Building network automation solutions

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Building a Multi-Vendor Automation Platform

One of the attendees in our Building Network Automation Solutions online course sent me this question:

While building an automation tool using Python for CLI provisioning, is it a good idea to use SDK provided by device vendor, or use simple SSH libraries Netmiko/Paramiko and build all features (like rollback-on-failure, or error handling, or bulk provisioning) yourself.

The golden rule of software development should be “don’t reinvent the wheel”… but then maybe you need tracks to navigate in the mud and all you can get are racing slicks, and it might not make sense to try to force-fit them into your use case, so we’re back to “it depends”.

In this particular case, the target was a multi-vendor automation platform:

I want to support Cisco, Juniper, and Alcatel routers… and build a REST wrapper around my automation.

Based on these goals, one would have to:

  • Define the operations the platform provides through REST API (example: deploy configuration, deploy OSPF routing, validate topology…);
  • Define REST API calls to perform those operations.
  • Implement the same operations for multiple platforms.

Now let’s focusing on the last bullet, and the potential gotchas we’d have to deal with:

  • Rollback-on-error
  • Recovery from botched configuration deployment
  • Handling configuration errors
I wrote about some of these aspects in a previous blog post.

Faced with a wide variety of target platforms, it’s almost impossible to get SDK toolkits that would implement all the required functionality. For example, it’s easy to implement rollback-on-error on Junos using its commit/rollback configuration mechanism, and a lot harder to do it in Cisco IOS.

Fortunately, someone has solved the multi-vendor configuration management challenges, and it would be a waste not to look at whether NAPALM (or NetPalm if you want to have REST API) could provide at least some of the required functionality, potentially at a lower level of abstraction. For example, while NAPALM provides configuration management (merge, replace, rollback), it does not provide configuration generation based on a universal data model… but then maybe you need ntc-rosetta.

As always it comes down to knowing your tools:

  • Figure out what problem you’re trying to solve;
  • Break that problem into smaller components;
  • Explore the existing tools… it’s rare that you’re the first one trying to solve a particular problem;
  • Find out whether the existing solutions fit your needs, and adjust your needs if needed;
  • At the very least, explore the existing solutions to figure out how they got the job done. For example, the developers of NAPALM spent years dealing with real-life production challenges, and it would be a total waste to ignore that accumulated knowledge.

Oh, and the more tools you’re familiar with, the better your tool selection process might be. I’m trying to keep a list of network automation tools on our web site (additions welcome), and we covered almost a dozen of them in the Building Network Automation Solutions online course.


  1. Unimus - addition to the automation tools list.

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