Building network automation solutions

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Category: automation

netsim-tools: VLANs, Hardware Labs, VRF Loopbacks

Here’s a short list of major goodies included in netsim-tools release 1.2.2:

More details in the release notes.

To upgrade netsim-tools, use pip3 install --upgrade netsim-tools; if you’re starting from scratch, read the installation instructions.

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Configure Hardware Labs with netsim-tools

netsim-tools 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 netsim-tools to configure IPv4, IPv6, VLANs, VRFs, LLDP, BFD, OSPFv2, OSPFv3, EIGRP, IS-IS, BGP, MPLS, BGP-LU, L3VPN (VPNv4 + VPNv6), SR-MPLS, or SRv6 on supported hardware devices.

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Multi-Platform Custom Configuration Templates in netsim-tools

In the Building a BGP Anycast Lab I described how you could use custom configuration templates to extend the functionality of netsim-tools.

That example used Cisco IOS… but what if you want to test the same functionality on multiple platforms? netsim-tools provides a nice trick: the custom configuration template could point to a directory with platform-specific templates. Let me show you how that works…

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netsim-tools Release 1.2.1: More MPLS and VRFs, Dell OS10, Cumulus 5.0 on Containerlab

I already mentioned the netsim-tools Easter Egg, here are the other cool features shipping in release 1.2.1:

To upgrade netsim-tools, use pip3 install --upgrade netsim-tools; if you’re starting from scratch, read the installation instructions.

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Network Digital Twins Work Best in PowerPoint

A friend of mine sent me the following question a few months ago:

I thought you might know the best way (currently) to create a digital clone of parts of a production network? The objective is to test changes against a test network as part of a CI/CD process. Ideally, there would be an automation that could replicate selected parts of a production network in a test network.

TL&DR: Sounds great, but you might be solving the wrong problem.

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Everything Is Better with a GUI (even netsim-tools)

Some people think that everything is better with Bluetooth. They’re clearly wrong; according to the ancient wisdom of product managers working for networking vendors, everything is better with a GUI.

Now imagine adding network topology visualizer and GUI-based device access with in-browser SSH to an intent-based infrastructure-as-code virtual network function labbing tool. How’s that for a Bullshit Bingo winner1?

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Worth Reading: Full-Stack Network Automation

Lívio Zanol Puppim published a series of blog posts describing a full-stack network automation, including GitOps with GitLab, handling secrets with Hashicorp Vault, using Ansible and AWX to run automation scripts, continuous integration with Gitlab CI Runner, and topped it off with a REST API and React-based user interface.

You might not want to use the exact same components, but it’s probably worthwhile going through his solution and explore the source code. He’s also looking for any comments or feedback you might have on how to improve what he did.

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Automating NSX-T Deployments

Nicholas Michel open-sourced an automation solution (video) that deploys the whole NSX-T infrastructure stack including:

  • NSX-T manager virtual machines
  • NSX-T uplink profiles and IP pools
  • Transport zones and transport nodes (NSX-T modules on ESXi hypervisors)
  • Edge clusters including BGP, EVPN and BFD

Once the infrastructure is set up, his solution uses a Terraform configuration file to deploy multiple tenants: external VLANs, tier-0 gateways, BGP neighbors, tier-1 gateways, and application segments.

While the infrastructure part of his solution might be fully reusable, the tenant deployments definitely aren’t, but they provide a great starting point if you decide to build a fully automated provisioning system.

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netsim-tools Release 1.1.4

netsim-tools release 1.1.4 includes a number of seemingly unrelated goodies; here’s the the reasoning (or story) behind some of them:

netlab clab tarball creates a tar package that can be deployed with containerlab without netsim-tools

Julio Perez wanted to create ready-to-use labs running Arista cEOS on containerlab. Requiring the users of his labs to deploy netsim-tools and Ansible just to configure the lab devices is a clear overkill considering the startup-config support in containerlab. What he needed was:

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Feedback: Ansible for Networking Engineers

One of ipSpace.net subscribers sent me the following feedback on Ansible for Networking Engineers webinar:

The “Ansible for Network Engineers” webinar is of the highest caliber. I’ve taken Ansible courses with your CCIE peers, and though they are good, I objectively feel, that I get more of a total comprehensive understanding with network automation here at ipSpace. Also, I enjoy your professional care-free tone, and how you pepper humor into the subject matter.

I’ve setup a virtual lab with Ubuntu 18.04 LTS server, and am using both Aruba and Cisco switches/routers. Ansible has lots of nuances that will take me time to fully get a grip-on– but, that’s why I subscribe with the network pros like ipSpace.

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netsim-tools Release 1.1.3

netsim-tools release 1.1.3 brings a number of goodies, including:

If you’re building your own libvirt boxes, you might also appreciate:

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Contribute to netsim-tools: OSPFv3

Every other blue moon I get a question along the lines of “how could I contribute to netsim-tools”. The process is pretty streamlined and reasonably (I hope) documented in Contributor Guidelines; if you want to get started with an easy task, try implementing OSPFv3 for one of almost a dozen devices (vSRX implementation by Stefano Sasso is a picture-perfect example):

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Running a Ubuntu VM on a Mac M1

If you’re brand-new to Python and Ansible, you might be a bit reluctant to install a bunch of packages and Ansible collections on your production laptop to start building your automation skills. The usual recommendation I make to get past that hurdle is to create a Ubuntu virtual machine that can be destroyed every time to mess it up.

Creating a virtual machine is trivial on Linux and MacOS with Intel CPU (install VirtualBox and Vagrant). The same toolset no longer works on newer Macs with M1 CPU (VMware Fusion is in tech preview, so we’re getting there), but there’s an amazingly simple alternative: Multipass by Canonical.

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New netsim-tools Installation Instructions

A long-time subscriber with a knack for telling me precisely why something I’m doing sucks big time sent me his opinion on netsim-tools installation instructions:

I do not want to say it is impossible to follow your instruction but I wonder why the process is not clearly defined for someone not deeply involved in such tasks with full understanding of why to install from github, etc..

Many guys do not know if they want to use libvirt. They want to use the tool simple way without studying upfront what the libvirt is - but they see libvirt WARNING - should we install libvirt then or skip the installation?. But stop, this step of libvirt installation is obligatory in the 2nd Ubuntu section. So why the libvirt warning earlier?

I believe we should start really quickly to enjoy the tool before we reject it for “complexity”. Time To Play matters. Otherwise you are tired trying to understand the process before you check if this tool is right for you.

He was absolutely right – it was time to overhaul the “organically grown” installation instructions and make them goal-focused and structured. For those of you who want to see the big picture first, I also added numerous (hopefully helpful) diagrams. The new documentation is already online, and I’d love to hear your feedback. Thank you!

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