Click here to close now.

Welcome!

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

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

SDN Journal: Blog Feed Post

What a Network Engineer Does

Network Engineering workflow can be characterized by overlapping cycles of Activity and Modeling

In a previous article, we talked about “Short T’s.”  We talked about how, in network engineering, the “T” is very long:  Configuring a network to achieve business goals requires considerable skill and knowledge.  While we set up a conceptual model in that post to talk about what “T” means in general terms, we did not discuss in detail how to articulate “T” more specifically for network engineering.  In this post, we’ll explore this in a little more detail.

The NetEng Cycle

Figure 1: The Network Engineering Cycle

Network Engineering workflow can be characterized by overlapping cycles of Activity and Modeling.  In figure 1, I have depicted 4 cycles.  From smallest timescale to largest, these are called:  1. Referential Traversal, 2. Interactive, 3. Design, and 4. Architecture.  The crest of each of these cycles is “Activity” and the trough is “Modeling.”  Modeling on the smaller cycles is simple and correlative, while on the larger cycles it is more abstract and analytical.  Activity on the smaller cycles is characterized by direct interactivity with the network, while on larger scales it is indirect and more design oriented.

As is implied from the diagram, a network engineer will oscillate between activities and modeling.  For instance, in the interactive cycle, they may configure a QoS classification policy, but then immediately issue show commands to see if traffic is being classified appropriately.  Configuring a policy and issuing of show commands are activities, but the show commands start to transition into modeling.  The engineer is attempting to model the immediate effect of the changes they have made.  Based on this modeling of “how things are,” the engineer might start thinking about modifications to the classification policy to bring the operation of the network closer to an expected model of “how things should be.”  As far as it is possible to do so, an attempt might be made to model “how things will be” to check for possible side effects.  The cycle, then, repeats.

Referential Space
However, which show commands should they use to accurately model how the configuration is actually working?  If you were to write down the exact sequence of commands, you might find that the engineer is taking data from the output of the first command and using that as either input into the second command, or as a point of reference while examining output from the second command.  The output from the second command might be, in turn, used similarly when executing a third show command.  This is what is called Referential Traversal.  Referential Traversal is when a network engineer engages in iterative data correlation in support of a workflow.  In the context of a workflow, this data represents that workflow’s state.

Another well known referential traversal is doing a manual packet-walk of the network:  Examining nodes along the way to determine if there is a potential issue along the path between two endpoints on the edge of the network.  Here, the engineer will examine lookup tables, arp entries, and LLDP neighbor information, jumping from one node to the next.  This particular workflow can tangent in tricky ways such as examining when and what configuration changes were made to see if they could impact traffic between those two endpoints.  When tangenting into examination of a device configuration, you enter a different set of correlated data:  A route-map applied to an interface can, in turn, reference access-lists or prefix-lists.  The rules for evaluating packet flow through a policy follows different logic than the general rules for packet flow across a series of devices.

Figure 2: Referential Space

Figure 2: Referential Space

If you take the set of rules, relationships, and data points from “configuration space” and the rules, relationships, and data points from the “forwarding space,” and you combine them with all other such spaces that a network engineer must deal with in the course of their activities, the sum of these is called “referential space” (See Figure 2).  A network engineering workflow will follow some referential path through this space, examining data and following it’s relationships to yet other data.  There are numerous interconnected spaces in the management, control, forwarding, and device planes of a network each with their own logic and types of data. There are more abstract spaces as well, such as a “design” space that contains the rules and relationships that govern network design.  A network engineer’s expertise is measured by how well they can navigate referential space in support of longer time-scale cycles.

Enablement versus Obviation
The challenge of networking, and the reason that automation (and UX/UI for that matter) has not evolved terribly well, is that these referential paths vary greatly based on what the network engineer is trying to do and how a particular network is built.  There is a vast set of rules governing the many relationships that exist between the seemingly infinite array of data types.  The dynamic nature of referential traversal, and the intimidating size of referential space, should justify a healthy skepticism of vendors claiming to encapsulate network complexity or automate network workflows.  More often than not, they are simply moving the complexity around, while making it more difficult to navigate in the process.

