Tuesday, November 05, 2019

Network Field Day 21 - Network to Code - Changing the networking landscape


It is not often you get to see a friend and colleague start and grow a business from scratch and have major impact on your industry. My friend Jason Edelman has done just that with his company, Network to Code. It was cool to have him, and his team, present at NFD21 and I wanted to highlight a couple of the things I found impressive about what they are investing in.

First, they are supporting NetBox as an open source project and developing on top of that. They are extending what NetBox can do by hiring Jeremy Stretch (who started the project while he was at Digital Ocean) to work full time on building out functionality and features in NetBox. This allows Network to Code to provide best in class capabilities for companies that wish to use, extend and scale up their projects leveraging NetBox. If you haven’t heard of NetBox, you can check it out the GitHub repository at https://github.com/netbox-community/netbox and the documentation at https://netbox.readthedocs.io/en/stable/ for a more in depth understanding. In summary, from the documentation site: “NetBox is an open source web application designed to help manage and document computer networks.” And it includes the following:

  • IP address management (IPAM) - IP networks and addresses, VRFs, and VLANs
  • Equipment racks - Organized by group and site
  • Devices - Types of devices and where they are installed
  • Connections - Network, console, and power connections among devices
  • Virtualization - Virtual machines and clusters
  • Data circuits - Long-haul communications circuits and provider
  • Secrets - Encrypted storage of sensitive credentials
As accurate as the description is, it really doesn’t do this project justice. It is cool what Jeremy and the community has built out, I think many organizations will find it incredibly useful in helping to keep their infrastructure world in order without having to glue together a crazy number of NMS, spreadsheets and diagrams together in a wiki and hope to keep that current. Because it is API and automation focused it makes it easier for operators to leverage custom scripts, normalized data models, and integration into a lot of other tools. The exciting part is that Network to Code is planning on providing commercial support for the product so customers who are nervous about not having formal support for an open source product they would run can obtain it from Network to Code. This is fantastic news for adoption and interest in NetBox. You should check out the NFD21 presentation Jeremy and John gave about NetBox.

Second, for me is the community and the effort that Network to Code has put into helping to put support and resources behind that. If you are not aware, they host a Network to Code slack channel (https://slack.networktocode.com/ ) that has 10,000+ members and is a great resource to start learning about what is happening in the networking automation space. They continue to invest in open source tooling and contributions and believe in the model of sharing and supporting interesting projects. The team at Network to Code has build some of the largest commercial network vendor integrations for a variety of platforms but most notable is for Ansible. If you are not familiar with Network to Code then check out Jason giving an overview of the company, and explaining who is Network to Code.
I’m excited to hear what Network to Code will do next and they are a company you should keep an eye on if you are in the networking space. Great people with a goal to change how the industry is doing networking.
 - Ed

In a spirit of fairness (and also because it is legally required by the FTC), I am posting this Disclosure Statement. It is intended to alert readers to funding or gifts that might influence my writing. My participation in Tech Field Day events was voluntary and I was invited to participate in NFD21. Tech Field Day is hosted by Gestalt IT and my hotel, transportation, food and beverage was/is paid for by Gestalt IT for the duration of the event. In addition, small swag gifts were/are provided by some of the sponsors of the event to delegates. It should be noted that there was/is no requirement to produce content about the sponsors and any content produced does not require review or editing by Gestalt IT or the sponsors of the event.

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Network Field Day 21 - Forward Networks - Useful Intent Based Networking


One of the challenges in larger organizations and service providers is the inherent complexity in the design, deployment and operation of their networks. The reasons are varied and often a function of their business needs, their legacy technology and business drivers and many decades of merger and divestitures. Basically, things out of the control of the technology implementors and operators. The operational impact of deploying or removing a service from the network can be profound. It is often not documented completely, has changed over time and is intertwined with other services in some way that may not be obvious with just a simple assessment.

These challenges are the source of real operational risks that can translate to financial losses for a company. It is no wonder that many larger organizations are slow to implement changes, have challenges understanding impacts of changes they need or want to do and have increasingly complex security and policy issues. Compliance and validation are now becoming standard audit requests from third parties and financial penalties are not insignificant to those that fail to pass many of these new standards.

So, what is an organization like this to do regarding getting their arms around the impacts of changes within their environment? How will they manage a multi-vendor, heterogeneous networking environment? ForwardNetworks is addressing this need by allowing companies to build a digital twin of their network, which is not easy! This approach allows organizations to validate configuration changes, their impacts and understand what actions could potentially be damaging and negatively impact their compliance, SLAs or business services. This digital twin allows for several unique aspects of what Forward Networks can provide to customers. They are an intent driven solution that provides network automation and verification with a useful and practical user interface that enables network operators to really understand the impact of planned changes.

I recommend watching the Network Field Day presentation from Brandon Heller, CTO and co-founder which explains what Forward Networks does and goes over the UI of the product. I do believe that the product, as it is built today, is likely more appropriate for larger organizations. However, I can easily see them expanding their customer base and providing the product as a SaaS platform for small to medium sized companies with less complex networks to leverage the automation and validation capabilities. Given the natural fit to integrate to cloud networking via API’s and their support of existing network and security product technologies that are used on-premises this would be a very desirable solution for many in the complex role of operating highly available or complex networks.

