Tail-f Tails Cisco

Swedish software vendor Tail-f Systems now offers a way to configure Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) switches without having to learn Cisco's famed command-line interface.

Tail-f's NCS framework -- which lets operators write their own configuration software for network gear -- now has a module called the Cisco Configuration Engine, which was announced Tuesday at Management World in Dublin. This module provides a way to configure Cisco switches without having do any programming or run any scripts.

Why this matters
It's a major step towards giving operators a multivendor control plane, a universal translator that could provision services across a heterogeneous network.

Tail-f has always said that its configuration software could head in that direction. Whether there's a viable market for such a thing remains to be seen, but the inclusion of Cisco gear would obviously be a required step. So far, NCS only talked to equipment via Netconf, an Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) protocol that Juniper Networks Inc. (NYSE: JNPR) has championed, so the addition of Cisco's interface represents a major broadening of NCS's reach.

Cisco, by the way, has investigated the idea of multivendor control planes too. It's got management software -- called Premier Integrated Management Experience (Prime) -- that can be customized to accommodate other vendors' gear.

For more
Here's some of our recent coverage on control-plane issues, including the related issue of using OpenFlow to configure routing tables.

— Craig Matsumoto, West Coast Editor, Light Reading

Pete Baldwin 12/5/2012 | 5:04:01 PM
re: Tail-f Tails Cisco

I was talking with Carl Moberg (Tail-f CEO) about this, and one topic he touched on was Cisco certification. With a config tool like this one, you 'd no longer need a Cisco-certified engineer to configure the boxes.

What do you think - good thing or bad thing?  It saves somebody money (depending on who pays for the technician's certification).  But given the ubiquity of Cisco gear, it seems practical to have someone who's expert at it down to the command-line interface.

Same goes for Juniper and other vendors, of course.  But Cisco certification stands out because it seems to be a particularly big deal.

cmoberg 12/5/2012 | 5:03:40 PM
re: Tail-f Tails Cisco

Let me add some more thought to that. It's been obvious to us for a while now that operations teams in operator-like (e.g. both traditional SPs as well as large data centers) are increasingly looking to balance out deep network expertise with programmer-like profiles for automation of high-frequency tasks. A DevOps:ification of the network resource management if you like.

One (of many) side-effects of this is that vendor-certified engineers will gradually be taken off of mundane and repetitive service-oriented tasks that have in some cases made up most of their day. This will, without a doubt in my mind, affect the amount of certified engineers needed in the industry. There will always be a need for deep vendor-specific expertise for less frequent and more complex tasks oriented towards setting up and making sure the network works as expected to support customer services.

The most interesting aspects of this shift is imho twofold:

<li>Will traditional (SP) operators be able to shift networking teams into an automated (as opposed to manually configured) mindset for network resources to keep up with the complexity of e.g. mobile transport and large-scale carrier ethernet services</li>
<li>Will equipment vendors rise to the challenge of improving the manageability of their gear to meet the automation needs. Are their partners and sales teams ready for that shift?</li>