The First Ever Network Automation Conference – AutoCon0

First let me just say that you have got to love a zero indexed conference!

If you are a network engineer and you don't know what that means we need to chat..and that situation was a key topic of the conference. In my mind the goal of the conference was to assess the state of network automation adoption and advise on ways to move it forward.

I also have to say "first ever" might be arguable but without questions it is the first at this time asking these questions.

Why Attend

I am lucky enough to work for a company that gives me wide latitude on all things automation. I firmly believe we are where we are because first and foremost I work with and exceptionally talented team AND the value of automation was recognized by our leadership from the start. It allows us to provide services to our customers at speed and with a level of accuracy, consistency, and quality that would be impossible to do without automation. We are a small-ish but mighty team and our automation is a key factor. We are a boutique professional services company leveraging automation in all aspects of Networking including Data Centers, Campus Network Refresh, IoT and Network Appliance Deployment, Security and Segmentation.

When I heard about the conference I knew I had to go. On that note, many thanks to Packet Pushers - a media partner for the conference- who did their job superbly as I would not have heard about the conference without them.

The Conference

I have to say the first day was too short and the second day was too long.

The first half day left me wanting more. It was inevitable. There was a self congratulatory vibe in the air and perhaps deservedly so given the network automation luminaries present. Great speakers with some compelling stories were lined up. I would have liked to have seen some clearer goals stated and expected outcomes and next steps more clearly outlined. What can I say... I like structure.

Day two made the conference.

My only disappointment with day two was around the Observability Panel which was conspicuously missing Startdust Systems and anyone from the SuzieQ team. For me its hard to have a credible discussion around network observability without Dinesh Dutt.

There were lunchtime topic break outs which were fun, engaging, and really got me thinking. I attended the break out session on Automation Best Practices and met some great people and got some new perspectives and ideas. Here is where a little more structure could have come in handy. I kept expecting to be asked for a summary of our discussion but that was not the case. In all fairness Slack channels were planned for each session so the nice thing is that we can keep the conversations going.

The One Thing

For me there is always "the one thing" at every conference. The one thing that I learned that will make a difference, the one person I met (Ethan Banks!) ... Whatever it may be, there is always that one thing for me.

For this conference it was unequivocally the presentation by Damien Garros. Source of truth (please make note of the fact that "single" is now getting dropped) continues to be a challenge for most organizations and the conference crystalized some key issues. Is the source of truth the infrastructure itself or is it an abstraction? Regardless, I believe that abstraction has to exists and in Damien Garros session "Network Source of Truth and Infrastructure as Code revisited" he crisply laid out the issues and a solution as he sees it. And it involves Graph Theory!!! Those of you that know me, know that I've been on a graph theory kick for the better part of a year so I will be keeping a close eye on Damien's project OpsMill.

Additional Highlights

  • Levi Perigo from CU Boulder provided a very enlightening summary of the educational track around network engineering and really highlighting the importance of including the educational institutions in these conversations
  • Jeremy Schulman's session on Design Driven Network Assurance is well worth the watch
  • Simplified Troubleshooting through API Scripting by Cat Gurinsky is another one to hunt down
  • The conference made excellent use of Slack

Thank You

The Network Automation Forum and specifically Chris Grundemann, Scott Robohn, and their very capable team should be pleased with their accomplishment and I know they have the gratitude of all the attendees for making it happen. Many of us are now back at work better able to articulate many of the issues facing network automation, better able to form the questions that need to be asked, and with a rich community of support available to us.