Monday, September 27, 2021

ZPE - A New Swiss Army Knife Networking Product

ZPE presented at Networking Field Day 26 on Sept 16, 2021 and I will be honest, at first I couldn't figure out where to put ZPE in terms of a product and service category. As they were a first time NFD presenter and I had not heard of them before I was asking myself, are they a remote console server replacement for the likes of Raritan, OpenGear, and others? Are they an SD-WAN solution? Do you use them for routing and switching? Are they really focus on Out-of-Band (OOB) or Zero Touch Provisioning (ZTP)? It turns out you can use them for all or just part of those things.

In my current role, I am a consumer of remote console and remote access solutions, mainly for lab and proof of concept purposes, as that is how we help many of our customer in validating their IPv6 configurations. For our IPv6 training at HexaBuild we will more commonly use Apache Guacamole and provide access directly via ssh, web and remote desktop which are all natively supported in Guacamole.

While ZPE can certainly do many of these functions, there is a far more compelling use case for organizations that have many distributed branch locations and do not have remote hands or the cost of truck rolls to support the site are very high. Rene Neumann gave an presentation on the ZPE Systems' Nodegrid and ZPE Cloud to do Branch Orchestration. I recommend checking out this part of the presentation to learn how you can leverage ZPE, their cloud options and drive toward Infrastructure as Code from the earliest points of deployment.


What is interesting about what ZPE is doing is starting from Zero Touch Provisioning (ZTP) without necessarily having to build out all the initial infrastructure you require to get many ZTP solutions up and running. They combine the ZPE Cloud and on-premises gear deployment to make this Day 0 to Day 1 to Day 2 workflow actually make sense. If you have ever tried to do an initial deployment of a network you know how hard it is to automate all that work. At a minimum you need an Intel NUC or a VM on your laptop to run all the services, store initial code, along with templates and configuration files. ZPE takes care of doing all that workflow. They can't build your configuration files for you but they can make it possible for you to load those and set things up without the need to sending someone to the site.

I am glad someone is providing some competition for Raritan, OpenGear and Cradlepoint - it will likely push them all to provide better capabilities and at the same time put some pressure on traditional networking vendors to do better around Day 0 to Day 2 lifecycle management.

You can also check out Dr. Peter Welcher's LinkedIn post about ZPE. He covers a lot of the other capabilities so it is worth a read!

- 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 NFD26. 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, if travel was involved (this event is virtual so none of that happened). In addition, small swag gifts or donations were/are provided by some of the sponsors of the event to delegates (I didn't accept the swag gifts offered but did ask the sponsors to donate to causes that support Mental Health since the event was during Suicide Prevention week). 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. So all the spelling mistakes and grammar errors are my own.

Thursday, September 23, 2021

Arista - Open Source Network Automation and Tooling

Arista presented at Networking Field Day 26 on Sept 14, 2021 - I was most excited about the presentation that Fred Hsu gave regarding Arista's Next-Generation Automation Architectures.


Having a vendor share how they see customers putting together a set of automation tools, frameworks and workflow is super helpful. Honestly, one of the hardest parts of getting started in the network automation journey is where to start. What tools, what language to learn (Python, Go, Tcl?), what editor/IDE to use (PyCharm or VS Code?), what environment setup? I draw the analogy to getting started in biking. The best way to start is to have a friend let you borrow a bike, provide the initial gear, pick an appropriate beginner level place to bike and get out and follow their lead. It is very similar for network automation. I don't need to start on a $10,000 mountain bike with high end expensive gear and bomb down a super advanced single track course when I have never ridden a bike before, it just makes no sense! In fact, it sets you up for failure. I can pretty much guarantee you are going to crash into a tree, go up and over your handlebars or have some other equally horrible experience. And you will feel you wasted your money and the experience will sour you to trying it again.

Arista is providing an initial roadmap of how they see the adoption of Infrastructure as Code (IaC) in the network automation journey. This consists of a set of tools they see customers using along with support for how they think they can add value to customers.


I think it is super important that Arista is sharing this information with their customers and community. It means that those that are not Innovators or Early Adopters (Crossing the Chasm reference) can have more specific guidance how how to achieve Infrastructure as Code because we are currently in the Early Majority phase of network automation.


You can obviously swap out a specific tool for something your organization might have already adopted. For instance, they list GitLab for code repository and workflow orchestration but maybe you are a GitHub customer already. That is fine, you just end up using GitHub. The point being is they are providing a reference for building Network CI/CD pipeline to help you on the journey. Being specific is actually helpful in the beginning. Just like not having to figure out all the details when you want to get into biking to see if you like it, someone sharing and showing you the basics is incredibly useful.

I did like seeing Arista call out some unique tools that network engineers might not know as much about if they are not developing and/or operating network automation solutions. Things like Batfish which does network modeling (it is a network configuration analysis tool really) and Open Policy Agent or OPA (which reminds me in many ways of Terraform from Hashicorp) that provides for a unified toolset and framework for policy across the cloud native stack and any company who wants to extend it to their environment. There is even a VS Code extension to develop, test, debug, and analyze policies!

