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Empowering Instructors with Knowledge on Network Programmability and NetDevOps

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kikuehl
Cisco Employee

The Western Academy Support and Training Center Winter ITC Conference opened on January 4 in San Jose by honoring the founding engineer of the Cisco Networking Academy, George Ward. He talked about the 20 years that Cisco Networking Academy has been providing education to over 7.8 million students. George shared the beginning days of NetAcad when John Mortridge was a key advocate and supported the opening of the first academy at Thurgood Marshall High School. George invited Dennis Frezzo, the first Networking Academy instructor to the podium, and reflected on how they threw the ball to the instructors in the early days and the instructors just ran with it. They talked about the changes they have seen to Networking Academy over the last 20 years and that the quality education continues on today. This served as a nice introduction to Greg Prynn, Senior Director of Corporate Affairs of Cisco Systems talking about the “Digital Tsunami: Securing the Internet of Things". Greg covered the importance of the network in Cyber Security and went through the list of issues that have faced all of us in the world of cybercrime in recent years. He highlighted the growth of jobs coming in the field of Cyber Security and the new technologies Cisco is utilizing to secure the network.

 

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Keynote by DevNet Evangelist

Hank Preston took the stage and entertained the audience describing the pains we have all been living through in recent years with the growth of complexity in the network. He talked about the four ages of networking and how things have changed from a physical network of switches, routers and servers to the virtual network. The network grew and expanded with the introduction of vSwitches and Virtual Machines, then Blade Switches were added and now containerized workloads and Cloud have created even more challenge for the network engineer. Resources can now be consumed from the cloud, virtual machines & containers that connect directly to the cloud without a physical switch. This highlights the importance of network engineers to expand their vision and understanding of all layers of the OSI Model of Networking beyond Layer 2 and Layer 3. Hank provided convincing arguments of the simplicity that can be achieved by mastering the new infrastructure stack. He encouraged Networking Academy instructors to help with the development of a three phased approach to developing programmability skills that network engineers need to continue to work with programmable networks.

 

Today, Cloud has taken on more importance and languages like Python are starting to replace traditional CLI structure for engineering. REST APIs have become critical and new protocols like NETCONF and YANG are replacing traditional SNMP protocols. Now we need to understand more about fabric, network virtualization and DevOps containers. This moves us into the programmable age of Intent-Based Networking and digitization of the enterprise. He also encouraged instructors to bring awareness to all the new players in the new infrastructure stack like DevOps engineers. Hank covered the culture of change that is now taking hold in the world of networking by adopting the lessons from DevOps, to open up the new practice of NetDevOps.

 

NetDevOps is a way to flexibly deploy Network as Code with Continuous Innovation/Continuous Deployment (CI/CD) pipelines utilizing DevOps practices. By adjusting practices for continuous development in the network, it enables the ability to quickly provision infrastructure and maintain system consistency. Network engineers are able to version, automate, test and observe network performance. Network configurations are stored in the Source Control repository. Meanwhile, changes are proposed by creating a code branch, updating the configuration, testing the configuration locally, pushing proposed changes to an automated pipeline and receiving results via a notification from something like Cisco Spark. If the notification indicates a successful configuration, it can be automatically deployed to production. NetDevOps supports engineers to automate, scale and optimize application performance to assure desired network behavior.

All of these skills will enable engineers to maximize what Gartner Research describes as intent-based networking systems that monitor, identify and react in real time to changing network conditions. Cisco’s solution for intent-based networking came with the introduction of Cisco Digital Network Architecture and the Catalyst 9000, which allows the network to be driven by business intent. Cisco Digital Network Architecture is an open, extensible, software-driven architecture that accelerates and simplifies enterprise network operations. The network has now become a single fabric that allows for policy-based automation and network-wide configurations. Finally, Hank covered how Cisco DevNet is providing the tools to help bring everyone along this journey as we move to policy-based automation. He brought it all together with his recommendations for a three phased approach to mastering Network Programmability.

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The Evolution of Networking Academy and the Collaboration with DevNet

Cisco Networking Academy has always been strong at teaching T-shaped skills and this effort has taken on more focus in recent years. NetAcad has an impressive legacy of educating over 7.8 million network engineers to have both depth of networking skills and have now begun to put more emphasis on cross-domain expertise as well. I’ve been fortunate to have worked in the Networking Academy team on a special project and then made the transition into DevNet at the right time to lead an effort to bring these two domains together. For a little over a year now, I have been working collaboratively with a team of people to build a bridge between NetAcad and DevNet. There have been many contributors along the way and I’m pleased to see that we are starting to see the fruition of our efforts to strategically bring the traditionally siloed skills of network engineers and software developers together. This enables the network engineers to move into the field of network programmability, which according to IDC Research is projected to grow by 54% through 2020.

This is one of the contributing factors for DevNet’s collaboration with NetAcad to bring two new workshops introducing the power of Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) to the Networking Academy community. The first workshop will educate the community on Network Programmability with Application Policy Infrastructure Controller Enterprise Module (APIC-EM) and the second one will introduce Representational State Transfer (REST) APIs with Cisco Spark. These workshops are currently being rolled out to instructors as part of a Limited Availability release and will be launched on the NetAcad portal with General Availability over the next couple of months.

