|By Michael Bushong||
|July 28, 2014 06:00 AM EDT||
The benefits of automation are well understood: more agile service provisioning, faster time to insight when there are issues, and a reduction in human error as manual interaction is reduced. Much of the premise behind long-term SDN architectural advantages is steeped in the hope that SDN will help enable and ultimately promote automation. But while centralizing control has significant operational advantages, by itself, it doesn’t actually address the most important requirement for automation.
If automation is going to be more than just reducing keystrokes, there will have to be a rise of workflow state.
Successfully managing a network is an exercise in constant iteration through network state. Whenever something needs to be done, the architect or operator examines her current frame of reference to figure out the starting point. That frame of reference usually starts with some implicit understanding of how the network is designed. From there, she takes some action. Maybe she pings an endpoint, checks the state of a BGP neighbor, or examines some interface statistics. Whatever the first step, the point is that she knows when she starts that there is work after the first step.
The information gleaned from the first step yields additional understanding. Her frame of reference changes as she now knows more than before. With her new position in referential space, she takes the next step. And the next, and the next after that. Each step yields a different piece of information, and the process of iterating through a constantly changing referential space ultimately yields some outcome or resolution.
Byproducts of iterative workflows
There are two major byproducts of this iterative approach to workflow. The first is that the starting point is rarely based on an absolute understanding of fact. Rather it is an interpretation that the individual operator or architect creates based on a number of somewhat soft conditions – knowledge, experience, intuition, whatever. This means that for each task, the workflow is somewhat unique, depending on the operator and the environment.
The impact here is important. If workflows are unique based on the operator and the conditions (i.e., the referential space or frame of reference), then the outcomes driven by those workflows are difficult to repeat. Part of why networking is so hard is that so much of it borders on arcane dark art. Science demands repeatability, but the very nature of workflow management in networking makes that challenging.
The second byproduct of networking’s iterative nature is that workflows frequently depend on a set of chained tasks, each of which has a dependency on the preceding task. To make things worse, that dependency is actually rarely known at the start of a a workflow. It’s not that tasks cannot be predictably chained – first, you look at the physical layer, and then you move up stack perhaps. But each subsequent task is executed based on not just the previous task but also the output of the previous task. This creates a complex set of if/then statements in most workflows.
Part of the challenge in automation is providing the logic to navigate the conditional nature of networking workflows.
“Network engineers need to think like programmers”
With the rise of movements like DevOps, “network engineers thinking like programmers” has become a popular phrase. This is a very important change in how we handle network architecture and operations. But there are subtleties here that get lost in the cliche.
First, when people toss the phrase around, they often mean that network engineers need to pick up a scripting language (Python, Ruby, even Perl). Thinking like a software developer has very little to do with programming languages. Languages are a way of expressing intent, but it’s entirely possible to know Python and think nothing like a developer.
Second, when people refer to programming in the context of DevOps, they generally mean that network operators need to think about configuration less as a collection of commands and more like code. Once you make that shift, then you can think about things like source code management, automated testing, and rapid deployment.
But networking needs to do more than just treat configuration as code. DevOps has more to do with deploying and validating changes. It doesn’t fundamentally change how workflows are executed, and it barely touches more operational tasks like troubleshooting network conditions.
Before anyone picks a religious battle over DevOps here, my point is not that DevOps is bad. It’s just that DevOps by itself is not sufficient. And there are things that ought to be done that are separate from DevOps.
Tiny feedback loops
So if thinking like a programmer isn’t about learning a programming language and it’s more than treating configuration as code, what is it?
Software development is really about creating something out of lots of tiny feedback loops. When you write functions, you don’t just execute some task. You generally execute that task and then return a value. The value provides some immediate feedback about the outcome. In some cases, the function returns the value of a computation; in other cases, it simply returns an indication that the function succeeded or failed.
These values are obviously then used by other functions, which allows us to string together small building blocks into complex chains. The important part? These chains can then be repeatably executed in a deterministic way.
Networking workflows shouldn’t be that different. Each individual activity yields some value (sometimes a specific value as when looking at some counter, other times a success or failure as with a ping). The problem is that while networking commands frequently return information, it is up to the operator themselves to parse this information, analyze what it means, and then take the next action.
What we need if we really want to make automation happen in ways that extend beyond just scripting keystrokes is a means of creating deterministic networking workflows. For this to happen, we need people who construct workflows to think more like developers. Each activity within a workflow needs to be a tiny feedback loop with explicit workflow state that is programmatically passed between workflow elements.
We actually instinctively do this at times. XML, NETCONF, and the like have been used to encapsulate networking inputs and outputs for awhile with the intent of making things parseable and thus more automatable.
But we stopped short. We made the outputs more automation-friendly without ever really creating workflows. So while we can programmatically act on values, it only works if someone has automated a particular workflow. As an industry, we haven’t gotten to actually addressing the workflow problem.
Maybe it’s the highly conditional nature of networking combined with the uniqueness of individual networks. Or maybe it’s that outside of a few automation savants, our industry doesn’t generally think about workflows the way a software developer would.
