In several of my previous posts, I’ve connected the dots between digital transformation and the need for IT to evolve. IT professionals need new technologies, tools and processes to meet the demands of the digital era. This often requires a willingness to do things that were never the norm in previous technology eras.
One of the biggest changes that IT must accept is the willingness to automate processes. Whenever I have spoken to IT professionals in the past, particularly network engineers, the reaction to automation tools has been somewhat tepid. As a former network engineer, I can relate. I want to control everything so that I know things are done correctly and everything is operating as it should.
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However, the digital era brings new demands to network operations, and one of them is to move with speed. In the digital era, competitive differentiation is based on being able to adapt and then implement new services faster than the competition, and the traditional way of running a network is far too slow, making automation mandatory.
Today, Brocade announced a new product called Workflow Composer, a platform that enables its business and cloud customers to improve IT operations and increase agility through automation. The automation capabilities span the entire lifecycle of the network, including provisioning, validation, troubleshooting and remediation of the network, while integrating workflows across the various IT domains.
While there are a number of automation products on the market, Workflow Composer is unique in that it focuses on the entire, end-to-end, workflow and not just the network or server or application. If cross domain isn’t the focus, then long amounts of human delay can slow down the execution of the workflow.
Also, Workflow Composer enables customers to build their own workflows and includes a number of turnkey solutions, such as deploying a BGP IP VPN, validating a configuration using InSpec from Chef, and provisioning an IP Fabric. The below image shows the steps that Workflow Composer would go through for the last use case.
The product provides DevOps-style automation that allows for continuous innovation and operations. Many of the capabilities of Workflow Composer came from Brocade’s acquisition of StackStorm earlier this year. StackStorm gave Brocade three key technologies: sensors, actions and rules. Without going into low-level detail, the three create integration points with composable IT services via APIs and make Workflow Composer smarter.
Workflow Composer works in a competitor’s environment
Another interesting point is that while Brocade designed Workflow Composer to work with its own technology first (obviously), there’s nothing in the technology that prevents it from working in a competitor’s environment. Since the product is designed to allow customers to build their own custom workflows, it would be in Brocade’s best interest to find a way of enabling customers to share multi-vendor workflows. In cases where Brocade isn’t the primary vendor, the customer can use Workflow Composer to become more strategic and grow its footprint from there.
While Brocade is announcing Workflow Composer as a new product, it’s actually version 2.0 of the product. Version 1 was focused on IP fabric provisioning and became a turnkey workflow in the new version. This is important, as it should give customers the confidence that the product is seasoned and works.
Workflow Composer will be available in the third calendar quarter of 2016 and be available as a premises-based server appliance. While the company hasn’t given any kind of statement of direction with respect to this, I suspect a SaaS-based version of it is likely. Brocade has not given any details on pricing.