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Building network automation solutions

9 module online course

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David Gee on Automated Workflows

David Gee is coming back to Building Network Automation Solutions online course – in early March 2019 he’ll talk about hygiene of network automation. Christoph Jaggi did an interview with him to learn more about the details of his talk, and they quickly diverted into an interesting area: automated workflows.

Automation is about automated workflows. What kind of workflows can be automated in IT and networking?

Workflows most often fall into categorizations of build, operations and remediation.

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Don't Let the Automation Snowflakes Stop You

You know that time of year when snowflakes mean more than description of uniqueness of your networking infrastructure? Some people love to complain about that season and how the weather hinders them, others put on sturdy winter boots and down jackets, change tires on their car, and have tons of fun.

Network automation is no different. Sometimes you can persuade your peers that it makes sense to simplify and standardize the infrastructure to make it easier to abstract and automate (consider that an equivalent of going to a tropic island with shiny beaches and everlasting summer), other times you have to take out your winter boots and make the best out of what you got.

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Real-Life Network Automation: How It All Started

In spring 2018 I started collecting real-life automation wins reported by the attendees of my Building Network Automation Solutions online course. I presented them at Troopers, and as a set of network automation use cases that are available to all ipSpace.net subscribers, some of them even with free subscription.

Today let’s start with how did it start story.

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VNFs and Containers: Heptagonal Pegs and Triangle Holes

One of my readers sent me this question:

It would be nice to have a blog post or a webinar describing how to implement container networking in case when: (A) application does not tolerate NAT (telco, e.g. due to SCTP), (B) no DNS / FQDN, is used to find the peer element and (C) bandwidth requirements may be tough.

The only thing I could point him to is the Advanced Docker Networking part of Docker Networking Fundamentals webinar (available with free subscription) where macvlan and ipvlan are described.

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Using MPLS+EVPN in Data Center Fabrics

Here’s a question I got from someone attending the Building Next-Generation Data Center online course:

Cisco NCS5000 is positioned as a building block for a data center MPLS fabric – a leaf-and-spine fabric with MPLS and EVPN control plane. This raised a question regarding MPLS vs VXLAN: why would one choose to build an MPLS-based fabric instead of a VXLAN-based one assuming hardware costs are similar?

There’s a fundamental difference between MPLS- and VXLAN-based transport: the amount of coupling between edge and core devices.

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Upcoming Webinars and Events: November 2018

The last two months of 2018 will be jam-packed with webinars and on-site events:

December will be a storage, EVPN and SDN month:

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Architecture before Products

Yves Haemmerli, Consulting IT Architect at IBM Switzerland, sent me a thoughtful response to my we need product documentation rant. Hope you’ll enjoy it as much as I did.


Yes, whatever the project is, the real added value of an IT/network architect consultant is definitely his/her ability to create models (sometimes meta-models) of what exists, and what the customer is really looking for.

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Worth Reading: Notes on Distributed Systems

I long while ago I stumbled upon an excellent resource describing why distributed systems are hard (what I happened to be claiming years ago when OpenFlow was at the peak of the hype cycle ;)… lost it and found it again a few weeks ago.

If you want to understand why networking is hard (apart from the obvious MacGyver reasons) read it several times; here are just a few points:

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It’s All About Business…

A few years ago I got cornered by an enthusiastic academic praising the beauties of his cryptography-based system that would (after replacing the whole Internet) solve all the supposed woes we’re facing with BGP today.

His ideas were technically sound, but probably won’t ever see widespread adoption – it doesn’t matter if you have great ideas if there’s not enough motivation to implementing them (The Myths of Innovation is a mandatory reading if you’re interested in these topics).

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Observability Is the New Black

In early October I had a chat with Dinesh Dutt discussing the outline of the webinar he’ll do in November. A few days later Fastly published a blog post on almost exactly the same topic. Coincidence? Probably… but it does seem like observability is the next emerging buzzword, and Dinesh will try to put it into perspective answering these questions:

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netdev 0x12 Update on Software Gone Wild

In recent years Linux networking started evolving at an amazing pace. You can hear about all the cool new stuff at netdev conference… or listen to Episode 94 of Software Gone Wild to get a CliffsNotes version.

Roopa Prabhu, Jamal Hadi Salim, and Tom Herbert joined Nick Buraglio and myself and we couldn’t help diverging into the beauties of tc, and the intricacies of low-latency forwarding before coming back on track and started discussing cool stuff like:

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What’s the Big Deal with Validation?

This blog post was initially sent to subscribers of my mailing list. Subscribe here.

In his Intent-Based Networking Taxonomy blog post Saša Ratković mentioned real-time change validation as one of the requirements for a true intent-based networking product.

Old-time networkers would instinctively say “sure, we need that” while most everyone else might be totally flabbergasted. After all, when you create a VM, the VM is there (or you’d get an error message), and when you write to a file and sync the file system the data is stored, right?

As is often the case, networking is different.

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VMware NSX: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

After four live sessions we finished the VMware NSX Technical Deep Dive webinar yesterday. Still have to edit the materials, but right now the whole thing is already over 6 hours long, and there are two more guest speaker sessions to come.

Anyways, in the previous sessions we covered all the good parts of NSX and a few of the bad ones. Everything that was left for yesterday were the ugly parts.

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Figuring Out AWS Networking

One of my friends reviewing the material of my AWS Networking webinar sent me this remark:

I'm always interested in hearing more about how AWS network works under the hood – it’s difficult to gain that knowledge.

As always, it’s almost impossible to find out the behind-the-scenes details, and whatever Amazon is telling you at their re:Invent conference should be taken with a truckload of salt… but it’s relatively easy to figure out a lot of things just by observing them and performing controlled experiments.

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Automation Win: Configure Cisco ACI with an Ansible Playbook

This blog post was initially sent to subscribers of my mailing list. Subscribe here.

Following on his previous work with Cisco ACI Dirk Feldhaus decided to create an Ansible playbook that would create and configure a new tenant and provision a vSRX firewall for the tenant when working on the Create Network Services hands-on exercise in the Building Network Automation Solutions online course.

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New: Expert ipSpace.net Subscription

Earlier this month I got this email from someone who had attended one of my online courses before and wanted to watch another one of them:

Is it possible for you to bundle a 1 year subscription at no extra cost if I purchase the Building Next-Generation Data Center course?

