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Building network automation solutions

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Last Week on ipSpace.net (2019W12)

Spring started for real, so it was time for some early-spring cleaning and I managed to complete two webinars during last week:

Both webinars are part of standard ipSpace.net subscription

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Multipath TCP on Software Gone Wild

I mentioned Multipath TCP (MP-TCP) numerous times in the past but I never managed to get beyond “this is the thing that might solve some TCP multihoming challenges” We fixed this omission in Episode 100 of Software Gone Wild with Christoph Paasch (software engineer @ Apple) and Mat Martineau from Open Source Technology Center @ Intel.

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Creating Automation Source-of-Truth from Device Configurations

Remember the previous blog post in this sequence in which I explained the need for single source-of-truth used in your network automation solution? No? Please read it first ;)

Ready for the next step? Assuming your sole source-of-truth is the actual device configuration, is there a magic mechanism we can use to transform it into something we could use in network automation?

TL&DR: No.

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Lock-In and SD-WAN: a Match Made in Heaven

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

I made a statement along these lines in an SD-WAN blog post and related email sent to our SDN and Network Automation mailing list:

The architecture of most SD-WAN products is thus much cleaner and easier to configure than traditional hybrid networks. However, do keep in mind that most of them use proprietary protocols, resulting in a perfect lock-in.

While reading that one of my readers sent me a nice email with an interesting question:

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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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Last Week on ipSpace.net (2019W8)

We started the Spring 2019 Building Network Automation Solutions course on Tuesday with building virtual labs presentation by one-and-only Matt Oswalt of the NRE Labs fame, and finished the AWS Networking Deep Dive saga on Thursday with an overview of AWS load balancing mechanisms, from elastic load balancing (CLB/NLB/ALB) to DNS-based load balancing, CloudFront and Global Accelerator… and figured out how Amazon reinvented VRFs and hub-and-spoke VPNs with Transit gateways.

The AWS Networking Deep Dive webinar is part of standard ipSpace.net subscription You can access Matt’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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High-Speed IPsec on Snabb Switch on Software Gone Wild

In previous Software Gone Wild episodes we covered Snabb Switch and numerous applications running on it, from L2VPN to 4over6 gateway and integration with Juniper vMX code.

In Episode 98 we focused on another interesting application developed by Max Rottenkolber: high-speed VPN gateway using IPsec on top of Snabb Switch (details). Enjoy!

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Private VLANs with VXLAN

Got this remark from a reader after he read the VXLAN and Q-in-Q blog post:

Another area where there is a feature gap with EVPN VXLAN is Private VLANs with VXLAN. They’re not supported on either Nexus or Juniper switches.

I have one word on using private VLANs in 2019: Don’t. They are messy and hard to maintain (not to mention it gets really interesting when you’re combining virtual and physical switches).

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Cross-Data-Center L4-7 Services with Cisco ACI

Craig Weinhold sent me his thoughts on using Cisco ACI to implement cross-data-center L4-7 services. While we both believe this is not the way to do things (because you should start with proper application architecture), you might find his insights useful if you have to deal with legacy environments that believe in Santa Claus and solving application problems with networking infrastructure.


An “easy button” for multi-DC is like the quest for the holy grail. I explain to my clients that the answer is right in front of them – local IP addressing, L3 routing, and DNS. But they refuse to accept that, draw their swords, and engage in a fruitless war against common sense. Asymmetry, stateful inspection, ingress routing, split-brain, quorums, host mobility, cache coherency, non-RFC complaint ARP, etc.  

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Last Week on ipSpace.net (2019W7)

Last Tuesday we continued the deep dive into new Ansible networking modules functionality introduced in recent software releases (up to 2.7), including a demonstration of a few simple playbooks that collect printouts from network devices and check software version or end-to-end connectivity.

In the second half of the live session we started digging into the intricacies of device configuration management, ending with the truly “fun part”: changing access control lists on Cisco IOS.

The Ansible for Networking Engineers webinar is part of standard ipSpace.net subscription and Building Network Automation Solutions online course.

