“You’re either the one that creates the automation, or you’re getting automated,” said Tom Preston-Werner, the co-founder of GitHub.
Embracing automation is no longer an option; it is becoming almost a requirement in virtually any IT field.
There are hundreds of daily monotonous tasks that can be automated, from deployments, management, orchestration, securing, to monitoring. Still, many network engineers are indifferent to the impact that automation is having on the evolution of the networks (and their careers).
It is even evident in the popular network certifications that are being re-direct towards automation and Software-Defined Networks SDN. Automation is still green, but when it begins to mature, network admins and engineers will not even need to log into any router or firewall equipment.
Here is our list of the top network automation tools:
- SolarWinds Network Automation Manager – EDITOR'S CHOICE A package of SolarWinds modules that includes network monitoring and managing systems plus tools for monitoring servers and applications. Runs on Windows Server. Start a 30-day free trial.
- Syxsense Manage – FREE TRIAL A cloud-based platform that implements endpoint management for servers and desktops running Windows, Linux, and macOS and also IoT devices.
- ManageEngine Network Configuration Manager (NCM) A security and management system that corrects configuration problems on network devices, backs them up, prevents tampering, and facilitates onboarding. Available for Windows Server and Linux.
- Ansible (Tower) An automation platform from the producers of RHEL. Available for Linux, macOS, Unix, and Windows.
- Netmiko A free library of network utilities that offers functions to integrate into Python programs.
- NAPALM A Python library for network device contacts. This is fully known as Network Automation and Programmability Abstraction Layer with Multivendor Support.
- Truesight Network Automation An AIOps suite that manages underlying networks and services whether on premises, in the cloud, or both. Runs on windows.
- VMware NSX – Network Automation Virtualizes a network to make services easier to adjust through software.
- Apstra OS This is a virtual overlay that standardizes the management of network hardware through a single interface. Runs on top of a hypervisor.
- NetBrain Automation An adaptive network automation platform that creates an operating system for your network. Requires one Linux server and one Windows Server host.
Of course, automation will not replace human intelligence (our jobs).
With the proper automation tool, we will be able to do thousands of tasks per day, something that probably took months before.
Automation will give us more time to think about network architecture, design, and plan for its capacity.
Network Automation: A Challenge and Opportunity
Today, network operation teams still perform hundreds of manual tasks every day.
Although they know about the benefits of automation, most of them don’t know how to start.
Embracing automating in the network is not so easy; it brings new challenges:
- Network engineers need to learn some coding/scripting
- There are still no new automation standards or regulations
- Traditional networking vendors have disparate configuration commands
- There is a lack of APIs and documentation
- The network has multiple points of configuration
Although 99% of network engineers are foreigners to software development and programming languages, they will inevitably start to see their importance, especially around tools like Python, Chef, and Ansible.
Automating the network also deviates from some regulatory standards and compliance.
Existing networking designs are not automation-friendly.
Any new automated configuration can fail existing regulatory compliance.
Without standards, all networking vendors can have different configuration commands, which makes it even more difficult.
Automation is a disruptive technology.
A software bug caused a major outage in Google in June 2019, which happened due to a runaway automation process.
Google, of course, is the king of disruptive innovation.
Google knows that there will always be bugs in any new technology.
And, still, humans are far more prone to error than automated machines, when putting the config into devices.
So why use Network Automation Tools
Automation is the process of removing the human factor from the equation of workflows or processes.
For the network, labor-intensive tasks can be automated— such as configuration, monitoring, backups, security, etc.
Using the right automation tool can save companies lots of money in the process.
A significant number of network operations can also be automated.
In fact there is a new term for NetOps (or NetOps 2.0), which refers to the new approach of networking that uses the same tools and techniques used by DevOps.
With advanced automation, network engineers will likely need to be working closely with software developers to create new networking solutions.
Some examples of how NetOps can benefit from automation tools:
- Configure equipment automatically – Workstations, distribution, access, and core equipment can be configured without human interaction.
- Test the state of the network – Automated validation and testing tasks can be deployed on the network. Testing connections, new protocols, stress tests, the software can all be performed by AI.
- Compliance checks – Automation software can perform daily checks on network configurations to fulfill a set of compliance and regulation standards.
- Other routine tasks – Network automation tools can also schedule automatic network config backups and scans.
Related Post: Best Router Monitoring Software
What should you look for in network automation tools?
