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Zero Touch Provisioning can help the network world catch up to server advances

Calvin Chai, Head of Product Marketing for Pica8 Inc | Jan. 29, 2015
Rather than using CLI to configure systems one at a time, ZTP can roll out new switches with a click of a mouse.

* Once the initial OS and configuration has been verified, the device can be installed into the environment (racked and cabled), where further customized configuration can be made (either locally via the console or through a remote access protocol) that is specific to the application and location within the network.

The details may vary slightly for each environment, but the basics remain the same. Now extrapolate the model to ten network switches. Or twenty. Or one hundred.  This can be very time consuming. And when you consider that for each switch there's an opportunity for a configuration error that can bring down the network or create exposure and a security risk, the conclusion is obvious: there has to be a better way.

How does ZTP help with this process for the network?  Remove all the manual configuration and steps listed above, and what you have left is ZTP.

In this model, the administrator receives the hardware and the first thing they do is to physically install the device -- rack and cable the switch.   Once these physical connections are made, the technician no longer has to touch the box -- hence the name, zero touch. 

With ZTP, once the switch is powered on, it uses standard network protocols to fetch everything it needs for provisioning.  It can send a DHCP query to get the proper IP address for connectivity and management, then use BootP/TFTP to get the right operating system image, and then another TFTP request to get the right configuration file based on the application profile.

In this model, once the network administrator sets up the IP address scheme via the DHCP server, and the OS and configuration files on the TFTP server, they can effectively roll out tens, hundreds, and thousands of switches in this way -- all fully customizable and without the time consuming and error prone manual configuration process.

Sounds like a no brainer right?  Now juxtapose this with some mega trends that are happening in the data center today.

The first of these is the fact that bringing applications to market faster is the key to gaining competitive advantage.  So the faster IT teams are able to bring infrastructure online to support these applications, the better.  With ZTP and server virtualization prevalent in the server world, it's become critical to automate the network processes as well.  No network administrator wants to be the long pole in the tent.

The second is bare-metal switching.  If applications are driving the top line, then it's the hardware that will help the bottom line.  Commoditization of network hardware is the next logical evolution, with the rapid adoption of merchant silicon.  More and more customers are seeing less differentiation in the hardware, and more differentiation in the speed, features, and operational simplicity that the software can provide. Today, three manufacturers (Big Switch, Cumulus, and Pica8) are offering Linux-based OSs for bare-metal switches - effectively bringing the efficiency and familiarity of Linux to the network world.


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