We were planning to do something along these lines for a long time, and his email was just what I needed to start a weekend-long hackathon.

End result: Expert ipSpace.net Subscription. It includes:

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Leaf-and-Spine Fabric Myths (Part 3)

Evil CCIE concluded his long list of leaf-and-spine fabric myths (more in part 1 and part 2) with a layer-2 fabric myth:

Layer 2 Fabrics can't be extended beyond 2 Spine switches. I had a long argument with a $vendor guys on this. They don't even count SPB as Layer 2 fabric and so forth.

The root cause of this myth is the lack of understanding of what layer-2, layer-3, bridging and routing means. You might want to revisit a few of my very old blog posts before moving on: part 1, part 2, what is switching, layer-3 switches and routers.

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MUST READ: Operational Security Considerations for IPv6 Networks

A team of IPv6 security experts I highly respect (including my good friends Enno Rey, Eric Vyncke and Merike Kaeo) put together a lengthy document describing security considerations for IPv6 networks. The document is a 35-page overview of things you should know about IPv6 security, listing over a hundred relevant RFCs and other references.

No wonder enterprise IPv6 adoption is so slow – we managed to make a total mess.

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Event-Driven Network Automation in Network Automation Online Course

Event-driven automation (changing network state and/or configuration based on events) is the holy grail of network automation. Imagine being able to change routing policies (or QoS settings, or security rules) based on changes in the network.

We were able to automate simple responses with on-box solutions like Embedded Event Manager (EEM) available on Cisco IOS for years; modern network automation tools allow you to build robust solutions that identify significant events from the noise generated by syslog messages, SNMP traps and recently streaming telemetry, and trigger centralized responses that can change the behavior of the whole network.

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Why Is Network Automation such a Hot Topic?

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

One of my readers asked a very valid question when reading the Why Is Network Automation So Hard blog post:

Why was network automation 'invented' now? I have been working in the system development engineering for 13+ years and we have always used automation because we wanted to save time & effort for repeatable tasks.

He’s absolutely right. We had fully-automated ISP service in early 1990’s, and numerous service providers used network automation for decades.

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Worth Reading: Software Disenchantment

Found an awesome blog post describing how we’re wasting resources on incomprehensible scale. Here’s a tiny little morsel:

Only in software, it’s fine if a program runs at 1% or even 0.01% of the possible performance. Everybody just seems to be ok with it. People are often even proud about how much inefficient it is, as in “why should we worry, computers are fast enough”.
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Worth Watching: Machine Learning in a Nutshell

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

What could be better than an SDN product to bring you closer to a networking nirvana? You guessed it – an SDN product using machine learning.

Want to have some fun? The next time your beloved $vendor rep drops by trying to boost his bonus by persuading you to buy the next-generation machine-learning tool his company just released, invite him to watch James Mickens’ Usenix Security Symposium keynote with you.

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Leaf-and-Spine Fabric Myths (Part 2)

The next set of Leaf-and-Spine Fabric Myths listed by Evil CCIE focused on BGP:

BGP is the best choice for leaf-and-spine fabrics.

I wrote about this particular one here. If you’re not a BGP guru don’t overcomplicate your network. OSPF, IS-IS, and EIGRP are good enough for most environments. Also, don’t ever turn BGP into RIP with AS-path length serving as hop count.

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Feedback: Ansible for Networking Engineers

One of my subscribers sent me a nice email describing his struggles to master Ansible:

Some time ago I started to hear about Ansible as the new power tool for network engineer, my first reaction was “What the hell is this?” I searched the web and found many blah blahs about it… until I landed on your pages.

He found Ansible for Networking Engineers material sufficient to start an automation project:

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VXLAN and EVPN on Hypervisor Hosts

One of my readers sent me a series of questions regarding a new cloud deployment where the cloud implementers want to run VXLAN and EVPN on the hypervisor hosts:

I am currently working on a leaf-and-spine VXLAN+ EVPN PoC. At the same time, the systems team in my company is working on building a Cloudstack platform and are insisting on using VXLAN on the compute node even to the point of using BGP for inter-VXLAN traffic on the nodes.

Using VXLAN (or GRE) encap/decap on the hypervisor hosts is nothing new. That’s how NSX and many OpenStack implementations work.

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Leaf-and-Spine Fabric Myths (Part 1)

Apart from the “they have no clue what they’re talking about” observation, Evil CCIE left a long list of leaf-and-spine fabric myths he encountered in the wild in a comment on one of my blog posts. He started with:

Clos fabric (aka Leaf And Spine fabric) is a non-blocking fabric

That was obviously true in the days when Mr. Clos designed the voice switching solution that still bears his name. In the original Clos network every voice call would get a dedicated path across the fabric, and the number of voice calls supported by the fabric equaled the number of alternate end-to-end paths.

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Network Automation Development Environments

Building the network automation lab environment seems to be one of the early showstoppers on everyone’s network automation journey. These resources might help you get started:

Hint: after setting up your environment, you might want to enroll into the Spring 2019 network automation course ;)

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Network Troubleshooting Guidelines

It all started with an interesting weird MLAG bugs discussion during our last Building Next-Generation Data Center online course. The discussion almost devolved into “when in doubt reload” yammering when Mark Horsfield stepped in saying “while that may be true, make sure to check and collect these things before reloading”.

I loved what he wrote so much that I asked him to turn it into a blog post… and he made it even better by expanding it into generic network troubleshooting guidelines. Enjoy!

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Don't Make a Total Mess When Dealing with Exceptions

A while ago I had the dubious “privilege” of observing how my “beloved” airline Adria Airways deals with exceptions. A third-party incoming flight was 2.5 hours late and in their infinite wisdom (most probably to avoid financial impact) they decided to delay a half-dozen outgoing flights for 20-30 minutes while waiting for the transfer passengers.

Not surprisingly, when that weird thingy landed and they started boarding the outgoing flights (now all at the same time), the result was a total mess with busses blocking each other (this same airline loves to avoid jet bridges).

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Implications of Valley-Free Routing in Data Center Fabrics

As I explained in a previous blog post, most leaf-and-spine best-practices (as in: what to do if you have no clue) use BGP as the IGP routing protocol (regardless of whether it’s needed) with the same AS number shared across all spine switches to implement valley-free routing.

