcome, you may also find the cultural barriers are the most tricky. Fundamental shifts don’t happen overnight, though appreciating how NetOps can improve your organisation will involve a fairly radical transition in the practices and ideas with readers to internal processes.

The best option, for most companies starting out, would be to pick out a manageable project that allows teams to explore the shallows of NetOps without taking on too much risk. Automating troubleshooting is one potential candidate, as is developing networking applications through agile development methodologies. Network abstraction, meanwhile, also serves as a viable route. This involves removing the physical ties between network components to precede the virtualisation of the infrastructure, in terms of routes and device to offer more network flexibility.

Planning your entire workflow, and all the tasks this comprises, follows from identifying the project you’d like to explore. The NetOps team assigned to the venture would then have to pick out any bottleneck areas in order to optimise them, for example, areas which may need human interaction, and thus could lead to slow-down. When these potential pitfalls are identified, automation should be fed into the process to ensure it’s as efficient as possible

The pursuit of a NetOps project doesn't just stop there, however, with teams expected to keep on top of the workflow and everything it entails, with constant tweaks and improvements made to ensure the project is swimming along.

Switching to NetOps

Depending on where you're coming from, moving to NetOps can be quite a radical change for your business. Done correctly though, NetOps can boost productivity, increase collaboration and help businesses embrace new projects, process and technologies as they emerge. 

Just like starting from scratch, however, businesses can move as incrementally as the possible, rather than a complete cultural overhaul. Progress can still be made, no matter how minute the change.  

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