“The network guy, the network guy wants to manage firewalls all day.”…An Introduction to NRE Labs

While attending a training class last week, I mused aloud, “Who wants to manage firewalls all day?”  Though I wasn’t necessarily wanting or expecting an answer, I heard one of the instructors say, “The network guy…the network guy wants to manage firewalls all day.”  I wanted to object, I really did but the instructor was English and when accompanied with his accent, his words resonated with the power and persuasion of David Attenborough.  I stood there, dumbfounded by greatness and nodded in agreement with his statement like Ralphie in ‘A Christmas Story’ when Santa Claus suggested a “nice football” for his Christmas present.  But now, with distance between us, I’ve come to my senses and believe once again that network administrators do not have the desire to manage firewalls all day.  And to that end, I asked a few network administrators if this is indeed what they desire to do all day and I received the following comments:

  • I do not want to administer firewalls all day.
  • I’m not sure I know many network admins who want to solely administer firewalls all day.

Before I go too much further, let me say that I realize I may be stretching the instructors’ intent.  Surely he didn’t really mean that network administrators long to spend all day managing firewalls, but more likely his real intent in making the comment was that though network administrators don’t necessarily want to manage firewalls all day, they certainly don’t want to give up control of the firewall.  But is that even true?  If network administrators don’t want to manage firewalls all day, what do they want to do?  My polling of network administrators also produced this interesting nugget:

  • If someone wanted to pay me to manage a firewall all day, I’ll do an amazing job and spend the other 7 hours and 55 minutes of the day working on skill development.”

Working on skill development….this got me thinking back to the Juniper Networks presentations at Cloud Field Day 5.

An Introduction to NRE Labs

Toward the end of Juniper’s presentation, their team spent the last few minutes talking about a new initiative called NRE Labs.  Derick Winkworth, Sr. Product Marketing Manager at Juniper stated NRE Labs was birthed, and content was developed, based on the following:

  • Juniper looked at job listings and talked to customers to review the skills that organizations are asking for in perspective hires and they found that the needs of the organization are changing.  The network engineering role is changing to include network automation and a new title, Network Reliability Engineer, has been coined by organizations to describe their evolving need.Juniper had conversations with network engineers, most of whom have a desire to learn about automation but don’t necessarily know how to begin.  Finally, the cloud is having a huge impact in regards to how Juniper delivers their product and Juniper has a strong belief that it needs to provide a mechanism that enables network engineers to “bring up” their skill set.  The “You network administrators better learn automation or you’ll be fired!” intimidation method of learning has been tried, has not resonated, and made little impact in encouraging network administrators to learn automation skills.  Clearly a method beyond the standard scare tactic is needed to create a hunger in network administrators (or any of us) for skill development and Juniper’s earnest desire is that NRE Labs will become a platform to kick start such continuing education.

NRE Labs is described as a “consequence free environment” that allows you to learn automation skills without having to setup your own lab environment (though you may anyway) or risk experimenting with automation on an organizations production environment.  Each lab contained within the lesson catalog runs within a web browser yet still allows you to interact with real tools, code, and network devices meaning you don’t have to install anything, on your laptop or otherwise, to work through the exercises.

Today, the NRE Labs lesson catalog is divided into 3 sections, Fundamentals, Tools, and Workflows and within them you’ll find labs on YAML, Version Control with Git, Network Automation with SALT, and STIG Compliance Validation amongst others.  Oh, and it’s FREE…you don’t even need to create a login to access the labs!  Just find a lab you want to work through, click to launch, and you’re off, you’re learning, you’re developing your skills!

Network Automation with SALT from NRE Labs

Though the labs provide detailed steps to follow, another cool thing is the lab environment is not limited to the documented lab steps so you have the freedom to go beyond the lab guide and “play” within the virtual lab environment.  If there is something you want to try, try it!  It’s a consequence free environment so experiment, try to mess it up, try to fix it….and have fun.

Final Thoughts

While discussing NRE Labs at Cloud Field Day 5, it was said that network engineers view automation as a threat.  There must be some measure of truth to that but my encouragement to you is to view it as an opportunity.  View network automation and NRE Labs as an opportunity to grow, to develop new skills, and to differentiate yourself from other network engineers who may refuse to adapt to the times. 

Additional Resources

NRE Labs website

Juniper Networks – Network Field Day 20 Presentation – further discussion on NRE Labs

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