It’s long since overdue to move innovation in networking towards enabling network engineers to be more effective instead of trying to obviate them.  Unlike the past, this should happen with a keen understanding of what network engineers actually do and how they think through their activities.  We can augment these activities to reduce time-to-completion, and reduce time-to-insight while at the same reducing risk and increasing accountability.  There are many networking workflows, which after 20 years, are still notoriously difficult and risky to model and complete.  Let’s solve these problems first.

Make Things Better
As a network engineer, how many times have you heard about the glorious wonders of a product that automates networking or encapsulates network complexity in some way?  After 20 years, we have been trained to identify this language as snake-oil, or perhaps a little nicer, “marketing speak.”  When we buy into these products or features, it’s always just a matter of time before they go unused, or the ugly realities of their operation surfaces.

Encapsulating network complexity, or automating network workflows, can’t just be about “faster.”  That’s only part of the problem.  It has to make things “better.”  This can only happen with a deeper understanding of referential space.

The post What a Network Engineer Does appeared first on Plexxi.

Read the original blog entry...

More Stories By Derick Winkworth

Derick Winkworth has been a developer, network engineer, and IT architect in various verticals throughout his career.He is currently a Product Manager at Plexxi, Inc where he focuses on workflow automation and product UX.

@CloudExpo Stories
SYS-CON Events announced today that EnterpriseDB (EDB), the leading worldwide provider of enterprise-class Postgres products and database compatibility 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. EDB is the largest provider of Postgres software and services that provides enterprise-class performance and scalability and the open source freedom to divert budget from more costly traditiona...
Fundamentally, SDN is still mostly about network plumbing. While plumbing may be useful to tinker with, what you can do with your plumbing is far more intriguing. A rigid interpretation of SDN confines it to Layers 2 and 3, and that's reasonable. But SDN opens opportunities for novel constructions in Layers 4 to 7 that solve real operational problems in data centers. "Data center," in fact, might become anachronistic - data is everywhere, constantly on the move, seemingly always overflowing. Net...
Gartner predicts that the bulk of new IT spending by 2016 will be for cloud platforms and applications and that nearly half of large enterprises will have cloud deployments by the end of 2017. The benefits of the cloud may be clear for applications that can tolerate brief periods of downtime, but for critical applications like SQL Server, Oracle and SAP, companies need a strategy for HA and DR protection. While traditional SAN-based clusters are not possible in these environments, SANless cluste...
Software Defined Storage provides many benefits for customers including agility, flexibility, faster adoption of new technology and cost effectiveness. However, for IT organizations it can be challenging and complex to build your Enterprise Grade Storage from software. In his session at Cloud Expo, Paul Turner, CMO at Cloudian, looked at the new Original Design Manufacturer (ODM) market and how it is changing the storage world. Now Software Defined Storage companies can build Enterprise grade ...
Discussions about cloud computing are evolving into discussions about enterprise IT in general. As enterprises increasingly migrate toward their own unique clouds, new issues such as the use of containers and microservices emerge to keep things interesting. In this Power Panel at 16th Cloud Expo, moderated by Conference Chair Roger Strukhoff, panelists will address the state of cloud computing today, and what enterprise IT professionals need to know about how the latest topics and trends affec...
To manage complex web services with lots of calls to the cloud, many businesses have invested in Application Performance Management (APM) and Network Performance Management (NPM) tools. Together APM and NPM tools are essential aids in improving a business's infrastructure required to support an effective web experience... but they are missing a critical component - Internet visibility. Internet connectivity has always played a role in customer access to web presence, but in the past few years u...
There's Big Data, then there's really Big Data from the Internet of Things. IoT is evolving to include many data possibilities like new types of event, log and network data. The volumes are enormous, generating tens of billions of logs per day, which raise data challenges. Early IoT deployments are relying heavily on both the cloud and managed service providers to navigate these challenges. In her session at Big Data Expo®, Hannah Smalltree, Director at Treasure Data, discussed how IoT, Big D...
