Rethinking Network Management with Arista and XMPP

Are you tired of console cables and different flavors of PuTTY? Do the sheer number of SSH sessions piling up in your jump server overwhelm you? Considering the advanced features and cutting edge chipsets that today’s datacenter switches provide, it does seem odd that our method of managing them hasn’t changed much over the years. One of Edge’s new technology partners, Arista, offers some much needed improvements on the “hunt and peck” network management style through the use of open standards.

For those of you new to Arista (or that missed our earlier blog post), I’ll give a quick summary. Arista is a datacenter focused networking vendor. Unlike some companies that develop products for every market (wireless, voice, security, servers, datacenter, campus, and so on), Arista chose one specific area of specialization –  specifically, high speed datacenter networking. Arista offers a series of leaf and spine switches that are well suited for modern two tier systems that can handle the increasing pressure of east-west traffic. Conventional architectures like L2 with MLAG are supported and so are “newer” overlay technologies like VXLAN with Arista’s CVX technology.

The Arista EOS is based on Linux and utilizes a Fedora core. This allows the network administrator access to additional tools like tcpdump, grep, and iperf that run natively within the switch OS. It also allows for useful modules that allow you to converse with your gear via an Instant Messaging client like Jabber or iChat, rather than continuing to use PuTTY or a similar program!

The Extensible Messaging and Presence Protocol that allows this new style of communication and management is available natively within Arista EOS and is often abbreviated XMPP. XMPP is an open standard built for communication and it’s not “owned” by any specific company. It’s been free and open for everyone since 1999 and it is a living standard with active improvements and extensions in constant development.

Before you can enable XMPP on your Arista infrastructure you will need to spin up an XMPP server to tie everything together. Commonly used options for this include Apache Vysper, iChat, Jabber, and Vines (You can see a more complete listing here. Once the XMPP server is available and linked to your Arista switches you can start dividing the switches into groups – say, by geographical location. Switches in the same group can be accessed and programmed simultaneously using XMPP.

So how does this help the networking professional? Say you have the common problem encountered by many system administrators – tracking down where a specific host has wandered off to in your infrastructure. If you have the MAC address handy you can use XMPP to query all switches in the group at once, rather than hunting and pecking in multiple SSH sessions. Or, for another example, if the AAA server information has changed and you need to update your entire domain to point to the new RADIUS server, XMPP groups can deploy that change all at once. Common chat programs can be used to grab configuration information from a switch – and XMPP even allows the switch to reach out to you using those chat programs when things go south, messaging designated clients with error information when problems pop up.

Of course, if conventional management is more your style or if you have existing management tools, the Arista EOS supports standard SNMP, CLI, and eAPI management as well. You can have flexibility in how you monitor and manage your datacenter.