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EDS students take on AnsibleFest

Enterprise Data Systems Students Explore Ansible at AnsibleFest

In the course IST 651 – Scripting for Enterprise Data Systems, iSchool Professor Carlos Caicedo introduced us to system and network infrastructure automation concepts and a tool called Ansible. This was the first time we became familiar with Ansible and how powerful it can be for automating system and network configuration management tasks.

During the summer of 2018, when we were both busy doing our internships, when we received an e-mail from Professor Caicedo about an opportunity to attend Red Hat’s AnsibleFest 2018 in Austin, TX. Our trip expenses would mostly be covered by a generous donation from Darren Orzechowski.

Darren is the Senior Director of Marketing at Red Hat, a member of the iSchool’s Board of Advisors, and someone deeply interested in giving Enterprise Data Systems students some industry exposure. Undoubtedly, we were eagerly waiting for the day to start the journey to the event.

AnsibleFest Begins!

From the beginning, the event seemed well organized. Around 1,300 people from 26 countries attended the event. We were excited to see such a huge Ansible community.

After a warm welcome by Michelle Perz, other top Ansible professionals and industry leaders like Justin Nemmers (Ansible General Manager) and Harry Karr (TIAA-CREF) shared the state of automation and their infrastructure automation stories.

Then Iftikhar Khan (Senior Manager and Ansible Network Engineer) shared some of the latest Ansible advancements in network automation which was one of the highlights of this conference. We attended many technical sessions for the next two days.

“A willingness to learn, scripting skills, being open to change, flexibility and a curious nature are the most sought after traits.”

The first day ended with a panel discussion and AnsibleFest party on Rainey Street. The panel discussion was on Building Automation Teams in Today’s Organizations. Industry leaders such as Payal Singh (F5 Networks), Jason Lamb (Intel), William McKenzie and our very own Professor Carlos Caicedo were part of this panel.

Carlos Caicedo
Professor Carlos Caicedo and panelists discuss how they build automation teams.

The panel discussion focused on how automation is changing the way we manage and operate information technology. They also discussed what kind of people they are looking for to staff today’s infrastructure automation teams. We noticed that a willingness to learn, scripting skills, being open to change, flexibility and a curious nature are the most sought after traits these leaders look for in their automation teams.

William McKenzie from Chevron also explained in one of his sessions how that company is transitioning to implement Infrastructure as code operations with Ansible.

Ansible in Action

After 2 days of a wonderful event, we also got a chance to attend a technical workshop on how Ansible can be used for automating network device configuration management.

The workshop was designed with hands-on labs where we learned to gather network device information, configuration management, and reporting using Ansible.

We will share what we have learned with our fellow students later this semester in one of Professor Caicedo’s classes. Along with that, we are working on implementing a testbed where network devices – switches and routers – will be managed programmatically using Ansible.

Networking Opportunities

But wait: wasn’t the event all about technical details and how companies are moving towards infrastructure automation? Yes, but it was also more than that. It gave us the opportunity to interact with different IT leaders, getting to know them personally and share ideas.

We had the chance to talk with senior managers and leaders from BNY Mellon, Vanguard, Chevron, and many more. The talks with them were inspiring and it was great to hear their stories about how they are automating the management of their data and networking infrastructure.

We also got a chance to share about what we are exploring in the iSchool’s Enterprise Data Systems program. It was exciting to see the positive response about the program’s content and how the courses are teaching us about technologies that are important to the industry.

Key Takeaways from AnsibleFest

“The automation of data infrastructure management is not about killing jobs. It’s about doing work efficiently and removing repetitive work.”

Learning is a never-ending process. Listening to the different infrastructure automation stories from a variety of organizations and how they transitioned from traditional command line-based operations to agile methodologies and DevOps was proof that many organizations are still learning how to do it well.

The experiences we had at the event made it clear that the automation of data infrastructure management is not about killing jobs. It’s about doing work efficiently and removing repetitive work.

Our experience attending AnsibleFest was great and memorable. We are happy to have been part of such a successful event and that we could share information about the iSchool’s Enterprise Data Systems program with industry leaders.

Ankita Kalita and Harsh Belsare

Ankita Kalita and Harsh Belsare

Ankita and Harsh are second-year graduate students in the iSchool’s M.S. in Enterprise Data Systems program. Both students are a part of the Center for Emerging Network Technologies (CENT) research lab, and are passionate about cloud and networking technologies.

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