This design has an interesting consequence: when a link between a leaf and a spine switch fails, they can no longer communicate.

For example, when the link between L1 and C1 in the following diagram fails, there’s no connectivity between L1 and C1 as there’s no valley-free path between them.

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Infrastructure-as-Code Tools

This is the fourth blog post in “thinking out loud while preparing Network Infrastructure as Code presentation for the network automation course” series. Previous posts: Network-Infrastructure-as-Code Is Nothing New, Adjusting System State and NETCONF versus REST API.

Dmitri Kalintsev sent me a nice description on how some popular Infrastructure-as-Code (IaC) tools solve the challenges I described in The CRUD Hell section of Infrastructure-as-Code, NETCONF and REST API blog post:

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Upcoming Webinars and Events: October 2018

The fast pace of webinars continues in October 2018:

There are no on-site events planned until early December:

You can attend all upcoming webinars with an ipSpace.net webinar subscription. Online courses and on-site events require separate registration.

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VXLAN Broadcast Domain Size Limitations

One of the attendees of my Building Next-Generation Data Center online course tried to figure out whether you can build larger broadcast domains with VXLAN than you could with VLANs. Here’s what he sent me:

I'm trying to understand differences or similarities between VLAN and VXLAN technologies in a view of (*cast) domain limitation.

There’s no difference between the two on the client-facing side. VXLAN is just an encapsulation technology and doesn’t change how bridging works at all (read also part 2 of that story).

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Smart or Dumb NICs on Software Gone Wild

Hardware vendors are always making their silicon more complex and feature-rich. Is that a great idea or a disaster waiting to happen? We asked Luke Gorrie, the lead developer of Snabb Switch (an open-source user-land virtual switch written in Lua) about his opinions on the topic.

TL&DL version: Give me a dumb NIC, software can do everything else.

If you want to know more, listen to Episode 93 of Software Gone Wild.

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Using CSR1000V in AWS Instead of Automation or Orchestration System

As anyone starting their journey into AWS quickly discovers, cloud is different (or as I wrote in the description of my AWS workshop you feel like Alice in Wonderland). One of the gotchas: when you link multiple routing domains (Virtual Private Clouds – the other VPC) you have to create static routing table entries on both ends. Even worse, there’s no transit VPC – you have to build a full mesh of relationships.

The correct solution to this challenge is automation:

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Infrastructure-as-Code, NETCONF and REST API

This is the third blog post in “thinking out loud while preparing Network Infrastructure as Code presentation for the network automation course” series. You might want to start with Network-Infrastructure-as-Code Is Nothing New and Adjusting System State blog posts.

As I described in the previous blog post, the hardest problem any infrastructure-as-code (IaC) tool must solve is “how to adjust current system state to desired state described in state definition file(s)”… preferably without restarting or rebuilding the system.

There are two approaches to adjusting system state:

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Data Point: Why Automation Won’t Replace Humans

Here’s a bit of good news for those of you scared of network automation replacing your jobs: even Elon Musk didn’t manage to pull it off, so I don’t think a networking vendor dabbling in intent will manage to do it (particularly considering the track record of networking vendors’ network management and orchestration systems).

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Worth Reading: Intent-Based Networking Taxonomy

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

Saša Ratković (Apstra) published a must-read Intent-Based Networking Taxonomy which (not surprisingly) isn’t too far from what I had to say about the topic in a blog post and related webinar.

It’s also interesting to note that the first three levels of intent-based networking he described match closely what we’re discussing in Building Network Automation Solutions online course and what David Barroso described in Network Automation Use Cases webinar:

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Adjusting System State with Infrastructure as Code

This is the second blog post in “thinking out loud while preparing Network Infrastructure as Code presentation for the network automation course” series. If you stumbled upon it, you might want to start here.

An anonymous commenter to my previous blog post on the topic hit the crux of the infrastructure-as-code challenge when he wrote: “It's hard to do a declarative approach with Ansible and the nice network vendor APIs.” Let’s see what he was trying to tell us.

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Network Automation with Ansible for Undergraduate Students

Last year’s experiment generated so much interest that I decided to repeat it this year: if you’re an undergraduate or Master's student and manage to persuade us that you’re motivated enough to automate the **** out of everything, you’ll get a free seat in Ansible for Networking Engineers online course.

Interested? Check out the details, and apply before October 1st.

Too old? Please spread the word ;)

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Routing in Data Center: What Problem Are You Trying to Solve?

Here’s a question I got from an attendee of my Building Next-Generation Data Center online course:

As far as I understood […] it is obsolete nowadays to build a new DC fabric with routing on the host using BGP, the proper way to go is to use IGP + SDN overlay. Is my understanding correct?

Ignoring for the moment the fact that nothing is ever obsolete in IT, the right answer is it depends… this time on answer(s) to two seemingly simple questions “what services are we offering?” and “what connectivity problem are we trying to solve?”.

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Repost: Tony Przygienda on Valley-Free (or Non-ZigZag) Routing

Most blog posts generate the usual noise from the anonymous peanut gallery (if only they'd have at least a sliver of Statler and Waldorf in them), but every now and then there's a comment that's pure gold. The one made by Tony Przygienda (of RIFT fame) on Valley-Free Routing post is so good and relevant that I decided to republish it as a separate blog post. Enjoy!

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Worth Reading: IPv6 Renumbering == Pain in the …

Johannes Weber was forced to stress-test the IPv6 networks are easy to renumber nonsense and documented his test results – a must-read for everyone deploying IPv6.

He found out that renumbering IPv6 in his lab required almost four times as many changes as renumbering (outside) IPv4 in the same lab.

My cynical take on that experience: “Now that you’ve documented everything that needs to be changed, make sure it’s automated the next time ;)

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Valley-Free Routing

Reading academic articles about Internet-wide routing challenges you might stumble upon valley-free routing – a pretty important concept with applications in WAN and data center routing design.

If you’re interested in the academic discussions, you’ll find a pretty exhaustive list of papers on this topic in the Informative References section of RFC 7908; here’s the over-simplified version.

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Network Infrastructure as Code Is Nothing New

Following “if you can’t explain it, you don’t understand it” mantra I decided to use blog posts to organize my ideas while preparing my Networking Infrastructure as Code presentation for the Autumn 2018 Building Network Automation Solutions online course. Constructive feedback is highly appreciated.

