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Providing the Right Platform is Sometimes All it Takes

Change is the only constant. Except that it isn’t; constant that is. We are seeing changes to IT services, infrastructure, eco-systems, and business models, with consequent demands and expectations that we have not witnessed before. Cisco is responding to all of this with new technologies for the DevOps community, including APIs, development tools, training and more, all of which I discuss below.

The Economist likens this to the Cambrian era that saw the multiplication of life forms that populate our world today: “… this time is … different, in an important way. Today’s entrepreneurial boom is based on more solid foundations than the 1990s internet bubble, which makes it more likely to continue for the foreseeable future.”

What has made this possible, which the Economist illustrates with a variety of examples, is the ubiquity of communications and open source platforms in a “cloud” environment. The Economist lists these elements:

  • …snippets of code that can be copied free from the internet, along with easy-to-learn programming frameworks (such as Ruby on Rails).
  • … services for … sharing code (GitHub) …
  • … “application programming interfaces” (APIs), digital plugs that are multiplying rapidly …
  • … “platforms”—services that can host startups’ offerings (Amazon’s cloud computing), distribute them (Apple’s App Store) and market them (Facebook, Twitter).
  • … the internet, the mother of all platforms, which is now fast, universal and wireless.

What has also changed is that the IT stack is, in effect, collapsing. The “separation of concerns”, that kept the network infrastructure distinct from the applications running over it, is being whittled away. In October 2013 we teamed up with IASA UK, the professional body for Enterprise Architects, to host a discussion about the enterprise architect view of software-defined networks, that the enterprise architects termed “Application Defined Networks (ADN)”.

In that conference, Rupert Brown, IB CTO Lead Architect, UBS Investment Bank, London, presented some of his thoughts and predictions for the evolution of the IT infrastructure space, made possible by the ADN concepts. In his talk, Rupert envisaged an evolution from static network configuration to “Dynamic Distributed Architectures”. Rupert also envisaged an evolution of ITIL, and the need for Design, Modelling and Simulation tools that could support the integration of systems and networks.

In my blog of June 2013, I described a technology called the “Virtual Internet Routing Laboratory”, or VIRL for short. That technology will be making its appearance in the Cisco Modeling Labs (CML) tool coming out later this year. CML is the design, modelling and simulation tool that Rupert was looking for.

The development, within Cisco, of CML/VIRL has been in parallel with the evolution of the Open Network Environment (ONE), which we first announced at Cisco Live in San Diego 2012. As part of ONE we have the onePK APIs, and our OpenDaylight (ODL) based controllers.

In my blog of November 2012, I introduced the onePK API software architecture and we delivered our 1.1, controlled availability release. The OpenDaylight (ODL) project also started with a number of industry partners and in these last few months we have witnessed intense efforts across the industry to deliver the “Hydrogen” release. In addition, we are truly excited to announce the onePK is now generally available to all. Go to DevNet to download the SDK and be on your way to market your applications.

At Cisco Live in Milan, January 2014, we showcased solutions from Sparkl, Puppet Labs (video, slideshare) NTS, SAP, ItalTel, Real Status and Plexxi, built on the onePK APIs and ODL. In past Cisco Lives we have also showcased Chef and onePK, Glue Networks, Pramacom, and a variety of others.

From the Economist’s list, then, we are looking pretty good. We have the code sharing at DevNet, APIs, the platform, the internet (of course J), as well as advanced tools and a growing eco-system of developers.

We are not stopping there though. The Economist also touched upon, with its mention of GitHub, the common processes and development tools that underpin this new model. The development processes at ODL are based on an integration of Gerrit, Git, Jenkins, SonarQube and Nexus. This is a combination that will be familiar to many developers coming into this, new, space of network application development.

Making a new platform look familiar to an existing developer audience is key for adoption. Many of the key concepts for network design – routing protocols, switching mechanisms, IP addressing, NAT/PAT, encapsulation protocols, network session data, and, especially, the CLI to configure it all – are not going to be familiar to the largest body of developers using, say, Ruby-on-Rails for web and database design.

How, then, do we create APIs and platform services that can be used by developers in the enterprise domain? There is tremendous value in the network layer, and a real demand to be able to interact dynamically with it from enterprise applications.

That value will be unlocked by a combination of new abstractions in the controller APIs, educating business application developers to understand more about the network domain, and practical, automated, examples that tie it all together.

Our upcoming training for SDN/ONE developers describes a number of roles for which we are developing training and certification, including Business Application Developer, Network Programmability Designer, Network Programmability Developer and Network Programmability Engineer, illustrated below.

Industry Job Roles Evolution and Certifications for Network Programmability

One of the key goals of this training is to help create a common set of concepts that can provide a frame of reference for collaboration. Business application developers will need to learn more about the network domain, and network engineers more about the business.

To tie all of this together, we need practical, fully worked and automated examples of how the APIs, platforms, tools and technologies can work together. This will help us share best practice, bridge the skills and knowledge gaps, and foster a community. This is where the Open Network Environment (ONE) Software Development Lifecycle (SDLC) project comes in. If you are attending Cisco Live San Francisco, it’s session: BRKSDN-2777.

We have spent the last two years building out all of the main ingredients for the Open Network Environment platform. It is real, it is being used and adopted and it is making a difference. As the Economist says: “Providing the right platform is sometimes all it takes.”

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