|By Michael Bushong||
|May 14, 2014 09:00 AM EDT||
For many SDN and DevOps enthusiasts, the natural outcome of this wave of technological change is a highly-automated network that is well-orchestrated with surrounding systems and applications. One of the prevailing thoughts is that this level of automation is a well-formed abstraction layer. With the abstractions in place, the army of network engineers will be unencumbered by device configuration, and automation will ensure.
Or will it?
First off, let me say that abstraction is absolutely necessary. There is no doubt that networking will only advance if we can both remove unnecessary elements and simplify those that remain. We have to accomplish this in a way that is vendor (and ideally technology) agnostic. Abstraction is clearly the path forward.
But will abstraction necessarily lead to automation?
For the vast majority of network engineers who are designing and actively managing networks today, automation means writing shell or Perl scripts. The scripts themselves qualify as automation insofar as they remove keystrokes, but they basically execute the same serial logic that has dominated networking devices for decades.
When you want to make a switch or a router do something, you specify some configuration. Then you specify some other configuration. And again and again until you get through the litany of parameters that collectively make the device work. This workflow is so ingrained in our collective psyche that we inherently serialize the tasks required to make the network work.
There have actually been companies that have done a decent job of breaking the habit of serialized configuration. Juniper’s flagship operating system Junos moved to a more code-like representation of configuration, making no assumptions about the ordering of specific tasks. But our training runs deep, and even the Juniper guys will tell you that the biggest barrier to entry is familiarity with the UI.
We are addicted to our serialized behavior.
One of the side effects of highly-serialized configuration is that we tend to think extremely linearly and transactionally. There are a lot of network engineers for whom any kind of object-oriented approach is almost too foreign to really embrace. So when they try to automate tasks, they fall back into a sequencing of steps, repeated as many times as necessary. Automation without reuse is painfully difficult to propagate beyond only the most repetitive tasks.
And so we end up in a scenario where automation is basically synonymous with scripting, and where the value is largely applied only to the most frequently-executed tasks.
Where could automation take us?
If we think through where automation could take us, we ideally aim a little higher. Automation could mean the automated exchange of data between collaborative systems in support of some task. For instance, you might want your servers to communicate to your network so that when a new application is spun up (or a VM moves), you get corresponding policy changes, firewall or load balancer changes, and potentially network capacity allocation.
For most network engineers, the idea that infrastructure communicates and dynamically provides a service is science fiction. Our serialized mode of operation simply doesn’t support this kind of multilateral communication. Even if the abstractions remove some of the configuration complexity, the mental block is around sequencing.
If the current networking model has taught us anything, it should be that our network engineers are quite capable of managing tons of inputs and outputs. Now, whether that ought to be a requirement for the job is another question entirely. But as a group, network engineers are certainly capable of handling a lot of variables. That abstraction reduces these variables to the most meaningful is very interesting, but it wouldn’t seem that input management is the biggest bottleneck to automation.
The barrier to automation
Rather, the biggest barrier to automation is that workflow is so structured. First, it was the devices themselves that forced the structure. Then it was the processes (ITIL anyone?) that forced it. The end result is that we have built a discipline so dependent on structure that it actually impedes our own progress.
If we want to get to automation, we need to find a way to work around—or perhaps work within—this structure.
What we are really talking about is changing how we think about provisioning and managing a network. Why do you think there is so much angst when people talk about network engineers needing to learn to code? It’s because moving from a serialized set of steps to an object-oriented way of thinking about the problem is extremely difficult.
People aren’t pushing back because learning a new language is hard. Or at least they shouldn’t be. Look at any networking device configuration and tell me that you aren’t already a master coder. The biggest difference is that you you are using an interpreted language called Cisco CLI (or Junos CLI or whatever CLI).
What we need to do is bite off small (dare I say tiny) workflow elements, automate those, and then string them together into larger workflows. This implies a couple of things. First, we need to think less about discrete capabilities and more about how they exist within some broader workflow context. Second, we need to understand how these building blocks fit together. It’s the connecting of individual workflows that forms the basis for automation, and those connections highlight the pieces of information that flow across workflow boundaries.
More bluntly, the data that stitches together workflows ends up being the stuff that needs to be in an abstraction. It very well could be that getting the automation parts right will help us get to better abstractions.
Obviously we have to work the process from both ends – abstraction down, and workflow up. I don’t think it’s as simple as one or the other, which is why abstraction and automation might be a networking incarnation of the age-old chicken-and-egg question.