I was impressed with what Forward Networks has built and for operators I believe there are many that would spend most of their time within their UI versus spending their time in the CLI of most networking and security platforms. The good news is that they do not preclude you from using the CLI still and can work in conjunction with many solutions that are based on that as the primary interface to deploy and operate their products. It is a win/win in terms of helping teams adopt a new method and tool.

If you are struggling with large scale networking changes within your organization or you want better validation and verification, along with automation to push out changes then seriously evaluate Forward Networks. I have my fingers crossed that their product will go down market and be something even more of us get to use.
- Ed

In a spirit of fairness (and also because it is legally required by the FTC), I am posting this Disclosure Statement. It is intended to alert readers to funding or gifts that might influence my writing. My participation in Tech Field Day events was voluntary and I was invited to participate in NFD21. Tech Field Day is hosted by Gestalt IT and my hotel, transportation, food and beverage was/is paid for by Gestalt IT for the duration of the event. In addition, small swag gifts were/are provided by some of the sponsors of the event to delegates. It should be noted that there was/is no requirement to produce content about the sponsors and any content produced does not require review or editing by Gestalt IT or the sponsors of the event.

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Network Field Day 21 - Aruba SD-Branch - Evolution


I am going to focus on the Aruba SD-Branch solution (their combination of SD-WAN -LAN and Cloud making it SD-Branch) presentation that is only a portion of the overall presentation that Aruba gave at Network Field Day 21. I digress quickly, the industry is stuck on Software Defined or SD as a naming convention and I think someone in marketing needs to be creative and break away from it and come up with a solution/product name. Honestly, SD-<anything> has lost all meaning. I think Aruba should rename the product to fit into their existing product naming and not cave to industry convention. With that done, let’s get back to the technical nuts of bolts of what Aruba presented.

We started with an overview presentation (https://techfieldday.com/video/aruba-why-sd-branch/) around Why SD-Branch and how it is different than tradition SD-WAN. In simple terms, they are using the same technology to do application insight and management for LAN, WAN and Cloud services through a single interface which is build on their wireless and wired LAN portfolio. It really does make a lot of sense for companies to want to move this direction. To be able to manage LAN, WAN, Cloud, Wireless, Wired, Identity and Security from a common interface with metrics and performance. In addition, props to the Aruba team for having a great user interface. It makes sense, is easy to find things, is clean and snappy too.

So, what was most compelling about SD-Branch and specifically the SD-WAN portion? First, you get a unified interface to manage everything and one that is done correctly, not just cobbling together a bunch of separate products and hoping everyone uses the same terms and layout. Second, I think it was the flexibility in configuration. The fact that you can easily stand up and have multiple design topologies for VPN and do that across multiple Internet and private dedicated links in many combinations shows that Aruba really understands what customers are trying to address. The demos really highlight how easy and straight forward it is to configure, monitor and operate the network so you should check that out at https://techfieldday.com/video/aruba-seamless-sd-wan-orchestration/ and finally, you really should see how everything is displayed in a single view for operations. If you are willing to invest and go all in with Aruba you get a lot of upside from an operations view. Check out https://techfieldday.com/video/aruba-simplify-network-operations/

Given that most SD-WAN solutions will likely provide a break even ROI in 12-18 months it is likely worth investing in Aruba SD-Branch if you are an existing Aruba wireless/wired customer. If you are doing an evaluation of products today such as LAN (wired and wireless), WAN, Cloud, and SD-WAN you would be doing a disservice in not putting Aruba on your list. I’ve been very impressed with what they have been doing over the last several years and my experience at #NFD21 has shown they are continuing down the right road and build on top of their great product portfolio.

One note, they don’t have IPv6 support in their SD-WAN product yet, but given the great IPv6 support they have in their LAN (wired and wireless) products today I would not be surprised to see that happen for SD-WAN soon. Fingers crossed they keep up the great work and get IPv6 in there and push their competitors to do the same.
Ed

ps: You can also check out fellow #NFD21 delegate Remington Loose's blog post on Aruba where he does a great job covering the technical aspects and components of what Aruba is up to with their SD-Branch solution.

In a spirit of fairness (and also because it is legally required by the FTC), I am posting this Disclosure Statement. It is intended to alert readers to funding or gifts that might influence my writing. My participation in Tech Field Day events was voluntary and I was invited to participate in NFD21. Tech Field Day is hosted by Gestalt IT and my hotel, transportation, food and beverage was/is paid for by Gestalt IT for the duration of the event. In addition, small swag gifts were/are provided by some of the sponsors of the event to delegates. It should be noted that there was/is no requirement to produce content about the sponsors and any content produced does not require review or editing by Gestalt IT or the sponsors of the event.

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Network Field Day 21 - October 1-4, 2019 - Biggest Tech Field Day Event Ever?!?

