Click here to close now.

Welcome!

SDN Journal Authors: Pat Romanski, Liz McMillan, Elizabeth White, Yeshim Deniz, Carmen Gonzalez

Related Topics: DevOpsSummit®, JAVA IoT, Linux Containers, CloudExpo® Blog, BigDataExpo® Blog, SDN Journal

DevOpsSummit®: Article

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."

@CloudExpo Stories
Can call centers hang up the phones for good? Intuitive Solutions did. WebRTC enabled this contact center provider to eliminate antiquated telephony and desktop phone infrastructure with a pure web-based solution, allowing them to expand beyond brick-and-mortar confines to a home-based agent model. It also ensured scalability and better service for customers, including MUY! Companies, one of the country's largest franchise restaurant companies with 232 Pizza Hut locations. This is one example of...
One of the biggest challenges when developing connected devices is identifying user value and delivering it through successful user experiences. In his session at Internet of @ThingsExpo, Mike Kuniavsky, Principal Scientist, Innovation Services at PARC, described an IoT-specific approach to user experience design that combines approaches from interaction design, industrial design and service design to create experiences that go beyond simple connected gadgets to create lasting, multi-device exp...
There is little doubt that Big Data solutions will have an increasing role in the Enterprise IT mainstream over time. 8th International Big Data Expo, co-located with 17th International Cloud Expo - to be held November 3-5, 2015, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA - has announced its Call for Papers is open. As advanced data storage, access and analytics technologies aimed at handling high-volume and/or fast moving data all move center stage, aided by the cloud computing bo...
Containers Expo Blog covers the world of containers, as this lightweight alternative to virtual machines enables developers to work with identical dev environments and stacks. Containers Expo Blog offers top articles, news stories, and blog posts from the world's well-known experts and guarantees better exposure for its authors than any other publication. Bookmark Containers Expo Blog ▸ Here Follow new article posts on Twitter at @ContainersExpo
Some developers believe that monitoring is a function of the operations team. Some operations teams firmly believe that monitoring the systems they maintain is sufficient to run the business successfully. Most of them are wrong. The complexity of today's applications have gone far and beyond the capabilities of "traditional" system-level monitoring tools and approaches and requires much broader knowledge of business and applications as a whole. The goal of DevOps is to connect all aspects of app...
DevOps is all about agility. However, you don't want to be on a high-speed bus to nowhere. The right DevOps approach controls velocity with a tight feedback loop that not only consists of operational data but also incorporates business context. With a business context in the decision making, the right business priorities are incorporated, which results in a higher value creation. In his session at DevOps Summit, Todd Rader, Solutions Architect at AppDynamics, discussed key monitoring techniques...
The Internet of Things will greatly expand the opportunities for data collection and new business models driven off of that data. In her session at @ThingsExpo, Esmeralda Swartz, CMO of MetraTech, discussed how for this to be effective you not only need to have infrastructure and operational models capable of utilizing this new phenomenon, but increasingly service providers will need to convince a skeptical public to participate. Get ready to show them the money!
SYS-CON Events announced today that MetraTech, now part of Ericsson, 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. Ericsson is the driving force behind the Networked Society- a world leader in communications infrastructure, software and services. Some 40% of the world’s mobile traffic runs through networks Ericsson has supplied, serving more than 2.5 billion subscribers.
The Internet of Things is not only adding billions of sensors and billions of terabytes to the Internet. It is also forcing a fundamental change in the way we envision Information Technology. For the first time, more data is being created by devices at the edge of the Internet rather than from centralized systems. What does this mean for today's IT professional? In this Power Panel at @ThingsExpo, moderated by Conference Chair Roger Strukhoff, panelists will addresses this very serious issue o...
Want to enable self-service provisioning of application environments in minutes that mirror production? Can you automatically provide rich data with code-level detail back to the developers when issues occur in production? In his session at DevOps Summit, David Tesar, Microsoft Technical Evangelist on Microsoft Azure and DevOps, will discuss how to accomplish this and more utilizing technologies such as Microsoft Azure, Visual Studio online, and Application Insights in this demo-heavy session.
SYS-CON Events announced today that BMC 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. BMC delivers software solutions that help IT transform digital enterprises for the ultimate competitive business advantage. BMC has worked with thousands of leading companies to create and deliver powerful IT management services. From mainframe to cloud to mobile, BMC pairs high-speed digital innovation with robust...
Over the years, a variety of methodologies have emerged in order to overcome the challenges related to project constraints. The successful use of each methodology seems highly context-dependent. However, communication seems to be the common denominator of the many challenges that project management methodologies intend to resolve. In this respect, Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) can be viewed as powerful tools for managing projects. Few research papers have focused on the way...
As the world moves from DevOps to NoOps, application deployment to the cloud ought to become a lot simpler. However, applications have been architected with a much tighter coupling than it needs to be which makes deployment in different environments and migration between them harder. The microservices architecture, which is the basis of many new age distributed systems such as OpenStack, Netflix and so on is at the heart of CloudFoundry – a complete developer-oriented Platform as a Service (PaaS...
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.
The Internet of Things is not new. Historically, smart businesses have used its basic concept of leveraging data to drive better decision making and have capitalized on those insights to realize additional revenue opportunities. So, what has changed to make the Internet of Things one of the hottest topics in tech? In his session at @ThingsExpo, Chris Gray, Director, Embedded and Internet of Things, discussed the underlying factors that are driving the economics of intelligent systems. Discover ...
In their general session at 16th Cloud Expo, Michael Piccininni, Global Account Manager – Cloud SP at EMC Corporation, and Mike Dietze, Regional Director at Windstream Hosted Solutions, will review next generation cloud services, including the Windstream-EMC Tier Storage solutions, and discuss how to increase efficiencies, improve service delivery and enhance corporate cloud solution development. Speaker Bios Michael Piccininni is Global Account Manager – Cloud SP at EMC Corporation. He has b...
SYS-CON Events announced today that O'Reilly Media has been named “Media 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 City, NY. O'Reilly Media spreads the knowledge of innovators through its books, online services, magazines, and conferences. Since 1978, O'Reilly Media has been a chronicler and catalyst of cutting-edge development, homing in on the technology trends that really matter and spurring their adoption...
In a recent research, analyst firm IDC found that the average cost of a critical application failure is $500,000 to $1 million per hour and the average total cost of unplanned application downtime is $1.25 billion to $2.5 billion per year for Fortune 1000 companies. In addition to the findings on the cost of the downtime, the research also highlighted best practices for development, testing, application support, infrastructure, and operations teams.
The OpenStack cloud operating system includes Trove, a database abstraction layer. Rather than applications connecting directly to a specific type of database, they connect to Trove, which in turn connects to one or more specific databases. One target database is Postgres Plus Cloud Database, which includes its own RESTful API. Trove was originally developed around MySQL, whose interfaces are significantly less complicated than those of the Postgres cloud database. In his session at 16th Cloud...
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 at launch. DevOps may be disruptive, but it is essential. The DevOps Summit at Cloud Expo – to be held June 3-5, 2015, at the Javits Center in New York City – will expand the DevOps community, enable a wide...