Welcome!

DevOps Journal Authors: Pat Romanski, Elizabeth White, David Cauthron, Carmen Gonzalez, Aruna Ravichandran

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
Leysin American School is an exclusive, private boarding school located in Leysin, Switzerland. Leysin selected an OpenStack-powered, private cloud as a service to manage multiple applications and provide development environments for students across the institution. Seeking to meet rigid data sovereignty and data integrity requirements while offering flexible, on-demand cloud resources to users, Leysin identified OpenStack as the clear choice to round out the school's cloud strategy. Additionally, the school sought a partner to provide OpenStack infrastructure deployment and operations expert...
SYS-CON Media announced today that Aruna Ravichandran, VP of Marketing, Application Performance Management and DevOps at CA Technologies, has joined DevOps Journal’s authors. 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. Aruna's inaugural article "Four Essential Cultural Hacks for DevOps Newbies" discusses how to demonstrate the value of DevOps behaviors, tools and processes. She states: "DevOps is not only hot it's the approa...
The 4th International DevOps Summit, co-located with16th International Cloud Expo – being held June 9-11, 2015, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY – announces that its Call for Papers is now open. Born out of proven success in agile development, cloud computing, and process automation, DevOps is a macro trend you cannot afford to miss. From showcase success stories from early adopters and web-scale businesses, DevOps is expanding to organizations of all sizes, including the world's largest enterprises – and delivering real results. Among the proven benefits, DevOps is correlated with 2...
Software-driven innovation is becoming a primary approach to how businesses create and deliver new value to customers. A survey of 400 business and IT executives by the IBM Institute for Business Value showed businesses that are more effective at software delivery are also more profitable than their peers nearly 70 percent of the time (1). DevOps provides a way for businesses to remain competitive, applying lean and agile principles to software development to speed the delivery of software that meets new market requirements. IBM's new DevOps Innovation Services help address the challenge of s...

ARMONK, N.Y., Nov. 20, 2014 /PRNewswire/ --  IBM (NYSE: IBM) today announced that it is bringing a greater level of control, security and flexibility to cloud-based application development and delivery with a single-tenant version of Bluemix, IBM's platform-as-a-service. The new platform enables developers to build ap...