I have had the privilege of participating in a few Network Field Day events in the past, dating all the way back to NFD6. They are always interesting, lots of good technology to learn about, but the best part is the engagement and meeting some amazing people. The delegates, the representatives of all the companies and the field day teams supporting the event. I'm grateful I was invited way back in 2013 and I am delighted to be back for NFD21.

What is really surprising is the line up for NFD21, the list is impressive of both companies and delegates - you can check it out at the website! In fact, they have so many companies they expanded the format and it is going on for 4 days and they are having delegates rotating in and out of the line up because there are so many presentations. A few of us will be attending the entire 4 days, I think we get a special marathon badge when we are done on the fourth day.

If you are at all into networking then I encourage you to follow along live for the events on the Tech Field Day website or keep up with the activity via twitter by following the hashtag #NFD21. I'll be posting thoughts via twitter and after the event I will post a few blog posts too. If you want a fast way to learn what these companies are up to technically, this is the way to do it, well, outside of getting invited as a delegate. If you are interested in becoming a delegate you can do that too, you get to rub elbows with some pretty amazing people.
- Ed

In a spirit of fairness (and also because it is legally required by the FTC), I am posting this Disclosure Statement. It is intended to alert readers to funding or gifts that might influence my writing. My participation in Tech Field Day events was voluntary and I was invited to participate in NFD21. Tech Field Day is hosted by Gestalt IT and my hotel, transportation, food and beverage was/is paid for by Gestalt IT for the duration of the event. In addition, small swag gifts were/are provided by some of the sponsors of the event to delegates. It should be noted that there was/is no requirement to produce content about the sponsors and any content produced does not require review or editing by Gestalt IT or the sponsors of the event.

Monday, March 04, 2019

SnapRoute - Is there something new happening in networking?

The launch (or relaunch depending on your opinion of when they started and on what they were building verse what they are doing now) of SnapRoute was an interesting event to be able to participate in. SnapRoute presented at Network Field Day 20 as part of the launch of their Cloud Native Network Operating System.

I think what SnapRoute is doing is the start of a fundamental shift in thinking about how network equipment, specifically data center switching and routing, should be deployed, managed and, more importantly, how they are classified. I believe they are the start of the transition where a managed resource in a data center is not something special but simply a compute object with different characteristics that can be assembled in a way that serves the purpose of the workloads that need to run in that data center.

For awhile now the push has been (for the networking industry anyway) scripting and automation working up to some sort of orchestration to make networking advance into the realm of cloud first or at least something a developer could code against. While this is important and will likely continue for the next decade or more it is far from the final goal of what a cloud first approach really entails.

Some in the industry are thinking the next evolution is intent based networking. Defining what you want to have happen and having the system orchestrate the outcome to match the intent. I actually consider that a big jump from where we are at today and companies like Apstra are trying to be an early market leader in that space. But I still consider that solution fundamentally orchestration and there are other methods and approaches out there that are just as valid but still only go up the stack as high as Level 3 (see the chart below).

I think a tweet from my friend Gian Paolo helps explain what is happening really well.



It is worth noting that this applies much wider than the networking industry overall. It seems what SnapRoute is attempting to do is the tooling for Level 4 and they are doing an end run around traditional networking tooling and methods. Instead, they have chosen to leverage cloud native constructs and tools to make networking adapt to those ethos instead. So, SnapRoute uses Kubernetes to run and deploy the resources on the Edge Core switches they support (more suppliers to be added, I imagine, depending on customer demand). Today, their solution runs on a single switch running Kubernetes but it is clear where their vision is going. A grouping of leaf/spine switches in the data center will be a Kubernetes Pod and likely Istio and Envoy will be used to expand the capabilities of what SnapRoute can do in that Pod. More importantly, a traditional network operator really has no choice but to learn cloud first methods and working with Kubernetes, Istio and Envoy are exactly the tools they must learn to make that transition.

I suppose the interesting question is, how is where SnapRoute going significantly different then where the networking market is currently going today? I think the simple answer is they are using the Cloud Native approach which really combines Level 2, 3 and 4 together. They get to avoid the incremental moves of the industry and have a first mover advantage, they are effectively leapfrogging several steps. This assumes they are able to pull off a Kubernetes Pod for the data center fabric but from what I can tell, it sure looks possible. What they are working on could really change the game for developers deploying in on premises data centers. They are worth keeping an eye on and seeing if they are able to make significant deals to help push their vision forward.
- Ed

In a spirit of fairness (and also because it is legally required by the FTC), I am posting this Disclosure Statement. It is intended to alert readers to funding or gifts that might influence my writing. My participation in Tech Field Day was voluntary and I was invited to participate in NFD20. Tech Field Day is hosted by Gestalt IT and my hotel, transportation, food and beverage was paid for by Gestalt IT for the duration of the event. In addition, small swag gifts were provided by some of the sponsors of the event to delegates. It should be noted that there was no requirement to produce content about the sponsors and any content produced does not require review or editing by Gestalt IT or the sponsors of the event.