By: Shilpi
August 23 2019

NetDevOps: When DevOps Comes To Networking

DevOps has driven the IT application development culture explicitly towards a new paradigm. It has revolutionized the software development process by enforcing development(Dev) and operations(Ops) teams to work in close collaboration with each other. The continuous deployment and infrastructure improvement through agile adoption have made swift delivery and release of the IT services. 

Illustration image showing black communication tower with electricity cables in the evening under a grey sky


Higher performance estimates over traditional deployment counterparts have been seen after the incorporation of DevOps culture inside an organization. The reason being, the build, test, and deployment taking place in an alliance, eventually removing silos. Additionally, DevOps has led to effective security amendments through automation and monitoring which enables quick flaw detection and resolution. The assorted tools supporting cross-functional interoperability and automated workflows have strengthened continuous development, testing, deployment, and integration procedures. What will happen when DevOps' positive outcomes, benefits are associated with networking?  

In this article, we will discuss how things turn-out when DevOps and networking work with similar goals. But at the very first, let us unravel the network configuration challenges faced by an organization.

Network Configuration Challenges 

Constant connectivity of end-systems and applications is imperative for the proper functioning of an organization. The network is fundamental to offer any type of service enabling unbreakable connection for the organization. Sequential and manual provisioning leads to a situation where the network devices become outdated and less resilient for the current network configurations. 

Thus, any changes made in the network configurations will bring many uncalled errors making the situation more complex for the team to handle. The issues mentioned earlier are very much similar to the procedure of traditional software development. Agile, DevOps, (Continuous Integration)/CD (Continuous Delivery) pipeline and automated unit testing help in overcoming such challenges.  The same principles, when applied to the network configurations, leads to a new paradigm called NetDevOps. 

NetDevOps: Networking + DevOps
 


In its simplest terms, NetDevOps can be defined as an intersection of Networking and DevOps. It is open communication, done through automation and using Infrastructure as Code (IaC). 

Infrastructure as Code is a significant part of NetDevOps. Also called programmable or software-defined infrastructure, IaC is the process that provisions and manages data center resources (compute and connectivity) through machine-readable definition files instead of using physical hardware or interactive configuration tools. 

More spreadsheets and ad-hoc scripting are required with the growth of an enterprise network. This makes network automation vital for network reliability and quality.  Intelligent management of network infrastructure configuration and operation is referred to as network automation. The efficiency of an organization will enhance when networking and DevOps principles are integrated together for similar objectives.

In short, the major objective of NetDevOps is to build and manage a network ensuring network services to be consumed in a DevOps approach. DevNetOps, NetOps, or SuperNetOps are the other names for NetDevOps that are being used more often. When the concepts of DevOps are applied to the network, the benefits start rolling in.

Below points mention the advantages of acquiring a NetDevOps culture in an organization.

Breaking Human Silos: Much like DevOps, communication is the key to a successful NetDevOps implementation. Consistent communication will encourage effective collaboration and will increase the efficiency of the team members across the enterprise network. When an issue pops up, it is much more practical to have multiple teams working towards the solution of the problem rather than just sitting back and turning a blind eye thinking of it as the other department’s problem.
This results in tooling expansion between the application, server and networking space. Finding and applying the best solutions across the entire enterprise establishes consistency in between silos.

Less Manual Involvement: The repetitive logins into the server and making manual changes every time, leading to a change in the network is quite a struggle. Consequently, it wastes a lot of time and is error-prone. 
IaC leads to a shift from manual mode to automation ensuring automation scripts to be error-free and can be redeployed on multiple servers. Additionally, can be rolled back and is easily accessed by all the teams.

How to Incorporate NetDevOps?

The next couple of years will see a boost in the adoption of NetDevOps in an organization. The environment of automation brings a complete networking circle with DevOps. Implementation of NetDevOps in an organization's culture can be done by selecting an infrastructure that allows the deployment of infrastructure as code for the network. It can be done with the following two approaches. 

  • Software-Defined Networks (SDN): It can be defined as the network version of cloud infrastructure. Implementation of white-box switches and Linux installation creates a software-defined network(SDN) environment which is favorable for NetDevOps. In an SDN environment,  white-box switches provide the ability to run code for the network.
     
