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Configure Hardware Labs with netlab

netlab started as a simple tool to create virtual lab topologies (I hated creating Vagrantfiles describing complex topologies), but when it morphed into an ever-growing “configure all the boring stuff in your lab from a high-level description” thingie, it gave creative networking engineers an interesting idea: could we use this tool to do all the stuff we always hated doing in our physical labs?

My answer was always “of course, please feel free to submit a PR”, and Stefano Sasso did just that: he implemented external orchestration provider that allows you to use netlab to configure IPv4, IPv6, VLANs, VRFs, VXLAN, LLDP, BFD, OSPFv2, OSPFv3, EIGRP, IS-IS, BGP, MPLS, BGP-LU, L3VPN (VPNv4 + VPNv6), EVPN, SR-MPLS, or SRv6 on supported hardware devices.

All you need to do to get that giant bag of goodies is to install netlab and Ansible, and describe the topology (devices and links) of your hardware lab.

Start with the devices:

  • For every device in your lab, add a node to the nodes dictionary in your lab topology file.
  • Use device attribute to set the device type.
  • Set mgmt.ipv4 or mgmt.ipv6 to the management IP address. netlab assumes you’re using out-of-band management interfaces, preferably in a separate VRF.
  • To make your life easier, use the netlab default login credentials1 on your hardware devices. If you can’t do that, set corresponding Ansible inventory variables (ansible_user, ansible_ssh_pass and ansible_become_password) in the node definition.

Example:

nodes:
  leaf_1:
    device: eos
    mgmt.ipv4: 10.42.42.1
    ansible_ssh_pass: SomethingElse

Next, describe the links between your hardware devices. For every link, add an entry to the links list. Use the ifname parameter on individual node-to-link connections to specify the actual interface name, for example:

links:
- leaf_1:
    ifname: Ethernet1/3
  spine_1:
    ifname: Ethernet2/1

Finally, don’t forget to specify you’re using the external provider:

provider: external

And that’s it. Execute netlab up and you’ll get default IP addressing configured in your hardware lab.

Next step(s): explore a dozen configuration modules to prepare your lab for whatever tests you’d like to perform.

Experiencing problems? We have a channel in NetworkToCode Slack team, and if you’re pretty sure you’re dealing with a bug, please open a GitHub issue.

Last but not least: wouldn’t it be great to have a tool that would collect operational device data (software version, LLDP neighbors, interface state) from your hardware lab and create the lab topology for you? Why don’t you create something along these lines and submit a PR?


  1. Username vagrant, password vagrant on most devices. Junos is a bit picky, so we had to use Vagrant as the password. Use admin/admin on Fortinet, Nokia SR Linux, Nokia SR OS, and Mikrotik RouterOS. ↩︎

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