Welcome!

Big Data Journal Authors: Michael Bushong, Carmen Gonzalez, Noel Wurst, Gilad Parann-Nissany, Tom Leyden

Related Topics: DevOps Journal, Java, Linux, Cloud Expo, Big Data Journal, SDN Journal

DevOps Journal: Blog Feed Post

Chicken or Egg: Abstraction and Automation

But will abstraction necessarily lead to automation?

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 next?
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 post Chicken or egg: Abstraction and automation appeared first on Plexxi.

More Stories By Michael Bushong

The best marketing efforts leverage deep technology understanding with a highly-approachable means of communicating. Plexxi's Vice President of Marketing Michael Bushong has acquired these skills having spent 12 years at Juniper Networks where he led product management, product strategy and product marketing organizations for Juniper's flagship operating system, Junos. Michael spent the last several years at Juniper leading their SDN efforts across both service provider and enterprise markets. Prior to Juniper, Michael spent time at database supplier Sybase, and ASIC design tool companies Synopsis and Magma Design Automation. Michael's undergraduate work at the University of California Berkeley in advanced fluid mechanics and heat transfer lend new meaning to the marketing phrase "This isn't rocket science."

@BigDataExpo Stories
ScriptRock makes GuardRail, a DevOps-ready platform for configuration monitoring. Realizing we were spending way too much time digging up, cataloguing, and tracking machine configurations, we began writing our own scripts and tools to handle what is normally an enormous chore. Then we took the concept a step further, giving it a beautiful interface and making it simple enough for our bosses to understand. We named it GuardRail after its function - to allow businesses to move fast and stay sa...
In high-production environments where release cycles are measured in hours or minutes — not days or weeks — there's little room for mistakes and no room for confusion. Everyone has to understand what's happening, in real time, and have the means to do whatever is necessary to keep applications up and running optimally. DevOps is a high-stakes world, but done well, it delivers the agility and performance to significantly impact business competitiveness.
"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.
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...
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...

ARMONK, N.Y., Nov. 20, 2014 /PRNewswire/ --  IBM (NYSE: IBM) today announced that it is bringing a greater level of control, security and flexibility to cloud-based application development and delivery with a single-tenant version of Bluemix, IBM's

“We help people build clusters, in the classical sense of the cluster. We help people put a full stack on top of every single one of those machines. We do the full bare metal install," explained Greg Bruno, Vice President of Engineering and co-founder of StackIQ, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at 15th Cloud Expo, held Nov 4–6, 2014, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA.
DevOps Summit 2015 New York, 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 widespread success of cloud computing is driving the DevOps revolution in enterprise IT. Now as never before, development teams must communicate and collaborate in a dynamic, 24/7/365 environment. There is no time to wait for long development cycles that produce software that is obsolete...
"People are a lot more knowledgeable about APIs now. There are two types of people who work with APIs - IT people who want to use APIs for something internal and the product managers who want to do something outside APIs for people to connect to them," explained Roberto Medrano, Executive Vice President at SOA Software, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at Cloud Expo, held Nov 4–6, 2014, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA.
“We are a managed services company. We have taken the key aspects of the cloud and the purposed data center and merged the two together and launched the Purposed Cloud about 18–24 months ago," explained Chetan Patwardhan, CEO of Stratogent, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at 15th Cloud Expo, held Nov 4–6, 2014, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA.
The Internet of Things is a misnomer. That implies that everything is on the Internet, and that simply should not be - especially for things that are blurring the line between medical devices that stimulate like a pacemaker and quantified self-sensors like a pedometer or pulse tracker. The mesh of things that we manage must be segmented into zones of trust for sensing data, transmitting data, receiving command and control administrative changes, and peer-to-peer mesh messaging. In his session a...
"At our booth we are showing how to provide trust in the Internet of Things. Trust is where everything starts to become secure and trustworthy. Now with the scaling of the Internet of Things it becomes an interesting question – I've heard numbers from 200 billion devices next year up to a trillion in the next 10 to 15 years," explained Johannes Lintzen, Vice President of Sales at Utimaco, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at @ThingsExpo, held Nov 4–6, 2014, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in San...
As enterprises engage with Big Data technologies to develop applications needed to meet operational demands, new computation fabrics are continually being introduced. To leverage these new innovations, organizations are sacrificing market opportunities to gain expertise in learning new systems. In his session at Big Data Expo, Supreet Oberoi, Vice President of Field Engineering at Concurrent, Inc., discussed how to leverage existing infrastructure and investments and future-proof them against e...
"Desktop as a Service is emerging as a very big trend. One of the big influencers of this – for Esri – is that we have a large user base that uses virtualization and they are looking at Desktop as a Service right now," explained John Meza, Product Engineer at Esri, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at Cloud Expo, held Nov 4–6, 2014, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA.
SYS-CON Events announced today that Gridstore™, the leader in hyper-converged infrastructure purpose-built to optimize Microsoft workloads, will exhibit at SYS-CON's 16th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on June 9-11, 2015, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. Gridstore™ is the leader in hyper-converged infrastructure purpose-built for Microsoft workloads and designed to accelerate applications in virtualized environments. Gridstore’s hyper-converged infrastructure is the ...
We certainly live in interesting technological times. And no more interesting than the current competing IoT standards for connectivity. Various standards bodies, approaches, and ecosystems are vying for mindshare and positioning for a competitive edge. It is clear that when the dust settles, we will have new protocols, evolved protocols, that will change the way we interact with devices and infrastructure. We will also have evolved web protocols, like HTTP/2, that will be changing the very core...
SYS-CON Events announced today that Creative Business Solutions will exhibit at SYS-CON's 16th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on June 9-11, 2015, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. Creative Business Solutions is the top stocking authorized HP Renew Distributor in the U.S. Based out of Long Island, NY, Creative Business Solutions offers a one-stop shop for a diverse range of products including Proliant, Blade and Industry Standard Servers, Networking, Server Options and...
You use an agile process; your goal is to make your organization more agile. But what about your data infrastructure? The truth is, today's databases are anything but agile - they are effectively static repositories that are cumbersome to work with, difficult to change, and cannot keep pace with application demands. Performance suffers as a result, and it takes far longer than it should to deliver new features and capabilities needed to make your organization competitive. As your application an...
An effective way of thinking in Big Data is composed of a methodical framework for dealing with the predicted shortage of 50-60% of the qualified Big Data resources in the U.S. This holistic model comprises the scientific and engineering steps that are involved in accelerating Big Data solutions: problem, diagnosis, facts, analysis, hypothesis, solution, prototype and implementation. In his session at Big Data Expo®, Tony Shan focused on the concept, importance, and considerations for each of t...
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.