[Today’s fun fact: A parrot’s vocabulary is generally no more than twenty words. Who knew parrot’s and politicians had so much in common?]
The 4th International DevOps Summit, co-located with16th International Cloud Expo – being held June 9-11, 2015, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY – announces that its Call for Papers is now open. Born out of proven success in agile development, cloud computing, and process automation, DevOps is a macro trend you cannot afford to miss. From showcase success stories from early adopters and web-scale businesses, DevOps is expanding to organizations of all sizes, including the world's large...
Nov. 23, 2014 12:30 PM EST Reads: 1,278
The major cloud platforms defy a simple, side-by-side analysis. Each of the major IaaS public-cloud platforms offers their own unique strengths and functionality. Options for on-site private cloud are diverse as well, and must be designed and deployed while taking existing legacy architecture and infrastructure into account. Then the reality is that most enterprises are embarking on a hybrid cloud strategy and programs. In this Power Panel at 15th Cloud Expo (http://www.CloudComputingExpo.com...
Nov. 23, 2014 07:45 AM EST Reads: 1,413
The definition of IoT is not new, in fact it’s been around for over a decade. What has changed is the public's awareness that the technology we use on a daily basis has caught up on the vision of an always on, always connected world. If you look into the details of what comprises the IoT, you’ll see that it includes everything from cloud computing, Big Data analytics, “Things,” Web communication, applications, network, storage, etc. It is essentially including everything connected online from ha...
Nov. 22, 2014 10:00 PM EST Reads: 1,250
Cloud Expo 2014 TV commercials will feature @ThingsExpo, which was launched in June, 2014 at New York City's Javits Center as the largest 'Internet of Things' event in the world.
Nov. 22, 2014 05:30 PM EST Reads: 1,383
An entirely new security model is needed for the Internet of Things, or is it? Can we save some old and tested controls for this new and different environment? In his session at @ThingsExpo, New York's at the Javits Center, Davi Ottenheimer, EMC Senior Director of Trust, reviewed hands-on lessons with IoT devices and reveal a new risk balance you might not expect. Davi Ottenheimer, EMC Senior Director of Trust, has more than nineteen years' experience managing global security operations and asse...
Nov. 22, 2014 05:30 PM EST Reads: 1,222
Explosive growth in connected devices. Enormous amounts of data for collection and analysis. Critical use of data for split-second decision making and actionable information. All three are factors in making the Internet of Things a reality. Yet, any one factor would have an IT organization pondering its infrastructure strategy. How should your organization enhance its IT framework to enable an Internet of Things implementation? In his session at Internet of @ThingsExpo, James Kirkland, Chief Ar...
Nov. 21, 2014 09:15 PM EST Reads: 1,311
Technology is enabling a new approach to collecting and using data. This approach, commonly referred to as the "Internet of Things" (IoT), enables businesses to use real-time data from all sorts of things including machines, devices and sensors to make better decisions, improve customer service, and lower the risk in the creation of new revenue opportunities. In his General Session at Internet of @ThingsExpo, Dave Wagstaff, Vice President and Chief Architect at BSQUARE Corporation, discuss the ...
Nov. 21, 2014 08:00 PM EST Reads: 1,390
The security devil is always in the details of the attack: the ones you've endured, the ones you prepare yourself to fend off, and the ones that, you fear, will catch you completely unaware and defenseless. The Internet of Things (IoT) is nothing if not an endless proliferation of details. It's the vision of a world in which continuous Internet connectivity and addressability is embedded into a growing range of human artifacts, into the natural world, and even into our smartphones, appliances, a...
Nov. 21, 2014 08:00 PM EST Reads: 1,330
"BSQUARE is in the business of selling software solutions for smart connected devices. It's obvious that IoT has moved from being a technology to being a fundamental part of business, and in the last 18 months people have said let's figure out how to do it and let's put some focus on it, " explained Dave Wagstaff, VP & Chief Architect, at BSQUARE Corporation, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at @ThingsExpo, held Nov 4-6, 2014, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA.
Nov. 21, 2014 07:00 PM EST Reads: 1,250
The 3rd International @ThingsExpo, co-located with the 16th International Cloud Expo - to be held June 9-11, 2015, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY - announces that it is now accepting Keynote Proposals. The Internet of Things (IoT) is the most profound change in personal and enterprise IT since the creation of the Worldwide Web more than 20 years ago. All major researchers estimate there will be tens of billions devices - computers, smartphones, tablets, and sensors - connected to th...