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Worth Reading: Blockchain and Trust

One of the rules of sane social media presence should be don’t ever engage with evangelists believing in a particular technology religion, more so if their funding depends on them spreading the gospel. I was called old-school networking guru from ivory tower when pointing out the drawbacks of TRILL, and clueless incompetent (in more polite words) when retweeting a tweet pointing out the realities of carbon footprint of proof-of-work technologies.

Interestingly, just a few days after that Bruce Schneier published a lengthy essay on blockchain and trust, and even the evangelists find it a bit hard to call him incompetent on security topics. Please read what he wrote every time someone comes along explaining how blockchains will save the world (or solve whatever networking problems like VTEP-to-MAC mappings).

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Loop Avoidance in VXLAN Networks

Antonio Boj sent me this interesting challenge:

Is there any way to avoid, prevent or at least mitigate bridging loops when using VXLAN with EVPN? Spanning-tree is not supported when using VXLAN encapsulation so I was hoping to use EVPN duplicate MAC detection.

MAC move dampening (or anything similar) doesn’t help if you have a forwarding loop. You might be able to use it to identify there’s a loop, but that’s it… and while you’re doing that your network is melting down.

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Video: Automating Simple Reports

Network automation is scary when you start using it in a brownfield environment. After all, it’s pretty easy to propagate an error to all devices in your network. However, there’s one thing you can do that’s usually pretty harmless: collect data from network devices and create summary reports or graphs.

I collected several interesting solutions created by attendees of our Building Network Automation Solutions online course and described them in a short video.

Want to create something similar? No time to procrastinate – the registration for the Spring 2019 course ends tomorrow.

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Operating Cisco ACI the Right Way

This is a guest blog post by Andrea Dainese, senior network and security architect, and author of UNetLab (now EVE-NG) and  Route Reflector Labs. These days you’ll find him busy automating Cisco ACI deployments.


In this post we’ll focus on a simple question that arises in numerous chats I have with colleagues and customers: how should a network engineer operate Cisco ACI? A lot of them don’t use any sort of network automation and manage their Cisco ACI deployments using the Web Interface. Is that good or evil? As you’ll see we have a definite answer and it’s not “it depends”.

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Last Week on ipSpace.net (2019W6)

Last week Howard Marks completed the Hyperconverged Infrastructure Deep Dive trilogy covering smaller HCI players (including Cisco’s Hyperflex) and explaining the intricacies of costing and licensing HCI solutions.

On Thursday I finally managed to start the long-overdue Data Center Interconnects update. The original webinar was recorded in 2011, and while the layer-3 technologies haven’t changed much (with LISP still being mostly a solution in search of a problem), most of the layer-2 technologies I described at that time vanished, with OTV being a notable exception. Keep that in mind the next time your favorite $vendor starts promoting another wonderful technology.

You can get access to both webinars with standard ipSpace.net subscription.

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SD-WAN Security Under the Hood

A while ago we published a guest blog post by Christoph Jaggi explaining the high-level security challenges of most SD-WAN solutions… but what about the low-level details?

Sergey Gordeychik dived deep into implementation details of SD-WAN security in his 35C3 talk (slides, video).

TL&DW: some of the SD-WAN boxes are as secure as $19.99 Chinese webcam you bought on eBay.

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Tech Field Day Extra @ CLEUR19 Recap

I spent most of last week with a great team of fellow networking and security engineers in a windowless room listening to good, bad and plain boring presentations from (mostly) Cisco presenters describing new technologies and solutions – the yearly Tech Field Day Extra @ Cisco Live Europe event.

This year’s hit rate (the percentage of good presentations) was about 50% and these are the ones I found worth watching (in chronological order):

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Worth Reading: Should I Write a Book?

Erik Dietrich (of the Expert Beginner fame) published another great blog post explaining when and why you should write a book. For the attention-challenged here’s my CliffNotes version:

  • Realize you have no idea what you’re doing (see also: Dunning-Kruger effect)
  • Figure out why you’d want to spend a significant amount of your time on a major project like book writing;
  • It will take longer (and will be more expensive) than you expect even when considering Hofstadter’s law.
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SRv6: One Tool to Rule Them All

I got some interesting feedback from one of my readers on Segment Routing with IPv6 extension headers:

Some people position SRv6 as the universal underlay and overlay due to its capabilities for network programming by means of feature+locator SRH separation.

Stupid me replied “SRv6 is NOT an overlay solution but a source routing solution.

