Welcome!

Linux Authors: Rex Morrow, Datical, Liz McMillan, Carmen Gonzalez, Elizabeth White, Pat Romanski

Related Topics: SDN Journal, Java, Linux, Virtualization, Cloud Expo, Big Data Journal

SDN Journal: Blog Feed Post

What a Network Engineer Does

Network Engineering workflow can be characterized by overlapping cycles of Activity and Modeling

In a previous article, we talked about “Short T’s.”  We talked about how, in network engineering, the “T” is very long:  Configuring a network to achieve business goals requires considerable skill and knowledge.  While we set up a conceptual model in that post to talk about what “T” means in general terms, we did not discuss in detail how to articulate “T” more specifically for network engineering.  In this post, we’ll explore this in a little more detail.

The NetEng Cycle

Figure 1: The Network Engineering Cycle

Network Engineering workflow can be characterized by overlapping cycles of Activity and Modeling.  In figure 1, I have depicted 4 cycles.  From smallest timescale to largest, these are called:  1. Referential Traversal, 2. Interactive, 3. Design, and 4. Architecture.  The crest of each of these cycles is “Activity” and the trough is “Modeling.”  Modeling on the smaller cycles is simple and correlative, while on the larger cycles it is more abstract and analytical.  Activity on the smaller cycles is characterized by direct interactivity with the network, while on larger scales it is indirect and more design oriented.

As is implied from the diagram, a network engineer will oscillate between activities and modeling.  For instance, in the interactive cycle, they may configure a QoS classification policy, but then immediately issue show commands to see if traffic is being classified appropriately.  Configuring a policy and issuing of show commands are activities, but the show commands start to transition into modeling.  The engineer is attempting to model the immediate effect of the changes they have made.  Based on this modeling of “how things are,” the engineer might start thinking about modifications to the classification policy to bring the operation of the network closer to an expected model of “how things should be.”  As far as it is possible to do so, an attempt might be made to model “how things will be” to check for possible side effects.  The cycle, then, repeats.

Referential Space
However, which show commands should they use to accurately model how the configuration is actually working?  If you were to write down the exact sequence of commands, you might find that the engineer is taking data from the output of the first command and using that as either input into the second command, or as a point of reference while examining output from the second command.  The output from the second command might be, in turn, used similarly when executing a third show command.  This is what is called Referential Traversal.  Referential Traversal is when a network engineer engages in iterative data correlation in support of a workflow.  In the context of a workflow, this data represents that workflow’s state.

Another well known referential traversal is doing a manual packet-walk of the network:  Examining nodes along the way to determine if there is a potential issue along the path between two endpoints on the edge of the network.  Here, the engineer will examine lookup tables, arp entries, and LLDP neighbor information, jumping from one node to the next.  This particular workflow can tangent in tricky ways such as examining when and what configuration changes were made to see if they could impact traffic between those two endpoints.  When tangenting into examination of a device configuration, you enter a different set of correlated data:  A route-map applied to an interface can, in turn, reference access-lists or prefix-lists.  The rules for evaluating packet flow through a policy follows different logic than the general rules for packet flow across a series of devices.

Figure 2: Referential Space

Figure 2: Referential Space

If you take the set of rules, relationships, and data points from “configuration space” and the rules, relationships, and data points from the “forwarding space,” and you combine them with all other such spaces that a network engineer must deal with in the course of their activities, the sum of these is called “referential space” (See Figure 2).  A network engineering workflow will follow some referential path through this space, examining data and following it’s relationships to yet other data.  There are numerous interconnected spaces in the management, control, forwarding, and device planes of a network each with their own logic and types of data. There are more abstract spaces as well, such as a “design” space that contains the rules and relationships that govern network design.  A network engineer’s expertise is measured by how well they can navigate referential space in support of longer time-scale cycles.

Enablement versus Obviation
The challenge of networking, and the reason that automation (and UX/UI for that matter) has not evolved terribly well, is that these referential paths vary greatly based on what the network engineer is trying to do and how a particular network is built.  There is a vast set of rules governing the many relationships that exist between the seemingly infinite array of data types.  The dynamic nature of referential traversal, and the intimidating size of referential space, should justify a healthy skepticism of vendors claiming to encapsulate network complexity or automate network workflows.  More often than not, they are simply moving the complexity around, while making it more difficult to navigate in the process.

It’s long since overdue to move innovation in networking towards enabling network engineers to be more effective instead of trying to obviate them.  Unlike the past, this should happen with a keen understanding of what network engineers actually do and how they think through their activities.  We can augment these activities to reduce time-to-completion, and reduce time-to-insight while at the same reducing risk and increasing accountability.  There are many networking workflows, which after 20 years, are still notoriously difficult and risky to model and complete.  Let’s solve these problems first.

