Cisco Brings DevOps To The Network - InformationWeek

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Cisco Brings DevOps To The Network

Cisco's DevNet aims to help network software developers bridge the gap to working in the software-defined network.

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DevOps has come to the network. Cisco is helping network engineers and managers who are conversant in programming make the leap to the software-defined network (SDN) environment. It wants to make sure people trained in Cisco technologies are ready for SDN, and it's been quietly gathering resources for them to use in its emerging, more open networking environment.

"We've been arguing to the executive committee that we need to have a strategy and program for developers," as well a product line loaded with routers, switches, and other networking gear, said Susie Wee, VP and CTO of Networked Experiences. Cisco has turned to Wee and Rick Tywoniak, director of the new Cisco DevNet program announced Monday.

DevNet is meant to be a community of the enterprise network developers among its customers, its ISVs, independent systems integrators, and Cisco partners, producing software applications to run the programmable network of the future. It will have some characteristics of an Open Flow network, where the devices on the network don't arrive as preconfigured or self-configuring, based on spanning tree or other network protocols, but await instructions from a central controller.

By 2020, Cisco expects to have 1 million developers enrolled as network programmers.

[Want to learn more about DevOps? See Agile, DevOps, Cloud: IT's New Trinity.]

In the past, developers struggled to get software applications to work with proprietary network equipment. "The network wasn't software friendly," conceded Wee in a blog posted on the Cisco site Monday.

"Today the development environment is rich and ready to take advantage of the open and intelligent network," she wrote.

Cisco got its first taste of how much interest there is in programmable networks when it staged a developer lab at Cisco Live in San Francisco at the end of May. The second floor of the Moscone West Convention Center was filled with attendees wanting to get a better understanding of how the network might be programmable in the near future.

To some extent, Cisco has always made software development kits and tools available that work with its equipment. But a larger development platform is emerging in open source code projects, such as the Linux Foundation's OpenDaylight Hydrogen, or through SDN-oriented startups such as BigSwitch, or through HP's Intelligent Management Center. Cisco is striving to keep up with these initiatives through SDKs, visual modeling tools, ready-to-use code samples, and more accessible REST-based APIs through partner Mulesoft, with 100 currently available. Also, DevNet will supply a community where members may come to rely on each other for shared experience and support.

In addition, DevNet will serve as an education and delivery vehicle for Cisco's approach to the SDN, its Application Centric Infrastructure. It has in beta the Application Policy Infrastructure Controller Enterprise Module (APIC EM), software that sits on the network controller and discovers what devices are on the network and how they're configured, or it finds a way to retrieve information on the devices. With the APIC EM "the network becomes programmable," said Wee. It won't be generally available until sometime in 2015.

A developer with knowledge of network security could produce an application on top of the APIC EM that addressed a particular security issue, which would then be deployed onto the network. In the past, the network staff would have had to rely on the vendor or a network security specialist to do such a thing, Wee said.

There's a longer term goal behind DevNet, as well: to draw the network operations engineers and network developers closer together in a shared framework. Operations staff seldom have had the chance to have any input on applications governing the network. Network application developers have seldom had any experience in running a particular network that needs new software.

"We hope to cross-pollinate hot-shot software developers with mission-critical operations people," Wee said.

Coming later this year will be a fixture that both may wish to use: a cloud-based sandbox environment for software-defined networking. Both developers and operators will be able to produce code and test-drive it in a safe environment, Wee said.

Part of the DevNet approach will be to offer a Cisco-sponsored DevNet App Store where customers, independent developers, and systems integrators may all offer network software that they produced for download to other customers. The store is expected to be available sometime in 2015, Wee said.

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Charles Babcock is an editor-at-large for InformationWeek and author of Management Strategies for the Cloud Revolution, a McGraw-Hill book. He is the former editor-in-chief of Digital News, former software editor of Computerworld and former technology editor of Interactive ... View Full Bio

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User Rank: Apprentice
7/22/2014 | 9:53:12 PM
I get it but...
I doubt many/most devs care or understand even the most basic of the OSI layer.  Just with DevOps, there is still a need for expertise in the area.  I like what they are doing with SDN etc, but unleashing devs on network w/o expertise is far more dangerous.

User Rank: Ninja
7/22/2014 | 2:14:03 PM
Re: Network ops will need to master updates
You pointed out some possible points of failure. I'd like to see them counter act those by perhaps placing more conscientious personnel in the relevant positios to try and ensure that this will be a success.
User Rank: Ninja
7/22/2014 | 1:26:06 PM
Re: Network ops will need to master updates
I agree, while it's a great idea in theory thanks to the innovation that could come from a project like this, the reality is that the risks that come from inexperienced developers, or lax controls in terms of pre-screening these applications means a few headaches during the initial stages.  I'll be curious to see how this program evolves.
Charlie Babcock
Charlie Babcock,
User Rank: Author
7/21/2014 | 2:35:04 PM
Network ops will need to master updates
Yeah, turning programmers loose among network sensitivities is a little like inviting the bull into the china shop. But the computer operations side in many cases has mastered the art of frequent updates. If the network is going to modernize, it will need to also. 
Lorna Garey
Lorna Garey,
User Rank: Author
7/21/2014 | 1:39:28 PM
High risk code?
Cool idea, but is there some wariness given the chaos that could be unleashed by a code error that brings down a whole network? 
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