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Not So Fast Ansible, Cisco IOS Can’t Keep Up…

Remember how earlier releases of Nexus-OS started dropping configuration commands if you were typing them too quickly (and how it was declared a feature ;)?

Mark Fergusson had a similar experience on Cisco IOS. All he wanted to do was to use Ansible to configure a VRF, an interface in the VRF, and OSPF routing process on Cisco CSR 1000v running software release 15.5(3).

Here’s what he was trying to deploy. Looks like a configuration straight out of an MPLS book, right?

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Last Week on ipSpace.net (2019W4)

The crazy pace of webinar sessions continued last week. Howard Marks continued his deep dive into Hyper-Converged Infrastructure, this time focusing on go-to-market strategies, failure resiliency with replicas and local RAID, and the eternal debate (if you happen to be working for a certain $vendor) whether it’s better to run your HCI code in a VM and not in hypervisor kernel like your competitor does. He concluded with the description of what major players (VMware VSAN, Nutanix and HPE Simplivity) do.

On Thursday I started my Ansible 2.7 Updates saga, describing how network_cli plugin works, how they implemented generic CLI modules, how to use SSH keys or usernames and passwords for authentication (and how to make them secure), and how to execute commands on network devices (including an introduction into the gory details of parsing text outputs, JSON or XML).

The last thing I managed to cover was the cli_command module and how you can use it to execute any command on a network device… and then I ran out of time. We’ll continue with sample playbooks and network device configurations on February 12th.

You can get access to both webinars with Standard ipSpace.net subscription.

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More on Leaky Abstractions

When I was writing the Back to Basics blog post I reread the Law of Leaky Abstractions masterpiece. You’ll love it – the first example Joel uses is TCP.

However, what really caught my eye was this bit:

The law of leaky abstractions means that whenever somebody comes up with a wizzy new code-generation tool that is supposed to make us all ever-so-efficient, you hear a lot of people saying “learn how to do it manually first, then use the wizzy tool to save time.”

You should apply the same wisdom to shiny new gizmos launched by network virtualization vendors… oh wait, you can’t, they are mostly undocumented black boxes. Good luck ;)

Sadly, the Law of Leaky Abstractions blog post was written in 2002… and nothing changed in the meantime, at least not for the better.

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Overview of Network Automation Mechanisms

I know many networking engineers who went into networking because they didn’t want to write code the rest of their lives. I also know a few awesome engineers who decided to keep coding while designing networks.

Andrea Dainese (author of UNetLab – the tool you might know as EVE-NG) is one of the latter and practiced network automation for years, dealing with all sorts of crappy device configuration and monitoring mechanisms, from screen- and web scraping to broken REST APIs.

He decided to write a series of articles describing individual mechanisms, starting with an overview and zero-touch provisioning.

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Q-in-Q Support in Multi-Site EVPN

One of my subscribers sent me a question along these lines (heavily abridged):

My customer is running a colocation business, and has to provide L2 connectivity between racks, sometimes even across multiple data centers. They were using Q-in-Q to deliver that in a traditional fabric, and would like to replace that with multi-site EVPN fabric with ~100 ToR switches in each data center. However, Cisco doesn’t support Q-in-Q with multi-site EVPN. Any ideas?

As Lukas Krattiger explained in his part of Multi-Site Leaf-and-Spine Fabrics section of Leaf-and-Spine Fabric Architectures webinar, multi-site EVPN (VXLAN-to-VXLAN bridging) is hard. Don’t expect miracles like Q-in-Q over VNI any time soon ;)

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Network Reliability Engineering on Software Gone Wild

In summer 2018 Juniper started talking about another forward-looking concept: Network Reliability Engineering. We wanted to find out whether that’s another unicorn driving DeLorean with flux capacitors or something more tangible, so we invited Matt Oswalt, the author of Network Reliability Engineer’s Manifesto to talk about it in Episode 97 of Software Gone Wild.

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Continuous Integration in Network Automation

In the first part of his interview with Christoph Jaggi Kristian Larsson talked about the basics of CI testing. Now let’s see how you can use these concepts in network automation (and you’ll learn way more in Kristian’s talk on April 9th… if you register for our network automation course).

