The Glue that brings the Intent together!

Based out of Menlo Park, Apstra’s #NFD19 presentation as part of Tech Field Day included the following company representatives:

Mansour Karam, CEO and Founder for Apstra began the presentation with a few company updates:

  • New HQ in Menlo Park
  • Apstra customers include Fortune 500 Enterprises, Global 200 Enterprises, Mid-Sized Businesses and cloud providers. 
  • Recipient for the Best of VMworld 2018 Gold Award for Networking
  • Reliability and agility improvements: from ONE week to 2 HOURS

During the presentation, Mansour provided us with information about IBN (Intent Based Networking), which is meant to dramatically improve and re-define networking across the across the various levels. Most systems in the market are in between level 0 and 1. Apstra’s ambition is to achieve level 3 with AOS (Apstra Operating System). At this time, Apstra is currently at level 2 (see picture below for more info). 

Moving forward, Mansour described IBA (Intent-Based Analytics) as the ability to collect telemetry. I found the following two quotes from his IBA presentation very interesting “You can’t operate what you can’t measure” and “You can’t heal what you can’t root cause accurately”. The various Apstra IBAs can be located on GitHub.

Apstra also wanted to provide the choice of vendor to their customers when deciding on a multi-vendor EVPN (ethernet VPN). By doing so, it allows the customers to deliver automation with a choice while adopting loosely coupled architectures in hopes of avoiding  proprietary fabrics and management solutions designed to lock the customer into their hardware.

A few of the photos that were captured during Mansour’s presentation can be found below.

Up next was Michael Wood, Chief Marketing Officer and VP of Products for Apstra. He described data centers as becoming more flat, distributed and cloudified. Apstra is automating the underlying network and switching including workloads and servers plus expanding north and south to include security, VPN and firewalls. East\West expansion will also include campuses, edge compute, cloud, branch and mobile implementations.

Picture4

Apstra’s vision according to Michael includes the following 3 focal points:

  • Entire data centers will become automated including the network elements. Examples of these data centers are private, hybrid and multi-cloud.
  • Eliminating the Logical walls separating Enterprise data centers.
  • Ensure that network, security, application and compliance policies are unified, ubiquitous and self-operating.

Now it’s time to get deep into the Apstra AOS architecture with Carly Stoughton, Head of Technical Marketing. In my opinion, the use of the whiteboard (see below) is underestimated because there is no better way to demonstrate your product outside of a live demo. Providing a start to finish approach with an effective use of diagrams that also includes a technical deep dive along the way is an absolute home run! Prior to #NFD19, I did my part and brushed up on each of the presenting companies but when Carly rolled out the whiteboard, the room lit up and I can now understand why! 

A few points to consider that were discussed during her presentation:

  • Apstra is a software company that provides automation within the data center for a spine\leaf topology.
  • The AOS (Apstra Operating System) is essentially just a virtual machine and the company is focused on Day 2 analytics and Intent Based Analytics that can be done in a multi-vendor environment.
  • Apstra is comprised of a distributed architecture on each of the systems that includes an agent that monitors locally and real time while reporting back to the AOS server.
  • If a device that doesn’t support or if a customer doesn’t want the agent, an OFF Box agent is provided and it’s basically a container within the AOS server VM that communicate with the switches. If a device is not supported\compatible by AOS, the Advanced Solutions Engineering Team at Apstra would work with the customer.

Below you find my best attempt at describing each of the components discussed in Carly’s whiteboard presentation.

Building Blocks

    • Logical Device = simple abstracted description of the high level intent of the device that doesn’t apply to any vendors or hardware specific lingo.
      • Examples include:
        • 8 ports\25GB
        • 4 ports\100GB
        • What connects to the ports
    • Rack Types
      • Specify how many leaves
      • Specify how many servers
      • Number of uplinks for each server
      • Number of spine switches
      • Number of leaves per rack
      • No vendor or hardware specifics are required
    • Template
      • Aka Rubber Stamp (repeatable unit that can be reused)
      • Combine logical devices and racks into a hypothetical data center
      • Include spines and their requirements
      • Rack type instances (can be mixed and matched)
      • Specify routing policy (EVPN, traditional VXLAN, IP4 or IPv6, external links)
    • Blueprint
      • Is the actual data center (Living breathing object)
      • The print that comes from the rubber stamp
      • Virtual networks are created here
      • Includes VMware integration that allows you to connect to vCenter via APIs to view inventory of virtual machines and additional info
      • Day 2 operations includes IBA (Intent Based Analytics) that continues to validate the intent matches the operational state while monitoring in real time that the intent is being met
      • Specific vendors and hardware are in the pool of Managed Devices from the AOS server that monitor the hardware and software capabilities
      • Device profiles that represent the actual physical device itself (port capabilities, CPU, memory, OS, etc.)
      • Interface Maps tie the intent abstraction requirement into an actual device that meets that intent. Can be referred to as the “GLUE”

        Resources provide the identities that give the Blueprint life. Pools can be created like IP address pools for loopbacks, ASN (Autonomous System Numbers) and VNI (Virtual Network Instance)

Apstra’s Multi Vendor EVPN demonstration was lead by DJ Spry (pictured below), Technical Account Manager. The demo covered establishing the logical association to physical interfaces. The logical representation mapped to a specific device profile, then created a rack type, followed by a template with the resources assigned to it. Additionally, there are plenty of custom options available regardless of vendors and devices to choose from. 

 

Intent Based Analytics includes 4 characteristics (see below) and each was defined by Rags Rachamadugu during his presentation. They include Design, Build, Deploy and Validate.

Rags

Rags went into detail as what he describes as the SEE method. Select what data to collect from what elements. Enrich collected data with context. Extract knowledge by analyzing context rich telemetry.

The Apstra AOS and ServiceNow Integration with Network to Code was provided by Ryan Booth and Jere Julian. Automation is the key and the workflow is to create the ticket, AOS will resolve the issue, the ticket will be updated automatically and the appropriate parties will be notified along the way. Personally speaking, this is AWESOME! This reduces so much manual work but also creates a systematic workflow that reduces errors.

Screen Shot 2018-11-22 at 4.34.19 PM

To close out the day at Apstra, we were fortunate to hear from David Cheriton (Apstra Founder).

Screen Shot 2018-11-22 at 4.12.15 PM

I snapped a few additional photos and they can be found here. I’ve also included a few tweets from my fellow Tech Field Delegates and I below.

The names for each of the YouTube videos is listed below with a hyperlink for your convenience.

For more information about Apstra, Tech Field Day and how to become a TFD – please click on the links below:

Please take a moment to subscribe to the YouTube channel which also includes watching the various videos that were posted throughout the day. Kudos to PrimeImage Media for recording the live sessions.

Credit also goes to Stephen Foskett, Tom Hollingsworth, Ben Gage, Mel Zura and the entire Tech Field Day staff for coordinating a seamless event.

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