Make Things Better
As a network engineer, how many times have you heard about the glorious wonders of a product that automates networking or encapsulates network complexity in some way?  After 20 years, we have been trained to identify this language as snake-oil, or perhaps a little nicer, “marketing speak.”  When we buy into these products or features, it’s always just a matter of time before they go unused, or the ugly realities of their operation surfaces.

Encapsulating network complexity, or automating network workflows, can’t just be about “faster.”  That’s only part of the problem.  It has to make things “better.”  This can only happen with a deeper understanding of referential space.

The post What a Network Engineer Does appeared first on Plexxi.

Read the original blog entry...

More Stories By Derick Winkworth

Derick Winkworth has been a developer, network engineer, and IT architect in various verticals throughout his career.He is currently a Product Manager at Plexxi, Inc where he focuses on workflow automation and product UX.

@ThingsExpo Stories

SUNNYVALE, Calif., Oct. 20, 2014 /PRNewswire/ -- Spansion Inc. (NYSE: CODE), a global leader in embedded systems, today added 96 new products to the Spansion® FM4 Family of flexible microcontrollers (MCUs). Based on the ARM® Cortex®-M4F core, the new MCUs boast a 200 MHz operating frequency and support a diverse set of on-chip peripherals for enhanced human machine interfaces (HMIs) and machine-to-machine (M2M) communications. The rich set of periphera...

