Friday, June 21, 2024

Modernizing Our Cloud Networking Infrastructure with a DevOps Mindset

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DevOps has become a fundamental philosophy critical to the success of our cloud networking teams and solutions.

In today’s rapidly changing technology landscape, the conventional model of infrastructure management—receiving user requirements, designing solutions, deploying infrastructure, and manually monitoring for health and availability—lacks the agility and efficiency we need to operate our network infrastructure in a modern work environment.

DevOps represents a mindset and a set of practices that bridge the gap between conventional infrastructure management and a modernized, agile approach to ensuring our network environment continually meets the requirements of our business.

Here in Microsoft Digital, the company’s IT organization, our journey into the DevOps mindset began with a cultural shift. We’ve emphasized collaboration and worked toward removing barriers to cross-team sharing. We’ve encouraged our engineering teams to embrace continuous improvement and align their work to common organizational goals. This shift in mindset has accelerated our project timelines, enhanced reliability, and sparked innovation within our teams.

[Explore moving Microsoft’s global network to the cloud with Azure. Read our ongoing series on moving our network to the cloud.]

Driving efficiency and resiliency with DevOps practices

DevOps is at the forefront of our service delivery cycle. It affects every step and choice our engineering teams make, and DevOps practices have revolutionized our infrastructure management processes.

From the first step of the process—gathering user requirements—our teams collaborate closely with stakeholders to ensure a thorough understanding of user needs and expectations. Our design process is a collaborative, collective effort, with multidisciplinary teams contributing toward efficient, scalable, and secure solutions. With Azure networking components at the core, our DevOps practices span the entire solution lifecycle.

imenez and Venkatraman appear in a composite image.
Juan Jimenez and Raghavendran Venkatraman are part of a team at Microsoft Digital that’s using DevOps to modernize our cloud infrastructure.

We automate deployment using infrastructure as code (IaC) with Azure Resource Manager (ARM) templates, Bicep, Azure Blueprints, and Terraform. IaC is the cornerstone of our modernization efforts. We’ve automated most of our network deployment and management tasks by using IaC in ARM templates and across a robust suite of management tools. Massive network deployments now take minutes instead of months. Reconfigurations can be dynamically and sequentially deployed, honoring dependencies and network data flow requirements.

This IAC approach enables our engineers to maintain infrastructure consistency, enforce best practices, and improve team collaboration. This approach not only accelerates service delivery but also ensures the reliability and stability of our network environment.

We implement continuous integration and deployment (CI/CD) pipelines for network configurations. Using Azure DevOps services, we’ve set up CI/CD pipelines for our network configurations. Whenever our network infrastructure code changes, it automatically triggers a pipeline that tests and deploys these changes across our environments. This ensures that our network infrastructure can evolve rapidly and safely in response to new requirements or challenges.

We monitor and run diagnostics with Azure Monitor and Network Watcher. We’ve transformed our monitoring and alerting mechanisms by integrating Azure Monitor and Network Watcher. This gives us real-time visibility into our network performance and health, enabling our systems to proactively identify and resolve issues before they impact our users, often without human intervention. Automated alerts and diagnostics tools within these services allow us to respond swiftly to anomalies.

We automate security and compliance processes. Security is paramount in all our deployments. We automate compliance checks and security monitoring by integrating Azure Policy and Azure Security Center into our DevOps practices. This ensures our network infrastructure remains compliant with our stringent security standards and streamlines the process of identifying and mitigating potential security risks.

We incorporate feedback Loops for continuous improvement. We can continuously refine and improve our network infrastructure by incorporating feedback mechanisms into our processes. Azure DevOps provides tools for tracking user feedback, bug reports, and performance metrics, which we analyze to continuously refine our DevOps practices, aligning them with emerging technologies and industry best practices. This adaptive approach ensures that we stay agile and responsive to the ever-evolving needs of our users.

Modernization through virtualization

As we move forward in our DevOps journey, we’re pushing into new ways of thinking about networking and modern infrastructure management. Azure-based connectivity has emerged as a critical enabler in this pursuit. For example, our implementation of Azure Virtual WAN exemplifies DevOps-driven networking. Our Azure Virtual WAN solution connects branch offices, data centers, and Azure resources seamlessly, and it’s filled with DevOps practices. The Azure Virtual WAN environment is provisioned using ARM templates, defining the entire topology, including hubs, spokes, and VPN connections. Azure Monitor tracks performance metrics, such as latency and bandwidth utilization. Alerts trigger automatic scaling or failover actions. When new branches are added, Azure Virtual WAN scales dynamically to provide the throughput and performance necessary based on pre-configured auto-scaling rules.

By using Azure Virtual WAN to virtualize our connectivity for Microsoft employees and buildings across the globe, we’re eliminating the constraints of physical infrastructure and unlocking new possibilities for scalability and efficiency.

Staying agile and looking forward

We know we’re working with a moving target as we continue our DevOps journey. The technological landscape constantly evolves, presenting new challenges and opportunities. Our engineers are committed to staying adaptive and flexible, ready to iterate and develop our practices as we progress.

Our DevOps journey has fundamentally transformed our approach to Azure cloud network engineering and infrastructure management. Our use of Azure Virtual WAN, ARM templates, CI/CD pipelines, Azure Monitor, and Network Watcher is a testament to our commitment as Customer Zero to use Microsoft technologies to meet the ever-evolving demands of our users and the industry. By embracing DevOps practices, we’ve improved collaboration and efficiency and paved the way for continuous innovation in the future.

Key Takeaways

Here are a few ways that you can start adopting a DevOps mindset, whether you’re a seasoned network engineer or a DevOps enthusiast:

  • Embrace DevOps for agility: Accelerate projects and foster innovation by promoting collaboration and continuous improvement.
  • Use IaC for efficiency: Use Azure Resource Manager templates and IaC tools to streamline and standardize network deployments.
  • Automate monitoring and security: Use Azure Monitor and Security Center for real-time insights and automated compliance.
  • Adopt virtualization and stay adaptive: Use Azure Virtual WAN for scalable connectivity and remain open to evolving technologies and practices.

Try it out
Learn how to Integrate ARM templates with Azure Pipelines.

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