Apstra’s Intent – What Do They Mean?

Disclaimer: I recently attended VMworld 2019 – US.  My flights and accommodation were paid for by Digital Sense, and VMware provided me with a free pass to the conference and various bits of swag. There is no requirement for me to blog about any of the content presented and I am not compensated by VMware for my time at the event.  Some materials presented were discussed under NDA and don’t form part of my blog posts, but could influence future discussions.

As part of my attendance at VMworld US 2019 I had the opportunity to attend Tech Field Day Extra sessions. You can view the videos from the Apstra session here, and download my rough notes from here.

 

More Than Meets The Eye

A lot of people like to talk about how organisations need to undertake “digital transformation”. One of the keys to success with this kind of transformation comes in the form of infrastructure transformation. The idea is that, if you’re doing it right, you can improve:

  • Business agility;
  • Application reliability; and
  • Control costs.

Apstra noted that “a lot of organisations start with choosing their hardware and all other choices are derived from that choice, including the software”. As a result of this, you’re constrained by the software you’ve bought from that vendor. The idea is you need to focus on business-oriented outcomes, which are then used to determine the technical direction you’ll need to take to achieve those outcomes.

But even if you’ve managed to get yourself a platform that helps you achieve the outcomes you’re after, if you don’t have an appropriate amount of automation and visibility in your environment, you’re going to struggle with deployments being slowed down. You’ll likely also find that that a lack of efficient automation can lead to:

  • Physical and logical topologies that are decoupled but dependent;
  • Error-prone deployments; and
  • No end to end validation.

When you’re in that situation, you’ll invariably find that you’ll struggle with reduced operational agility and a lack of visibility. This makes it hard to troubleshoot issues in the field, and people generally feel sad (I imagine).

 

Intent, Is That What You Mean?

So how can Apstra help? Will they magically make everything work the way you want it to? Not necessarily. There are a bunch of cool features available within the Apstra solution, but you need to do some work up front to understand what you’re trying to achieve in the first place. But once you have the framework in place, you can do some neat stuff, using AOS to accelerate initial and day 2 fabric configuration. You can, for example, deploy new racks and L2 / L3 fabric VLANs at scale in a few clicks:

  • Streamline new rack design and deployment;
  • Automate fabric VLAN deployment;
  • Closed-loop validation (endpoint configuration, EVPN routes expectations); and
  • Include jumbo frame configuration for overlay networks.

The idea behind intent-based networking (IBN) is fairly straightforward:

  • Collect intent;
  • Expose intent;
  • Validate; and
  • Remediate.

You can read a little more about IBN here. There’s a white paper on Intent-based DCs can be found here.

 

Thoughts

I don’t deal with complicated network deployments on a daily basis, but I do know some people who play that role on TV. Apstra delivered a really interesting session that had me thinking about the effectiveness of software solutions to control infrastructure architecture at scale. There’s been a lot of talk during conference keynotes about the importance of digital transformation in the enterprise and how we all need to be leveraging software-defined widgets to make our lives better. I’m all for widgets making life easier, but they’re only going to be able to do that when you’ve done a bit of work to understand what it is you’re trying to do with all of this technology. The thing that struck me about Apstra is that they seem to understand that, while they’re selling some magic software, it’s not going to be any good to you if you haven’t done some work to prepare yourself for it.

I rabbit on a lot about how technology organisations struggle to understand what “the business” is trying to achieve. This isn’t a one-way problem either, and the business frequently struggles with the idea that technology seems to be a constant drain on an organisation’s finances without necessarily adding value to the business. In most cases though, technology is doing some really cool stuff in the background to make businesses run better, and more efficiently. Apstra is a good example of using technology to deliver reliable services to the business. Whether you’re an enterprise networker, or toiling away at a cloud service provider, I recommend checking out how Apstra can make things easier when it comes to keeping your network under control.

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