Category: automation

Video: Intro to Real Life Network Automation

Urs Baumann invited me to have a guest lecture in his network automation course, and so I had the privilege of being in lovely Rapperswil last week, talking about the basics of real-life network automation.

Urs published the video recording of the presentation on YouTube; hope you’ll like it, and if you don’t get too annoyed by the overly pushy ads, watch the other videos from his infrastructure-as-code course.

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Implementing 'Undo' Functionality in Network Automation

Kurt Wauters sent me an interesting challenge: how do we do rollbacks based on customer requests? Here’s a typical scenario:

You might have deployed a change that works perfectly fine from a network perspective but broke a customer application (for example, due to undocumented usage), so you must be able to return to the previous state even if everything works. Everybody says you need to “roll forward” (improve your change so it works), but you don’t always have that luxury and might need to take a step back. So, change tracking is essential.

He’s right: the undo functionality we take for granted in consumer software (for example, Microsoft Word) has totally spoiled us.

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Response: Vendor Network Automation Tools

Drew Conry-Murray published a excellent summary of his takeaways from the AutoCon0 event, including this one:

Most companies want vendor-supported tools that will actually help them be more efficient, reduce human error, and increase the velocity at which the network team can support new apps and services.

Yeah, that’s nothing new. Most Service Providers wanted vendors to add tons of nerd knobs to their products to adapt them to existing network designs. Obviously, it must be done for free because a vast purchase order1 is dangling in the air. We’ve seen how well that worked, yet learned nothing from that experience.

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Measuring Virtual Network Device Boot Times

A senior engineer at Juniper Networks wasn’t happy with me mentioning resource hogs and Junos platforms in the same statement. Instead of engaging in never-ending angels dancing on pins deliberations comparing the virtues of Junos with other network operating systems, I decided to throw a bit of real-life data into the mix – I created a simple script that measures:

  • The time it takes to execute vagrant up to start a single network device.
  • The time it takes to deploy simple initial configuration on that device.
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Some Operations Are Not Worth Automating

Ish wrote an interesting comment on my Network Automation Expert Beginners blog post. He started with:

[Our network has] about 40 sites, but we don’t do total refresh cycles in bulk, just as needed. Everything we do is sporadic, and I’m trying to see the ROI on learning automation for things that are done once in a while that don’t take much time to do manually anyway.

There are two aspects to this part of his comment:

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Response: Complexities of Network Automation

David Gee couldn’t resist making a few choice comments after I asked for his opinion of an early draft of the Network Automation Expert Beginners blog post, and allowed me to share them with you. Enjoy 😉

Network automation offers promises of reliability and efficiency, but it came without a warning label and health warnings. We seem to be perpetually stuck in a window display with sexily dressed mannequins.

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Response: Network Automation Expert Beginners

I usually post links to my blog posts to LinkedIn, and often get extraordinary comments. Unfortunately, those comments usually get lost in the mists of social media fog after a few weeks, so I’m trying to save them by reposting them as blog posts (always with original author’s permission). Here’s a comment David Sun left on my Network Automation Expert Beginners blog post

The most successful automation I’ve seen comes from orgs who start with proper software requirements specifications and more importantly, the proper organizational/leadership backing to document and support said infrastructure automation tooling.

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Worth Reading: Do We Need Network Automation

A long, long time ago, Mircea Ulinic (the author of Salt networking modules) wrote a long and thoughtful blog post on whether we need network automation (TL&DR spoiler: yes).

After reading the article, you might want to listen to the Salt and SaltStack podcast we did with Mircea a long while ago, and watch his presentation in Building Network Automation Solutions online course (also accessible with Expert Subscription).

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Network Automation Expert Beginners

Some network automation skeptics came to that place the hard way: they got burned by half-baked semi-tested systems. This is what one of my good friends had to say in a LinkedIn comment:

I am suspicious of automation, as I’ve unfortunately seen too many outages caused by either human error or faulty automation. Every time it required human CLI/GUI intervention to correct it. The problem is that the more automation we push, the fewer people know how to use the “old school” way to administer stuff.

Network automation is not the only IT discipline that could cause hard-to-correct errors requiring manual intervention. I’m positive everyone knows at least one horror story resulting in manual tweaking of the Windows registry, or a sequence of arcane SQL commands1.

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Worth Reading: NetOps Requires AI/ML and Rules

Here’s some common-sense view on hard-coded rules versus machine learning in network operations by Mark Seery – quite often we can specify our response to an event as a simple set of rules, but if we want to identify deviation from “normal” behavior, machine learning might not be a bad idea.

For more details, watch the Event-Driven Network Automation part of Building Network Automation Solutions online course.

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Arista EOS Configuration Automation

I keep getting questions along the lines of “is network automation practical/a reality?” with arguments like:

Many do not see a value and are OK with just a configuration manager such as Arista CVP (CloudVision Portal) and Cisco DNA.

Configuration consistently is a huge win regardless of how you implement it (it’s perfectly fine if the tools your vendor providers work for you). It prevents opportunistic consistency, as Antti Ristimäki succinctly explained:

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