The use of cloud software principals can transform network operations.
Cloud computing has impacted almost every part of the IT stack. Applications are built with composability in mind, compute has been disaggregated to improve agility, and security has evolved into a cloud-centric, AI-driven industry.
The one laggard has been the network. The architecture used today isn’t much different from 30 years ago. There have been incremental changes but nothing that has transformed networking.
For Arista Networks, which developed its trade serving the needs of the cloud titans, creating differentiation through software has always been the company’s strong suit as its customers demanded it. It’s now bringing these principles to the enterprise buyer.
I recently chatted with two experts from Arista, Fred Hsu, a distinguished solutions engineer, and Douglas Gourlay, Vice President and General Manager of Software, about how the cloud and software are impacting the network.
Legacy Networks Hold Back Innovation
For businesses, this creates a challenge as a legacy network can’t support the needs of a business with a modern, cloud-centric approach to applications. In application development, DevOps has embraced the concept of continuous innovation (CI), but if the network takes days or even months to program, verify, and deploy, it holds the company back.
Today’s network must be designed to support distributed multi-vendor, multiservice applications that run globally. Businesses are moving at faster speeds and digitally transforming, so the role of the network is changing. The commonly used software principle of CI must now come to the network to make it programmable and agile.
Homogenize Network Design
Network design patterns are seeing tremendous homogenization. While legacy networks have had a massive disparity in architecture, most organizations today are approaching their network design with a common repeatable pattern.
A repeatable design pattern enables automation to execute networking at scale, so organizations can plan for future business apps. The operational driver is taking software best practices and principles and applying them to day-to-day operations.
Apply DevOps Practices to Networking
There is a lot of business value in making the network programmable, using application programming interfaces (APIs), and treating the network like software. Taking what an application developer (DevOps) does in their world and applying it to networking is a transformative concept that Arista has poured into a new solution called Continuous Integration (CI) Pipeline.
Implement Network and Workflow Automation
Launched in November, CI Pipeline is a comprehensive network automation solution built on Arista’s EOS Network Data Lake (NetDL). It is designed to help organizations adopt a modern network operating model through continuous design, integration, and testing.
In essence, CI Pipeline is a workflow that starts at the API level and builds on top of it for high-level automation. Instead of admins manually executing tests, CI Pipeline automates the entire workflow for them. It also incorporates the change control process, which is a lot like what a software developer does when making changes.
Introduce a Continuous Design Framework
In conjunction with the CI Pipeline, Arista introduced Validated Designs (AVD) to provide organizations with a continuous design framework. AVDs are design guides for network best practices that can be turned into code. When used as part of the CI Pipeline, AVDs improve network reliability.
Utilize Network Design Templates
Instead of copying and pasting everything in the Arista design guide, there is a template organizations can use to fill in the variables and AVDs generate all of the configurations automatically. They can also generate documentation and tests, making things easier for network engineers.
Consider Multiple Deployment Models
Arista is offering one primary AVD with multiple deployment models. The framework is completely open source and multi-domain, which means it can be used to automate the data center, campus, or wide area network (WAN). It tackles the full life cycle of network provisioning from configuration generation to pre- and post-deployment validation.
Upskill for Different Traffic Types and the Cloud
It’s important for organizations to start building networks that are designed for very different traffic flow patterns. Meanwhile, IT pros and network engineers should be thinking about refreshing their skill set as organizations move to software and the cloud.