Click here to close now.

Welcome!

DevOps Journal Authors: Plutora Blog, Trevor Parsons, Mike Kavis, Brett Hofer, Carmen Gonzalez

Blog Feed Post

Automation through workflow state

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.

Referential space

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.

Workflow state

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!]

The post Automation through workflow state appeared first on Plexxi.

Read the original blog entry...

More Stories By Michael Bushong

The best marketing efforts leverage deep technology understanding with a highly-approachable means of communicating. Plexxi's Vice President of Marketing Michael Bushong has acquired these skills having spent 12 years at Juniper Networks where he led product management, product strategy and product marketing organizations for Juniper's flagship operating system, Junos. Michael spent the last several years at Juniper leading their SDN efforts across both service provider and enterprise markets. Prior to Juniper, Michael spent time at database supplier Sybase, and ASIC design tool companies Synopsis and Magma Design Automation. Michael's undergraduate work at the University of California Berkeley in advanced fluid mechanics and heat transfer lend new meaning to the marketing phrase "This isn't rocket science."

@DevOpsSummit Stories
In his session at DevOps Summit, Tapabrata Pal, Director of Enterprise Architecture at Capital One, will tell a story about how Capital One has embraced Agile and DevOps Security practices across the Enterprise – driven by Enterprise Architecture; bringing in Development, Operations and Information Security organizations together. Capital Ones DevOpsSec practice is based upon three "pillars" – Shift-Left, Automate Everything, Dashboard Everything. Within about three years, from 100% waterfall, Capital One now has 500+ Agile Teams delivering quality software via Agile and DevOps practices.
The cloud has transformed how we think about software quality. Instead of preventing failures, we must focus on automatic recovery from failure. In other words, resilience trumps traditional quality measures. Continuous delivery models further squeeze traditional notions of quality. Remember the venerable project management Iron Triangle? Among time, scope, and cost, you can only fix two or quality will suffer. Only in today's DevOps world, continuous testing, integration, and deployment upend the time metric, the DevOps cadence reinvents project scope, and cost metrics expand past software ...
Between the compelling mockups and specs produced by your analysts and designers, and the resulting application built by your developers, there is a gulf where projects fail, costs spiral out of control, and applications fall short of requirements. In his session at DevOps Summit, Charles Kendrick, CTO and Chief Architect at Isomorphic Software, will present a new approach where business and development users collaborate – each using tools appropriate to their goals and expertise – to build mockups and enhance them all the way through functional prototypes, to final working applications. Lea...
VictorOps is making on-call suck less with the only collaborative alert management platform on the market. With easy on-call scheduling management, a real-time incident timeline that gives you contextual relevance around your alerts and powerful reporting features that make post-mortems more effective, VictorOps helps your IT/DevOps team solve problems faster.
Skeuomorphism usually means retaining existing design cues in something new that doesn’t actually need them. However, the concept of skeuomorphism can be thought of as relating more broadly to applying existing patterns to new technologies that, in fact, cry out for new approaches. In his session at DevOps Summit, Gordon Haff, Senior Cloud Strategy Marketing and Evangelism Manager at Red Hat, will discuss why containers should be paired with new architectural practices such as microservices rather than mimicking legacy server virtualization workflows and architectures.
DevOps is about increasing efficiency, but nothing is more inefficient than building the same application twice. However, this is a routine occurrence with enterprise applications that need both a rich desktop web interface and strong mobile support. With recent technological advances from Isomorphic Software and others, it is now feasible to create a rich desktop and tuned mobile experience with a single codebase, without compromising performance or usability.
SYS-CON Events announced today Arista Networks will exhibit at SYS-CON's DevOps Summit 2015 New York, which will take place June 9-11, 2015, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. Arista Networks was founded to deliver software-driven cloud networking solutions for large data center and computing environments. Arista’s award-winning 10/40/100GbE switches redefine scalability, robustness, and price-performance, with over 3,000 customers and more than three million cloud networking ports deployed worldwide.
