The enterprise is under enormous pressure these days to embark on the “digital transformation” that will convert existing business models to service-based ones, and a key aspect of that process is the conversion to software defined networking (SDN).
As the last element of data infrastructure to go virtual, networking is the key to abstracting end-to-end data environments that can transcend data centers, cloud providers, and all other aspects of the physical world. But with all the attention centered on putting SDN in place, not much has gone to how it will operate, other than the fact that automation and intelligent management will take care of everything.
The full truth is a bit more nuanced, however. As with the rest of this virtual data stack, networking will increasingly gravitate toward a DevOps style of management, which not only requires new tools and skillsets but entirely new organizational structures to deliver the flexibility that virtual architectures are supposed to provide.
According to KEMP Technologies’ Maurice McMullin, DevOps and an Agile development methodology are the only ways to prevent chaos as the data environment embraces multi-cloud infrastructure. On the network level, this requires a common set of management interfaces and a single management view across the entire DevOps workflow. Without that, data environments evolve along inconsistent architectural footings, and you wind up with the very same data silos that virtualization and the cloud were supposed to eliminate. To that end, the enterprise should ensure that their SDN deployments support visibility, tracking and logging of management functions across the cloud and that DevOps teams have access to common templates, scripts and role-based access tools to ensure consistent configuration across the board.
So far, the SDN development community has taken the DevOps aspect of network management to heart. Brocade recently introduced the new Workflow Composer that ties DevOps functions more closely to the network automation and orchestration layer. The system is built on cross-domain workflow management technology acquired from StackStorm, essentially adding tools like automated provisioning, validation and troubleshooting to provide a broader network lifecycle management solution. The system also utilizes common open source technologies like Puppet and Python to bring network automation into devops workflows, and it supports OpenStack through StackStorm’s Sensors and Actions points of integration.
Ciena is building up a portfolio of devops tools for SDN and NFV environments as well. The company recently upgraded its Blue Planet orchestration platform with new tools and access to community-based resources to simplify networking provisioning during DevOps cycles. The platform enables customized service templates and open source collaboration tools that allow teams of in-house and external developers to create new services on a common framework. It also provides for online documentation and training and multiple libraries of resource adapters and templates.
Data center platform providers are starting to tie DevOps to networking as well. Red Hat recently expanded its Ansible automation system with agentless network management tools to allow DevOps workflows to cut across multivendor environments from Arista, Cisco, Juniper and others. The system is also geared for non-network professionals, such as systems and applications developers and even senior executives, offering easy-to-use, holistic methods of managing workloads, incorporating new devices and devising new operational methodologies.
Since DevOps is literally the union between development and operations, the enterprise will have to get used to the idea of no longer having a networking team, a storage team or an app development team. Instead, individuals with varying skillsets will form the DevOps team to handle development, deployment and support throughout the project’s useful lifecycle.
The toolsets under development right now will go a long way toward building this new network environment and enabling digital transformation, but it will be the people using it who give it real value.