Network Automation vs Software Defined Network – Ansible vs Openflow

At Verizon, we are moving towards automating network configuration and provisioning. To me the goals for this move can be summarized as:

  • Maintenance cost reduction
  • More agile deployment processes

Coming from an OpenFlow SDN background, where changes to the network can be immediate, and looking at the real world, where changes to the network require human approval and human intervention to be deployed resulting in 1-2 weeks time, it’s really hard to tolerate this acceptance for delay with legacy systems.

I’m much interested in identifying where automation of legacy systems offers a real benefit over OpenFlow networks and vice-versa. My experiences tell me the biggest paradigm shift comes from the users. If the network operator is used to the OpenFlow paradigm, and has the software development skills, pretty much anything can be done. On the other side when the network operator comes from a classical Cisco network engineer background, even incremental changes to the network as advocated by network automation gurus can be challenging.

So far, my only experience with network automation is Ansible. A great positive factor for Ansible is its learning curve. Very easy to try. Right now, I’m intrigued with testing of Ansible code, refactoring variables consists of project-wise find and replace, it’s also not yet intuitive to me how Ansible code can be continuously tested and deployed. Quoting Uncle Ben: “with great power comes great responsibility”, Ansible does give you the opportunity to mess up things really well.

That’s where my bias towards OpenFlow comes in: successful OF projects, like ONOS, have been tested for a couple years now and are quite mature for open source projects. AS mentioned in my last article, to me it all comes down to the skill set companies want to cherish, it’s easy to leverage network engineer expertise plus some python scripting capabilities to work on network automation, but I bet you won’t get great code quality out of that.

Another option is to leverage great software developing skills to make sure you do get the code quality, but then what I would advocate for is to get this great software developer and put him to work to develop a real SDN system with real software challenges in place where the opportunity for gain is incredible.

OpenFlow has an inherent disadvantage which is the requirement for extra hardware support. Successful OF deployment have been performed with new gear, or have used successful hybrid deployment strategies, which can be complex. So, if you want to improve current deployments, OpenFlow won’t be your pick.

I’m still skeptical regarding the value of network automation, other than incremental adoption of new technology, in other words, it’s easy to sell.

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I'm a Network Engineer with software development experiences. MSCS from Georgia Tech. CCNA certified. ONF-SDN certified.

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Posted in Perspectives, Thoughts & theories
One comment on “Network Automation vs Software Defined Network – Ansible vs Openflow
  1. Vishal Yadav says:

    By network automation if you mean automatic deployment and configuration (management layer operations) then Ansible has module for netconf_config module introduced in 2.2 (https://docs.ansible.com/ansible/netconf_config_module.html). Though it’s in preview state and need some improvements but can help.

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