Nov. 20, 2014 01:00 PM EST Reads: 1,544
As cloud gives an opportunity to businesses to buy services externally – how is cloud impacting your customers? In his General Session at 15th Cloud Expo, Fabio Gori, Director of Worldwide Cloud Marketing at Cisco, provided answers to big questions: Do you see hybrid cloud as where the world is going? What benefits does it bring? And how does Cisco connect all of these clouds? He also discussed Intercloud and Cisco’s investment on it.
Nov. 18, 2014 09:00 PM EST Reads: 1,484
SYS-CON Events announced today that Windstream, a leading provider of advanced network and cloud communications, has been named “Silver Sponsor” of SYS-CON's 16th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on June 9–11, 2015, at the Javits Center in New York, NY. Windstream (Nasdaq: WIN), a FORTUNE 500 and S&P 500 company, is a leading provider of advanced network communications, including cloud computing and managed services, to businesses nationwide. The company also offers broadband, p...
Nov. 18, 2014 08:15 PM EST Reads: 1,583
Working with Big Data is challenging, especially when decision makers depend on market insights and intelligence from your data but don't have quick access to it or find it unusable. In their session at 6th Big Data Expo, Ian Khan, Global Strategic Positioning & Brand Manager at Solgenia; Zel Bianco, President, CEO and Co-Founder of Interactive Edge of Solgenia; and Ermanno Bonifazi, CEO & Founder at Solgenia, discussed how a revolutionary cloud-based BI along with mobile analytics is already c...
Nov. 17, 2014 11:00 AM EST Reads: 1,616
There is no doubt that Big Data is here and getting bigger every day. Building a Big Data infrastructure today is no easy task. There are an enormous number of choices for database engines and technologies. To make things even more challenging, requirements are getting more sophisticated, and the standard paradigm of supporting historical analytics queries is often just one facet of what is needed. As Big Data growth continues, organizations are demanding real-time access to data, allowing immed...
Nov. 17, 2014 10:00 AM EST Reads: 1,600
Vichara Technologies in Hoboken, New Jersey is expanding its capabilities in big data from origins on Wall Street into other areas, and thereby demonstrating the growing marketplace for advanced big-data analytics services. The next BriefingsDirect deep-dive big data benefits case study interview explores how Vichara Technologies in Hoboken, New Jersey is expanding its capabilities in big data from origins on Wall Street into other areas, and thereby demonstrating the growing marketplace for ad...
Nov. 16, 2014 01:00 PM EST Reads: 1,230
Moscow-based OpenBank, one of the largest private financial services groups in Russia, has built out a business intelligence capability for wholly new business activity monitoring benefits. The next BriefingsDirect deep-dive big data benefits case study interview explores how Moscow-based Otkritie Bank, one of the largest private financial services groups in Russia, has built out a business intelligence (BI) capability for wholly new business activity monitoring (BAM) benefits. The use of HP V...
Nov. 12, 2014 06:45 AM EST Reads: 1,295
The 3rd International Internet of @ThingsExpo, co-located with the 16th International Cloud Expo - to be held June 9-11, 2015, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY - announces that its Call for Papers is now open. The Internet of Things (IoT) is the biggest idea since the creation of the Worldwide Web more than 20 years ago.
Nov. 10, 2014 12:00 PM EST Reads: 5,943
Scene scenario: 10 am in a boardroom somewhere, second round of coffees served, Danish and donuts untouched, a quiet hush settles. “Well you know what guys? (and, by the use of the term guys I mean to include both sexes here assembled) – the trouble that we have as a company is that we are, to put it bluntly, just a little analytics poor,” said the newly appointed Chief Analytics Officer. That we should consider a firm to be analytically deficient or poor is a profound comment on our modern ag...
Nov. 10, 2014 07:18 AM EST Reads: 2,408
Quantum is a leading expert in scale-out storage, archive and data protection, providing intelligent solutions for capturing, sharing and preserving digital assets over the entire data lifecyle. They help customers maximize the value of these assets to achieve their goals, whether it’s top movie studios looking to create the next blockbuster, researchers working to accelerate scientific discovery, or small businesses trying to streamline their operations. With a comprehensive portfolio of best-i...
Nov. 3, 2014 07:00 PM EST Reads: 3,536