We reviewed the market for free and paid network automation software and analyzed the options based on the following criteria:
- A package of tools that can take care of mundane tasks without human intervention
- Systems that perform repetitive tasks
- A method for automating administration tasks
- A service that logs all actions so that events can be reviewed after unattended processes have completed
- Systems that can be scheduled to run regularly out of office hours
- A free trial, a money-back guarantee, or a demo system that provides opportunities for risk-free assessments
- A package of services that pays for itself through improved productivity
With these selection criteria in mind, we have established a good list of tools that offer a range of network task automation solutions. We have made sure to include software for Windows and Linux and also cloud services.
Here's the Best Network Automation Tools & Software of 2021:
Below are ten of the best network automation tools, some are free, and others are paid.
Commercial automation software is usually not cheap, but they offer sophisticated high-end technology for automating workflows and tasks.
Open-source, free tools, on the other hand, have the fantastic benefit of being free and having a community supporting them, but they usually take advanced skills to master.
SolarWinds Network Automation Manager (NAM) is an integrated network automation tool designed for highly scalable or enterprise networks.
It provides full automation and management from a unified web-based console.
The NAM includes components of various network automation tools and operations management software for all your network deployments.
It includes some features of the Network Performance Monitor (NPM), Netflow Traffic Analyzer (NTA), User Device Tracker (UDT), Network Configuration Manager (NCM), IP Address Manager (IPAM), VoIP & Network Quality Manager (VNQM), and SolarWinds High Availability.
The network engineer can configure certain network automation functions on NAM and let the tool monitor the availability, faults, and performance for all nodes and paths in your network.
- Analyze traffic and bandwidth and find hogs
- Monitor and backup network devices automatically
- Deploy network configurations in bulk
- Automatic subnet discovery and IP scanning
- Monitor network performance
- Designed to automate processes at an enterprise level
- Can build automation around config, bandwidth, IP, and port management
- Highly customizable dashboards – great for NOCs
- Supports multi-tenant environments – ideal for MSPs
- The platform is designed specifically for network administrators, is not built for non-technical users
SolarWinds Network Automation Manager is our top pick for a package of network automation tools because it combines seven modules of SolarWinds that are written on a common platform, called Orion, so that they can interlink. Together, these tools provide highly automated processes to monitor and manage complicated networks. Identify, map, and monitor network devices, monitor and adjust network traffic patterns, manage device configurations, and IP address allocations and optimize the network for VoIP traffic with this bundle.
OS: Windows Server
Syxsense Manage is a cloud service that enables the management of a fleet of endpoints. The devices managed by this service can be running Windows, Linux, or macOS and it will also supervise IoT devices.
The Syxsense service is able to unify the management of endpoints running on several sites and also those lone devices operating in the homes of telecommuting staff. It requires an onsite agent to be downloaded onto a host on each network then it will automatically search out and log all connected devices. The system also scans each endpoint and creates a software inventory.
A major feature of Syxsense Manage is its automated patch manager. This polls for new patches, copies and stores them, then automatically applies them at the next available maintenance window.
- Automated system discovery
- Automated patch management
- Compliant with PCI DSS, SOX, and HIPAA
- Includes 50GB of cloud storage space
- A simple and intuitive user interface, great use of color to display key metrics
- Cloud-based service makes desktop management flexible, especially for remote teams
- Includes patch management alongside remote administration features.
- Offers configuration profiles that streamline onboarding new devices
- Would benefit from a longer 30-day trial period
Price: Syxsense Manage is prices from $600 to manage 10 devices.
Download: This is a cloud-based service, so there is no initial download. Get access to a 14-day free trial.
3. ManageEngine Network Configuration Manager (NCM)
Network Configuration Management (NCM) by ManageEngine is one of the most comprehensive software for network configuration, change, and compliance management.
It supports multi-vendor networks with products from Cisco, NetGear, Fortinet, Juniper, HP, and more.
NCM can help you automate the management of the entire lifecycle of network device configurations.
You can automate daily monotonous configuration tasks in bulk. Instead of going one by one, which generally would take a long time, you can apply a new configuration or changes to multiple devices.
You can also schedule automatic configuration backups that might be useful in case of rollbacks.
- Automate new or edit configuration in bulk
- Network automation using Configlets
- Configuration backups
- Configuration change notifications and rollback actions
- Available for Windows, Mac, and Linux systems
- Continuously discovers assets with autodiscovery
- Can immediately alert when changes occur inventory or configuration changes are made
- Can neatly organize networks, devices, and infrastructure to support multi-site use
- Is a full-service monitoring platform that can take time to fully explore all option available
Price: The price for a perpetual NCM license starts at $595 (for up to ten devices).
Download: Free trial of ManageEngine NCM for 30 days and start automating the network configuration management.
4. Ansible (Tower)
Ansible by RedHat, the simple automation framework, is definitely at the core of a lot of new networking DevOp solutions.
It automates the configuration of servers and provides native support for legacy and open network infrastructure.