WebRTC defines no default signaling protocol, causing fragmentation between WebRTC silos. SIP and XMPP provide possibilities, but come with considerable complexity and are not designed for use in a web environment. In his session at Internet of @ThingsExpo, Matthew Hodgson, technical co-founder of the Matrix.org, will discuss how Matrix is a new non-profit Open Source Project that defines both a new HTTP-based standard for VoIP & IM signaling and provides reference implementations.
SYS-CON Events announced today that Aria Systems, the recurring revenue expert, has been named "Bronze Sponsor" of SYS-CON's 15th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on November 4-6, 2014, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Aria Systems helps leading businesses connect their customers with the products and services they love. Industry leaders like Pitney Bowes, Experian, AAA NCNU, VMware, HootSuite and many others choose Aria to power their recurring revenue business and deliver exceptional experiences to their customers.
The Internet of Things (IoT) is going to require a new way of thinking and of developing software for speed, security and innovation. This requires IT leaders to balance business as usual while anticipating for the next market and technology trends. Cloud provides the right IT asset portfolio to help today’s IT leaders manage the old and prepare for the new. Today the cloud conversation is evolving from private and public to hybrid. This session will provide use cases and insights to reinforce the value of the network in helping organizations to maximize their company’s cloud experience.
The Internet of Things (IoT) is making everything it touches smarter – smart devices, smart cars and smart cities. And lucky us, we’re just beginning to reap the benefits as we work toward a networked society. However, this technology-driven innovation is impacting more than just individuals. The IoT has an environmental impact as well, which brings us to the theme of this month’s #IoTuesday Twitter chat. The ability to remove inefficiencies through connected objects is driving change throughout every sector, including waste management. BigBelly Solar, located just outside of Boston, is trans...
SYS-CON Events announced today that Matrix.org has been named “Silver Sponsor” of Internet of @ThingsExpo, which will take place on November 4–6, 2014, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Matrix is an ambitious new open standard for open, distributed, real-time communication over IP. It defines a new approach for interoperable Instant Messaging and VoIP based on pragmatic HTTP APIs and WebRTC, and provides open source reference implementations to showcase and bootstrap the new standard. Our focus is on simplicity, security, and supporting the fullest feature set.
Predicted by Gartner to add $1.9 trillion to the global economy by 2020, the Internet of Everything (IoE) is based on the idea that devices, systems and services will connect in simple, transparent ways, enabling seamless interactions among devices across brands and sectors. As this vision unfolds, it is clear that no single company can accomplish the level of interoperability required to support the horizontal aspects of the IoE. The AllSeen Alliance, announced in December 2013, was formed with the goal to advance IoE adoption and innovation in the connected home, healthcare, education, aut...
SYS-CON Events announced today that Red Hat, the world's leading provider of open source solutions, will exhibit at Internet of @ThingsExpo, which will take place on November 4–6, 2014, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Red Hat is the world's leading provider of open source software solutions, using a community-powered approach to reliable and high-performing cloud, Linux, middleware, storage and virtualization technologies. Red Hat also offers award-winning support, training, and consulting services. As the connective hub in a global network of enterprises, partners, a...
The only place to be June 9-11 is Cloud Expo & @ThingsExpo 2015 East at the Javits Center in New York City. Join us there as delegates from all over the world come to listen to and engage with speakers & sponsors from the leading Cloud Computing, IoT & Big Data companies. Cloud Expo & @ThingsExpo are the leading events covering the booming market of Cloud Computing, IoT & Big Data for the enterprise. Speakers from all over the world will be hand-picked for their ability to explore the economic strategies that utility/cloud computing provides. Whether public, private, or in a hybrid form, clo...
Software AG helps organizations transform into Digital Enterprises, so they can differentiate from competitors and better engage customers, partners and employees. Using the Software AG Suite, companies can close the gap between business and IT to create digital systems of differentiation that drive front-line agility. We offer four on-ramps to the Digital Enterprise: alignment through collaborative process analysis; transformation through portfolio management; agility through process automation and integration; and visibility through intelligent business operations and big data.
The Transparent Cloud-computing Consortium (abbreviation: T-Cloud Consortium) will conduct research activities into changes in the computing model as a result of collaboration between "device" and "cloud" and the creation of new value and markets through organic data processing High speed and high quality networks, and dramatic improvements in computer processing capabilities, have greatly changed the nature of applications and made the storing and processing of data on the network commonplace.
Be Among the First 100 to Attend & Receive a Smart Beacon. The Physical Web is an open web project within the Chrome team at Google. Scott Jenson leads a team that is working to leverage the scalability and openness of the web to talk to smart devices. The Physical Web uses bluetooth low energy beacons to broadcast an URL wirelessly using an open protocol. Nearby devices can find all URLs in the room, rank them and let the user pick one from a list. Each device is, in effect, a gateway to a web page. This unlocks entirely new use cases so devices can offer tiny bits of information or simple i...
Things are being built upon cloud foundations to transform organizations. This CEO Power Panel at 15th Cloud Expo, moderated by Roger Strukhoff, Cloud Expo and @ThingsExpo conference chair, will address the big issues involving these technologies and, more important, the results they will achieve. How important are public, private, and hybrid cloud to the enterprise? How does one define Big Data? And how is the IoT tying all this together?
The Internet of Things (IoT) is going to require a new way of thinking and of developing software for speed, security and innovation. This requires IT leaders to balance business as usual while anticipating for the next market and technology trends. Cloud provides the right IT asset portfolio to help today’s IT leaders manage the old and prepare for the new. Today the cloud conversation is evolving from private and public to hybrid. This session will provide use cases and insights to reinforce the value of the network in helping organizations to maximize their company’s cloud experience.
TechCrunch reported that "Berlin-based relayr, maker of the WunderBar, an Internet of Things (IoT) hardware dev kit which resembles a chunky chocolate bar, has closed a $2.3 million seed round, from unnamed U.S. and Switzerland-based investors. The startup had previously raised a €250,000 friend and family round, and had been on track to close a €500,000 seed earlier this year — but received a higher funding offer from a different set of investors, which is the $2.3M round it’s reporting."
The Industrial Internet revolution is now underway, enabled by connected machines and billions of devices that communicate and collaborate. The massive amounts of Big Data requiring real-time analysis is flooding legacy IT systems and giving way to cloud environments that can handle the unpredictable workloads. Yet many barriers remain until we can fully realize the opportunities and benefits from the convergence of machines and devices with Big Data and the cloud, including interoperability, data security and privacy.
All major researchers estimate there will be tens of billions devices - computers, smartphones, tablets, and sensors - connected to the Internet by 2020. This number will continue to grow at a rapid pace for the next several decades. Over the summer Gartner released its much anticipated annual Hype Cycle report and the big news is that Internet of Things has now replaced Big Data as the most hyped technology. Indeed, we're hearing more and more about this fascinating new technological paradigm. Every other IT news item seems to be about IoT and its implications on the future of digital busines...
Cultural, regulatory, environmental, political and economic (CREPE) conditions over the past decade are creating cross-industry solution spaces that require processes and technologies from both the Internet of Things (IoT), and Data Management and Analytics (DMA). These solution spaces are evolving into Sensor Analytics Ecosystems (SAE) that represent significant new opportunities for organizations of all types. Public Utilities throughout the world, providing electricity, natural gas and water, are pursuing SmartGrid initiatives that represent one of the more mature examples of SAE. We have s...
The Internet of Things needs an entirely new security model, or does it? Can we save some old and tested controls for the latest emerging and different technology environments? In his session at Internet of @ThingsExpo, Davi Ottenheimer, EMC Senior Director of Trust, will review hands-on lessons with IoT devices and reveal privacy options and a new risk balance you might not expect.
IoT is still a vague buzzword for many people. In his session at Internet of @ThingsExpo, Mike Kavis, Vice President & Principal Cloud Architect at Cloud Technology Partners, will discuss the business value of IoT that goes far beyond the general public's perception that IoT is all about wearables and home consumer services. The presentation will also discuss how IoT is perceived by investors and how venture capitalist access this space. Other topics to discuss are barriers to success, what is new, what is old, and what the future may hold.