Let’s start with a simple terminology question: what exactly is Infrastructure as Code that everyone is raving about? Here’s what Wikipedia has to say on the topic:

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Do We Need Leaf-and-Spine Fabrics?

Evil CCIE left a lengthy comment on one of my blog posts including this interesting observation:

It's always interesting to hear all kind of reasons from people to deploy CLOS fabrics in DC in Enterprise segment typically that I deal with while they mostly don't have clue about why they should be doing it in first place. […] Usually a good justification is DC to support high amount of East-West Traffic....but really? […] Ask them if they even have any benchmarks or tools to measure that in first place :)

What he wrote proves that most networking practitioners never move beyond regurgitating vendor marketing (because that’s so much easier than making the first step toward becoming an engineer by figuring out how technology really works).

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Is BGP Good Enough with Dinesh Dutt on Software Gone Wild

In recent Software Gone Wild episodes we explored emerging routing protocols trying to address the specific needs of highly-meshed data center fabrics – RIFT and OpenFabric. In Episode 92 with Dinesh Dutt we decided to revisit the basics trying to answer a seemingly simple question: do we really need new routing protocols?

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Traditional Leaf-and-Spine Fabric Versus Cisco ACI

One of my subscribers wondered whether it would make sense to build a traditional leaf-and-spine fabric or go for Cisco ACI. He started his email with:

One option is a "standalone" Spine/Leaf VXLAN-with EVPN deployment based on Nexus equipment. This approach could probably be accompanied by some kind of automation like Ansible to ease operation/maintenance of the network.

This is what I would do these days if the customer feels comfortable investing at least the minimum amount of work into an automation solution. Having simpler technology + well-understood automation solution is (in my biased opinion) better than having a complex black box.

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Interview: Benefits of Network Automation (Part 2)

As promised, here’s the second part of my Benefits of Network Automation interview with Christoph Jaggi published in German on Inside-IT last Friday (part 1 is here).

What are some of the challenges?

The biggest challenge everyone faces when starting the network automation is the snowflake nature of most enterprise networks and the million one-off exceptions we had to make in the past to cope with badly-designed applications or unrealistic user requirements. Remember: you cannot automate what you cannot describe in enough details.

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Interview: Benefits of Network Automation (Part 1)

I had a great chat about the benefits of network automation with Christoph Jaggi a while ago, resulting in 2-part interview published by Inside-IT. As you might prefer to read the English original instead of using Google Translate, here it is (or you could practice your language skills and read the German version).

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Updated: Networking Modules in Building Next-Generation Data Centers Online Course

We migrated the self-study materials for the network infrastructure and services module of the Building Next-Generation Data Centers online course into the new format, and split the largest module of the course into manageable chunks: data center fabrics 101, designing leaf-and-spine fabrics, overlay virtual networking, IPv6 and network services.

Feedback on the new format is obviously highly welcome. Thank you!

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Security Aspects of SD-WAN Solutions

Christoph Jaggi, the author of Transport and Network Security Primer and Ethernet Encryption webinars published a high-level introductory article in Inside-IT online magazine describing security deficiencies of SD-WAN solutions based on the work he did analyzing them for a large multinational corporation.

As the topic might be interesting to a wider audience, I asked him to translate the article into English. Here it is…

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Reality Check: Self-Driving Networks

I stumbled upon an article with an interesting title (and worth reading): To Make Self-Driving Cars Safe, We Also Need Better Roads and Infrastructure… and thought about the claims along the lines of “if they managed to solve the self-driving cars challenge, it’s realistic to expect self-driving networks” made in Self-Driving Networks podcast episode. Turns out the self-driving cars problem is far far away from being solved.

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Upcoming Webinars and Events: Autumn 2018

The summer break is over, and we’ve already scheduled a half-dozen events and webinars in August and September:

We’ll run an event or webinar in almost every single week in September:

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Worth Reading: The Cargo Cult of Google Tools

Tom Hollingsworth published a great blog post summarizing Cloud Field Day presentation by Ben Sigelman.

TL&DR: You’re not Google, you don’t have their problems, and so you’re probably not a good match for their tools.

While this shouldn’t come as a surprise to regular readers of my blog (here’s what I wrote on the topic in 2016), it’s refreshing to see it spelled out so eloquently (and by an ex-Googler).

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GitOps in Networking

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

Tom Limoncelli published a must-read article in ACM Queue describing GitOps – the idea of using Pull Requests together with CI/CD pipeline to give your users the ability to request changes to infrastructure configuration.

Using GitOps in networking is nothing new – Leslie Carr talked about this concept almost three years ago @ RIPE 71, and I described some of the workflows you could use in Network Automation 101 webinar.

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Updated: First Set of Building Next-Generation Data Centers Self-Study Materials

When I started the Building Next-Generation Data Centers online course, I didn’t have the automated infrastructure to support it, so I had to go with the next best solution: a reasonably-flexible Content Management System, and Mediawiki turned out to be a pretty good option.

In the meantime, we developed a full-blown course support system, included guided self-paced study (available with most ipSpace.net online course), and progress tracking. It was time to migrate the data center material into the same format.

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Schneier’s Law Applied to Networking

A while ago I stumbled upon Schneier’s law (must-read):

Any person can invent a security system so clever that she or he can't think of how to break it.

I’m pretty sure there’s a networking equivalent:

Any person can create a clever network design that is so complex that she or he can't figure out how it will fail in production.

I know I’ve been there with my early OSPF network designs.

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Updated: Building Next-Generation Data Centers Live Sessions

After fixing the Building Network Automation Solutions materials, I decided to tackle the next summer janitorial project: creating standard curriculum pages for Building Next Generation Data Centers online course and splitting it into more granular modules (the course is ~150 hours long, and some modules have more than 40 hours of self-study materials).

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Another Benefit of Open-Source Networking Software

You probably know my opinion on nerd knobs and the resulting complexity, but sometimes you desperately need something to get the job done.

In traditional vendor-driven networking world, you might be able to persuade your vendor to implement the knob (you think) you need in 3 years by making it a mandatory requirement for a $10M purchase order. In open-source world you implement the knob, write the unit tests, and submit a pull request.

