Building network automation solutions

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Category: automation

Starting Network Automation for Non-Programmers

The reader asking about infrastructure-as-code in public cloud deployments also wondered whether he has any chance at mastering on-premises network automation due to lack of programming skills.

I am starting to get concerned about not knowing automation, IaC, or any programming language. I didn’t go to college, like a lot of my peers did, and they have some background in programming.

First of all, thanks a million to everyone needs to become a programmer hipsters for thoroughly confusing people. Now for a tiny bit of reality.

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Netsim-tools Release 0.5 Work with Containerlab

TL&DR: If you happen to like working with containers, you could use netsim-tools release 0.5 to provision your container-based Arista EOS labs.

Why does it matter? Lab setup is blindingly fast, and it’s easier to integrate your network devices with other containers, not to mention the crazy idea of running your network automation CI pipeline on Gitlab CPU cycles. Also, you could use the same netsim-tools topology file and provisioning scripts to set up container-based or VM-based lab.

What is containerlab? A cool project that builds realistic virtual network topologies with containers. More details…

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Must Read: Automate Nexus-OS Fabric Deployment

Some networking engineers breeze through our Network Automation online course, others disappear after a while… and a few of those come back years later with a spectacular production-grade solution.

Stephen Harding is one of those. He attended the automation course in spring 2019 and I haven’t heard from him in almost two years… until he submitted one of the most mature data center fabric automation solutions I’ve seen.

Not only that, he documented the solution in a long series of must-read blog posts. Hope you’ll find them useful; I liked them so much I immediately saved them to Internet Archive (just in case).

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Start Automating Public Cloud Deployments with Infrastructure-as-Code

One of my readers sent me a series of “how do I get started with…” questions including:

I’ve been doing networking and security for 5 years, and now I am responsible for our cloud infrastructure. Anything to do with networking and security in the cloud is my responsibility along with another team member. It is all good experience but I am starting to get concerned about not knowing automation, IaC, or any programming language.

No need to worry about that, what you need (to start with) is extremely simple and easy-to-master. Infrastructure-as-Code is a simple concept: infrastructure configuration is defined in machine-readable format (mostly text files these days) and used by a remediation tool like Terraform that compares the actual state of the deployed infrastructure with the desired state as defined in the configuration files, and makes changes to the actual state to bring it in line with how it should look like.

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Free Exercise: Build Network Automation Lab

A while ago, someone made a remark on my suggestions that networking engineers should focus on getting fluent with cloud networking and automation:

The running thing is, we can all learn this stuff, but not without having an opportunity.

I tend to forcefully disagree with that assertion. What opportunity do you need to test open-source tools or create a free cloud account? My response was thus correspondingly gruff:

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Building Unnumbered Ethernet Lab with netsim-tools

Last week I described the new features added to netsim-tools release 0.4, including support for unnumbered interfaces and OSPF routing. Now let’s see how I used them to build a multi-vendor lab to test which platforms could be made to interoperate when running OSPF over unnumbered Ethernet interfaces.

I needed to define an unnumbered addressing pool first:

addressing:
  core:
    unnumbered: true

I wanted to run OSPF on all devices in the lab:

module: [ ospf ]
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Intermittent Terraform Authentication Failure Using AWS Provider in a Vagrant VM

TL&DR: Client clock skew could result in AWS authentication failure when running terraform apply

When I wanted to compare AWS and Azure orchestration speeds I encountered a crazy Terraform error message when running terraform apply:

module.network.aws_vpc.My_VPC: Creating...

Error: Error creating VPC: AuthFailure: 
AWS was not able to validate the provided access credentials
	status code: 401, request id: ...

Obviously I did all the usual stuff before googling for a solution:

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netsim-tools: Release 0.4 Is Out

TL&DR: The new release of netsim-tools includes unnumbered interfaces, configuration modules, and OSPF configuration.

In mid-March, we enjoyed another excellent presentation by Dinesh Dutt, this time focused on running OSPF in leaf-and-spine fabrics. He astonished me when he mentioned unnumbered Ethernet interfaces being available on all major network operating systems. It was time to test things out, and I wanted to use my networking simulation builder to build the test lab.

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Interview: Will AI Replace the Networking Engineers?

In the second half of my chat with David Bombal we focused on automation and AI in networking. Even though we discussed many things, including the dangers of doing a repeatable job, and how to make yourself unique, David chose a nice click-bait headline Will AI Replace the Networking Engineers?. According to Betteridge’s law of headlines the answer is still NO, but it’s obvious AI will replace the low-level easy-to-automate jobs (as textile workers found out almost 200 years ago).

While pondering that statement, keep in mind that AI is more than just machine learning (the overhyped stuff). According to one loose definition, “Artificial intelligence (AI) refers to the simulation of human intelligence in machines that are programmed to think like humans and mimic their actions

Full disclosure: the web site with this definition had and ad for Lego Friends set next to it, making it extra-trusty. I couldn’t find a similarly oversimplified definition on Wikipedia… probably for a good reason.
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Using YAML Instead of Excel in Network Automation Solutions

One of the attendees of our network automation course asked a question along these lines:

In a previous Ansible-based project I used Excel sheet to contain all relevant customer data. I converted this spreadsheet using python (xls_to_fact) and pushed the configurations to network devices accordingly. I know some people use YAML to define the variables in Git. What would be the advantages of doing that over Excel/xsl_to_fact?

Whenever you’re choosing a data store for your network automation solution you have to consider a number of aspects including:

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Interesting Tool: Schema Enforcer

It looks like JSON Schema is the new black. Last week I wrote about a new Ansible module using JSON Schema to validate data structures passed to it; a few weeks ago NetworkToCode released Schema Enforcer, a similar CLI tool (which means it’s easy to use it in any CI/CD pipeline).

Wondering why schema validation matters? Start here. See also: GIGO.

Here are just a few things Schema Enforcer can do:

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New Ansible Data Validation Module(s)

A few months ago I described how you could use JSON Schema to validate your automation data models, host/group variable files, or even Ansible inventory file.

I had to use a weird toolchain to get it done – either ansible-inventory to build a complete data model from various inventory sources, or yq to convert YAML to JSON… and just for the giggles jsonschema CLI command requires the JSON input to reside in a file, so you have to use a temporary file to get the job done.

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