Ansible is an open-source project built by the community.
It is available for Linux/Unix-like OS and Windows.
To automatically configure servers, Ansible uses playbooks, which are ordered units of scripts (written in YAML) that define how a server should work and behave through the Ansible automation tool.
Ansible Tower is the enterprise web-based GUI tool that makes Ansible easy to use.
The software is designed to be the central platform for all automation tasks.
Ansible Tower helps network teams manage complex deployments.
- Leverage the current network CLI commands to automate over 45 different networking vendors, between switches, routers, load balancers, and firewalls
- Provide automation for software-based controllers (SDN)
- Automate interconnection of hybrid and multi-clouds
- Simple minimalistic interface – makes it easy to view key metrics
- Leverages playbooks to automate device configuration and deployments
- Supports numerous vendors, with plenty of community built template
- Completely open-source and free
- Is a full-service monitoring platform that can take time to fully explore all option available
Price: Ansible is a free, open-source IT automation system (GitHub Ansible Project).
For the enterprise-based Ansible Tower, the pricing is based on the number of nodes that you manage.
It comes in two editions:
For more information on pricing, request a quote.
Netmiko is an open-source Python library based on the Paramiko SSH library.
It allows easier management and connection of network devices through SSH.
Netmiko improves the library of Paramiko by including support to a wide range of networking vendors and platforms, such as Arista EOS, Cisco ASA, HP Comware7, Juniper Junos, Linux, and more.
The tool simplifies and automates the logging to a network device through SSH and executes commands.
- Establish an SSH connection to network devices
- Execute “show” commands and retrieve the results
- Execute configuration commands
- Netmiko supports a wide range of vendors and platforms
- Lightweight SHH-based tool
- Ideal for users who are looking for a CLI automation tool
- Features an extensive library of supported vendors
- Not as beginner-friendly as other tools that offer both GUI and CLI options
Price: Free and open-source.
Download: Get Netmiko from the Github library.
NAPALM (Network Automation and Programmability Abstraction Layer with Multivendor support) is a Python library that can interact with different network devices via a unified API.
The software is cross-platform and open-source.
It uses different technologies to connect to the network devices, execute configurations, and retrieves the output data.
It can support different networking operating systems such as Arista EOS, Cisco IOS, Cisco IOS-XR, Cisco NX-OS, and Juniper JunOS.
- Connection to single or multiple devices
- Execute commands automatically. Replace, merge, and compare configurations
- Discards or rollbacks configuration
- Retrieve and audit information
NAPALM collaborates with the most popular automation frameworks, such as Ansible, Salt, and Stackstorm.
- Open-source community-driven project
- Syntax is easy to learn, even for new users
- Supports cross-platform installations
- No native visualization support for data
- CLI only – steepens the learning curve for beginners
Price: Free and open-source.
Download: Get NAPALM free from the GitHub’s project library.
Related Post: Cisco Commands Cheat Sheet
7. Truesight Network Automation
TrueSight, formerly known as BladeLogic, is now part of the BMC product portfolio.
TruSight is an APM with AIOps (Artificial Intelligence Operations) capabilities.
It is designed to improve the performance and security of hybrid-cloud environments at a cost-efficient price.
TrueSight provides scalable and automated network configuration management capabilities.
The software gives full control of the entire configuration across the network, from systems, routers, and firewalls.
It can also be programmed to automatically keep track of changes in configuration and apply rollback in case of failure.
- Service-aware analytics
- Auto-scans and auto-backups
- Automatic audits and security compliance checks
- Patch and image update automation
- Capacity Optimization
- Comes with numerous preconfigured workflows to start using immediately
- Can set automated standards that help maintain compliance for standards like HIPAA, PCI DSS, NIST, and SOX
- Can automatically recover devices to their last know “good” state
- The interface is fairly barebones and tougher to navigate than competing products
Price: Request a price quote.
Download: No free trial available.
8. VMware NSX – Network Automation
Network Automation with VMware NSX allows you to automate the provision and management of your network and security.
The software was designed to improve the speed of the application’s lifecycle by leveraging automation.
It uses virtualized networking functions (VNFs) to move your network from hardware to software.
Now, all your routers, switches, firewalls and more, can be deployed within a single box that runs all VNFs.
With Vmware NSX developers and network, admins can now run networking and security as code.
Running VMWare NSX’ VNFs together with a cloud platform like vRealize Cloud Automation can automate network and security deployments with the help of templates and blueprints.
You can automate the network services that are provisioned and managed through VMs, containerized cloud-native applications, or microservices.