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Updated: Building Network Automation Solutions Materials and Descriptions

The materials and descriptions for the Building Network Automation Solutions online course got a slight makeover: all live session recordings are now part of self-study materials, and the module description pages use consistent format for self-study materials and live sessions.

Next on the janitor’s list: a similar makeover for the Data Center online course.

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New my.ipspace.net Design

During the last weeks I migrated the whole my.ipspace.net site (apart from the workgroup administration pages) to the new ipSpace.net design. Most of the changes should be transparent (apart from the pages looking better than before ;); I also made a few more significant changes:

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New on ipSpace.net: Interviews and Guest Podcasts

You can find most of the interviews and guest podcasts I did in the last few years on this web page (also accessible as Resources → Interviews from the new menu).

During the summer break, I’m publishing blog posts about the projects I’m working on – as you can see, they include web site maintenance and other janitorial tasks. Regular blog posts will return in autumn.

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Overview of ipSpace.net Training Options

Describe the differences between various ipSpace.net training options has been on my to-do list for ages, but I successfully managed to ignore it till I deployed the new top-level menu that contains training category.

Our designers never considered menu items without a corresponding link, so I got an ugly mess that needed to be cleaned up either by fixing the CSS or writing the overview document.

End result: a high-level document describing how ipSpace.net webinars, courses and workshops fit into the bigger picture.

During the summer break, I’m publishing blog posts about the projects I’m working on. Regular blog posts will return in autumn.

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Free Webinars and Videos Are Now Easier to Spot

Another summer break project: replacing the stars next to webinar names in descriptions of various technology areas (example: Data Center) with something more useful. Turns out that marking the webinar title as being Free or having Free items works really well.

Bonus feature: clicking on show free content shows you the content available with free subscription.

During the summer break, I’m publishing blog posts about the projects I’m working on. Regular blog posts will return in autumn.

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Updated Design on blog.ipspace.net

I synced the CSS used on blog.ipspace.net with the one used on the main web site. There should be no visible changes apart from a few minor fixes in color scheme and the main column being a bit narrower, but if you spot any errors please let me know.

During the summer break, I’m doing much-needed web site maintenance. Regular blog posts will return in autumn.

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Review: Ansible for Networking Engineers

An engineer attending Ansible for Networking Engineers online course sent me this feedback:

This is a great place to learn Ansible and Network Automation from scratch. Starting with an emphasis on the fundamentals (YAML, JSON, Jinja2, how to group your network devices for automation, etc.) you progressively build up towards useful network automation.

He particularly liked the additional features that are part of any ipSpace.net online course:

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Goodbye, content.ipspace.net

It turns out that while I cannot bring myself to writing or creating other content during the summer break, it feels perfectly fine to be a janitor and fix small things on the web site.

One of the long-outstanding items: get rid of the free content web site that never went where I wanted it to go… one can do only so much in 24 hours. All the features available on content.ipspace.net are now part of the main ipSpace.net web site including pointers to free content and list of free presentations.

During the summer break, I’m publishing blog posts about the projects I’m working on. Regular blog posts will return in autumn.

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Feedback: Data Center Infrastructure for Networking Engineers

When I created the Data Center Infrastructure for Networking Engineers webinar, I wanted to reach these goals:

  • Understand the data center acronym soup;
  • Build a conceptual framework of the data center technologies and solutions.

Every now and then I get feedback from a happy attendee telling me how the webinar helped them. Here’s what I got earlier this month:

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Network Infrastructure as Code in Network Automation Online Course

In mid-May, I ran an onsite network automation workshop, and the manager organizing the workshop for his team invited me to a dinner with his peers. Not surprisingly, they wanted to hear about the topics covered in the workshop, and as soon as I mentioned Network-Infrastructure-as-Code several of them said “yes, that definitely needs to be covered.

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Time for a Summer Break

So many things have happened since I wrote “this is what we’re going to do in 2018” blog post. We ran

We also did a ton of webinars:

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Upcoming Webinars and Events: Autumn 2018

On Tuesday I had the last webinar in spring 2018. One more online course session and it will be time for long summer break. In the meantime, we’re already planning the autumn events:

We also have the first webinars scheduled:

You can attend all these webinars with an ipSpace.net webinar subscription.

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Worth Reading: Fake News in IT

Stumbled upon “Is Tech News Fake” article by Tom Nolle. Here’s the gist of his pretty verbose text:

When readers pay for news, they get news useful to readers.  When vendors pay, not only do the vendors get news they like, the rest of us get that same story.  It doesn’t mean that the story being told is a lie, but that it reflects the view of an interested party other than the reader.

High-quality content is not cheap, so always ask yourself: who’s paying for the content… and if it’s not you, you may be the product.

Full disclosure: ipSpace.net is funded exclusively with subscriptions and online courses. Some of our guest speakers work for networking vendors, but we always point that out, and never get paid for that.

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Vertical Integration Musings

One of my readers asked me a question that came up in his business strategy class:

Why did routers and switches end up being vertically integrated (the same person makes the hardware and the software)? Why didn't they go down the same horizontal path as compute (with Intel making chips, OEMs making systems and Microsoft providing the OS)? Why did this resemble the pre-Intel model of IBM, DEC, Sun…?

Simple answer: because nobody was interested in disaggregating them.

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Worth Reading: Discovering Issues with HTTP/2

A while ago I found an interesting analysis of HTTP/2 behavior under adverse network conditions. Not surprisingly:

When there is packet loss on the network, congestion controls at the TCP layer will throttle the HTTP/2 streams that are multiplexed within fewer TCP connections. Additionally, because of TCP retry logic, packet loss affecting a single TCP connection will simultaneously impact several HTTP/2 streams while retries occur. In other words, head-of-line blocking has effectively moved from layer 7 of the network stack down to layer 4.

What exactly did anyone expect? We discovered the same problems running TCP/IP over SSH a long while ago, but then too many people insist on ignoring history and learning from their own experience.

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What Is Intent-Based Networking?

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

Whenever someone mentions intent-based networking I try to figure out what exactly they’re talking about. Not surprisingly, I get a different answer every single time. Confused by all that, I tried to find a good definition, but all I could find was vendor marketing along the lines of “Intent-based networking captures and translates business intent so that it can be applied across the network,” or industry press articles regurgitating vendor white papers.