Finally, they briefly talk about some of the work they are doing with the team at Network to Code around Nautobot for single source of truth and how that interfaces with Cloud Vision Portal (CVP). What I was pleased with about the presentation was while they talked about CVP, it was only to talk about integration and where it can help. While CVP can do many of the roles these other tools provide, they focused the effort around how the CI/CD pipeline is being developed, regardless of CVP. So hats off to Arista for not being heavy handed and pitching product the entire time.

You can also check out Girard Kavelines' post about Juniper at TechHouse570 - Networking Field Day - Day 1 Recap

- 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 NFD26. 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, if travel was involved (this event is virtual so none of that happened). In addition, small swag gifts or donations were/are provided by some of the sponsors of the event to delegates (I didn't accept the swag gifts offered but did ask the sponsors to donate to causes that support Mental Health since this is Suicide Prevention week). 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. So all the spelling mistakes and grammar errors are my own.

Monday, September 20, 2021

Juniper - Mist API and Automation with Postman

Juniper presented at Networking Field Day 26 on Sept 14, 2021 - I really recommend you check out the presentation on network automation that Ryan and Jake did, you will likely learn something new if you are not staying super current on network automation and APIs. Even if you are staying current, it is worth a watch honestly.


Jake showed off Postman (which is an open source tool and is an API platform for building and using APIs) and how they are leveraging the "Power of the Juniper API". More importantly, they provided a Postman Collection Runner (the Collection Runner allows you to run sets of requests in a specified sequence - this link explains the runner) for free which is really amazing. You can find the Mist Runner Collection (this is the link to their actual collection) up on GitHub. This means that folks who are trying to get started with automation in networking don't have to start from zero. This helps with the stress of the situation where your management team expects you to be at automation hero level in a week or two. Jake does a full hands on demo of his runner deploying a campus fabric from a simple CSV initialization file (he provides example files too.) It really is pretty cool. Using a Collection to do workflow and automation when you are leveraging an API makes a lot of sense. And when a vendor releases for free how to leverage a tool like this to help make you life easier, it is worth checking out. You can see from the Postman UI, it is really straight forward.


You do need to create a free account with Postman, but you have to do that for things like GitHub too, and the value you get from this tool make it worth the inconveniences of doing so.

In addition, Mist has up on the GitHub repo the Mist API Cookbook. It is a good way to start figuring out how to use the Mist API. I recommend grabbing that to start exploring the API with Postman. Even if you just want to explore and learn about how an API can be useful versus doing some CLI scripting, this is a good way to figure that out. The repo contains simple PDF files that cover things like EVPN to Access Layer deployment, for instance. As you can see from the screenshot, very straight forward:

I'm excited to see vendors sharing their tooling, scripts and examples for the community to learn from. It is super difficult to get started in network API and automation when you also have to run and operate a day to day network. Being able to leverage what other smart engineers have put time and energy into in invaluable in the learning part of the journey. I look forward to seeing more content from Juniper in this space.


- 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 NFD26. 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, if travel was involved (this event is virtual so none of that happened). In addition, small swag gifts or donations were/are provided by some of the sponsors of the event to delegates (I didn't accept the swag gifts offered but did ask the sponsors to donate to causes that support Mental Health since this is Suicide Prevention week - Juniper was kind enough to do so). 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. So all the spelling mistakes and grammar errors are my own.

Friday, September 10, 2021

Network Field Day 26 -

Excuse the bit of pre-ramble before the actual NFD26 content:

It is a bit unusual to do back-to-back Network Field Day event, mainly because diversity in delegates is a good thing for the community and for the vendors presenting. It means a greater mix of opinions, use cases, and influence around a topic, the technology and how it is being applied to the market. Those are all wins (at least I think so) until something like a worldwide pandemic makes in person events difficult to impossible to do and also the reality that delegate's time is a harder commodity now. There are two aspects as a delegate that are important that go unspoken, but given the current situation, I want to say specifically out loud.

1. You get access and a platform to interface with vendors because you give your time to participate and;

2.  also because you get a dialog going in the community about what you saw and heard!

The second part has been the challenge as of late. There have been a lack of blog posts, of YouTube videos, of missing podcast content, etc.. Honestly, like many of you, I am not sitting in my car for hours on end to listen to some of my favorite podcast shows because I no longer commute to an office location or to customer sites. I do still listen while going on my daily walks, or for the very short drives to the grocery store or gym. But honestly, my listening is way down, as I assume many of the rest of you are too.

How does this relate to Network Field Day 26?

It relates in a few ways. The delegates who are going to get invited back to participate in Tech Field Day are actually producing the content.* There are delegates who are able to free up their schedule to find the time to participate, and that is a good thing. But it appears, a good number can't find the time to do the second part. The reality is, that the second part is WHY the vendors choose to do Tech Field Day. Because the get feedback, community engagement and an open dialog about their product, how it applies in the technology landscape and what practitioners think of it. Without the second part, the first part doesn't happen. This is the reason you are seeing some repeat Field Day delegates, because they know the second part is just as important as the first. Okay, off the ramble, I just wanted everyone to know that, content and doing the work matters.

