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Incremental SDN: Automating network device configuration

Ethan Banks | Sept. 10, 2014
Automation is a logical next step in the SDN migration journey.

Vagrant, which is used to automate the creation of virtual machines. As many network devices are available as a virtual machine, Vagrant becomes useful as a way to automate the spinning up of network device VMs on VirtualBox, VMware and other hypervisors. Vagrant can also call to Ansible or Puppet to provision virtual machines once they have been instantiated.

What's next?
Network consumers interested in automating their network device configuration need to pay close attention to emerging technologies in the SDN space. APIs continue to grow in importance, providing access to SDN controllers, software modules that plug into controllers, and the network devices that sit underneath those controllers. The configuration work done by a home-grown Python program or Ansible playbook today could (and in some cases can) be done by a software defined application communicating network needs to a controller that provisions the network devices.

In fact, some SDN platforms take the network device configuration work out of the hands of human beings altogether. For example, about the only work a network engineer does on an NEC ProgrammableFlow switch is to point the switch to the controller's IP address. The rest of the configuration is done via the controller itself.Put another way, automating the configuration of network devices using tools as described in this article is truly incremental. Humans are still articulating the specifics of minutiae like VLAN numbers and routing configurations, but using better tools than the CLI or GUI to generate and install the required configuration.

Ultimately, SDN purports to take even those sorts of requirements away, allowing businesses to express their needs as policies related to security and application importance. Those abstract policy descriptions will result in software defined network device configurations that meet business needs and ensure user experience and regulatory compliance. The battle the industry is fighting now is about exactly how that complexity should be abstracted, expressed and programmatically implemented. For now, automating network configuration using powerful tools is a very good place for organizations to start.

 

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