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Start with Business Requirements, not Technology

This is the feedback I got from someone who used ExpertExpress to discuss the evolution of their data center:

The session has greatly simplified what had appeared to be a complex and difficult undertaking for us. Great to get fresh ideas on how we could best approach our requirements and with the existing equipment we have. Very much looking forward to putting into practice what we discussed.

And here’s what Nicola Modena (the expert working with the customer) replied:

As I told you, the problem is usually to map the architectures and solutions that are found in books, whitepapers, and validated designs into customer’s own reality, then to divide the architecture into independent functional layers, and most importantly to always start from requirements and not technology.

A really good summary of what ipSpace.net is all about ;) Thank you, Nicola!

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Avoid Summarization in Leaf-and-Spine Fabrics

I got this design improvement suggestion after publishing When Is BGP No Better than OSPF blog post:

Putting all the leafs in the same ASN and filtering routes sent down to the leafs (sending just a default) are potential enhancements that make BGP a nice option.

Tony Przygienda quickly wrote a one-line rebuttal: “unless links break ;-)

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Snabb Switch Update on Software Gone Wild

In 2014, we did a series of podcasts on Snabb Switch (Snabb Switch and OpenStack, Deep Dive), a software-only switch delivering 10-20 Gbps of forwarded bandwidth per x86 core. In the meantime, Snabb community slowly expanded, optimized the switching code, built a number of solutions on top of the packet forwarding core, and even forked a just-in-time Lua compiler to get better performance.

To find out the details, listen to Episode 91 of Software Gone Wild in which Luke Gorrie explained how far the Snabb project has progressed in the last four years.

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Automation Win: Document Cisco ACI Configuration

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

A while ago I complained how the GUI- or API-based orchestration (or intent-based) systems make it hard to figure out what exactly has been configured because they can’t give you a single text configuration file that you could track with version-control software.

Dirk Feldhaus found the situation so ridiculous that he decided to create an Ansible playbook that collects and dumps tenant parameters configured on a Cisco ACI tenant as a homework assignment in the Building Network Automation Solutions online course. As he explained the problem:

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Integrating 3rd Party Firewalls with Amazon Web Services (AWS) VPC Networking

After figuring out how packet forwarding really works within AWS VPC (here’s an overview, the slide deck is already available to ipSpace.net subscribers) the next obvious question should be: “and how do I integrate a network services device like a next-generation firewall I have to use because $securityPolicy into that environment?

Please don’t get me started on whether that makes sense, that’s a different discussion.

Christer Swartz, an old-time CCIE and occasional guest on Software Gone Wild podcast will show you how to do it with a Palo Alto firewall during my Amazon Web Services Networking Deep Dive workshop on June 13th in Zurich, Switzerland (register here).

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Is EBGP Really Better than OSPF in Leaf-and-Spine Fabrics?

Using EBGP instead of an IGP (OSPF or IS-IS) in leaf-and-spine data center fabrics is becoming a best practice (read: thing to do when you have no clue what you’re doing).

The usual argument defending this design choice is “BGP scales better than OSPF or IS-IS”. That’s usually true (see also: Internet), and so far, EBGP is the only reasonable choice in very large leaf-and-spine fabrics… but does it really scale better than a link-state IGP in smaller fabrics?

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Amazon Web Services Networking Overview

Traditional networking engineers, or virtualization engineers familiar with vSphere or VMware NSX, often feel like Alice in Wonderland when entering the world of Amazon Web Services. Everything looks and sounds familiar, and yet it all feels a bit different

I decided to create a half-day workshop (first delivery: June 13th in Zurich, Switzerland) to make it easier to grasp the fundamentals of AWS networking, and will publish high-level summaries as a series of blog posts. Let’s start with an overview of what’s different:

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Typical EVPN BGP Routing Designs

As discussed in a previous blog post, IETF designed EVPN to be next-generation BGP-based VPN technology providing scalable layer-2 and layer-3 VPN functionality. EVPN was initially designed to be used with MPLS data plane and was later extended to use numerous data plane encapsulations, VXLAN being the most common one.

Design Requirements

Like any other BGP-based solution, EVPN uses BGP to transport endpoint reachability information (customer MAC and IP addresses and prefixes, flooding trees, and multi-attached segments), and relies on an underlying routing protocol to provide BGP next-hop reachability information.

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Upcoming Webinars: June 2018 and Beyond

Wow. Where did the spring 2018 go? It’s almost June… and time for a refreshed list of upcoming webinars:

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Happy Eyeballs v2 (and how I Was Wrong Again)

In Moving Complexity to Application Layer I discussed the idea of trying to use all addresses returned in a DNS response when trying to establish a connection with a server, concluding with “I don’t think anyone big enough to influence browser vendors is interested in reinventing this particular wheel.

I’m really glad to report I was wrong ;) This is what RFC 8305 (Happy Eyeballs v2) says:

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Fun: Playing Battleships over BGP

BGP is the kitchen-sink of networking protocols, right? Whatever control-plane information you need to transport around, you can do it with BGP… including the battleship coordinates carried in BGP communities.

On the more serious front, it's nice to see at least some ISPs still care enough about the stability of the global Internet to use BGP route flap dampening.

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Video: SPB Fabric Use Cases

As part of his “how does Avaya implement data center fabrics” presentation, Roger Lapuh talked about use cases for SPB in data center fabrics.

I have no idea what Extreme decided to do with the numerous data center fabric solutions they bought in the last few years, so the video might have just a historic value at this point… but it’s still nice to see what you can do with smart engineering.

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Why is Network Automation So Hard?

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

Every now and then someone asks me “Why are we making so little progress on network automation? Why does it seem so hard?

There are some obvious reasons:

However, there’s a bigger elephant in the room: every network is a unique snowflake.

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Dissecting IBGP+EBGP Junos Configuration

Networking engineers familiar with Junos love to tell me how easy it is to configure and operate IBGP EVPN overlay on top of EBGP IP underlay. Krzysztof Szarkowicz was kind enough to send me the (probably) simplest possible configuration (here’s another one by Alexander Grigorenko)

To learn more about EVPN technology and its use in data center fabrics, watch the EVPN Technical Deep Dive webinar.

