CenturyLink's Feger: Automation Sets You Free
Feger outlined points for building automation into the networks. The API strategy should be part of the initial build. Designers need to understand and address how ops worked around past limitations. Network designs should be modular -- designers should avoid the temptation to build huge, monolithic systems. And technology components should support automation plans from the start.
Network designers should take advantage of existing technology. Suppliers are quickly pivoting to automation, and open source projects are plentiful. Designers can drop in tools such as automated performance management, service assurance and general visibility tools, Feger said.
But it's not enough to build automated systems. They have to be trusted too, Feger said.
"Don't be afraid to let software make decisions," Feger said. That's a cultural shift for many. If the software makes mistakes, don't just correct the mistake once -- tune the software to make it better. Efficiency comes from zero-touch provisioning.
Feger described one network manager who had security tools that could automatically shut down the system when attacked -- but instead, the software was configured to automatically send an email to the operations team, which wanted to check the software's work.
"You have top echelon people reviewing a decision a machine made -- and by the way had made for eight months accurately," Feger said. "By the time you've checked, some damage has already been done." And also, you're losing the productivity of top people when you don't trust automation.
Now, the same operator trusts the software, which shuts the network down automatically in case of attacks, and eliminates data center failures, Feger said.
"Trust the data. Trust the machine," Feger said.
As part of CenturyLink's own automation, the company built the Virtual Infrastructure Controller & Orchestrator -- VICTOR, Feger said.
"If you can build a flowchart in PowerPoint or Vizio, you can orchestrate a service," Feger said. (See CenturyLink to Open Source NFVi Orchestrator.)
VICTOR was a reaction to excess network complexity, Feger said. CenturyLink's network supports multiple vendors, including servers, whitebox switches, CenturyLink's switch operating system, OpenStack, and more. Different configuration mechanisms have diverse APIs and models. Creating a service requires multiple internal and external views. And cultural barriers are obstacles to managing that kind of complexity -- network engineers are not programmers, and traditional programmers are not network engineers.
"My ops counterpart said, 'If I have to hire a bunch of Ph.D.s to run this environment, James, you're building it wrong," Feger said.
But using VICTOR, CenturyLink can achieve high-level infrastructure deployment in two days with a 1% failure rate, Feger said.
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— Mitch Wagner Executive Editor, Light Reading