Ever since there have been communications networks, the people who manage them have looked for ways to make running them less onerous. Today, that means using automation software, which handles key tasks like resource provisioning or security tickets without human intervention.
There’s a catch, though. (Hey, this is cloud; when has there ever not been a catch?) Most automation only works with a single vendor’s software stack.
Solving this problem is where Itential has planted its flag.
"There are dozens of network vendors who automate their own stack, but Itential uses API integration to deliver automation capabilities in multi-vendor, public/private environments. It's a more modern take on automation,” says our mate Andrew Lerner, vice president at Gartner Research, which named Itential as one of its “Cool Vendors” in 2022.
Itential was also recently named as a “notable vendor” in a report from the other bigly cloud infrastructure analyst firm, Forrester, in its “Infrastructure Automation Landscape Q4 2022” report. “Automation is an essential component of any cloud organization that wants to be “future-fit,” said Naveen Chhabra, principal analyst at Forrester, and author of the report.
Clash of the clouds
For something that’s supposed to make life easier for cloud network architects, deploying automation can be really hard. That’s because most automation solutions only work with the cloud software from the vendor that makes them.
The challenge for cloud network architects today is that many enterprises and service providers are now deploying hybrid, multi-vendor cloud infrastructure. As a result, automating cloud services in mixed environments means working out how to make those different automation products work together. And that’s non-trivial, as they say.
Automation – and its sibling, orchestration – are essential pieces of the puzzle for enterprises and telcos that need to provision cloud services quickly, accurately and securely.
Without it, we’re back to the days of old-skool networking, where setting up new services and resources often took weeks, or even months, depending on when the IT team or telco techs could be bothered to get to it.
Automation is still a nascent industry sector. Estimates of how much revenue it will generate in 2023 are all over the map, averaging out around $6 billion-ish. But there’s a consensus from market forecasters that it will grow at a robust CAGR of around 24% through the end of the decade.
Difficulty in getting automation products to work over different vendors’ software stacks has obviously held up the growth in network automation sales. The interoperability challenge can be attributed to a lack of standards defining how products from different companies should talk to each other.
APIs and automation
For Itential, interoperability has been the basis for its current success.
“Standards came from a time when networks were human-centric, managed using CLIs [command line interfaces],” Chris Wade, co-founder and CTO of Itential, told Silverlinings. “Modern programmable networks use APIs not CLIs. We auto-generate adapters directly between different vendors APIs in runtime to allow customers to generate services immediately. The integration is already done.”
This isn’t stopping industry organizations at having a crack at creating standards and frameworks to tackle multi-vendor automation.
The Linux Foundation is releasing its Nephio multi-cloud cloud automation framework in Q2 this year. Over 70 companies are participating in the work, including Google Cloud, one of the triumvirates of cloud hyperscalers.
However, Itential isn’t an active participant. “We are supportive but not super optimistic given the telco history of ETSI MANO [NFV management and orchestration] and Open MANO,” said Wade. “The cool thing is [Nephio] supports open APIs which fits nicely into our strategy of being an API-first automation and orchestration platform.”
Itential isn’t the only company working on making automation work across different vendors’ products. Giants Red Hat and VMware, which Broadcom acquired in 2022, are also focused on this space. So far, based on the industry plaudits its receiving, Itential is more than holding its own against them.
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