In 2020, almost all daily network functions at this Multinational Brokerage Firm (MBF) were done manually, usually via CLI. Nearly every configuration update and provisioning activity were performed by engineers cutting and pasting configuration syntax over the console or via SSH. MBF had no centralized backups of device configurations, causing delays in restoring services when the most recent configuration was needed. In addition, inventories were kept in spreadsheets and on web servers, with no centralized inventory system. Overall, there was limited visibility into how the entire infrastructure was connected, which led to additional confusion around changes, outages, and upgrades. For example, the RHEL/VMware teams didn’t know which switches they were connected to, and the network team had a limited understanding of which systems were on their switches. Although there were a few pockets of automation for Arista devices, it was not universal. This meant simple changes were all implemented serially, and bulk changes took weeks instead of minutes.
While automation was always a part of the brokerage operations at MBF, the infrastructure teams were much more manual. It was clear that there was a need to transform how MBF’s current network was operated; and to start, the infrastructure organization decided to build a dedicated automation team from the ground up. Beginning in early 2021, leadership brought in several developers and engaged Network to Code (NTC) to help jump-start the effort.
NTC helped MBF deploy several new tools and capabilities to the organization, heavily based on containerized applications. Both teams worked together to deploy Nautobot as MBF’s network inventory system, their source of truth. Nautobot and VMware are integrated with ServiceNow, allowing all data to sync hourly with the Configuration Management Database.
Deploying a full observability stack gave the MBF infrastructure and operations teams insight into how their environments perform, including SNMP/gNMI and API-based telemetry, logging, and SNMP trap collection. All data is fed into and managed in a globally distributed Prometheus/Thanos stack and visualized through Grafana. MBF was then able to extend all data to be able to generate alerts to the Operations team.
Lastly, NTC helped to deploy a global automation platform to drive the backups, bulk configurations, and standardization efforts, with the basis of this automation and orchestration being Ansible and AWX. Application management is also controlled via AWX, allowing MBF to spin up/down the app stacks via scripts.
With global backups in place for MBF’s network devices, they were able to realize immediate returns on their investment with reduced downtimes across the organization and the ability to identify recently changed configurations through Git easily.
Nautobot has since addressed inventory issues, including inventory data and asset management processes, which were previously the subject of a few external compliance audits. MBF leveraged Nautobot’s Device Lifecycle Management application to demonstrate their ability to track EOL/EOS systems in their environment. Nautobot data populates MBF’s ServiceNow CMDB, with both launching around the same time. This CMDB was the basis of their new change management and incident management processes. MBF was able to develop an entirely new Linux server provisioning tool, driven from Nautobot and leveraging Ansible/AWX on the back end, with the ability to provision new Linux bare metal hosts out of the box in less than an hour per host and interface with third-party tools like Infoblox.
Bulk configuration changes are now completed in minutes compared to weeks, allowing MBF to drive massive updates across their environment and their engineers to get back to more value-added work. This also helps to standardize newer global configurations across all locations. With each of these automations in place, MBF has saved time and money; and their engineers can now focus on design and deployment operations because the end-to-end times have dramatically reduced. In addition, a higher standardization rate on network and server deployments reduces outage occurrences and resolution times.
NTC helped jump-start MBF’s Nautobot deployment and unlocked MBF’s ability to build an enterprise observability platform. In addition, MBF now understands how to build and run a completely containerized application stack and use Ansible to instantiate and manage the containers. MBF continues to refine some of the existing features and is looking to add system capacity. Nautobot will remain the primary user interface for inventory and automation self-service capability, and they will continue to develop new applications in Nautobot and maintain the entire app stack.
Network to Code is a network automation services and solutions provider that helps companies transform the way their networks are deployed, managed, and consumed. Through managed and professional services, Network to Code enables enterprises across all industries and geographies to deploy data-driven network automation based on NetDevOps principles to improve reliability, efficiency, and security while reducing costs.
NTC is the sponsor of Nautobot, an open source Network Source of Truth and Network Automation Platform with a growing ecosystem of integrations and partners. Nautobot is the leading Network Source of Truth for Enterprises looking to adopt a data-driven approach to network automation and a platform that complements any network automation journey.
“The ultimate driver for choosing Network to Code was their technical capability, proven track record, and extensive experience in the Nautobot maintainer role.”
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