Application metrics, logs, and business KPIs are a goldmine. It’s easy to get started with the ELK stack (Elasticsearch, Logstash and Kibana) – you can see lots of people coming up with impressive dashboards, in less than a day, with no previous experience. Going from proof-of-concept to production tends to be a bit more difficult, unfortunately, and it tends to gobble up our attention, time, and money. In his session at DevOps Summit, Otis Gospodnetić, co-author of Lucene in Action and founder of Sematext, will share the architecture and decisions behind Sematext’s services for handling larg...
The speed of software changes in growing and large scale rapid-paced DevOps environments presents a challenge for continuous testing. Many organizations struggle to get this right. Practices that work for small scale continuous testing may not be sufficient as the requirements grow. In his session at DevOps Summit, Marc Hornbeek, Sr. Solutions Architect of DevOps continuous test solutions at Spirent Communications, will explain the best practices of continuous testing at high scale, which is relevant to small scale DevOps, and if there is an expectation of growth as the number of build targe...
SYS-CON Events announced today that Open Data Centers (ODC), a carrier-neutral colocation provider, will exhibit at SYS-CON's 16th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place June 9-11, 2015, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. Open Data Centers is a carrier-neutral data center operator in New Jersey and New York City offering alternative connectivity options for carriers, service providers and enterprise customers.
Thanks to Docker, it becomes very easy to leverage containers to build, ship, and run any Linux application on any kind of infrastructure. Docker is particularly helpful for microservice architectures because their successful implementation relies on a fast, efficient deployment mechanism – which is precisely one of the features of Docker. Microservice architectures are therefore becoming more popular, and are increasingly seen as an interesting option even for smaller projects, instead of being reserved to the largest, most complex application stacks.
Security can create serious friction for DevOps processes. We've come up with an approach to alleviate the friction and provide security value to DevOps teams. In her session at DevOps Summit, Shannon Lietz, Senior Manager of DevSecOps at Intuit, will discuss how DevSecOps got started and how it has evolved. Shannon Lietz has over two decades of experience pursuing next generation security solutions. She is currently the DevSecOps Leader for Intuit where she is responsible for setting and driving the company’s cloud security strategy, roadmap and implementation in support of corporate innova...
Security can create serious friction for DevOps processes. We've come up with an approach to alleviate the friction and provide security value to DevOps teams. In her session at DevOps Summit, Shannon Lietz, Senior Manager of DevSecOps at Intuit, will discuss how DevSecOps got started and how it has evolved. Shannon Lietz has over two decades of experience pursuing next generation security solutions. She is currently the DevSecOps Leader for Intuit where she is responsible for setting and driving the company’s cloud security strategy, roadmap and implementation in support of corporate innova...
Thanks to Docker, it becomes very easy to leverage containers to build, ship, and run any Linux application on any kind of infrastructure. Docker is particularly helpful for microservice architectures because their successful implementation relies on a fast, efficient deployment mechanism – which is precisely one of the features of Docker. Microservice architectures are therefore becoming more popular, and are increasingly seen as an interesting option even for smaller projects, instead of being reserved to the largest, most complex application stacks.
Software is eating the world. Companies that were not previously in the technology space now find themselves competing with Google and Amazon on speed of innovation. As the innovation cycle accelerates, companies must embrace rapid and constant change to both applications and their infrastructure, and find a way to deliver speed and agility of development without sacrificing reliability or efficiency of operations. In her Day 2 Keynote DevOps Summit, Victoria Livschitz, CEO of Qubell, discussed how IT organizations can automate just-in-time assembly of application environments - each built fo...
DevOps tends to focus on the relationship between Dev and Ops, putting an emphasis on the ops and application infrastructure. But that’s changing with microservices architectures. In her session at DevOps Summit, Lori MacVittie, Evangelist for F5 Networks, will focus on how microservices are changing the underlying architectures needed to scale, secure and deliver applications based on highly distributed (micro) services and why that means an expansion into “the network” for DevOps.
