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Hackathon: Cisco SD-Access Deployment

What did Metsi's SDA Guru (Stephen Abbs) get upto at a recent SDA hackathon?

Flying In

For me, flying at 30,000 feet provides a chance to detach from modern life and to just think your own thoughts with few distractions.  So, think I did, as I stared out of the plane’s window on a Wednesday.  Sunshine illuminated the cabin giving respite from the English grey I had left behind as I contemplated my trip to Schiphol Amsterdam.

Focusing on Purpose

What was my purpose? To take part in a ‘Hackathon’ that a customer was running in their search for a partner to help with their LAN refresh. What did I know?  That I’d be representing Metsi Technologies working with a larger partner.  The team would consist of 6 members.  Two I already knew from past endeavours, the other 4 I had yet to meet in the flesh. We would be expected to complete tasks over a 12-hour day to demonstrate our suitability as a partner.  The catch was we wouldn’t know what those tasks were until on the day itself…

I also knew that we’d elected to take Cisco’s new Software Defined Access solution to help us.  With its single pane of glass to control campus security, automation and proactive monitoring, I was confident we could deliver a good solution.  However, I also had to admit that the clandestine nature of the event made me apprehensive.

Agile Training

Thursday, and our first day in the Schiphol Data Centre was a deep dive into all things Agile.  The idea of the training was that we’d be better prepared in the heat of battle to deal with anything that the customer might throw at us.  Led by the effervescent trainers Martial and Emmanuel, we learnt about SCRUM Masters, Product Owners and backlogs.  This all helped with both our prioritisation of tasks, and presentation to the customer, and that was noted.

Pre-Staging Begins

Friday, and I was finally able to take the Cisco DNAC appliance out of its box, and the CIMC was working quickly.  However, there are two things I will say regarding cabling of the device: (i) a cluster port must be specified and given Layer 1 connectivity even on a single-node cluster not using HA; (ii) if you are using SFPs modules you really should use the recommended ones with a suitable fibre cable (not Twin-AX)!  I couldn’t get the Enterprise port to accept the SFP modules I had, so I decided to use the ethernet port for everything – Enterprise, Cloud and Management.  By the time connectivity was sorted, the Maglev wizard had completed, and the box had built that was the first day gone.

Burning the Candle at both ends

I’d always wanted to visit the Keukenhof – the largest flower park in the world, it’s a little way outside of Amsterdam.  However, with so much still to do, I realised that there’d be no sightseeing this time. So, it was a weekend of early mornings and late finishes at the Data Centre instead.

The weekend flashed by.  Everything had to be upgraded to an SD-A supported IOS – Catalyst 9Ks, ISE, and WLCs. Then there was the; cabling, underlay configuration, ISE integration, DNAC package upgrades, Overlay and building the fabric topology, eBGP border handoffs and iBGP between Border nodes, WLC integration, Site design and Assurance, Firepower and Stealth Watch.  In short, a lot for a weekend.

I learnt that DNAC really does like to have internet connectivity. Without it, updates, SMART licensing, CCO account linkage and the Geographical maps don’t work.  Subsequently, I couldn’t provision the WLC into the fabric as I couldn’t set the country of my building in the Network Hierarchy section. Time ran out.  It was a case of pack everything and then drive down to Eindhoven.

Let the Hacking Begin

On the Monday, we arrived on customer site for the preparation day, where we were given our own room, an ethernet cable to the customer network and an A4 page of instructions. We managed to get everything setup and working connectivity.

Tuesday was the main event.  After an early morning briefing, it was another A4 sheet of paper with instructions to interpret.  It’s surprising how quickly 12 hours can go by when the pressure is on.  We worked hard to agree on task prioritisation, and then set about making things happen.  Design decisions needed to be taken: where would our FirePower go, and would it connect to our Fusion router?  More eBGP was needed for the customer  to receive advertised routes, and we needed to get our clients to use the customer DHCP and DNS services.

After a long day we presented to the customer executives and technical teams.  We only had a strict 20 minutes, but it went well.   We were able to demonstrate a use case and answer questions convincingly.  We finished with the knowledge that the partner bid was on track, and we had done the technical aspect well.

Lessons Learnt

  • Pre-stage as much as possible. Hackathons can be fluid events, but the more fundamentals are done upfront, the less configuration pain will be felt in the event, and the more time will be available to pivot and focus on the unknowns.
  • Always use approved hardware.
  • Plan your work, work your plan: know your technologies and how they will synthesize to form a whole solution. A sound plan can for a solid base to make fluid alterations from as required.
  • Pressure can induce stress, and you’re not alone in feeling this. Other teams feel it too.   You’ve often done better than you think.  Keep going to the end giving your best.
  • Individual brilliance can shine, but teams see you through with their support. Lean on team members.  Debate, question, disrupt – but be productive and open to ideas.

Stephen Abbs

Network Engineer @ Metsi

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