Under most definitions, NetOps (short for “network operations”) is a network operations strategy that focuses on maximizing agility, velocity and automation.
It borrows from the philosophy of DevOps, which promotes similar goals in the realm of software development and delivery.
Before diving into a longer definition of NetOps, it’s worth noting that the term can be used in two different ways:
Sometimes, NetOps is simply used as a shorthand for “network operations”—a generic term that refers to network deployment and management.
However, most people who employ the term NetOps today use it to refer to a specific approach to network operations that (as noted above) emphasizes agility, velocity and automation. This definition is sometimes labeled “NetOps 2.0” (or, more rarely, DevNetOps) in order to distinguish it from the other, more basic NetOps definition.
In most cases, NetOps refers to a network operations strategy that draws explicitly on the concepts, tools and strategies associated with DevOps. DevOps, which started to become popular around 2010 and is widely influential today, is a philosophy of software development and delivery that promotes collaboration between developers, IT operations teams and other stakeholders in order to streamline the process of creating, deploying and managing software.
Because DevOps focuses on software rather than networking resources, the extent to which the two concepts directly parallel each other is limited. Most of the core tools of DevOps—such as source code managers, CI servers and release automation suites—don’t have a direct equivalent in the realm of NetOps.
However, there are certain key links between DevOps and NetOps, including:
Compared to traditional network management strategies, which relied heavily on manual processes and provided little visibility into the state of the network, NetOps provides organizations with several key benefits.
First and foremost is the ability to create and manage agile networks that constantly change. NetOps makes it possible to maintain healthy network operations even as endpoints constantly come and go from the network, as VPN and VPC configurations are updated, as load balancers modify traffic patterns and so on. It would be very difficult to manage highly dynamic networks using a manual, low-visibility approach.
A second benefit of NetOps is the ability to make changes more quickly using automated tools. For example, rather than requiring an engineer to reconfigure a firewall or routing table manually, a NetOps approach would typically entail the use of tools that can determine the optimal configuration based on the needs of the network, and (in many cases) implement it automatically.
In addition, because NetOps treats network operations as a formal process that should be as structured and consistent as software development and delivery, it helps organizations to achieve greater predictability and reliability in operating their networks. Teams can plan changes to their networks. They can then validate those changes using network visualization and observability tools to catch configuration issues before changes are implemented. Finally, they can continue to observe the network in real-time to detect problems that occur during live operations.
Although NetOps encourages certain practices and strategies, it’s important to understand that NetOps is not a rigid set of processes or tools. Like DevOps, it’s a philosophy that makes high-level recommendations about how teams should approach their operations, and what they should prioritize. Each organization is free to choose the exact tools and processes that it uses to achieve the goals of NetOps.