The bottom line
Networking workflows rely way too heavily on an iterative pass through referential space. The reason change is so scary and troubleshooting so hard is that very little in networking is actually deterministic. But if we really want to improve the overall user experience en route to making workflows both repeatable and reliable, we do need to start thinking a bit more like developers. It all starts with a more explicit understanding of the workflows we rely on, and the expression of feedback via some form of workflow state.
And for everyone betting on abstractions, just know that abstracting a poorly-defined workflow results in an equally poor abstraction. We need to be starting elsewhere.
[Today’s fun fact: Only male fireflies can fly. Take that, females!]
Consumer IoT applications provide data about the user that just doesn’t exist in traditional PC or mobile web applications. This rich data, or “context,” enables the highly personalized consumer experiences that characterize many consumer IoT apps. This same data is also providing brands with unprecedented insight into how their connected products are being used, while, at the same time, powering highly targeted engagement and marketing opportunities. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Nathan Treloar, President and COO of Bebaio, will explore examples of brands transforming their businesses by t...
Sep. 4, 2015 07:00 AM EDT Reads: 301
Through WebRTC, audio and video communications are being embedded more easily than ever into applications, helping carriers, enterprises and independent software vendors deliver greater functionality to their end users. With today’s business world increasingly focused on outcomes, users’ growing calls for ease of use, and businesses craving smarter, tighter integration, what’s the next step in delivering a richer, more immersive experience? That richer, more fully integrated experience comes about through a Communications Platform as a Service which allows for messaging, screen sharing, video...
Sep. 4, 2015 06:00 AM EDT Reads: 754
WebRTC has had a real tough three or four years, and so have those working with it. Only a few short years ago, the development world were excited about WebRTC and proclaiming how awesome it was. You might have played with the technology a couple of years ago, only to find the extra infrastructure requirements were painful to implement and poorly documented. This probably left a bitter taste in your mouth, especially when things went wrong.
Sep. 4, 2015 06:00 AM EDT Reads: 508
WebRTC services have already permeated corporate communications in the form of videoconferencing solutions. However, WebRTC has the potential of going beyond and catalyzing a new class of services providing more than calls with capabilities such as mass-scale real-time media broadcasting, enriched and augmented video, person-to-machine and machine-to-machine communications. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Luis Lopez, CEO of Kurento, will introduce the technologies required for implementing these ideas and some early experiments performed in the Kurento open source software community in areas ...
Sep. 4, 2015 05:00 AM EDT Reads: 131
The 17th International Cloud Expo has announced that its Call for Papers is open. 17th International Cloud Expo, to be held November 3-5, 2015, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA, brings together Cloud Computing, APM, APIs, Microservices, Security, Big Data, Internet of Things, DevOps and WebRTC to one location. With cloud computing driving a higher percentage of enterprise IT budgets every year, it becomes increasingly important to plant your flag in this fast-expanding business opportunity. Submit your speaking proposal today!
Sep. 4, 2015 04:30 AM EDT Reads: 1,705
In his session at @ThingsExpo, Lee Williams, a producer of the first smartphones and tablets, will talk about how he is now applying his experience in mobile technology to the design and development of the next generation of Environmental and Sustainability Services at ETwater. He will explain how M2M controllers work through wirelessly connected remote controls; and specifically delve into a retrofit option that reverse-engineers control codes of existing conventional controller systems so they don't have to be replaced and are instantly converted to become smart, connected devices.
Sep. 4, 2015 02:00 AM EDT Reads: 273
The 3rd International WebRTC Summit, to be held Nov. 4–6, 2014, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA, announces that its Call for Papers is now open. Topics include all aspects of improving IT delivery by eliminating waste through automated business models leveraging cloud technologies. WebRTC Summit is co-located with 15th International Cloud Expo, 6th International Big Data Expo, 3rd International DevOps Summit and 2nd Internet of @ThingsExpo. WebRTC (Web-based Real-Time Communication) is an open source project supported by Google, Mozilla and Opera that aims to enable bro...
Sep. 4, 2015 01:15 AM EDT Reads: 1,629
SYS-CON Events announced today that Pythian, a global IT services company specializing in helping companies leverage disruptive technologies to optimize revenue-generating systems, has been named “Bronze Sponsor” of SYS-CON's 17th Cloud Expo, which will take place on November 3–5, 2015, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Founded in 1997, Pythian is a global IT services company that helps companies compete by adopting disruptive technologies such as cloud, Big Data, advanced analytics, and DevOps to advance innovation and increase agility. Specializing in designing, imple...
Sep. 4, 2015 12:00 AM EDT Reads: 388
Containers are not new, but renewed commitments to performance, flexibility, and agility have propelled them to the top of the agenda today. By working without the need for virtualization and its overhead, containers are seen as the perfect way to deploy apps and services across multiple clouds. Containers can handle anything from file types to operating systems and services, including microservices. What are microservices? Unlike what the name implies, microservices are not necessarily small, but are focused on specific tasks. The ability for developers to deploy multiple containers – thous...
