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Welcome to Briefings In Brief, an audio digest of IT news and information from the Packet Pushers, including vendor briefings, industry research, and commentary. I’m Ethan Banks, it’s December 7, 2018. Automation and sources of truth are on my mind.
Sources Of Truth
In Weekly Show 402, Ken Celenza from NetworkToCode came on to discuss network automation frameworks. In that conversation, he shared the idea of sources of truth, where automation tools need to go to a single source of truth for any aspect of the infrastructure we needed to know about. You might have several truth sources, one for each kind of information, but for a given kind of information, there’s only going to be one truth source.
BlueCat Networks, DDI, And Automation
In the last month, I’ve chatted with BlueCat Networks a couple of times. You can see some of those sessions by searching for BlueCat and Tech Field Day on YouTube. They are a DDI company. That is, DNS, DHCP, and IPAM services combined into a unified platform. DDI by itself isn’t exciting, but BlueCat grabbed my interest because of the capabilities they wrap around their DDI information. The platform is automation-friendly, making BlueCat a great candidate to be one of the sources of truth that automation tooling needs.
BlueCat is an API-capable product. That is, there’s a full API that developers can leverage to get information in and out of BlueCat. That’s good and even necessary for a modern IT shop, but BlueCat has gone ever further.
BlueCat Gateway For Customized Business APIs
BlueCat offers a free add-on product to their DDI platform called Gateway. Gateway is a platform customers can use to create their own custom APIs that make sense for their business. Put another way, Gateway provides a REST API endpoint for other applications within the business to talk to.
The full BlueCat API is heavy and capable–lots of features and parameters, requiring a decent understanding of how DNS, DHCP, and so on actually work. Gateway enables a business-centric interaction with BlueCat DDI data, streamlining the process.
Figure out how your company executes a process, and use Gateway to build an API that exposes just the parameters required to get the BlueCat-related part of that process done. For example, you might create an API called “MoveServer” that might do a bunch of different things within BlueCat like free up the old IP, assign a new IP, and update the DNS hostname. The custom Gateway API shares just the minimum number of parameters required to kick off a process that will get those steps done.
You might think of Gateway as an abstraction between business intent and specific execution. I wouldn’t call it intent based networking, but there are comparisons we could make.
Building Business Workflows
Upon the foundation of customized, business logic driven APIs, Gateway builds workflows. That is, as information flows into and out of BlueCat via the Gateway APIs, Gateway can also populate other systems. For instance, it’s possible to integrate with ServiceNow so that steps of the process can be reviewed and approved if needed.
That workflow can also include validation–querying the infrastructure to be certain that the request was fulfilled as intended. BlueCat mentioned that auditing is a use case frequently cited by customer–sanity checking that deployments are compliant to a set of business rules.
Enabling Automation Adoption
For many engineers, APIs & business logic sounds intimidating. BlueCat recognizes this and offers several resources to help folks get started with Gateway. The first is that Gateway is just a Docker image out in a public repo. With one command, Gateway can be downloaded and fired up.
The second is that BlueCat has a GitHub repository called bluecatlabs / gateway-workflows. This GitHub repo is community-driven, where folks can share their work with other Gateway users.
The third resource is Bluecat training. BlueCat believes that if traditional engineers aren’t able to handle at-scale operations, their companies aren’t going to wait for them. They’ll find some way to get the work done, leaving that engineer behind. BlueCat is helping traditional administrators through education about automation.
BlueCat also points out that Python & the related frameworks used by Bluecat are commonplace in the industry. That means that engineers learning how to automate with BlueCat and Gateway are investing in their own futures. The skills gained are mostly portable.
The final resource I’ll mention is that BlueCat works closely with their customers to build out the customized, business-driven automation we’ve been discussing. This is how BlueCat ensures success using their platform, as many folks responsible for DDI just don’t have the automation skills yet to do this work on their own.
That help from BlueCat is critical in my point of view. It demonstrates to me that vendors are starting to grasp that having an API is not enough. Practitioners need to understand how to consume that API effectively. If a vendor isn’t going to provide a tool that consumes the API, then the vendor needs to come alongside their customer to help them do it.
Find Out More
For more information, head up to bluecatnetworks.com.
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