Welcome!

SDN Journal Authors: Michel Courtoy, Amitabh Sinha, Mike Wood, Stefan Bernbo, Liz McMillan

Related Topics: SDN Journal, Java IoT, Linux Containers, Containers Expo Blog, @CloudExpo, @BigDataExpo

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
"We are a monitoring company. We work with Salesforce, BBC, and quite a few other big logos. We basically provide monitoring for them, structure for their cloud services and we fit into the DevOps world" explained David Gildeh, Co-founder and CEO of Outlyer, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at DevOps Summit at 20th Cloud Expo, held June 6-8, 2017, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY.
In his session at @ThingsExpo, Eric Lachapelle, CEO of the Professional Evaluation and Certification Board (PECB), provided an overview of various initiatives to certify the security of connected devices and future trends in ensuring public trust of IoT. Eric Lachapelle is the Chief Executive Officer of the Professional Evaluation and Certification Board (PECB), an international certification body. His role is to help companies and individuals to achieve professional, accredited and worldwide re...
With major technology companies and startups seriously embracing Cloud strategies, now is the perfect time to attend 21st Cloud Expo October 31 - November 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center, CA, and June 12-14, 2018, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY, and learn what is going on, contribute to the discussions, and ensure that your enterprise is on the right path to Digital Transformation.
Automation is enabling enterprises to design, deploy, and manage more complex, hybrid cloud environments. Yet the people who manage these environments must be trained in and understanding these environments better than ever before. A new era of analytics and cognitive computing is adding intelligence, but also more complexity, to these cloud environments. How smart is your cloud? How smart should it be? In this power panel at 20th Cloud Expo, moderated by Conference Chair Roger Strukhoff, pane...
@DevOpsSummit at Cloud Expo taking place Oct 31 - Nov 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center, Santa Clara, CA, is co-located with the 21st International Cloud Expo and will feature technical sessions from a rock star conference faculty and the leading industry players in the world. 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 hype cycles or predictions of zillions of things here. IoT is big. You get it. You know your business and have great ideas for a business transformation strategy. What comes next? Time to make it happen. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Jay Mason, Associate Partner at M&S Consulting, presented a step-by-step plan to develop your technology implementation strategy. He discussed the evaluation of communication standards and IoT messaging protocols, data analytics considerations, edge-to-cloud tec...
When growing capacity and power in the data center, the architectural trade-offs between server scale-up vs. scale-out continue to be debated. Both approaches are valid: scale-out adds multiple, smaller servers running in a distributed computing model, while scale-up adds fewer, more powerful servers that are capable of running larger workloads. It’s worth noting that there are additional, unique advantages that scale-up architectures offer. One big advantage is large memory and compute capacity...
In 2014, Amazon announced a new form of compute called Lambda. We didn't know it at the time, but this represented a fundamental shift in what we expect from cloud computing. Now, all of the major cloud computing vendors want to take part in this disruptive technology. In his session at 20th Cloud Expo, Doug Vanderweide, an instructor at Linux Academy, discussed why major players like AWS, Microsoft Azure, IBM Bluemix, and Google Cloud Platform are all trying to sidestep VMs and containers wit...
What's the role of an IT self-service portal when you get to continuous delivery and Infrastructure as Code? This general session showed how to create the continuous delivery culture and eight accelerators for leading the change. Don Demcsak is a DevOps and Cloud Native Modernization Principal for Dell EMC based out of New Jersey. He is a former, long time, Microsoft Most Valuable Professional, specializing in building and architecting Application Delivery Pipelines for hybrid legacy, and cloud ...
Amazon started as an online bookseller 20 years ago. Since then, it has evolved into a technology juggernaut that has disrupted multiple markets and industries and touches many aspects of our lives. It is a relentless technology and business model innovator driving disruption throughout numerous ecosystems. Amazon’s AWS revenues alone are approaching $16B a year making it one of the largest IT companies in the world. With dominant offerings in Cloud, IoT, eCommerce, Big Data, AI, Digital Assista...
SYS-CON Events announced today that CA Technologies has been named "Platinum Sponsor" of SYS-CON's 21st International Cloud Expo®, which will take place October 31-November 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. CA Technologies helps customers succeed in a future where every business - from apparel to energy - is being rewritten by software. From planning to development to management to security, CA creates software that fuels transformation for companies in the applic...
Artificial intelligence, machine learning, neural networks. We’re in the midst of a wave of excitement around AI such as hasn’t been seen for a few decades. But those previous periods of inflated expectations led to troughs of disappointment. Will this time be different? Most likely. Applications of AI such as predictive analytics are already decreasing costs and improving reliability of industrial machinery. Furthermore, the funding and research going into AI now comes from a wide range of com...
Multiple data types are pouring into IoT deployments. Data is coming in small packages as well as enormous files and data streams of many sizes. Widespread use of mobile devices adds to the total. In this power panel at @ThingsExpo, moderated by Conference Chair Roger Strukhoff, panelists looked at the tools and environments that are being put to use in IoT deployments, as well as the team skills a modern enterprise IT shop needs to keep things running, get a handle on all this data, and deliver...
Internet of @ThingsExpo, taking place October 31 - November 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA, is co-located with 21st Cloud Expo and will feature technical sessions from a rock star conference faculty and the leading industry players in the world. The Internet of Things (IoT) is the most profound change in personal and enterprise IT since the creation of the Worldwide Web more than 20 years ago. All major researchers estimate there will be tens of billions devic...
DevOps at Cloud Expo, taking place October 31 - November 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA, is co-located with 21st Cloud Expo and will feature technical sessions from a rock star conference faculty and the leading industry players in the world. 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 w...
For organizations that have amassed large sums of software complexity, taking a microservices approach is the first step toward DevOps and continuous improvement / development. Integrating system-level analysis with microservices makes it easier to change and add functionality to applications at any time without the increase of risk. Before you start big transformation projects or a cloud migration, make sure these changes won’t take down your entire organization.
SYS-CON Events announced today that Cloud Academy named "Bronze Sponsor" of 21st International Cloud Expo which will take place October 31 - November 2, 2017 at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Cloud Academy is the industry’s most innovative, vendor-neutral cloud technology training platform. Cloud Academy provides continuous learning solutions for individuals and enterprise teams for Amazon Web Services, Microsoft Azure, Google Cloud Platform, and the most popular cloud com...
SYS-CON Events announced today that IBM has been named “Diamond Sponsor” of SYS-CON's 21st Cloud Expo, which will take place on October 31 through November 2nd 2017 at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, California.
21st International Cloud Expo, taking place October 31 - November 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA, will feature technical sessions from a rock star conference faculty and the leading industry players in the world. Cloud computing is now being embraced by a majority of enterprises of all sizes. Yesterday's debate about public vs. private has transformed into the reality of hybrid cloud: a recent survey shows that 74% of enterprises have a hybrid cloud strategy. Me...
SYS-CON Events announced today that Enzu will exhibit at SYS-CON's 21st Int\ernational Cloud Expo®, which will take place October 31-November 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Enzu’s mission is to be the leading provider of enterprise cloud solutions worldwide. Enzu enables online businesses to use its IT infrastructure to their competitive advantage. By offering a suite of proven hosting and management services, Enzu wants companies to focus on the core of their ...