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Startup Apstra has added to its intent-based networking software customizable analytics capable of spotting potential problems and reporting them to network managers.
Apstra introduced this week intent-based analytics as part of an upgrade to the company's Apstra Operating System (AOS). The latest version, AOS 2.1, also includes other enhancements, such as support for additional network hardware and the ability to use a workload's MAC or IP address to find it in an IP fabric.
In general, AOS is a network operating system designed to let managers automatically configure and troubleshoot switches. Apstra focuses on hardware transporting Layer 2 and Layer 3 traffic between devices from multiple vendors, including Arista Networks, Cisco, Dell and Juniper Networks. Apstra also supports white-box hardware running the Cumulus Networks OS.
AOS, which can run on a virtualized x86 server, communicates with the hardware through installed drivers or the hardware's REST API. Data on the state of each device is continuously fed to the AOS data store. Alerts are sent to network operators when the state data conflicts with how a device is configured to operate.
AOS 2.1 takes the software's capabilities up a notch through tools that operators can use to choose specific data they want the Apstra analytics engine to process.
"This is a logical progression for Apstra with AOS," said Brad Casemore, an analyst at IDC. "Pervasive, real-time analytics should be an integral element of any intent-based networking system."
Using Apstra analytics
The first step is for operators to define the type of data AOS will collect. For example, managers could ask for the CPU utilization on all spine switches. Also, they could request queries of all the counters for server-facing interfaces and of the routing tables for links connecting leaf and spine switches.
"If you were to add a new link, add a new server, or add a new spine, the data would be included automatically and dynamically," Apstra CEO Mansour Karam said.
Once the data is defined, operators can choose the conditions under which the software will examine the information. Apstra provides preset scenarios or operators can create their own. "You can build this [data] pipeline in the way that you want, and then put in rules [to extract intelligence]," Karam said.
Useful information that operators can extract from the system include:
- traffic imbalances on connections between leaf and spine switches;
- links reaching traffic capacity;
- the distribution of north-south and east-west traffic; and
- the available bandwidth between servers or switches.
Enterprises moving slowly with IBN deployments
Other vendors, such as Cisco, Forward Networks and Veriflow, are building out intent-based networking (IBN) systems to drive more extensive automation. Analytics plays a significant role in making automation possible.
"Nearly every enterprise that adopts advanced network analytics solutions
is using it to enable network automation," said Shamus McGillicuddy, an analyst at Enterprise Management Associates, based in Boulder, Colo. "You can't really have extensive network automation without analytics. Otherwise, you have no way to verify that what you are automating conforms with your intent."
Today, most IT staffs use command-line interfaces (CLIs) to manually program switches and scores of other devices that comprise a network's infrastructure. IBN abstracts configuration requirements from the CLI and lets operators use declarative statements within a graphical user interface to tell the network what they want. The system then makes the necessary changes.
The use of IBN is just beginning in the enterprise. Gartner predicts the number of commercial deployments will be in the hundreds through mid-2018, increasing to more than 1,000 by the end of next year.