Buzzword alert: Microservices and IoT at a DevOps conference? What could possibly go wrong? In this Power Panel at DevOps Summit, moderated by Jason Bloomberg, the leading expert on architecting agility for the enterprise and president of Intellyx, panelists will peel away the buzz and discuss the important architectural principles behind implementing IoT solutions for the enterprise. As remote IoT devices and sensors become increasingly intelligent, they become part of our distributed cloud en...
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.
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...
Even though it’s now Microservices Journal, long-time fans of SOA World Magazine can take comfort in the fact that the URL – soa.sys-con.com – remains unchanged. And that’s no mistake, as microservices are really nothing more than a new and improved take on the Service-Oriented Architecture (SOA) best practices we struggled to hammer out over the last decade. Skeptics, however, might say that this change is nothing more than an exercise in buzzword-hopping. SOA is passé, and now that people are ...
Information Technology (IT) service providers have historically struggled between the huge capital expenditure and long development cycles of building their own cloud versus the thin margins and limited flexibility of using public retailers such as Amazon Web Services (AWS). The emergence of wholesale cloud, and the technologies that make it possible, is revolutionizing how and by whom enterprise IT is delivered. Wholesale cloud is the game-changing third option between building your own (BYO) c...
Shipping daily, injecting faults, and keeping an extremely high availability "without Ops"? Understand why NoOps does not mean no operations. Agile development methodologies require evolved operations to be successful. In his keynote at DevOps Summit, David Tesar, Microsoft Technical Evangelist on Microsoft Azure and DevOps, will discuss how Microsoft teams who have made huge progress with a DevOps transformation effectively utilize operations staff and how challenges were overcome. Regardless ...
You often hear the two titles of "DevOps" and "Immutable Infrastructure" used independently. In his session at DevOps Summit, John Willis, Technical Evangelist for Docker, will cover the union between the two topics and why this is important. He will cover an overview of Immutable Infrastructure then show how an Immutable Continuous Delivery pipeline can be applied as a best practice for "DevOps." He will end the session with some interesting case study examples.
SYS-CON Media named Andi Mann editor of DevOps Journal. DevOps Journal is focused on this critical enterprise IT topic in the world of cloud computing. DevOps Journal brings valuable information to DevOps professionals who are transforming the way enterprise IT is done. Andi Mann, Vice President, Strategic Solutions, at CA Technologies, is an accomplished digital business executive with extensive global expertise as a strategist, technologist, innovator, marketer, communicator, and thought lea...
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...
The 5th International DevOps Summit, co-located with 17th International Cloud Expo – being held November 3-5, 2015, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA – announces that its Call for Papers is open. Born out of proven success in agile development, cloud computing, and process automation, DevOps is a macro trend you cannot afford to miss. From showcase success stories from early adopters and web-scale businesses, DevOps is expanding to organizations of all sizes, including the...
Cloud services are the newest tool in the arsenal of IT products in the market today. These cloud services integrate process and tools. In order to use these products effectively, organizations must have a good understanding of themselves and their business requirements. In his session at 15th Cloud Expo, Brian Lewis, Principal Architect at Verizon Cloud, outlined key areas of organizational focus, and how to formalize an actionable plan when migrating applications and internal services to the ...
Most companies hope for rapid growth so it's important to invest in scalable core technologies that won't demand a complete overhaul when a business goes through a growth spurt. Cloud technology enables previously difficult-to-scale solutions like phone, network infrastructure or billing systems to automatically scale based on demand. For example, with a virtual PBX service, a single-user cloud phone service can easily transition into an advanced VoIP system that supports hundreds of phones and ...
"We have developers who are really passionate about getting their code out to customers, no matter what, in the shortest possible time. Operations are very focused on procedures and policies," explained Stan Klimoff, CTO of Qubell, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at DevOps Summit, held Nov 4–6, 2014, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA.