So far the DevOps revolution has bypassed the networking world but that is finally starting to change as developers and IT operations teams are starting to work more closely together.
In the past, the networking community has been focused on employing software-defined networking (SDN) tools to automate various functions. Much of that effort has occurred beyond the reach of an integrated DevOps environment.
Although there have been some integration between virtual machines and DevOps tools, the level of integration has been relatively minimal when compared to other forms of IT infrastructure such as servers and storage.
At the recent VMworld 2017 conference it was clear that this trend finally starting change. In fact, a number of DevOps tools providers such as Blue Medora, CA Technologies, Chef, Cloudbees, Dynatrace, Jfrog, Puppet, SaltStack, and the Ansible arm of Red Hat, have committed to supporting VMware Cloud on Amazon Web Services (AWS), which at its base includes an implementation of VMware NSX network virtualization software. There’s also a separate instance of VMware NSX that is being made available as a standalone software-as-a-service (SaaS) application, dubbed VMware NSX Cloud. IT organizations can opt to deploy it on a public cloud starting with AWS.
At the conference, VMware also demonstrated how VMware vRealize automation tools can be employed to invoke REST application programming interfaces (APIs) exposed in NSX to programmatically make configurations changes in 20 minutes compared to the 24 hours it takes today. Key to achieving that capability is integration with the Github repository, which VMware engineers used to manage version control or to make updates to rules that are applied to an NSX firewall.
Naturally, VMware is not the only IT vendor with these ambitions. AppViewX, for example, recently extended its AUTOMATON+ framework to include visualization tools for what it describes as NetOps. AppViewX CTO Murali Palanisamy describes NetOps as a discipline that borrows many of the concepts pioneered for DevOps but applied specifically to networking.
As the level of integration increases, the issue that arises is to what degree network administrators will want to enable developers to make changes to the network. One of the challenges that has held back adoption of SDN is that most network administrators don’t know how to write code. It’s theoretically simpler for a developer that already has programming skills to learn how to provision networking infrastructure using APIs. This may lead to an increase in adoption of SDN.
But Guido Appenzeller, chief technology strategy officer for cloud and networking at VMware, said that right now less than three percent of VMware’s customers are programmatically managing IT infrastructure in a way that spans compute, storage and networking. Appenzeller said he doesn’t expect to see most IT organizations incorporate networking within their DevOps processes. Instead, Appenzeller said he expects network administrators to programmatically manage networks in a NetOps fashion that complements the way servers and storage systems are managed by DevOps teams.
The availability of network virtualization software on a programmable cloud platform does create an opportunity to bring networking into the larger realm of DevOps. In fact, that integration may be inevitable.
Network administrators can already see what’s occurring where DevOps teams have become more integrated. Developers are not only programmatically invoking server and storage resources, they are exercising a lot more influence over what infrastructure platforms get deployed. In an ideal world developers and IT operations teams work together. But achieving that level of DevOps nirvana requires major changes to IT culture.