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. A.J. Murray and Tim Bertino did an Art of Network Engineering podcast about NFD26.

- 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.

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