How Gluware Helped Acuity’s Complex EVPN Network Management Easy

As more organizations expand their digital footprint, they will grow to depend on network reliability, security, and adaptability. Traffic patterns will change as remote workers continue to increase. Network reliability will become increasingly important as a disruption in service means a disturbance throughout the enterprise.  

Manual configuration is error-prone, which is why many companies are moving to automation tools; however, only five years ago, “95% of network changes were done manually.” With network automation, businesses can overcome inefficiencies and improve their effectiveness to ensure their networks can support growth. The move to automated tools is not always smooth. In this ONUG Fall 2020 session, Acuity’s Chris DiPaola and Gluware’s Matt Dittoe discuss Acuity’s network automation journey.

Acuity

Acuity is an insurance company headquartered in Sheboygan, WI. It offers property and casualty insurance to U.S. consumers and businesses. It operates large datacenter networks to service customers, agents, and employees. The company retains a large technical workforce, relying on in-house personnel to develop solutions and maintain operations. 

According to Chris DiPaola, Senior Systems Engineer, the network team was struggling with slow build times of up to eight hours. The builds required significant human intervention with many opportunities for error. The team realized they needed a standard solution that delivered simplicity, reliability, and accessibility. After implementing other network automation solutions, Acuity decided to look at Gluware.

Gluware

Gluware’s Intelligent Network Automation platform detects network devices, configurations, and parameters to create a digital copy of a network. According to Jeff Gray, CEO and Co-founder of Gluware, this functionality creates a layer of software that exposes network shortcomings. With its intent-based design, Gluware’s platform can deliver a self-operating network that can clean and optimize a network.

In this session, Matt Dittoe, Gluware SVP, talks with Chris DiPaola about Acuity’s implementation of Gluware’s solution to address reliability, simplicity, and accessibility. Matt directed the discussion by asking Chris questions.

Why a CI/CD Approach?

Continuous integration provides a process that lets developers across silos work together to detect, locate and fix errors to ensure a more agile development process. For Acuity, that meant more collaboration and communication. Groups were able to acquire binding knowledge that contributed to continuous delivery/deployment. Having the ability to deliver error-free solutions across the enterprise through collaborative development improved the company’s productivity and its culture of cooperation.

Why Choose EVPN?

Acuity used a spine and leaf architecture that increased availability, security, and scalability, except it was too fragile as the data centers needed to operate with a north/south as well as an east/west availability. Moving to an EVPN network with a centrally routed bridging (CRB) option provided the north/south support. The EVPN VXLAN CRB model helped with central routing and service scanning as all traffic went through a firewall.

Configuring and managing an EVPN network can quickly become complicated. Engineers must consider the underlay and overlay network when making changes. Configuration changes that involved both spine and leaf devices were consuming more time.

What Was Needed?

The staff could write configuration scripts, but that wasn’t the best use of resources. What was needed was a network automation platform that let network engineers define what was required and then have the platform do it. Acuity needed a full-featured solution that could manage and enforce standards to create a level of consistency in deployment.

Because of its brownfield fabric, network personnel found themselves building numerous scripts that added to network overhead. What the company needed was Gluware’s intent-based design. 

How Did Gluware Help?

Gluware’s solution envisioned a CI/CD pipeline that delivered simplicity, flexibility, and reliability. APIs enabled many manual processes to be translated into automated ones, and the API development at Gluware continues to grow. As fewer processes require manual intervention, network automation will deliver more efficiencies.

Specifically, Gluware’s platform automated the provisioning of new VLANs into an existing brownfield fabric, helping Acuity securely automate its network. Gluware provided domain-wide data modeling with REST API to feed data models with variables to accelerate application deployment.

  • Efficiency. Acuity realized faster build times, which freed personnel to explore future needs. 
  • Flexibility. Operating in multi-domain and multi-vendor environments delivers flexibility, as does the growth in API development.
  • Reliability. To have an automation tool that can help visualize network configurations and devices helps ensure reliable operations. Its ability to enforce standards for better network consistency minimizes disruptions due to human error.

In addition, Gluware’s dashboard allows personnel to review network status quickly. The solution also enables synchronization of VM clusters and zero-touch provisioning, all of which make for a secure but agile network.

What Lessons Were Learned?

Automating a network, while complex in concept, doesn’t need a complicated solution. Sometimes, the complexity of implementation becomes a part of the solution when what is needed is a simple and adaptable platform.

  • Adaptable. Network automation solutions must be designed to adapt to changing network requirements. As more businesses become digital-based, the demands on network infrastructure will increase. Companies must evaluate how flexible a solution is. Without adaptability, the solution may struggle to keep up with network demands.
  • Simple. Automation tools should reduce the demands on network personnel. Implementation should enable staff to re-allocate resources for a more pro-active approach to network-related issues.

Perhaps the most crucial lesson is finding a company that listens. Every company has a unique network and culture, and solution providers need to respect that. Companies know their networks, and they know what outcomes they want. With all parties listening to what is required as well as how it can be delivered, the result will be an automated network that meets expectations. According to Chris, the commitment that Gluware made to communication was a vital component of the project’s success.

Be sure to join us at ONUG Spring 2021, May 5-6, to learn more about real-world applications in network automation, or contact us by clicking here. 

 

Author's Bio

Mark Tierney

CTO, ONUG