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Building network automation solutions

9 module online course

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Automating Cisco ACI Environment with Python and Ansible

This is a guest blog post by Dave Crown, Lead Data Center Engineer at the State of Delaware. He can be found automating things when he's not in meetings or fighting technical debt.


Over the course of the last year or so, I’ve been working on building a solution to deploy and manage Cisco’s ACI using Ansible and Git, with Python to spackle in cracks. The goal I started with was to take the plain-text description of our network from a Git server, pull in any requirements, and use the solution to configure the fabric, and lastly, update our IPAM, Netbox. All this without using the GUI or CLI to make changes. Most importantly, I want to run it with a simple invocation so that others can run it and it could be moved into Ansible Tower when ready.

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Feedback: Data Center Interconnects Webinar

I got great feedback about the first part of Data Center Interconnects webinar from one of ipSpace.net subscribers:

I had no specific expectation when I started watching the material and I must have watched it 6 times by now.

Your webinar covered just the right level of detail to educate myself or refresh my knowledge on the technologies and relevant options for today’s market choices

The information provided is powerful and avoids useless discussions which vendors and PowerPoint pitches. Once you ask the right question it’s easy to get an idea of the vendor readiness

In the first live session we covered the easy cases: design considerations, and layer-3 interconnect with path separation (multiple routing domains). The real fun will start in the second live session on March 19th when we’ll dive into stretched VLANs and long-distance vMotion ideas.

You can attend the live session with any paid ipSpace.net subscriptiondetails here.

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Using Screen Scraping in Network Automation

The first time I encountered screen scraping was in mid-1990. All business applications were running on IBM mainframes those days, and IBM used proprietary terminal system (remember 3270) that was almost impossible to interact with, so some people got the “bright” idea of emulating that screen, scraping information off the emulated screen and copying it into HTML pages… thus webifying their ancient apps.

Guess what – we’re still doing the very same thing in network automation as Andrea Dainese succinctly explained in the latest addition to his Automation for Cisco NetDevOps article.

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Networking Events in Europe

A European networking engineer sent me this question:

I'd like to know where other fellow engineers meet up especially in Europe and discuss Enterprise datacenter and regular networking. There are the Cisco Live stuff things to go to but are there any vendor neutral meetups?

Gabi Gerber is organizing networking-focused workshops in Switzerland every quarter (search under SIGS Workshops), and you’re most welcome to join us ;) It’s always a boutique event, but that gives us the ability to chat long into the evening.

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Use Network Automation to Detect Software Bugs

This blog post was initially sent to subscribers of my SDN and Network Automation mailing list. Subscribe here.

Here’s a question I got from one of the attendees of my network automation online course:

We had a situation where HSRP was configured on two devices and then a second change was made to use a different group ID. The HRSP mac address got "corrupted" into one of devices and according to the vendor FIB was in an inconsistent state. I know this may be vendor specific but was wondering if there is any toolkit available with validation procedures to check if FIB is consistent after implementing L3 changes.

The problem is so specific (after all, he’s fighting a specific bug) that I wouldn’t expect to find a generic tool out there that would solve it.

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Last Week on ipSpace.net (2019W10)

The Spring 2019 Building Network Automation Solutions course continued with an awesome presentation by David Gee. He started with what you should do before writing a single line of code (identify processes and document them in workflows and sequence diagrams) and covered tons of boring stuff nobody ever wants to talk about.

On Thursday Rachel Traylor continued exploring graphs and their relevance in networking, this time focusing on trees and spanning trees.

The Network Connectivity, Graph Theory, and Reliable Network Design webinar is part of standard ipSpace.net subscription You can access David’s presentation and all other materials of the Building Network Automation Solutions online course with Expert Subscription (assuming you choose this course as part of your subscription).

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Sample Solution: Automated Auditing Toolbox

Wherever you look you find three kinds of people: those that build tools they need, those that find the tools they need, and those that yammer about the lack of tools without ever doing anything to solve the problem.