"Our premise is Docker is not enough. That's not a bad thing - we actually love Docker. At ActiveState all our products are based on open source technology and Docker is an up-and-coming piece of open source technology," explained Bart Copeland, President & CEO of ActiveState Software, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at DevOps Summit at Cloud Expo®, held Nov 4-6, 2014, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA.
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.
At first glance, it might seem that the goals of DevOps and regulatory compliance are inherently at odds. Whereas much of the buzz around DevOps advocates delivering software at dizzying rates, compliance and security are concerned with proper oversight of the change management process to ensure that the enterprise isn’t opening itself up to potential vulnerabilities. With the tedious amount of rules and regulations that enterprises are subjected to, compliance can end up being a governor on the release process, defeating the potential benefits from adopting DevOps practices.
SYS-CON Media announced today the IBM, which offers the world’s deepest portfolio of technologies and expertise that are transforming the future of work, has launched ad campaigns on SYS-CON’s numerous online magazines such as Cloud Computing Journal, DevOps Journal, Virtualization Journal, and IoT Journal. IBM's campaigns focus on application testing, improving application development processes, common challenges in testing composite applications, continuous testing as part of the DevOps lifecycle, and deploying higher quality software faster through continuous integration testing.
Considered by many as the next step beyond Agile, DevOps has proven to be effective at accelerating development cycles, improving performance, reducing bugs and overall improving the innovation and velocity of development teams. There are a couple ways to look at DevOps: first, DevOps is a development methodology based on continuous integration and continuous delivery supported by set of configuration management tools such as Chef, Puppet, Salt and Ansible. We can also think of DevOps as a simpler set of principles that guide development and deployment practices – automate everything, monitor...
Cloud computing started a technology revolution; now DevOps is driving that revolution forward. By enabling new approaches to service delivery, cloud and DevOps together are delivering even greater speed, agility, and efficiency. No wonder leading innovators are adopting DevOps and cloud together! In his session at DevOps Summit, Andi Mann, Vice President of Strategic Solutions at CA Technologies, explored the synergies in these two approaches, with practical tips, techniques, research data, war stories, case studies, and recommendations on how to: Embrace, source, consume, and expose shared...
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...
Our expectations for buying all sorts of consumer goods has gone through a radical transformation we now take for granted. Why should we not expect this same level of service from IT businesses? We accept the status quo for how software delivery exists today but would reject it without hesitation if it were applied to pretty much any other online consumer experience. Take pizza delivery as an example. Fifteen years ago ordering a pizza meant trying to choose an item from a grease-stained menu somebody shoved under your door. You'd make a phone call and end up speaking to somebody who sounded ...
AppDynamics is the next-generation application performance management solution that simplifies the management of complex, business-critical apps. No one can stand slow applications - not IT operations and development teams, not the Chief Information Officer, and definitely not end users. With AppDynamics, no one has to tolerate slow performing apps ever again. AppDynamics customers include TiVo, AMICA Insurance, Expedia and StubHub.
Roger: Could you explain for our audience the significance of containerization, and how it differs from virtualization? Ben: Traditional virtualization was created over a decade ago, when applications were long-lived, monolithic, and deployed to a single server. In this world, when the problem to be solved was proliferation of single purpose physical servers – e.g. one server for Microsoft exchange, one server for Mac Print, one server for a custom Unix inventory -- it made sense to turn all of those single-purpose physical servers into single purpose virtual servers. The VM was created, whi...
In today's application economy, enterprise organizations realize that it's their applications that are the heart and soul of their business. If their application users have a bad experience, their revenue and reputation are at stake. In his session at 15th Cloud Expo, Anand Akela, Senior Director of Product Marketing for Application Performance Management at CA Technologies, will discuss how a user-centric Application Performance Management solution can help inspire your users with every application transaction.
In his keynote at DevOps Summit, David Tesar, Microsoft Technical Evangelist on Microsoft Azure and DevOps, will discuss how Microsoft teams who have made huge progress with a DevOps transformation effectively utilize operations staff and how challenges were overcome. Regardless of whether you are a startup or a mature enterprise, whether you are using PaaS, Micro Services, or Containerization, walk away with some practical tips where Ops can make a significant impact working with the development teams. Operational teams and functions are increasingly more important as the industry delivers so...
Founded in 1997, ActiveState is a global leader providing software application development and management solutions. The Company's products include: Stackato, a commercially supported Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) that harnesses open source technologies such as Cloud Foundry and Docker; dynamic language distributions ActivePerl, ActivePython and ActiveTcl; and developer tools such as the popular Komodo Edit and Komodo IDE. Headquartered in Vancouver, Canada, ActiveState is trusted by customers and partners worldwide, across many industries including telecommunications, aerospace, software, fina...
The recent trends like cloud computing, social, mobile and Internet of Things are forcing enterprises to modernize in order to compete in the competitive globalized markets. However, enterprises are approaching newer technologies with a more silo-ed way, gaining only sub optimal benefits. The Modern Enterprise model is presented as a newer way to think of enterprise IT, which takes a more holistic approach to embracing modern technologies. This model makes use of Composable Enterprise framework put forward by Jonathan Murray of WMG.
The impact of DevOps in the cloud era is potentially profound. DevOps helps businesses deliver new features continuously, reduce cycle time and achieve sustained innovation by applying agile and lean principles to assist all stakeholders in an organization that develop, operate, or benefit from the business’ lifecycle. In his session at DevOps Summit, Prashanth Chandrasekar, General Manager at Rackspace, will exam whether / how companies can work with external DevOps specialists to achieve "DevOps elasticity" and DevOps expertise at scale while internally focusing on writing code / developme...
SYS-CON Events announced today that Zentera Systems, an industry visionary delivering hybrid-cloud management solutions, will exhibit at DevOps Summit Silicon Valley, which will take place on November 4–6, 2014, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Zentera Systems, Inc.™ is a Silicon Valley based private company, providing a Cloud Federation Platform (CFP) built on a virtualization architecture with patent-pending technology to address virtual network, cloud firewall, data protection and transport automation within and across cloud domains. Zentera is solving the security ...
Enthusiasm for the Internet of Things has reached an all-time high. In 2013 alone, venture capitalists spent more than $1 billion dollars investing in the IoT space. With “smart” appliances and devices, IoT covers wearable smart devices, cloud services to hardware companies. Nest, a Google company, detects temperatures inside homes and automatically adjusts it by tracking its user’s habit. These technologies are quickly developing and with it come challenges such as bridging infrastructure gaps, abiding by privacy concerns and making the concept a reality. These challenges can’t be addressed w...
Achieve continuous delivery of applications by leveraging ElasticBox and Jenkins. In his session at DevOps Summit, Monish Sharma, VP of Customer Success at ElasticBox, will demonstrate how you can achieve the following using ElasticBox and the ElasticBox Jenkins Plugin: Create consistency across dev, staging, and production environments Continuous delivery across multiple clouds to handle high loads Ensure consistent policy management across environments: tagging, admin boxes, traceability Spin up machines and environments quickly Deploy applications to any cloud Enable real-time collaboration...
Qubell, an innovator in application deployment and configuration management, empowers online companies to do what they have never been able to do before: put into consumers' hands innovative new features and services, almost as fast as they can conceive them, without sacrificing control, reliability or uptime. Qubell emerged from stealth in the summer of 2013 (see related press release) and announced that Kohl's completed its initial implementation (see press release). Founded by pioneers in enterprise cloud applications and services, Qubell has its headquarters in Menlo Park, Calif. For more ...
BlueBox bridge the chasm between development and infrastructure. Hosting providers are taking standardization and automation too far. For many app developers it does nothing but spawn mayhem and more work. They have to figure out how their creations live on a pre-fab infrastructure solution full of constraints. Operations-as-a-Service is what BlueBox does. BlueBox utilizes development tools such as OpenStack, EMC Razor, Opscode’s Chef and BlueBox's proprietary tools give the power to do the unorthodox things which most hosting providers shun.