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Response: Vendors Pushing Stretched Layer-2

Got this response to my Stretched Layer-2 Revisited blog post. It’s too good not to turn it into a blog post ;)

Recently I feel like it's really vendors pushing layer 2 solutions, rather than us (enterprise customer) demanding it.

I had that feeling for years. Yes, there are environment with legacy challenges (running COBOL applications on OS/370 with emulated TN3270 terminals comes to mind), but in most cases it’s the vendors trying to peddle unique high-priced non-interoperable warez.

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Automation Example: Deploy MPLS/VPN Services

Steve Krause created a full-blown network services deployment solution, including post-deployment validation of OSPF and BGP routing, while attending Building Network Automation Solutions online course (I prefer course attendees working on real-life problems instead of artificial ones).

Hope you’ll enjoy exploring it ;)

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Get Familiar with Leaf-and-Spine Fabrics

An attendee of my Building Next-Generation Data Center online course asked me what the best learning path might be for a total (data center) beginner that has to design and install a small leaf-and-spine fabric in a near future.

This blog post was written for ipSpace.net subscribers who want to get the most out of ipSpace.net content. If you’re only interested in free stuff, you might feel it’s a waste of your time. You’ve been warned ;)

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Worth Reading: Manual Work Is a Bug

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

Tom Limoncelli wrote a great article about starting an automation journey from sysadmin perspective. Not surprisingly, his recommendations aren’t that far off from what I’m telling networking engineers in my network automation presentations, Network Automation 101 webinar, and introductory part of Building Network Automation Solutions online course:

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Is OSPF or IS-IS Good Enough for My Data Center?

Our good friend mr. Anonymous has too many buzzwords and opinions in his repertoire, at least based on this comment he left on my Using 4-byte AS Numbers with EVPN blog post:

But IGPs don't scale well (as you might have heard) except for RIFT and Openfabric. The others are trying to do ECMP based on BGP.

Should you be worried about OSPF or IS-IS scalability when building your data center fabric? Short answer: most probably not. Before diving into a lengthy explanation let's give our dear friend some homework.

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What Is EVPN?

EVPN might be the next big thing in networking… or at least all the major networking vendors think so. It’s also a pretty complex technology still facing some interoperability challenges (I love to call it SIP of networking).

To make matters worse, EVPN can easily get even more confusing if you follow some convoluted designs propagated on the ‘net… and the best antidote to that is to invest time into understanding the fundamentals, and to slowly work through more complex scenarios after mastering the basics.

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Worth Reading: Cognitive Dissonance

I always wondered why it’s so hard to accept that someone might not find your preferred solution beautiful but would call it complex or even harmful (or from the other side, why someone could not possibly appreciate the beauty of your design)… and then stumbled upon this blog post by Scott Adams describing cognitive dissonance (the actual topic they’re discussing in the mentioned video doesn’t matter – look for the irrational behavior).

You might say “but we could politely agree to disagree” but unfortunately that implies that at least one of us is not fully rational due to Aumann’s Agreement Theorem.

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Video: Use Network Device REST API with PowerShell

More and more network devices support REST API as the configuration method. While it’s not as convenient as having a dedicated cmdlet, it’s possible to call REST API methods (and configure or monitor network devices) directly from a PowerShell script, as Mitja Robas demonstrated during the PowerShell for Networking Engineers webinar.

You’ll need at least free ipSpace.net subscription to watch the video.

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Layers of Single-Pane-of-Glass Abstractions Won’t Solve Your Problems

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

We’ve been told for years how we’re over-complicating networking, and how the software-defined or intent-based whatever will remove all that complexity and remove the need for networking engineers.

What never ceases to amaze me is how all these software-defined systems are demonstrated: each one has a fancy GUI that looks great in PowerPoint and might even work in practice assuming you’re doing exactly what they demonstrated… trying to be creative could result in interesting disasters.

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Autumn 2018 Network Automation Course Starts on September 18th

When the Spring 2018 Building Network Automation Solutions online course started, we didn’t know whether we’d run another course in 2018, so we offered engineers who wanted to get an early start Believer price.

The wait is over: the autumn 2018 course starts on September 18th. The schedule of the live sessions is already online, and we also have the first guest speakers. We’ll announce them in early June at which time you will no longer be able to get the Enthusiast price, so register ASAP.

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Using 4-Byte BGP AS Numbers with EVPN on Junos

After documenting the basic challenges of using EBGP and 4-byte AS numbers with EVPN automatic route targets, I asked my friends working for various vendors how their implementation solves these challenges. This is what Krzysztof Szarkowicz sent me on specifics of Junos implementation:

To learn more about EVPN technology and its use in data center fabrics, watch the EVPN Technical Deep Dive webinar.

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Network Automation with Nornir (formerly Brigade) on Software Gone Wild

David Barroso was sick-and-tired of using ZX Spectrum of Network Automation and decided to create an alternative with similar functionality but a proper programming language instead of YAML dictionaries masquerading as one. The result: Nornir, an interesting network automation tool formerly known as Brigade we discussed in Episode 90 of Software Gone Wild.

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Automation Win: Zero-Touch Provisioning

Listening to the networking vendors it seems that zero-touch provisioning is a no-brainer … until you try to get it working in real life, and the device you want to auto-configure supports only IP address assignment via DHCP, configuration download via TFTP, and a DHCP option that points to the configuration file.

As Hans Verkerk discovered when he tried to implement zero-touch provisioning with Ansible while attending the Building Network Automation Solutions course you have to:

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Update: Automatic EVPN Route Targets in EBGP Environments

After I posted the EVPN Route Target Considerations section of BGP in Data Center Fabrics document Lukas Krattiger pointed out another option available with Cisco Nexus-OS: it can rewrite ASN portion of EVPN Route Target in incoming EBGP updates. Updated version of the affected section is already online.

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We Have to Learn How to Manage the Cattle

Not long after I published the blog post arguing against physical appliances, Oven wrote a very valid comment: "But then you'd have 20 individual systems to manage, add licenses to for additional features, updates etc."

Even though the blog post (and the comment) was written in 2013, not much has changed in the meantime.

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Avoid Write-Only Code

You probably know that fantastic feeling when you think your newly-discovered tool is a Hammer of Thor, capable of solving every problem (or at least crashing through it). I guess you’re also familiar with that sinking feeling when you’re trying to use your beloved hammer to whitewash a bikeshed.