- Automate native networking and security functions for containers and microservices
- Supports integration with PCF, PKS, Kubernetes, and Red Hat OpenShift
- Automatic compliance checks
- A great option for those looking to automate microservices and cloud applications
- Can automated cloud-based deployment – great for keeping security policies consistent across products
- Supports continuous compliance checks
- Has a wide variety of integration into platforms like Kubernetes and OpenShift
- Has a fairly steep learning curve – would like to see more tutorials
- Must contact sales for pricing
Price: For information on pricing, contact VMware sales.
Download: Sign up for a free VMWare NSX here.
9. Apstra OS
Apstra OS (AOS) is referred to as a self-operating network, which automates the lifecycle of leaf-spine network switching.
AOS supports multiple switches hardware vendors (Cisco, Juniper, Arista, and more) and operating systems (EOS, Junos, NX-OS, and more).
Apstra comes with a single console to automate your network.
It decouples the network (software) from the underlying physical and virtual infrastructure.
It works at the management plan to control switches or other devices through their open APIs.
ApstraOS ensures that network elements such as protocols, design, cabling, etc. work continuously.
With AOS, you can create, edit, or remove leaf-spine devices, instantly across different network vendors.
AOS also comes with closed-loop real-time validation and advanced data analytics.
- Automated L3 design and deployment with intra-rack virtual networks
- Operational analytics. Intent-Based Analytics (IBA)
- Built-in Telemetry
- NSX-T and vSphere Integration
- Simple interface with great modular visual elements
- Supports all popular vendors like Cisco, Juniper, and EOS
- Features automation design and deployment
- No free trial
- Must request a quote
Price: Apstra comes in three different editions, Enterprise Edition, Standard Edition, Advanced Telemetry Edition. For more information on pricing, request a quote.
Download: Request a Demo here.
10. NetBrain Automation
NetBrain is an adaptive network automation platform.
It uses a single-pane-of-glass that shows all network data through mapping and visualization.
The software also comes with a powerful search engine that allows you to look through all your network elements.
NetBrain performs an in-depth automatic network discovery to collect data from all network devices.
It decodes multi-vendor networks and builds a digital representation of the network.
The software creates a dynamic map to be used as a UI to all devices and to configure automation tasks.
The software improves the device map experience by adding CLI automation and data from third-party network vendors through API.
- Automatic network device inventorying
- Single-pane-of-glass and dynamic maps
- View device’s CLI at the map-level
- Automate workflows with Executable Runbooks
- Simple graphics get the job done without cluttering the dashboard
- Autodiscovery can automatically identify Cisco ACI and other devices
- Provides insights through automatic diagnostic scans
- Great for mapping out complicated environments
- Must contact sales for pricing
- Would like to see more out of the box features
- Could use better historical data analysis tools
Price: Contact NetBrain to request a quote.
Download: Request a Demo here.
11. AppViewX Automation +
AppViewX is a low-code automation platform designed for NetOps and SecOps.
It comes with a big library of workflows and tasks that can be instantly used for automation.
The software keeps track of the state of each automation, verifies the results, provides insights, and remediates failures automatically.
The AppViewX Automation + allows application delivery and network security automation on the platform.
It helps network engineers with low scripting skills to automate and orchestrate the network infrastructure through easy visual workflows.
With automation +, you can automate the entire lifecycle of your network devices and security services.
The tool supports multiple networking and security vendors.
- Automate network and business workflows
- Manage roles for automation services
- Trigger automated workflows based on context awareness
- Run automated workflows in hybrid clouds, SDN, and hardware environments
- Supports topology mapping – great for visualizing how automation impact your whole network
- Reports the success and failures of each automation through logs and alert notifications
- Doesn’t rely heavily on scripting – great for any skill level
- Must contact sales for pricing
- Interface could be made easier to navigate
Price: Get a Quote
Download: Get the AppViewX Automation + Enterprise free trial for 30 days and start automating and orchestrating your infrastructure.
Final Words & Conclusion
Networks are inevitably changing.
SDN, SD-WANs, virtualization, and automation are turning the networking landscape upside down.
Today, a network engineer or admin can no longer rely on their networking skills, but now needs to embrace coding and scripting.
Yes, SDN, virtualization, and automation at their core are based on code.
Usually, open-source automation tools like Ansible and Netmiko are amazing because they are free, open-source, and allow a lot of flexibility.
The challenge for the network admin when using these automation tools is that they require lots of coding skills.
Other commercial and enterprise-scale tools might be easier to use.
As they come with sophisticated AI and features that allow the network admin to configure automation with single-click or drag-and-drop.
Some of the tools here don’t have free trial, you can only see them by requesting a demo.
Others are more generous and offer a free trial.
Download any free trial and start automating your network, without going back to your scripting book.