Automated Network Device Provisioning and Configuration through ZTP

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Zero Touch Provisioning (ZTP) alleviates complex network provisioning by introducing automation and enabling multipoint auto-configuration of network devices.

Nowadays, networks need to solve two significant tasks:

  • Provide seamless access to their users
  • Support new collaborative applications that are increasingly complex and dynamic in their scale, use distributed resources and require advanced networking services

Rapid deployment and automation of new network services provisioning are complex in large networks that incorporate different technologies and solutions. Providing a seamless user experience generates an additional burden for the configuration phases included in network provisioning.

Network or system administrators must maintain uptime, define provisioning policies, modify user access based on user roles, frequently upgrade the firmware, and finish the tasks within the stipulated timelines mentioned in the Service Level Agreement (SLA).

Types of network provisioning

Network provisioning is important as it makes sure the network resources are made available to users. The types of network provisioning include:

User provisioning: User provisioning is about setting up user accounts and permissions to access network resources and services.

Device provisioning: Network devices, such as switches, routers, and firewalls are configured to enable communication and data exchange between devices and users.

Virtual provisioning: Virtual resources are created and configured to enable users access network resources and services.

Service provisioning: Network services such as VPNs, load balancers, and content filtering are set up and configured to enable users to access network resources and services.

Zero Touch Provisioning (ZTP)

Zero Touch Provisioning (ZTP) alleviates complex network provisioning by introducing network automation and enabling multipoint auto-configuration of network devices for effective network management. ZTP ensures end to end automation of network management to deliver services with agility and speed.

We will discuss the issues related to manual network device provisioning, how ZTP can enable network automation and the steps involved in implementing ZTP for your network.

Key Layers of an Enterprise Network

Before diving into network administration's nuances, let us refresh our knowledge about the key layers of corporate networks.

  • Network Device Maker
    They are Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) who manufacture network hardware components. These companies sell products and services to communication service providers such as fixed-line or mobile operators and enterprise customers. Essentially, they establish the hardware backbone of device networks at customer locations.

  • Network Service Provider
    A network service provider is a business or organization that sells bandwidth or network access by providing direct Internet backbone access to Internet Service Providers (ISPs) and enabling access to the Network Access Points (NAP)s. Service providers may include telecommunications companies, data carriers, wireless communication providers, Internet Service Providers offering high-speed Internet access, and cable television operators. They are the firmware layer of the enterprise network.

Problems with Manual Network Device Provisioning

Network administrators often configure network devices one device at a time through a command line interface (CLI). However, in large networks in customer locations, network provisioning might mean thousands of devices to be provisioned and configured.

Configuring networks manually might easily make several expert network administrators work round the clock for days to finish the configuration and provisioning activities. Yet, there is no guarantee of successful provisioning for each network device.

Configuring networks manually leads to the following network management issues:
80% of all network downtime can be attributed to human error during network provisioning and configuration
Manual configuration is slow, decentralized, and prone to errors
People and travel are expensive as system engineers need physical access to the devices

What is Zero Touch Provisioning (ZTP)

Zero touch provisioning (ZTP) can enable better network management by allowing network devices to be provisioned and configured automatically, eliminating effort, time, and issues arising from manual network provisioning at customer locations. This means customers can set up devices with minimal help from trained personnel.

Why is ZTP required, and what are its benefits

ZTP enables network automation through these steps for network administration and helps enhance efficiency:
Updating operating systems (Firmware) on the device.
Configuring the device with predefined custom configuration.

Ness Solution that enables ZTP

Three major components participate in the ZTP process:

  • Device Management Software
    ZTP Server

High-Level ZTP Architecture

 Automated Network Device Provisioning and Configuration through ZTP

Before we dive into the actual steps of ZTP, let us look at the major components of the automated ZTP system.

  • Device Management Software
    It is the software that is used to manage networking devices. Using this software, network administrators can monitor, manage, and configure networking devices.

  • ZTP Server
    This is a centralized server managed by the IT/Sales team to identify the networking devices sold to various customers.

  • Device
    This device is stationed at the customer location and can be networking equipment such as VoIP devices, routers, and switches. A network can have several devices of various types and configurations.

Implementation Steps

Here are the implementation steps for registering a new device in an ZTP-enabled network.
Steps that require manual intervention:

  1. Register the Device Management Software with the ZTP Server
    When Device Management Software is sold to the customer, the sales team registers it with the ZTP server.
  2. Register the device with the ZTP Server
    When a device is sold to the customer, the sales team registers it with the ZTP server.
  3. Define provisioning policies
    Customer’s Network Administrator defines the configuration and the firmware version they want to install on the new devices using the device management software.
  4. ‘Auto-provision’ the device
    Customer’s network administrator enters the MAC address of the device/s to be auto-provisioned.
    Device Management Software validates the device/s with ZTP Server.
    Customer’s network administrator selects the provisioning policy to be applied on the device/s.
    The mapping of Device/s and Device Management Software (DMS) address gets saved on the ZTP Server.
  5. Plug-in’ and ‘Turn-on’ the device
    The network administrator plugs the device into the network and turns it on.

Steps that are performed automatically:

  1. As soon as the device gets plugged into the network and turned on, it sends a registration request to the ZTP server.

  2. ZTP Server sends the Device Management Software (DMS) address to the device.
  3. The device sends a registration request to Device Management Software.
  4. Device Management Software registers the device.
  5. Device Management Software, If required, upgrades the firmware of the device.
  6. Device Management Software, If required, applies the configuration defined in the provisioning policy on the device.
  7. Device Management Software sends back the register response to the device.

The device is now ready and can send heartbeat messages to the Device Management Software. Devices can now be monitored and managed from the Device Management Software.


What is Network Management?

Network management can be understood as the administration and control of computer networks to optimize its performance and secure it from threats.

How Does Network Management Work?

Network Management is the use of software tools and protocols to empower administrators to monitor, configure and optimize devices in the network.

What are network automation tools?

Network automation tools are used to automate network management tasks and workflows.

How does Network Automation work?

Network automation consists of defining tasks and workflows, configuration and deployment of network devices, monitoring network data, and ensuring security and maintainence through patches and upgrades.

What is network configuration?

Network configuration is about setting and configuring devices like switches, routers, firewalls, and servers to ensure there is communication and data exchange between devices and users.