Not surprisingly, the cruder the tool is, the quicker you’ll hit its limits, like when you try to do data processing in Jinja2 (hint: don’t).

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Is OSPF Unpredictable or Just Unexpected?

I was listening to very interesting Future of Networking with Fred Baker a long while ago and enjoyed Fred’s perspectives and historical insight, until unfortunately Greg Ferro couldn’t possibly resist the usual bashing of traditional routing protocols and praising of intent-based (or flow-based or SDN or…) whatever.

Here’s what I understood he said around 35:17

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Upcoming Webinars: May and June 2018

Another month has swooshed by and it’s time for a refreshed list of upcoming webinars:

All you need to have to attend all these live sessions is a current ipSpace.net webinar subscription.

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Found on the Web: Your CLI Should Be a Server

Guess what I found: a software developer trying to persuade his peers that they need an API version of their CLI tool. Yes, I checked and it’s still 2018, and the year CLI dies seems to be a bit further out than some people thought.

I’d guess this proves that the rest of the world is not so far ahead of us lowly network engineers as blabbering pundits and vendor marketers would have us believe.

Needless to say, the engineers architecting Junos knew this almost 20 years ago.

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OpenFabric with Russ White on Software Gone Wild

Continuing the series of data center routing protocol podcasts, we sat down with Russ White (of the CCDE fame), author of another proposal: OpenFabric.

As always, we started with the “what’s wrong with what we have right now, like using BGP as a better IGP” question, resulting in “BGP is becoming the trash can of the Internet”.

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Why Can’t We All Use Provider-Independent IPv6 Addresses?

Here’s another back-to-the-fundamentals question I received a while ago when discussing IPv6 multihoming challenges:

I was wondering why enterprise can’t have dedicated block of IPv6 address and ISPs route the traffic to it. Enterprise shall select the ISP's based on the routing and preferences configured?

Let’s try to analyze where the problem might be. First the no-brainers:

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Pragmatic Data Center Fabrics

I always love to read the practical advice by Andrew Lerner. Here’s another gem that matches what Brad Hedlund, Dinesh Dutt and myself (plus numerous others) have been saying for ages:

One specific recommendation we make in the research is to “Build a rightsized physical infrastructure by using a leaf/spine design with fixed-form factor switches and 25/100G capable interfaces (that are reverse-compatible with 10G).”

There’s a slight gotcha in that advice: it trades implicit complexity of chassis switches with explicit complexity of fixed-form switches.

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Should I Take CCIE DC or ipSpace.net Data Center Online Course?

Got this question from a networking engineer who couldn’t decide whether to go for CCIE Data Center certification or attend my Building Next-Generation Data Center online course:

I am considering pursuing CCIE DC. I found your Next-Generation DC course very interesting. Now I am bit confused trying to decide whether to start with CCIE DC first and then do your course.

You might be in a similar position, so here’s what I told him.

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ipSpace.net Subscription Now Available with PayPal

Every second blue moon someone asks me whether they could buy ipSpace.net subscription with PayPal. So far, the answer has been no.

Recently we started testing whether we could use Digital River to solve a few interesting challenges we had in the past, and as they offer PayPal as a payment option, it seemed to be a perfect fit for a low-volume trial.

The only product that you can buy with PayPal during the trial is the standard subscription – just select PayPal as the payment method during the checkout process.

Finally: the first three subscribers using PayPal will get extra 6 months of subscription.

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Worth Reading: The Death of Expertise

Bruno Wollman pointed me to an excellent article on the ignorance of expertise and confidence of the dumb. Here’s the TL&DR summary (but you should really read the whole thing):

  • The expert isn’t always right;
  • An expert is far more likely to be right than you are;
  • Experts come in many flavors – usually you need a combination of education and expertise;
  • In any discussion, you have a positive obligation to learn at least enough to make the conversation possible. University of Google doesn’t count;
  • While you’re entitled to have an opinion, having a strong opinion isn’t the same as knowing something.

Enjoy ;)

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Video: Automatic Diagramming with PowerNSX

Here's a trick question: how often do your Visio diagrams match what's really implemented in your network?

Wouldn't it be great to be able to create or modify them on-the-fly based on what's really configured in the network? That's exactly what Anthony Burke demonstrated in the PowerNSX part of PowerShell for Networking Engineers webinar (source code).

You’ll need at least free ipSpace.net subscription to watch the video.

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EVPN Route Target Considerations in EBGP Environment

The proponents of the “let’s run EVPN over EBGP underlay” idea often ignore an interesting challenge: EVPN advocates use of automatically-generated Route Targets, which might not work when every leaf switch uses a different AS number.

I explored this particular can of worms in the EVPN Route Target Considerations section of the Using BGP in a Data Center Leaf-and-Spine Fabric saga.

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New in IPv6: The Next Chapter in IPv6 Multihoming Saga

Remember the IPv6 elephant in the room – the inability to do small-site multihoming without NAT (well, NPT66)? IPv6 is old enough to buy its own beer, but the elephant is still hogging the room. Tons of ideas have been thrown around in IETF (mostly based on source address selection tricks), but none of that spaghetti stuck to the wall.

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Couldn’t Resist: Cheat-Proofing Certifications

Stumbled upon this paragraph on Russ White’s blog:

I don’t really know how you write a certification that does not allow someone who has memorized the feature guide to do well. How do you test for protocol theory, and still have a broad enough set of test questions that they cannot be photographed and distributed?

As Russ succinctly explained the problem is two-fold:

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Container Security through Segregation

One of my readers sent me a container security question after reading the Application Container Security Guide from NIST:

We are considering segregating dev/test/prod environments with bare-metal hardware. I did not find something in the standard concerning this. What should a financial institution do in your opinion?

I am no security expert and know just enough about containers to be dangerous, but there’s a rule that usually works well: use common sense and identify similar scenarios that have already been solved.

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Worth Reading: Automation: Easy Button vs Sentient Voodoo Magic Button

I’m always telling network engineers attending my network automation workshops and online courses that there’s no magic bullet or 3-steps-to- success.

You cannot automate a process until you can describe it with enough details so that someone who has absolutely no clue what should be done can execute it.

David Gee published a long (and somewhat ranty) version of that statement. Enjoy!

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