* - note: I also know that many of the delegates have a policy that if you don't have something nice to say about a technology, solution or product, then don't say anything. I get that, but you can still write something about the event overall to acknowledge the participation and effort. I know that personally, I tend not to write about companies that don't have a reasonable IPv6 answer and solution. Other delegates have their "thing" too.

- Now to the NFD26 post!

Network Field Day 26 (NFD26) is happening Sept 14-16, 2021. You can check out the full event schedule at the NFD26 website. The sponsors list has been growing so checking the site is the best until the event starts. I recommend watching live if you can, the playback later doesn't line up with the live twitter interaction so sometimes it is hard to get all the context.

First point, I thinks this NFD has a particularly strong list of delegates. So the interaction will be excellent, and I anticipate some of the blogging content will be good as a result. Also, because this is a virtual event, the fact that I know some many of the delegates on a personal level already means the event won't feel as awkward as many of the vendor events I have watched where you could tell this is the first time they have worked or even seen each other!

Second, I am going to say upfront that not addressing IPv6 is a big negative for me for the sponsors. To repeat my NFD25 blog post:
I won't be satisfied with some of the dismissive answers of the past like "our customers aren't asking for it" or "it is on our 3 year roadmap" or "we have IPv6 support, but I'm not familiar with it, can we get back to you?" Those presenting should know and understand IPv6 at this point, and it is NOT my job to explain it to you, justify why it is needed, or what the market for it is, seriously, that ship has sailed. We are in the early majority stage for IPv6 adoption and it will only accelerate from here.

So, there you go, let's get ready to have some serious fun with NFD26! 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 #NFD26. If you are interested in being a delegate, you can check out the website, they have all the details up there.

- 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 NFD26. 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, if travel was involved (this event is virtual so none of that happened). In addition, small swag gifts or donations were/are provided by some of the sponsors of the event to delegates (I didn't accept the swag gifts offered but did ask the sponsors to donate to causes that support Mental Health since this is Suicide Prevention week). 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. So all the spelling mistakes and grammar errors are my own.

Wednesday, May 19, 2021

Intel Silicon Photonics - the way forward

Intel presented at Networking Field Day on May 13, 2021 - I really recommend you check out the presentation on Silicon Photonics, you will likely learn something new if you are not staying super current on optical hardware. As a networking engineer, optics are a big part of what you deal with in designing and building networks. More importantly, it is likely the most expensive device per unit cost you will be buying for a regular data center deployment, or any deployment for that matter. So having an understanding of what is happening is critical to helping your company invest correctly and likely save some money in the process.

Some industry trends over the last 5-10 years are starting to dramatically change the landscape. If you are still doing MMF in your DC and still installing that as your primary fiber plant, it might be time to reconsider. Most DC builds are doing SMF for a wide variety of reasons. For today's 10/25/40/50/100/400G connections, SMF is likely more cost effective and gives you more options on how to build out your DC cable runs. To back this up, let's look at some data.

One of the interesting parts of what Intel shared was some trends on where Ethernet transceivers are going. Basically, 100G and 400G SMF is where things are heading and you need to plan and invest accordingly. And 400G SMF transceivers will start breaking away by 2023. This matches what I am seeing in the data center deployments I am involved with for customers. But it is nice to see industry data matching what you are seeing in the field.




So how is Intel innovating in the traditional transceiver business? They have found a way to produce a much more predictable, reliable and cost effective transceiver. I learned a lot from this presentation, and the surprise was how traditional transceivers are actually built. I had no idea some much manual and potential error prone process went into these devices. The traditional transceivers were more like custom kit cars versus modern car manufacturing. All the pieces have to fit and work and be precision placed and aligned. If any of that fails or doesn't work the transceiver fails. Compare that to an integrated optic which has everything designed and built as one discrete unit in silicon, it just makes so much sense that this is a better design and model for optics going forward. Check out the difference:





Then there is the next leap to changing how we think about optical completely. The move to co-packaged optics and changing from a pluggable format to just having the right optical interface on the device. It is a bit of a throw back to the days when an Ethernet interface or a Serialized interface was how you ordered your router and what was on that router was what you got. Modular interfaces wasn't a thing until later when multiple Ethernet quantity and multiple serial interface types were needed and making them modular was more cost effective. So, the density and cooling requirements for these devices will be much better than sticking with a pluggable design.



Intel has built a co-packaged optics Ethernet Switch to demonstrate what this could look like. Don't be surprised if this starts to become more common, especially when the higher density 100G/400G switches become the standard.


I had no idea how much innovation was happening in this space. Clearly Intel's investment in Silicon Photonics is going to change how networks are built, how much they cost and how fiber plant will be built today and the future. Check out the presentation and let me know what you think!

- 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 NFD25. 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, if travel was involved. In addition, small swag gifts or donations 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.