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Solving the Network Automation Puzzle with Ansible

Read the article and listen to the podcast to learn what Ansible is, how it works and how WWT's ATC can help organizations configure Cisco DNA Center using Ansible.

Join World Wide Technology (WWT) at the Red Hat AnsibleFest in Atlanta, GA, September 24 - 26, 2019. WWT has sponsored or contributed to AnsibleFest since 2015.

Listen to this TEC17 podcast to hear Jeff share more details about Ansible and preview the talk he will give at AnsibleFest at the end of the month.

What is AnsibleFest?

AnsibleFest provides the opportunity for the community of Ansible users to come together to share their experiences about how they are innovating with Ansible. The conference is packed with breakout sessions organized into tracks to make it easy to align your journey with the topics relevant to your interests. The tracks include Best Practices, Community and Culture, Tech Deep Dives, Business Solutions, Network Automation and Ansible Integrations. In addition to the breakout sessions, there are also workshops where you can gain some guided hands-on experience.

The network automation puzzle

The WWT-led session this year at AnsibleFest is focused on a common question in the campus network automation space: Do I choose Cisco DNA Center or Ansible for my network automation solution? Ansible has rapidly become the solution of choice for many enterprises in the server space and is gaining broad adoption in the network automation space. At the same time, Cisco's DNA Center provides significant value in the campus and branch networking space. While there is overlap between the tools, they can also be highly complementary.

What is Ansible?

Ansible is a powerful automation solution that spans nearly every technology area in common enterprises today. Ansible provides an agentless and simple automation engine that allows users to rapidly realize the benefits of automation.

The core of the Ansible architecture is highly modular, completely open source and written in Python. Ansible uses modules to execute tasks against the target systems. There are more than 1000 modules specifically related to networking. Plugins are used for extending the base functionality and are a key component of the modularity of the system as a whole.

Inventory plugins provide methods for connecting to different inventory sources which are used to dictate what hosts to automate. There are other types of plugins such as lookup, filter and connection. Ansible has used this plugin architecture to make the solutions highly extensible and easily customizable. Being open source, easy to consume and easy to develop has led to huge community contributions.

What is Cisco DNA Center?

Cisco's DNA Center is a powerful campus network controller that provides both automation of the network and advanced visibility and analytics of how the network is operating. The automation component is a workflow-driven solution with some of the main workflows being design, policy and provision. The design workflow builds a desired state for your environment. This is the workflow where you define what you want your network to look like. The policy workflow is focused on how do I want my network to behave and includes application policy (QoS) and security policy. The final workflow is provision, and this is where you take the design and policy and deploy them to the target network.

Cisco introduced DNA Center as a platform towards the end of 2018. The guiding north star of the DNA Center as a platform effort is a completely headless capability of managing the automation of your campus networks. Every capability of DNA Center available in the UI will be available as a curated and well-documented REST API facilitating the programmability of the network through DNA Center as a point of entry.

Why are we talking about this?

WWT helps customers embark on their network automation. Inevitably, the topic of choosing between different solutions comes up. We often talk about the organizational silos that prevent the effective communication between different groups in an enterprise. Similar constructs exist in our network today. Many network solutions today are focused on a specific domain like campus/branch networking or data center networking. It is common for the OEMs of these networking solutions to also position a controller to manage the environment. The end results is a network with many different functional areas managed by discrete and autonomous controllers. Combining the capabilities of these controllers with the power of Ansible to build  interfaces between these disparate systems provides a flexible and comprehensive solution.

History

The idea of combining Ansible and DNA Center in an automation solution originally began in the WWT Advanced Technology Center (ATC). The WWT ATC is a multi-data center technology ecosystem where WWT, customers and partners learn, test and validate solution integrations. As we built new labs and offerings related to Cisco's DNA Center and Software-Defined Access solution, we needed the ability to manage those labs. Labs in the ATC are continuously deployed and torn down. This led to the initial buildout of some Ansible Modules to help in the configuration of the DNA Center appliances. As the conversations evolved the thought shifted from simply automating DNAC to how to integrate these solutions better.

Summary

To learn more about Ansible and DNA Center, register for AnsibleFest Atlanta 2019. The AnsibleFest 2019 Session Catalog is available here. Enter “DNA” in the search field to review my session details.

WWT is sponsoring a meeting room at the event. Please feel free to connect with the WWT team at AnsibleFest to learn more about the network programmability solutions we offer.