It’s easy to point to SDN, software-driven data centers, and private clouds and say “That’s where we want to go.” But once you start peeling the onion, you realize just how many layers there are to work with (not to mention tears).
Two of those layers are automation and orchestration. A recent Packet Pushers podcast “Automation And Orchestration In Networking” tried to sort out the differences between these two systems and offer some guidance on how to embrace them.
The consensus among the guests is that automation speeds up discrete, repetitive tasks, such as writing a script to configure 30 switches instead of configuring them by hand one by one.
By contrast, an orchestration system coordinates tasks across multiple components. For example, a simple orchestration system might run your script to configure switches, trigger software load balancers, and provision a set of VMs.
The two technologies go hand in hand; automation is a subset of orchestration, but orchestration relies on automation tools.
The most widely discussed orchestration tools these days are probably OpenStack and Kubernetes. While these platforms have networking elements, they feel slanted toward the application/developer/compute side of the house.
Anuta’s product, called NCX, is a multi-vendor orchestration platform to streamline common tasks, such as onboarding users in a campus network, setting up L3 VPNs, and configuring routes. It stitches together automated interactions among a variety of systems to achieve an outcome.
Anuta says it can integrate with hardware and software from 35 vendors, including Cisco, Juniper, Arista, Checkpoint, Palo Alto Networks, Riverbed, and Splunk. The company targets MSPs, telcos, and large and medium enterprises.
NCX is delivered as software. An NCX Controller gets deployed in the customer data center. NCX Remote Agents can be run as virtual machines on devices that can run third-party VMs, or the agents can be deployed as standalone applications that will interact with network devices via CLI, SNMP, XML, and NETCONF.
The premise behind NCX is a model-driven architecture that consists of high-level models that are written in Yang. These models define outcomes such as “create a VLAN.” When the orchestration system is invoked, it transforms the model into concrete instructions for each of the specific devices needed to implement that outcome.
NCX performs device discovery to understand the code version and configuration method for each device it orchestrates, and can reconcile changes in configuration. For example, if someone overrides an NCX configuration, that will trigger an alarm for an operator to decide if that change should be made.
Anuta also provides some very basic monitoring services around key performance indicators such as CPU usage and up/down status, though the company makes clear that it’s not trying to serve as a full-fledged network monitoring system.
As mentioned, Anuta presented at Networking Field Day 14, so if you want to learn more about its capabilities, there are several presentations available for your viewing pleasure.