  • Through a Cloud Provider: With a massive shift of organizations to cloud computing,  the need to deploy updates and changes remotely becomes crucial.  Cloud computing offers the necessary environment for NetDevOps implementation which installs a hardware infrastructure allowing code deployment. In a cloud environment, the infrastructure required for this approach is already available. For example, the required infrastructure for IaC is provided by AWS CloudFormation (AWS service). The DevOps teams must be utilizing the tools that facilitate automation in the cloud environment, applying the same in the networking will be truly beneficial. 

Analogous to DevOps, NetDevOps is focused on preventing errors, avoid repetitions, reproducing and disposing things and successful code delivery.  But, shifting to NetDevOps will require a big cultural change. 

Bringing a Change in Culture 

Illustration image showing the culture of the fear loop on left in red color and the changes need to be done to remove the cultural fear on right in blue color
Source: Cisco.com

For the purpose of achieving success similar to DevOps in software development, NetDevOps must be transformational. Setting up the culture right is the first step. In order to eliminate cultural fear from the organization, the following cultural changes need to be done.

  • Accept failure and create learning from the same for a better future.
  • Understand, ‘change is the only constant’ and is good for further development. 
  • Establish active collaboration and coordination between developers and operations teams.
  • Encourage teams for ownership and responsibility.
  • Continuous feedback systems which will escalate iteration and improvement of processes.
  • End to end automation for complete change life-cycle.

This shift in the culture will eventually change the way networks are managed, automated and scaled up in an organization. It will ensure effective team collaboration, focusing on improving the flexibility and reliability of the network.  Let’s explore how it happens.

Steps to Embrace NetDevOps 

When Infrastructure as Code approach is applied with network device configurations, it is termed as Network as Code. The idea of Network as Code is to store network configurations of the whole network in a Version Control System (VCS), which manages and tracks changes in the network. The VCS is considered as a Single Source of Truth for all-things network configuration. The below bullets describe the complete network-configuration change loop.

(Flowchart consisting of blue and grey colored boxes interconnected by arrows to explain NetDevOps
Source: Cisco
  • Network configuration changes are projected in the code branches, the place where network developers work on their proposed configurations, without affecting the master branch, having the master configurations. 
     
  • Once the new configurations are available, developers request their branch to be merged with the master configurations and pass through an approval process so as to verify that no issues are present while incorporating changes.
     
  • Further, CI/CD build servers are used for the automatic deployment and examination of the proposed configurations in testing, staging and production environments.
     
  • The newly created configurations which successfully pass the tests get deployed into the production environment. Just in case of the occurrence of any failure during the final deployment, the system rollbacks itself automatically with the proposed changes, bringing the production network into its original state.
     
  • In place of old, slow and error-prone command-line interfaces, modern interfaces and APIs are used for the deployment of the configuration. With this approach, an environment is established supporting automatic deployment and test configuration changes across the network. 

The above process creates a complete automated environment that can deploy and test configuration changes across the network. Though the Dev and Ops teams work to provide a rapid and stable release, a communication gap and tooling differences have been seen between the Networking and DevOps teams. 

Being an emerging transformational process, not much tooling is available for NetDevOps. As mentioned in its benefits NetDevOps removes silos with tooling expansion, therefore, few DevOps assorted tools are used in networking. These are listed in the next section.

Tools Being Leveraged for NetDevOps

#1. Ansible

Written by Michael DeHaan and later acquired by Red Hat, Inc, Ansible is an open-source software tool facilitating application deployment, configuration management, continuous delivery, and IT infrastructure automation. Apart from being free availability, Ansible also offers an enterprise product called Ansible Tower which is a web-based interface managing Ansible.

#2. Puppet 

The flagship product of Puppet Enterprise, Puppet is a freely available software configuration management tool that runs on Microsoft Windows and many Unix-like systems. 

#3. Chef Infra 

A powerful configuration management tool that processes machines set up on physical servers, virtual machines and in the cloud, Chef Infra is open-source. Chef Infra offers an automation platform transforming infrastructure into code. 

Conclusion

DevOps has brought cultural transformation in the software development industry. Much like DevOps, a culture of fear is seen inside the organization affecting the capability of the networking teams to deliver services quickly and efficiently. The efficiency of an organization will enhance when networking and DevOps principles are integrated together for similar goals Network automation and IaC is the key for NetDevOps implementation. 

Combining Networking and DevOps benefits to solve the challenges of network configuration. What do you think about this cultural shift? Share your views on our social channels: Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter.