It is fun to discuss the changes in network operations over the last couple decades. We’ve come full circle, and, honestly, ended up in a better place. Network specialists were super command-line wizards who kept us going, with few GUIs in sight. Everyone thought the next iteration would be GUIs, so network operations could be accessible to more than a few command-line specialists. “Everyone” was mostly right; we did head in that direction. It was optional, and many network operations friends pointed out that you could still do more, faster with the command line. Before GUIs had the opportunity to catch up with command lines, though, automation came along. And then DevOps. And finally,* configuration-as-code. Pretty quickly, the ability to do everything through an individual product’s GUI was determined to be a weakness. Network operations personnel were dealing with more vendors to handle the networkification (it is too a word! I just made it up) of common development activities, like some aspects of security. And now, APIs and command lines rule the juncture of DevOps and networking.
*Finally – so far, at least
And that shows in languages. Shell scripting and Python run this show, with little competition from any other language. We could get into a massive discussion about whether shell scripting is programming, but we won’t, because at least in networking, it most definitely is considered to be programming.
One time, when we were tracking down a problem that involved all of IT, I was sitting with the serious network geeks and marveling at their ability to make everything they wanted happen from the command line in an instant, and their ability to parse command output. I’m no slouch when it comes to networking, but they easily put me to shame. I got to chatting with a few of them, and the consensus was that they loved computing but hated programming. Networking made sense to them. This explains why networking DevOps people are continuing to use Shell scripting and adopting Python at the same time.
Python and Shell
Shell is a given in networking. There are a lot of extant Shell scripts for doing all sorts of things, and the need to automate to keep up with Agile makes shell scripting a logical choice.
Python enters the picture because it is “common ground.” It is intuitive enough for most networking people to do what they need to get done, and known or knowable to most developers. When it comes to usage, Python has overtaken Shell; (don’t take my word for it, check out the excellent work of the NetDevOps survey on GitHub, or just glance at the graphic below, created by them) in fact, Shell and Python command so much of the network development space that you are probably better off just making sure you’ve got those down, and focusing your free time on other issues like completely different networking commands, or even skills for data center versus cloud. The ROI would be better.
But Wait, There’s More
The key operational changes recently have been around GitOps and reporting back into the DevOps toolchain. People no longer want your appliance or application to have a pretty GUI, they want it to report in to the tools that provide automation and a larger-picture GUI. Many vendors are there already, but many are not yet. That creates a need for tools – products, open source projects, or internally developed – to do that integration while waiting for the vendors to catch up. These, again, are well-served by Python, though other languages that can handle APIs are viable, too.
We’re headed for a world where systems detect anomalies and react to rectify them, but we’re not there yet – not on a strategic scale, at least. And we probably won’t be for some time, as automating massive network changes is a scary proposition and will take time to use these systems for detection, monitoring what they could have done, before organizations are willing to let them “just do it.”
Meanwhile, NetDevOps is getting folded into DevOps proper, and in many organizations, using infrastructure-as-code or GitOps, is being deployed and managed like any other part of the life cycle. So we are moving along. For my network peeps, your job will continue to change, but it certainly won’t go away. You’re essential to smooth-running systems, and while the network may become even more virtual, it will still be networking. And under that virtual network will be … a physical network. So keep kicking it, and carving a path from users to apps, while protecting those apps and ensuring they have adequate resources. Oh, and if I spin up another instance at midnight, you’ll hop on and make sure it’s got traffic directed to it, right? RIGHT?!