Category: automation

Worth Exploring: Infrahub by Opsmill

A year or two after Damien Garros told me that “he moved to France and is working on something new” we can admire the results: Infrahub, a version-control-based system that includes a data store and a repository of all source code you use in your network automation environment. Or, straight from the GitHub repository,

A central hub to manage the data, templates and playbooks that powers your infrastructure by combining the version control and branch management capabilities of Git with the flexible data model and UI of a graph database.

I’ve seen an early demo, and it looks highly promising and absolutely worth exploring. Have fun ;)

Fun fact: the OpsMill team includes two guest speakers in the automation course and a netlab contributor.
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Testing Device Configuration Templates

Many network automation solutions generate device configurations from a data model and deploy those configurations. Last week, we focused on “how do we know the device data model is correct?” This time, we’ll take a step further and ask ourselves, “how do we know the device configurations work as expected?

There are four (increasingly complex) questions our tests should answer:

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Testing Network Automation Data Transformation

Every complex enough network automation solution has to introduce a high-level (user-manageable) data model that is eventually transformed into a low-level (device) data model.

High-level overview of the process

High-level overview of the process

The transformation code (business logic) is one of the most complex pieces of a network automation solution, and there’s only one way to ensure it works properly: you test the heck out of it ;) Let me show you how we solved that challenge in netlab.

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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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