SYS-CON Media announced today that XebiaLabs launched a popular blog feed on DevOps Journal with close to 2,000 story reads in less than a day. DevOps Journal is focused on this critical enterprise IT topic in the world of cloud computing. DevOps Journal brings valuable information to DevOps professionals who are transforming the way enterprise IT is done.
XebiaLabs has announced record growth and major highlights for 2014. These milestones include: Triple-digit worldwide revenue growth. Record number of new customers including 3M, Allianz, American Express, Credit Agricole, Digital Globe, Electronic Arts, EMC, Expedia, Fandango / NBC Universal, GATX, General Electric, ING, KPMG, Liberty Mutual, Natixis, Paychex, Providence Health, Societe General, Thomson Reuters TIIA-CREF and Umpqua Bank.
SYS-CON Events announced today that SoftLayer, an IBM company, has been named “Gold Sponsor” of SYS-CON's 16th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place June 9-11, 2015 at the Javits Center in New York City, NY, and the 17th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place November 3–5, 2015 at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. SoftLayer operates a global cloud infrastructure platform built for Internet scale. With a global footprint of data centers and network points of presence, SoftLayer provides infrastructure as a service to leading-edge customers ranging from ...
RingCentral Inc., has unveiled the RingCentral Connect Platform™, a set of tools and services to build, deploy, and manage custom integrations using RingCentral APIs. With this platform, developers can build out-of-the-box integrations with RingCentral to add powerful communication capabilities to business applications. "This is a significant step forward because businesses want to better connect with customers – and communications is at the heart of every customer interaction," said Vlad Shmunis, CEO, founder and chairman of RingCentral. "In the past, integrating communications into busine...
DevOps Summit 2015 New York, co-located with the 16th International Cloud Expo - to be held June 9-11, 2015, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY - announces that it is now accepting Keynote Proposals. The widespread success of cloud computing is driving the DevOps revolution in enterprise IT. Now as never before, development teams must communicate and collaborate in a dynamic, 24/7/365 environment. There is no time to wait for long development cycles that produce software that is obsolete at launch. DevOps may be disruptive, but it is essential.
Qubell announced on Monday the availability of the first autonomic application management platform for cloud applications. Qubell enables applications to become adaptive, self-managed services that configure, heal, optimize and protect themselves in response to changes within dynamic cloud environments. With Qubell, managing applications as an autonomic system dramatically accelerates application release cycles, improves quality, eliminates manual operations and reduces outages and operating costs. The platform is designed for a broad range of web, commerce and big data applications with an em...
Basis Technologies, leaders in streamlining, accelerating and optimizing SAP systems, today announces the launch of theirDevOps toolset, focused on helping companies running SAP move from slow, linear, and manual development to safer, more agile and responsive development and test workflows. Building on the success of their market-leading Transport Express solution, the DevOps toolset comprises 4 flexible solutions that address specific goals of DevOps; Transport Expresso, ShiftLeft, DevMax and SnapOps.
SYS-CON Events announced today Sematext Group, Inc., a Brooklyn-based Performance Monitoring and Log Management solution provider, will exhibit at SYS-CON's DevOps Summit 2015 New York, which will take place on June 9-11, 2015, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. Sematext is a globally distributed organization that builds innovative Cloud and On Premises solutions for performance monitoring, alerting and anomaly detection (SPM), log management and analytics (Logsene), search analytics (SSA), and search enhancement. They also provide exceptional Search and Big Data consulting services a...
SYS-CON Events announced today that Liaison Technologies, a leading provider of data management and integration cloud services and solutions, has been named "Silver Sponsor" of SYS-CON's 16th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on June 9-11, 2015, at the Javits Center in New York, NY. Liaison Technologies is a recognized market leader in providing cloud-enabled data integration and data management solutions to break down complex information barriers, enabling enterprises to make smarter decisions, faster.