Sep. 3, 2015 10:00 PM EDT Reads: 203
SYS-CON Events announced today that IceWarp will exhibit at the 17th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on November 3–5, 2015, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. IceWarp, the leader of cloud and on-premise messaging, delivers secured email, chat, documents, conferencing and collaboration to today's mobile workforce, all in one unified interface
Sep. 3, 2015 10:00 PM EDT Reads: 495
All major researchers estimate there will be tens of billions devices - computers, smartphones, tablets, and sensors - connected to the Internet by 2020. This number will continue to grow at a rapid pace for the next several decades. With major technology companies and startups seriously embracing IoT strategies, now is the perfect time to attend @ThingsExpo, November 3-5, 2015, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Learn what is going on, contribute to the discussions, and ensure that your enterprise is as "IoT-Ready" as it can be.
Sep. 3, 2015 08:30 PM EDT Reads: 181
Too often with compelling new technologies market participants become overly enamored with that attractiveness of the technology and neglect underlying business drivers. This tendency, what some call the “newest shiny object syndrome,” is understandable given that virtually all of us are heavily engaged in technology. But it is also mistaken. Without concrete business cases driving its deployment, IoT, like many other technologies before it, will fade into obscurity.
Sep. 3, 2015 04:30 PM EDT Reads: 439
As more and more data is generated from a variety of connected devices, the need to get insights from this data and predict future behavior and trends is increasingly essential for businesses. Real-time stream processing is needed in a variety of different industries such as Manufacturing, Oil and Gas, Automobile, Finance, Online Retail, Smart Grids, and Healthcare. Azure Stream Analytics is a fully managed distributed stream computation service that provides low latency, scalable processing of streaming data in the cloud with an enterprise grade SLA. It features built-in integration with Azur...
Sep. 3, 2015 02:45 PM EDT Reads: 395
With the proliferation of connected devices underpinning new Internet of Things systems, Brandon Schulz, Director of Luxoft IoT – Retail, will be looking at the transformation of the retail customer experience in brick and mortar stores in his session at @ThingsExpo. Questions he will address include: Will beacons drop to the wayside like QR codes, or be a proximity-based profit driver? How will the customer experience change in stores of all types when everything can be instrumented and analyzed? As an area of investment, how might a retail company move towards an innovation methodolo...
Sep. 3, 2015 02:30 PM EDT Reads: 522
SYS-CON Events announced today that HPM Networks will exhibit at the 17th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on November 3–5, 2015, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. For 20 years, HPM Networks has been integrating technology solutions that solve complex business challenges. HPM Networks has designed solutions for both SMB and enterprise customers throughout the San Francisco Bay Area.
Sep. 3, 2015 02:30 PM EDT Reads: 968
SYS-CON Events announced today the Containers & Microservices Bootcamp, being held November 3-4, 2015, in conjunction with 17th Cloud Expo, @ThingsExpo, and @DevOpsSummit at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. This is your chance to get started with the latest technology in the industry. Combined with real-world scenarios and use cases, the Containers and Microservices Bootcamp, led by Janakiram MSV, a Microsoft Regional Director, will include presentations as well as hands-on demos and comprehensive walkthroughs.
Sep. 3, 2015 02:15 PM EDT Reads: 420
Contrary to mainstream media attention, the multiple possibilities of how consumer IoT will transform our everyday lives aren’t the only angle of this headline-gaining trend. There’s a huge opportunity for “industrial IoT” and “Smart Cities” to impact the world in the same capacity – especially during critical situations. For example, a community water dam that needs to release water can leverage embedded critical communications logic to alert the appropriate individuals, on the right device, as soon as they are needed to take action.
Sep. 3, 2015 01:30 PM EDT
With the Apple Watch making its way onto wrists all over the world, it’s only a matter of time before it becomes a staple in the workplace. In fact, Forrester reported that 68 percent of technology and business decision-makers characterize wearables as a top priority for 2015. Recognizing their business value early on, FinancialForce.com was the first to bring ERP to wearables, helping streamline communication across front and back office functions. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Kevin Roberts, GM of Platform at FinancialForce.com, will discuss the value of business applications on wearable ...
Sep. 3, 2015 10:45 AM EDT Reads: 103
SYS-CON Events announced today that Micron Technology, Inc., a global leader in advanced semiconductor systems, will exhibit at the 17th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on November 3–5, 2015, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Micron’s broad portfolio of high-performance memory technologies – including DRAM, NAND and NOR Flash – is the basis for solid state drives, modules, multichip packages and other system solutions. Backed by more than 35 years of technology leadership, Micron's memory solutions enable the world's most innovative computing, consumer,...
Sep. 3, 2015 10:00 AM EDT Reads: 290
17th Cloud Expo, taking place Nov 3-5, 2015, 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. Meanwhile, 94% of enterprises are using some form of XaaS – software, platform, and infrastructure as a service.
Sep. 3, 2015 10:00 AM EDT Reads: 1,605