Daniel Teycheney is clearly in the first category. When faced with “collect some data and create a simple report” hands-on assignment during the Building Network Automation Solutions course he started creating a toolbox of playbooks that can be used in initial network auditing. I’m positive you’ll find tons of useful tidbits in his code ;)

Want to be able to do something similar? You missed the Spring 2019 online course, but you can get the mentored self-paced version with Expert Subscription.

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Building Network Automation Source-of-Truth (Part 2)

In the first blog post of this series I described how you could start building the prerequisite for any network automation solution: the device inventory.

Having done that, you should know what is in your network, but you still don’t know how your network is supposed to work and what services it is supposed to provide. Welcome to the morass known as building your source-of-truth.

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Anyone Using Intel Omni-Path?

One of my subscribers sent me this question after watching the latest batch of Data Center Fabrics videos:

You haven’t mentioned Intel's Omni-Path at all. Should I be surprised?

While Omni-Path looks like a cool technology (at least at the whitepaper level), nobody ever mentioned it (or Intel) in any data center switching discussion I was involved in.

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Automating Brownfield Device Configuration (Part 2)

A month ago Josef Fuchs described the process he uses to merge existing Cisco IOS device configuration with configuration snippets generated by his network automation solution.

In the second part of his article he dived deep into implementation details, described Ansible playbook and Jinja2 templates he’s using, how he optimized the solution with a custom Jinja2 filter, and the caveats he encountered.

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Upcoming ipSpace.net Events and Webinars (March 2019)

We’re starting the Spring 2019 workshop season in March with open-enrollment workshops in Zurich (Switzerland). It was always hard to decide which workshop to do (there are so many interesting topics), so we’ll do two of them in the same week:

Rachel Traylor will continue her Graph Theory webinar on March 7th with a topic most relevant to networking engineers: trees, spanning trees and shortest-path trees, and I’ll continue with two topics I started earlier this year:

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Smart NICs and Related Linux Kernel Infrastructure

A while ago we did a podcast with Luke Gorrie in which he explained why he’d love to have simple, dumb, and easy-to-work-with Ethernet NICs. What about the other side of the coin – smart NICs with their own CPU, RAM and operating system? Do they make sense, when and why would you use them, and how would you integrate them with Linux kernel?

We discussed these challenges with Or Gerlitz (Mellanox), Andy Gospodarek (Broadcom) and Jiri Pirko (Mellanox) in Episode 99 of Software Gone Wild.

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Sample Solution: Automating L3VPN Deployments

A long while ago I published my solution for automated L3VPN provisioning… and I’m really glad I can point you to a much better one ;)

Håkon Rørvik Aune decided to tackle the same challenge as his hands-on assignment in the Building Network Automation Solutions course and created a nicely-structured and well-documented solution (after creating a playbook that creates network diagrams from OSPF neighbor information).

Want to be able to do something similar? You missed the Spring 2019 online course, but you can get the mentored self-paced version with Expert Subscription.

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More Thoughts on Vendor Lock-In and Subscriptions

Albert Siersema sent me his thoughts on lock-in and the recent tendency to sell network device (or software) subscriptions instead of boxes. A few of my comments are inline.

Another trend in the industry is to convert support contracts into subscriptions. That is, the entrenched players seem to be focusing more on that business model (too). In the end, I feel the customer won't reap that many benefits, and you probably will end up paying more. But that's my old grumpy cynicism talking :)

While I agree with that, buying a subscription instead of owning a box (and deprecating it) also makes it easier to persuade the bean counters to switch the gear because there’s little residual value in existing boxes (and it’s easy to demonstrate total-cost-of-ownership). Like every decent sword this one has two blades ;)

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Building the Network Automation Source of Truth

This is one of the “thinking out loud” blog posts as I’m preparing my presentation for the Building Network Automation Solutions online course. I’m probably missing a gazillion details - your feedback would be highly appreciated

One of the toughest challenges you’ll face when building a network automation solution is “where is my source of truth” (or: what data should I trust). As someone way smarter than me said once: “You could either have a single source of truth of many sources of lies”, and knowing how your devices should be configured and what mistakes have to be fixed becomes crucial as soon as you move from gathering data and creating reports to provisioning new devices or services.

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