Building network automation solutions

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Category: automation

Mikrotik RouterOS and VyOS Added to netsim-tools

Stefano Sasso took my “Don’t complain, submit a PR” advice seriously and did a wonderful job adding support for Mikrotik RouterOS and VyOS to netsim-tools, increasing the number of supported platforms to twelve. His additions are available in release 1.0.2 which also includes:

Interested? Start with tutorials and installation guide which includes lab building instructions.

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Git as a Source of Truth for Network Automation

In Git as a source of truth for network automation, Vincent Bernat explained why they decided to use Git-managed YAML files as the source of truth in their network automation project instead of relying on a database-backed GUI/API product like NetBox.

Their decision process was pretty close to what I explained in Data Stores and Source of Truth parts of Network Automation Concepts webinar: you need change logging, auditing, reviews, and all-or-nothing transactions, and most IPAM/CMDB products have none of those.

On a more positive side, NetBox (and its fork, Nautobot) has change logging (HT: Leo Kirchner) and things are getting much better with Nautobot Version Control plugin. Stay tuned ;)

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Custom Groups and Deployment Templates in netsim-tools

Using custom templates to test IP anycast with MPLS was fun, but as I got into interesting discussions focusing on convoluted details, I found myself going through the same set of steps too many times.

It started with the need to specify individual devices in netlab config command to create new loopback interfaces on anycast servers but not on any other device in the lab. Wouldn’t it be nice to have a group of devices (similar to Ansible groups) that one could use in the limit parameter of netlab config?

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Managing Hierarchical Device Configurations

Parsing and modifying IOS-like hierarchical device configurations is an interesting challenge, more so if you have no idea what the configuration commands mean or whether their order is relevant (I’m looking at you, Ansible ;).

Network to Code team decided to solve that problem for good, open-sourced Hierarchical Configuration Python library, and published a getting started article on their blog.

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Even Simple Data Models Are a Huge Win

Dan Augustine sent me a wonderful example illustrating how even a very simple data model together with some automation templates can simplify a large-scale deployment.

We have a 100 router installation coming up for our schools and both of our installation vendors do not use open source templating tools and they are not willing to share.

Having taken the Data Models in Network Automation part of your Network Automation Concepts webinar, I decided to install GitLab, make an Ansible project and invite our installation partners to the project.

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netsim-tools Release 1.0

It looks like netsim-tools reached a somewhat stable state, so it was time to do a cleanup and publish release 1.0 (also available on PyPi, use pip3 install –upgrade netsim-tools to fetch it).

During the cleanup, I removed all references to the obsolete scripts, leaving only the netlab command. I also found an old bash script that enabled LLDP passthrough on Linux bridges and made it part of netlab up process; your libvirt-based labs will have LLDP enabled by default.

Interested? Install the tools and follow the tutorials to get started.

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Nonlinear Effects of Optimization-Induced Complexity

We have school holidays this week, so I’m reposting wonderful comments that would otherwise be lost somewhere in the page margins. Today: Minh Ha on recent Facebook failure and overly complex systems (slightly edited).

I incidentally commented on your NSF post some 3 weeks before […the Facebook outage…] happened, on the unpredictable nature of nonlinear effects resulting from optimization-induced complexity. Their outage just drives home the point that optimization is a dumb process and leads to combinations of circular dependency that no one can account for and test.

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Worth Reading: Network Validation Evolution at Hostinger

Network validation is becoming another overhyped buzzword with many opinionated pundits talking about it and few environments using it in practice (why am I not surprised?)

As always, there are exceptions. They don’t have to be members of the FAANG club, and some of them get the job done with open-source tools regardless of what vendor marketers would like you to believe. For example, Donatas Abraitis described how the Hostinger networking team gradually implemented network validation using Cumulus VX, Vagrant, SuzieQ, PyTest and Test Kitchen. Enjoy!

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netsim-tools: Start a Virtual Lab with a Single Command

In mid-October I finally found time to add the icing to the netsim-tools cake: netlab up command takes a lab topology and does everything needed to have a running virtual lab:

  • Create Vagrantfile or containerlab topology file
  • Create Ansible inventory
  • Start the lab with vagrant up or containerlab deploy
  • Deploy device configurations, from LLDP and interface addressing to routing protocols and Segment Routing
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OMG: Democratizing Network Automation

I totally understand that entities relying on sponsors have to become creative while promoting whatever theirs sponsors want to sell, but in my opinion this is a bridge too far:

[…] explore how Gluware aims to democratize automation; that is, get you quick wins around common tasks such as configuration changes and OS updates.

Democratizing automation? Because it’s authoritarian now? By providing the abilities like configuration changes and OS updates that have been available in network management tools like CiscoWorks or SolarWinds for ages?

You know what’s really hard when automating existing networks? Figuring out how to simplify them to the point where it makes sense to automate them. Will any shrink-wrapped GUI product solve that? Of course not.

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netsim-tools: Network Topology Graphs

Someone using my netsim-tools sent me an intriguing question: “Would it be possible to get network topology graphs out of the tool?

Please note that we’re talking about creating graphs out of network topology described as a YAML data structure, not a generic GUI or draw my network tool. If you’re a GUI person, this is not what you’re looking for.

I did something similar a long while ago for a simple network automation project (and numerous networking engineers built really interesting stuff while attending the Building Network Automation Solutions course), so it seemed like a no-brainer. As always, things aren’t as easy as they look.

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Configuring NSX-T Firewall with a CI/CD Pipeline

Initial implementation of Noël Boulene’s automated provisioning of NSX-T distributed firewall rules changed NSX-T firewall configuration based on Terraform configuration files. To make the deployment fully automated he went a step further and added a full-blown CI/CD pipeline using GitHub Actions and Terraform Cloud.

Not everyone is as lucky as Noël – developers in his organization already use GitHub and Terraform Cloud, making his choices totally frictionless.

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netsim-tools: Overview

In December 2020, I got sick-and-tired of handcrafting Vagrantfiles and decided to write a tool that would, given a target networking lab topology in a text file, produce the corresponding Vagrantfile for my favorite environment (libvirt on Ubuntu). Nine months later, that idea turned into a pretty comprehensive tool targeting networking engineers who like to work with CLI and text-based configuration files. If you happen to be of the GUI/mouse persuasion, please stop reading; this tool is not for you.

During those nine months, I slowly addressed most of the challenges I always had creating networking labs. Here’s how I would typically approach testing a novel technology or software feature:

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