I recently joined Romain Jouhannet, Sr. Technical Product Manager, PacketFabric, on a great webinar where we chatted about how to simplify multi-cloud infrastructure automation using HashiCorp Terraform and PacketFabric NaaS. Some of the best bits of that webinar, for many of the participants, are the introduction and high-level coverage necessary for the live demo to make sense. As ever, context is king.
So, in today’s post I’m going to recap the high points of that introduction to give you a better understanding of what NaaS is, why it’s important to your business, and just how easy it is to deploy with PacketFabric’s Terraform provider.
The backdrop for our webinar, like so many other current conversations, was digitization. We often call it digital transformation. And it all goes back to Marc Andreessen’s famous quote that “Software is eating the world.” That’s not new. What is new is that we’ve gotten to see this play out across many industries in the 11 years since Marc’s now famous Wall Street Journal op-ed.
In particular, we’ve seen three major trends in digitization. The first is that digitization often leads to a shift from ownership to access. You don’t own your cloud infrastructure, you just need on-demand access to it. Second, robots (especially software ‘bots’) work best when they augment (not replace) work being done by humans. ATM (Automated Teller Machines) are a great example; they didn’t replace tellers—there are more tellers now than ever before ATMs—they removed mundane work from tellers. And third, digitization both provides and demands business agility. Great digital technologies provide agility by allowing you to respond and work with customers, employees, and partners in a much more flexible fashion. It allows them to meet you where they are and use services when and how they want – which in turn demands that your business is agile enough to do so, from top to bottom.
After digitization, the next important “D word” to understand is deperimeterization. Yes, it’s a mouthful. And it may be hard to understand. But the folks at PacketFabric make it a bit easier to get by talking about things that are still “behind the firewall.” Let’s visualize that a bit by going back to when pretty much everything was behind the firewall.
Some of you are even old enough to remember back when all of a company’s IT assets lived in the same building as its employees. We had servers in a closet running Exchange and System Applications and Products in Data Processing (SAP) and whatever other applications were needed to manage the business. Those servers connected to a PC at all of our desks. And that network terminated at a firewall which protected us from everything out there on the internet, only allowing the very few needed communications beyond our own office.
Compare that with today. Now almost none of our business-critical applications run on servers we own at all. Email, chat, documents, calendars, project management, customer relationship management (CRM), and even enterprise resource planning (ERP) are all available “in the cloud.” Which really means they run on someone else’s computer and are available only over someone else’s network. And this goes for the applications that our own business is developing as well. The days of having our IT infrastructure at arm’s length, behind the firewall, are ending. We are quickly moving almost everything beyond the firewall.
A Self-Driving WAN
By definition, this means that much of our networking is now done “beyond the firewall.” And this has necessitated radical changes in our approach to the Wide Area Network (WAN). We simply cannot wait months for the telephone company to turn up our new WAN link anymore. Our business demands networking as a service (NaaS). In another post for PacketFabric, I dug into the facts of NaaS for WAN Agility, so I won’t rehash that here. Instead, I’ll paraphrase an anecdote I used in the webinar.
In the early days of the automobile, cars, trucks, and motorcycles were highly manual and not very reliable. You had to be a mechanic to drive one. Then we learned, got better at building autos, and added additional control systems. Mechanics became more specialized, and we only took our vehicles to them when there was a problem. In the future, it is very possible, that we won’t even drive our own cars anymore. For many, the utopia is the self-driving car. It allows you to focus on your family, friends, and work, while it takes care of the transportation.
Networks have gone through a similar arc. At first, to have a network meant to be a skilled network engineer. Then we built better networks and added more automation, which allowed us to scale without needing an army to keep the thing running. And now PacketFabric offers us a self-driving WAN. We simply tell it where we need our data to go, and it makes it happen – on-demand and in real-time.
PacketFabric’s Terraform Provider
Of course, you do still have to tell the NaaS what you want from it. And until we perfect the brain-to-machine interface (some hope we do not), we’ll need to find other ways to “talk to” our WAN. From day one, PacketFabric has offered a REST API. This API is a critical component of their NaaS architecture, it’s the same API that their portal uses to make things happen in the network. Things like turning a circuit up or down, modifying the bandwidth available, adding new sites, etc. But what if you’re not quite ready to code against a vendor’s API?
Well, you’re actually in luck. PacketFabric now offers a Terraform provider for your use, totally free. This allows you to simplify your own automation efforts considerably. The provider is always up to date with the latest API changes from PacketFabric, so you don’t have to worry about that at all. You simply write your config files using HCL (HashiCorp Configuration Language) and make changes there whenever you want to do something different with your WAN.
The second half of the webinar contains a live demo, showcasing exactly what is needed (and how easy it is) to manage your PacketFabric NaaS (aka your self driving WAN) using Terraform. Go check it out!