How does CI testing fit into an overall testing environment?

Traditionally, in particular in the networking industry, it's been rather common to have proof of concepts (POC) delivered by vendors for various networking technologies and then people have sat down and manually tested that the POC meets some set of requirements.

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Five Stages of Automation Grief

As I’m doing occasional consulting for large enterprises redesigning their data centers, I encounter a wide range of network automation readiness, from “we don’t need that” to “how could we automate as much as possible”.

Based on the pervasiveness of “we don’t need that” responses it looks like many enterprise network engineers still have to go through the five stages of automation grief.

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To Centralize or not to Centralize, That’s the Question

One of the attendees of the Building Next-Generation Data Center online course solved the build small data center fabric challenge with Virtual Chassis Fabric (VCF). I pointed out that I would prefer not to use VCF as it uses centralized control plane and is thus a single failure domain.

In case you’re interested in data center fabric architecture options, check out this section in the Data Center Fabric Architectures webinar.

Here are his arguments for using VCF:

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BGP as High Availability Protocol

Every now and then someone tells me I should write more about the basic networking concepts like I did years ago when I started blogging. I’m probably too old (and too grumpy) for that, but fortunately I’m no longer on my own.

Over the years ipSpace.net slowly grew into a small community of networking experts, and we got to a point where you’ll see regular blog posts from other community members, starting with Using BGP as High-Availability protocol written by Nicola Modena, member of ExpertExpress team.

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What Is Continuous Integration?

In spring 2019 Building Network Automation Solutions course we’ll have Kristian Larsson diving into continuous integration and his virtual networking lab product (you might want to listen to the Software Gone Wild episode we did with him to get a taste of what he’ll be talking about). Christoph Jaggi did a short interview with him starting with the obvious question:

What is CI testing and how does it differ from other testing methods?

CI is short for Continuous Integration and refers to a way of developing software where changes written by individual developers are frequently (or "continuously") integrated together into a master branch/trunk, thus continuous integration.

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Firewall Ruleset Automation with CI Pipeline

One of my readers sent me a description of their automation system that manages firewall rulesets on Fortigate firewalls using NAPALM to manage device configurations.

In his own words:

We are now managing thousands of address objects, services and firewall policies using David Barroso’s FortiOS Napalm module. This works very well and with a few caveats (such as finding a way to enforce the ordering of firewall policies) we are able to manage all the configuration of our firewalls from a single Ansible playbook.

The did the right thing and implemented an abstracted data model using GitOps to manage it:

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Webinars Plans for 2019

You might have noticed that our Winter 2019 webinar schedule got crazily busy with seven live sessions in the first two months of the year (another first)… but that’s not all, there are two more live sessions that we haven’t announced yet as we always schedule a single live session of a particular webinar.

Wondering what’s coming during the rest of 2019? Starting with committed ideas:

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SD-WAN Reality Gap

Here’s some feedback I got from a subscriber who got pulled into an SD-WAN project:

I realized (thanks to you) that it’s really important to understand the basics of how things work. It helped me for example at my work when my boss came with the idea “we’ll start selling SD-WAN and this is the customer wish list”. Looked like business-as-usual until I realized I’ve never seen so big a difference between reality, customer wishes and what was promised to customer by sales guys I never met. And the networking engineers are supposed to save the day afterwards…

How did your first SD-WAN deployment go? Please write a comment!

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Network Automation Is More than Just Ansible

One of the attendees of my Building Network Automation Solutions online course sent me this suggestion:

Stick to JUST Ansible - no GitHub, Vagrant, Docker or even Python - all of which come with their own significant learning curves.

While I understand how overwhelming the full-blown network automation landscape is to someone who never touched programming, you have to make a hard choice when you decide to start the learning process: do you want to master a single tool, or understand a whole new technology area and be able to select the best tool for the job on as-needed basis.

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Large Layer-2 Domains Strike Again…

I started January 2018 blogging with a major service provider failure. Why should 2019 be any different? Here’s what Century Link claimed was causing two-day outage (more comments here).

Supposedly it was a problem with the management network used by their optical gear, but it looks a lot like a layer-2 network spanning 15 data centers and no control-plane policing on the managed devices… proving yet again that large-scale layer-2 networks are a really bad idea.

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