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How open OS transforms network lifecycle management

Posted: 30 Jan 2015 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:Network lifecycle management? operating systems? OS? command-line interfaces? CLI?

Lifecycle management for network equipment used to be a laborious, error-prone process as command-line interfaces (CLIs) were the only way to configure equipment for the last few decades. Open operating systems and the growing Linux community have now streamlined this process for servers, and the same is beginning to happen for network switches.

Network lifecycle management involves three phases: on-boarding or provisioning, production, and decommissioning. The state of network equipment is continually in flux as applications are deployed or removed, so network administrators must find ways to configure and manage equipment efficiently and cost-effectively.

In the server world, the emergence of Linux based operating systems have revolutionized server on-boarding and provisioning. Rather than using a CLI to configure servers one at a time, system administrators can use automation tools like Chef and Puppet to store and apply configurations with the click of a mouse. For example, suppose an administrator wants to commission four Hadoop servers. Rather than using a CLI to provision each of them separately, the administrator can instruct a technician to click on the Hadoop library in Chef and provision the four servers automatically. This saves time and eliminates the potential for configuration errors due to missed keystrokes, or calling up an old driver.

This kind of automated provisioning has been a godsend to network administrators and is fast becoming the standard method of lifecycle management for servers. But what about switches? Network administrators would like to use the same methodology for switches in their networks, but the historical nature of switches has held them back.

Traditionally, network switches have been proprietary devices with proprietary operating systems. Technicians must use a CLI or the manufacturer's own tools to provision a switch. Either the technician must manually type configuration info into a CLI, or learn a proprietary management system.

Using a CLI for lots of repetitive tasks can lead to errors and lost productivity from repeating the same mundane tasks over and over again. For example, suppose two technicians are assigned to provision 25 switches each. One knows that the drivers must be updated, while the other doesn't. When configuration is done, only half of the switches function properly, and it takes hours to diagnose the issue and get the other 25 switches working. It would be far better if technicians could provision network switches with the same Linux-compatible tools they use to provision servers. These tools will have automatically-updated libraries that always include the proper configuration information.

Today, three manufacturers (Big Switch, Cumulus, and Pica8) are offering Linux-based OSs for bare-metal switches that allows these switches to be provisioned with standard, Linux tools.

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