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Hands-On Workshop to get NetAcad Instructors Started

As we were introducing the Western Area Academy Instructors to the future workshops, we brought together two engineers from NetAcad and DevNet to train the audience on the concepts covered in the Network Programmability workshop. Echo Rantunen, NetAcad Technical Field Engineer and Adrian Iliesiu, DevNet Engineer presented a hands-on introduction to Network Programmability. Adrian kicked things off with an explanation of common Application Programming Interface (API) types including Representational State Transfer (REST) APIs.

Guiding instructors on how REST APIs use the HTTP protocol methods and transport, Adrian explained how API endpoints exist as server processes that are accessed through URIs. Next, we broke down the elements of a REST request and the 3 main authentication protocols for Web APIs. This led us to look at Github REST APIs, APIC-EM APIs and Cisco Spark REST APIs.

Finally, we went into detail on the REST request process and the evaluation of the response code and data. Looking at JavaScript Object Notation, or JSON, we examined the name and value pairs of an Object and Array.

 

Adrian covered some Software Defined Networking concepts and the separation of the control and data planes using an SDN controller. Next, he introduced everyone to Cisco’s solution of the Application Policy Infrastructure Controller Enterprise Module (APIC-EM) for enterprise networks. APIC-EM is Cisco’s SDN controller solution that simplifies the network infrastructure. The SDN controller exposes Northbound APIs that external applications can interact with and also Southbound APIs to manage and interact with the network devices. It presents the application layer with the abstractions of the network that lie underneath. This allows applications to more easily consume network services.

Leveraging the power of SDN, engineers can take advantage of the agility and cost efficiency advantages of automating the network. This allows network staff to spend more time strategizing about business capabilities rather than maintaining the network. This is a key factor in driving simplification of the network infrastructure.

Adrian also covered Cisco Digital Network Architecture (DNA), an open, extensible, software-driven architecture that accelerates and simplifies enterprise network operations.

At this point Adrian and Echo helped instructors experiment and get hands-on by using an HTTP client to test a web service. They accessed the DevNet APIC-EM Always-On Sandbox and used Postman as the REST client to make an API call. The excitement of the hands-on session continued with the instructors making REST API calls to get hosts and network devices. Unfortunately we ran out of time to do more, but the instructors were inspired and all joined in the next session about the Future of Networking from one of their fellow NetAcad instructors.

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Bringing it all Home through the Eyes and Experience of a NetAcad Instructor

The instructor gave an overview of traditional based networking and highlighted the high operating expenses. He talked about the repetition of command line interface driven management and the difficulty of implementation. With great humor, he described the long lead times, change windows, change meetings and rollback options of implementation. He took the audience along the journey of the network engineer doing device configuration and how that is followed by hours of troubleshooting misconfigurations. He then reflected on Hank Preston’s Four Ages of Networking presentation and how traditional methods of configuration are going to face difficulty with the scale and rapid changes coming with digital transformation. Highlighting the power DevOps has brought to the industry, he reflected on the fact that network engineers should start to apply these principles to network operations. In DevNet we call this practice NetDevOps and as Hank Preston covered in his keynote, we are actively educating people on the NetDevOps practice.

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The instructor shared Gartner’s predictions on changes taking place with a reduction in the use of command line interface and the importance of learning Network Programmability. He went on to talk about his exposure to Python, REST APIs, JSON and git. The instructor recognized the advantages that Network Programmability will provide with the automation of repetitive tasks, the ability to create customized data and messaging protocols, and the capability of utilizing data collection and programmability by using APIs.

 

He encouraged people to harness the power that Python gives in networking and test their skills using APIs that leverage the DevNet sandbox. Next, he jumped into the trend of automation using tools like Ansible, git, Chef, and Puppet. He described how these tools provide a methodology in which software automatically configures, provisions, manages and tests network devices. These methods allow for improvements in efficiency and the reduction of human error. Again, he called out the need to embrace DevOps principles and that implementation needs to be less technical and closer to the business intent. Intent-Based Networking allows for the intelligence and automation necessary to set and modify configurations to meet network requirements. An intent-based network can set and modify its configurations to meet the organization's business needs. He talked about the 2017 launch of Cisco’s intent-based networking and then wrapped up the discussion by saying that the future of networking is a bit of a contradiction as the networking will become simpler, but harnessing the simplification requires the acquisition of a number of new skills by the network engineer. He encouraged NetAcad instructors to embrace the new Network Programmability workshops co-developed by DevNet and the Networking Academy. He also encouraged other instructors to follow his path and start to play with the equipment and test out APIs through sandboxes offered by DevNet. He summarized by emphasizing the importance of joining an organization like DevNet to continue to build out the breadth of skills that instructors and students alike will need for the new era of Intent-Based Networking. It was a great moment to see the transition that is taking place where DevNet trains the NetAcad instructors and Technical Field Engineers, and they take those skills and pass them on to the rest of the community. We have made great progress in building a bridge between NetAcad and DevNet.

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If you’d like to learn more about the conference or any of the topics covered, please feel free to reach out to me with further questions. You can connect with me on Twitter @kuehltweet or through the community portal to learn more.

 

At DevNet, we encourage you to continue to explore the Emerging Technology Workshops on Network Programmability being released by Networking Academy. You may also self-study the material by utilizing the learning track on DevNet and make sure test out DevNet sandboxes as well. To learn more about NetDevOps, check out the TechWise TV video and sign up for the NetDevOps workshop on February 14. Good luck on your journey in exploring these new skills, and please let us know how we can help support you in your learning.

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