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 major tasks: providing seamless access to their users and supporting new collaborative applications that are increasingly complex and dynamic in their scale, use of distributed resources, and required advanced networking services.
Rapid deployment and automation of new network services provisioning is difficult 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 need to maintain the uptime, define provisioning policies, modify user access based on user roles, frequently upgrade the firmware, and finish the tasks within the stipulated timelines, as per the service level agreement (SLA).
Zero Touch Provisioning (ZTP) alleviates complex network provisioning by introducing automation and enabling multipoint auto-configuration of network devices. We discuss the issues related to manual network device provisioning, how ZTP can solve the problem, and the steps to perform while implementing ZTP for your network.
Key Layers of an Enterprise Network
Before we dive into the nitty-gritty of network administration, let us refresh our knowledge about the key layers of corporate networks.
Network Device Maker
These are original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) who manufacture network hardware components. These can also be companies that 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 usually enabling access to the network access points (NAP)s. Service providers may consist of 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 devices are often configured by network administrators, one device at a time, through a command line interface (CLI). In large networks at customer locations, network provisioning might mean thousands of devices to be provisioned and configured.
Manual configuration of such a network 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 device of the network. It is often found that the manual configuration 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) is a new feature that allows network devices to be provisioned and configured automatically, eliminating most of the efforts, time and issues arising from manual network provisioning at customer locations. This means customers can set up devices with minimal help from trained personnel.
ZTP automates the following 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
Ness developed a provisioning tool (for a network device maker) that enables the automatic configuration of devices and redirects a device to the Device management software as soon as it is plugged in. Three major components participate in the ZTP Process:
- Device Management Software
- ZTP Server
Before we dive into the actual steps of ZTP, let us look at these components. This section describes the major components of the automated ZTP system.
Device Management Software
It is software that is used to manage networking devices. Using this software, network administrators can monitor, manage, and configure the networking devices.
This is a centralized server managed by the IT/Sales team to identify the networking devices sold to various customers.
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.
This section describes the implementation steps for registering a new device into the ZTP-enabled network.
Steps that require some human intervention:
- Register the Device Management Software with the ZTP Server
When a Device Management Software is sold to the customer, the sales team registers it with the ZTP server.
- Register device with the ZTP Server
When a device is sold to the customer, the sales team registers it with the ZTP server.
- 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.
- ‘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.
- ‘Plug-in’ and ‘Turn-on’ the device
The network administrator plugs in the device to the network and turns it on.
Steps that are performed automatically:
- As soon as the device gets plugged into the network and turned on, it sends a registration request to the ZTP server.
- ZTP Server sends back the Device Management Software (DMS) address to the device.
- The device sends a registration request to Device Management Software.
- Device Management Software registers the device.
- Device Management Software, If required, upgrades the firmware of the device.
- Device Management Software, If required, applies the configuration defined in the provisioning policy on the device.
- Device Management Software sends back the register response to the device.
The device is now ready and starts sending heartbeat messages to the Device Management Software. Now, devices can be monitored and managed from the Device Management Software.