Forward Networks was one of the top presenters at TFDx at Cisco Live 2019 in Barcelona in my opinion.
I really didn’t know much about what they were all about before we had the presentation. One thing I did notice was that they were really organized, even handing out agendas before beginning the presentation. Also, we were told that their engineering department in San Jose were staying up late to watch the Live Stream! Talk about dedication.
So what does Forward Networks provide? – Very deep visibility into your network is the answer. This solution is by far the most comprehensive i have seen. But allow me to perform a breakdown of what im talking about.
These are the components of the solution:
Retrieval of both device configuration as well as device state. The later being far more important than just a configuration dump.
Common data modeling. A variant of Openconfig is used for this part.
Mathematical calculation and graphing based upen the data modeling.
Impressive GUI containing multiple “applications”.
Open API’s and a query engine.
So let me go into detail and explain the relevance of each.
Retrieval of information:
There are basically 2 different kinds of information that an operator will be interested in. Intent, as described by device configuration and operational status, also defined as device state. Why is this distinction important you might ask? Well, simply put, because with the complexity of device configuration and feature enablement, there could be a disconnect (a rather large one even) from what you configured on the box(es) as compared to what its actually doing. Its also in this component that a vendor agnostic abstraction layer has been implemented to fascilitate multiple vendors equipment.
Common Data Modeling:
Before you can begin working with the retrieved information in a structured manner, you need to somehow “normalize” the data. This is where the common data model comes into play. When you have a common data model, it does not matter to your upper layers whether you are working with an interface thats physically located on a Juniper switch or a Cisco router, its simply an interface on a node.
This computation turns everything into something that can be dealt with programmatically. Im sure quite a bit of development effort has gone into this very step!
GUI with apps:
This is where the entire “solution” comes to fruition. When you have done all the hard work in the steps ive outlined, you get the ability to offer “apps” across your entire network. Forward Networks has 4 of those at the moment, but i expect they have quite a few more on the way. But for now, the 4 are: Search, Verify, Diff and Predict.
Search is fairly obvious. You can search for anything within your network because its already stored either from configuration or device state.
Verify is dear to my heart because it really helps facilitate troubleshooting not only a single hop at a time, but from point A to Z. Having issues figuring out the LSP of your mpls network? No problem, you get a nice end-to-end flow listing the individual labels used and the corresponding egress interfaces.
Diffs show you the different point in time states and configuration and is also very helpful in day to day operation of your network.
Predict will actually help you visualize what will happen if you make a configuration change on a device, what the end result will be. (In the demo we were shown a simple ACL entry was modified, so i am yet to figure out what other sorts of predictions we might expect).
Open API’s and Query Engine:
The last component that was demonstrated for us, was how easy it was to create a simple script to check for upstream BGP update issue. Even though the presenter had obviously practiced this many times, it was very easy to follow along with the logic and how it was implemented. Im very positive about what can come of this functionality in the hands of a developer/integrator.
Well, there are several use cases for this product that i can think of. First one is simply to have the storage capability of having your network mapped out according to both configuration and state at given (user configurable) time, then this product is for you.
Thinking about and end-to-end network troubleshooting application? This product fits the bill perfectly.
As you can probably tell, I am very impressed by both the presentation we were given as well as the capabilities of the platform. I cant wait to see whats next for Forward Networks!