Building network automation solutions

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Design Clinic: Small-Site IPv6 Multihoming

I decided to stop caring about IPv6 when the protocol became old enough to buy its own beer (now even in US), but its second-system effects keep coming back to haunt us. Here’s a question I got for the February 2023 ipSpace.net Design Clinic:

How can we do IPv6 networking in a small/medium enterprise if we’re using multiple ISPs and don’t have our own IPv6 Provider Independent IPv6 allocation. I’ve brainstormed this with people far more knowledgeable than me on IPv6, and listened to IPv6 Buzz episodes discussing it, but I still can’t figure it out.

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netlab Release 1.5.0: Larger Lab Topologies

netlab release 1.5.0 includes features that will help you start very large lab topologies (someone managed to run over 90 Mikrotik routers on a 24-core server):

To get more details and learn about additional features included in release 1.5.0, read the release notes. To upgrade, execute pip3 install --upgrade networklab.

New to netlab? Start with the Getting Started document and the installation guide.

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MUST READ: Nothing Works

Did you ever wonder why it’s impossible to find good service company, why most software sucks, or why networking vendors can get away with selling crap? If you did, and found no good answer (apart from Sturgeon’s Law), it’s time to read Why is it so hard to buy things that work well? by Dan Luu.

Totally off-topic: his web site uses almost no CSS and looks in my browser like a relic of 1980s. Suggestions how to fix that (in Chrome) are most welcome.

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Hiding Malicious Packets Behind LLC SNAP Header

A random tweet1 pointed me to Vulnerability Note VU#855201 that documents four vulnerabilities exploiting a weird combination of LLC and VLAN headers can bypass layer-2 security on most network devices.

Before anyone starts jumping up and down – even though the VLAN header is mentioned, this is NOT VLAN hopping.

The security researcher who found the vulnerability also provided an excellent in-depth description focused on the way operating systems like Linux and Windows handle LLC-encapsulated IP packets. Here’s the CliffNotes version focused more on the hardware switches. Even though I tried to keep it simple, you might want to read the History of Ethernet Encapsulation before moving on.

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Response: Network Automation Expert Beginners

I usually post links to my blog posts to LinkedIn, and often get extraordinary comments. Unfortunately, those comments usually get lost in the mists of social media fog after a few weeks, so I’m trying to save them by reposting them as blog posts (always with original author’s permission). Here’s a comment David Sun left on my Network Automation Expert Beginners blog post


The most successful automation I’ve seen comes from orgs who start with proper software requirements specifications and more importantly, the proper organizational/leadership backing to document and support said infrastructure automation tooling.

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Will DPUs Change the Network?

It’s easy to get excited about what seems to be a new technology and conclude that it will forever change the way we do things. For example, I’ve seen claims that SmartNICs (also known as Data Processing Units – DPU) will forever change the network.

TL&DR: Of course they won’t.

Before we start discussing the details, it’s worth remembering what a DPU is: it’s another server with its own CPU, memory, and network interface card (NIC) that happens to have PCI hardware that emulates the host interface cards. It might also have dedicated FPGA or ASICs.

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netlab: Building a Layer-2 Fabric

A friend of mine decided to use netlab to build a simple traditional data center fabric, and asked me a question along these lines:

How do I make all the ports be L2 by default i.e. not have IP address assigned to them?

Trying to answer his question way too late in the evening (I know, I shouldn’t be doing that), I focused on the “no IP addresses” part. To get there, you have to use the l2only pool or disable IPv4 prefixes in the built-in address pools, for example:

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Worth Reading: Do We Need Network Automation

A long, long time ago, Mircea Ulinic (the author of Salt networking modules) wrote a long and thoughtful blog post on whether we need network automation (TL&DR spoiler: yes).

After reading the article, you might want to listen to the Salt and SaltStack podcast we did with Mircea a long while ago, and watch his presentation in Building Network Automation Solutions online course (also accessible with Expert Subscription).

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Relationships between Layer-2 (VLAN) and Layer-3 (Subnet) Segments

Sometimes it takes me years to answer interesting questions, like the one I got in a tweet in 2021:

Do you have a good article describing the one-to-one relation of layer-2 and layer-3 networks? Why should every VLAN contain one single L3 segment?

There is no mandatory relationship between multi-access layer-2 networks and layer-3 segments, and secondary IP addresses (and subnets) were available in Cisco IOS in early 1990s. The rules-of-thumb1 claiming there should be a 1:1 relationship usually derive from the oft-forgotten underlying requirements. Let’s start with those.

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Feedback: Docker Networking Deep Dive

While the pundits keeps telling me Docker is dead (looking at its documentation I would say they’re right) and Kubernetes it the way to go (yay!), some people still have to deal with Docker networking, and at least some of them found the Docker Networking Deep Dive webinar useful. Here’s a recent review:

You can scroll over internet pages as long as you can, you will rarely find this kind of specialized knowledge. This is the next level in term of knowledge about Docker.

If you belong to the “Kubernetes will rule the world” camp, we have you covered as well: Stuart Charlton created a phenomenal Kubernetes Networking Deep Dive webinar (approximately half of it is already accessible with free subscription).

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Network Automation Expert Beginners

Some network automation skeptics came to that place the hard way: they got burned by half-baked semi-tested systems. This is what one of my good friends had to say in a LinkedIn comment:

I am suspicious of automation, as I’ve unfortunately seen too many outages caused by either human error or faulty automation. Every time it required human CLI/GUI intervention to correct it. The problem is that the more automation we push, the fewer people know how to use the “old school” way to administer stuff.

Network automation is not the only IT discipline that could cause hard-to-correct errors requiring manual intervention. I’m positive everyone knows at least one horror story resulting in manual tweaking of the Windows registry, or a sequence of arcane SQL commands1.

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