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Microsoft's Red Hat Ansible love-in gives birth to DevNetCLOps

Only kidding. But it is a world domination plan, y'know

As we know, Hell froze over a while ago: Red Hat and Microsoft are now friends. The latest chapter saw Red Hat point its newly acquired Ansible IT automation technologies towards networks, clouds and Windows environments, because who wouldn’t want a slice of the Azure pie now that Microsoft loves Linux?

Red Hat’s penchant for Azure is part of a DevOps world domination plan where the open-source champion's first gambit is to extend Ansible towards network infrastructure devices. But let’s go back to the very start of the story first.

Here’s the play

The play here is: bring DevOps to cloud-centric networking so that we can orchestrate entire application infrastructures, including network devices, with one single automation tool.

How does this work? Well, Ansible (sorry, Red Hat’s Ansible) will provide native agentless support for automating heterogeneous network infrastructure devices using the same human and machine-readable automation language that Ansible provides to IT teams.

Using less technical language, suddenly this starts to sound like intelligent automation control without the need to custom code internal system agents (hence the agentless part) not just for software application code, but also for network devices from the likes of Arista, Cisco and Juniper.

Ansible’s automation language is said to be “easier to learn” than the custom scripting required to build a software agent (hence, the agentless part, again). So taking this power upwards into the network could help serve internal system needs such as initiating, monitoring and terminating other software applications or indeed other agents and, crucially, now, other network components.

DevNetCLOps?

Where we once thought that DevOps was all about bridging the gap between the software development and operations teams, this is all about trying to bridge the gap between the IT operations and network management teams. OK, so it’s like DevOps networking with a close eye on cloud then? Shouldn’t we call it DevNetCLOps?

Aren’t some of the IT operations team already essentially working as network management engineers/DBAs/sysadmins? Yes, maybe, but don’t spoil it – let’s see if the story continues to play out.

The 2015 SDx Cloud Management Report: OpenStack and More cloud architectures and platforms survey stated the blindingly obvious in its “finding” as follows: “When asked what [respondents] felt was the most immature component in cloud management, the overwhelming response was the network at 76 per cent.”

Hmm, networking is a challenge when building cloud computing models. Who knew?

So the networking element in cloud management is broken and we need a unified operational methodology to make all those nice fluffy cloud terms like agility, flexibility and scalability actually happen, is that it?

That’s kind of what Red Hat is saying. This is agentless operational amalgamation and orchestration of compute, applications, virtualisation, and now… all new networking too.

Bluer skies for Azure?

Oh yes, sorry; we started off talking about Microsoft.

As already reported on El Reg, Ansible’s senior principal product manager, Bill Nottingham, has explained that the firm is has plans around the Microsoft platform, including its cloud offering.

“We want to add Azure,” said Nottingham. “We want the same level of functionality [as Ansible has with other cloud platforms].” He also said integration with Windows PowerShell was on the agenda. “We’re in talks with the Microsoft team on how to make that work.”

Could Ansible automation boost Azure on its path to market adoption and give it an unfair (or fair) advantage over other cloud platforms? In theory, yes, a bit, because Azure could now form part of a more heterogeneous set of network devices.

The additional automation offered here could, in theory, help a business focus on evolving the network (and finessing workload management) to meet changing business needs instead of manually grunting through network configuration. As Todd Barr, general manager for Ansible at Red Hat, put it: “Today’s networks are complicated and largely comprised of multi-vendor solutions, making them rather inflexible and slow to react to business changes. Bringing a DevOps mindset and approach to the network gives customers the ability to make network operations a repeatable, more predictable and automated process.”

Cloud networking, it’s now a thing

So this is the drive to tool up cloud networking. Whether “cloud networking engineer” is now a formalised job designation or not, complex proprietary toolsets in the cloud just don’t seem to fit anyway do they?

Ansible’s ambitions are no doubt admirable, although certainly no panacea i.e. there will still be plenty of custom scripting needed in cloud networking. But some of this stuff will stick to the wall of the data centre, for sure. ®

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