site reliability engineering (SRE)

Automation is a great way for any organization to speed up bad practices and #fail bigger. Unfortunately, when your business is network ops, the desire to be a cool “Ops” kid with some “Dev” chops — as opposed to just a CLI jockey — will quickly lead you down the automation roa

If you haven’t guessed already, it’s not about writing Python scripts. Programming is all well and good, but twenty minutes of design often really does save about two weeks of coding. To start hacking at a problem right away is probably the wrong approach. You need to step back from our goals, think about what gives them meaning, apply those goals to the broader picture, and plan accordingly.
Virtualization and especially containers have made the concept of baking images very accessible, and immutable infrastructure popular. While there is still much work to do with network software disaggregation, containerization, and decoupling of services, there are many benefits of adopting immutable infrastructure that are equally applicable to networking. Today’s network devices are poster children for config drift, but to call them “snowflakes” would be an insult to actual snowflakes.

Applying principles of immutable infrastructure, I imagine a network where each device PXE-boots into a minimal OS and runs signed micro-service building blocks. Each device has declarative configs, decoupled secret management and rotation, and logging and other monitoring data with good overall audit ability and traceability — all of which is geared to take the network off the box ASAP.

Interestingly, practices such as SSH’ing into boxes would be rendered impossible, and practices that “savvy” network automators do today like running Ansible playbooks against an inventory of devices would be banished.

To see what is possible with automation, we should look at successful patterns of automation outside of networking and the reasons behind them, so we may avoid the known bad habits and anti-patterns, and sidestep avoidable pitfalls. For well-tested patterns of automation, we needn’t look any further than the wealth of knowledge and experience in the arena of DevOps.

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