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Category Archives for "Brian Linkletter"

2021 IT Blog Awards finalist!

I was surprised but very honoured to learn that my blog was selected as a finalist in the IT Blog Awards. I started this blog to help with my learning during a personal research project and to contribute to the open-source networking community as best I could. I never imagined that someone else might consider it for an honour such as this!

If you have gotten value from reading this blog, please go to the IT Blog Awards voting page and vote for the “Open Source Routing and Network Simulation” blog. Thank you so much!

Use Containerlab to emulate open-source routers

Containerlab is a new open-source network emulator that quickly builds network test environments in a devops-style workflow. It provides a command-line-interface for orchestrating and managing container-based networking labs and supports containerized router images available from the major networking vendors.

More interestingly, Containerlab supports any open-source network operating system that is published as a container image, such as the Free Range Routing (FRR) router. This post will review how Containerlab works with the FRR open-source router.

While working through this example, you will learn about most of Containerlab’s container-based features. Containerlab also supports VM-based network devices so users may run commercial router disk images in network emulation scenarios. I’ll write about building and running VM-based labs in a future post.

While it was initially developed by Nokia engineers, Containerlab is intended to be a vendor-neutral network emulator and, since its first release, the project has accepted contributions from other individuals and companies.

The Containerlab project provides excellent documentation so I don’t need to write a tutorial. But, Containerlab does not yet document all the steps required to build an open-source router lab that starts in a pre-defined state. This post will cover that scenario so I hope it adds something of Continue reading

Using the Python Rich library to display status indicators

I recently added a status indicator to my azruntime application. If users have a lot of VMs in their subscriptions, the azruntime application can take a long time to run. Users will appreciate seeing the status so they know the program is still running and is not hung up.

I used the Rich library to implement a status indicator. I had to learn more about Python context managers to understand how the Rich library’s progress bar and status indicators work. The Rich library’s documentation is aimed at intermediate-to-advanced programmers and the Rich tutorials I found on the web did not cover using the Rich library’s status update features.

In this post, I will share what I learned while adding a status indicator to my program and show you how to implement the same in your projects.

Rich library overview

The Rich library makes it easy to add color and style to terminal output. Rich can also render pretty tables, progress bars, markdown, syntax highlighted source code, tracebacks, and more.1

This post focuses only on creating a status indicator. To learn more about what Rich can do for you, I encourage you to read one of the excellent Rich overviews Continue reading

Install azruntime as a CLI program using pipx

azruntime, the Python program I wrote to manage virtual machines in my Azure subscriptions, is more convenient to use when run as a command from the Linux prompt instead of as a Python program in its virtual environment. You can install Python packages as command-line-programs using pipx.

To make azruntime work after using pipx to install it, I had to organize the project into a proper Python package folder structure, add an entry point in the setup.py file, and change the authentication class used by azruntime.

This post describes what I learned about pipx and Python packaging to enable me to install azruntime as a CLI application.

Changing the package directory structure

I originally structured the azruntime package so all its files were in one folder. I know this is not the standard way that packages are organized but I thought it was simpler and it worked with pip. However, pipx requires the correct package folder structure.

Below, I show the new folder structure I created.

azruntime/
├── LICENSE
├── README.md
├── azruntime
│   ├── __init.py__
│   ├── __main__.py
│   └── azruntime.py
├── requirements.txt
└── setup.py

At the top level, I have Continue reading

azruntime: Manage Azure Infrastructure with Python

I wrote a new Python script called azruntime. It helps me manage my Azure VMs. The script is open-source and should work for anyone who also uses the Azure CLI. azruntime is available on my azure-scripts GitHub repository.

Table of Azure VM information

I learned a lot about the Azure Python SDK while working on the azruntime project. In this post, I share what I learned and highlight the more interesting topics like how to find information faster in the Azure Python SDK documentation, Azure authorization, and sorting nested lists by key.

Learning the Azure Python SDK and API

Microsoft offers excellent documentation of all its Azure services, including detailed documentation for the Azure Python SDK. The problem may be that there is so much documentation it is hard to know where to start.

In my opinion, the best place to start is to look at the Azure sample scripts available at the following URL:

Search by keyword or category. When you find a script that appears to display some of the functionality you want to implement, use a search engine to search for the Azure Python SDK classes and functions you see used in the sample scripts.

This is a faster Continue reading

Flask web app tutorial for network engineers

Most network engineers don’t need to create web sites but they may, like me, want to convert their existing Python command-line programs into web apps so others can use them more easily. This tutorial presents the minimum you need to know about Python, Flask, and the Bootstrap CSS framework to create a practical web app that looks professional.

This tutorial covers a different type of use-case than is usually demonstrated in Flask tutorials aimed at beginners. It shows you how to create a web app that “wraps up” another Python program’s functionality.

I will show you how to use the Flask framework to build a web app that re-uses code from my Usermapper program and enables users to run it on a website, instead of installing and running it locally on their PC. You will create a “usermapper-as-a-service” application, served as a responsive web app that looks good on computer screens, tablets, and mobile phones.

I wrote this tutorial while I was learning Flask and developing my usermapper-web Flask application. It was written by a beginner, for other beginners. It walks through topics in the order in which I learned them. I hope you find this approach to be readable Continue reading

A Python learning path for network engineers

Python programming is now a required skill for network engineers. I recorded videos of myself as I learned and practiced Python programming. I think these videos, along with the links to learning resources associated with each video’s topic, serve as a good learning guide for network engineers getting started with Python programming.

This post collects links to all ten videos I created. Over the course of these videos, I wrote a program called Usermapper that reads a configuration file and builds an XML authentication file for the Guacamole web proxy. I also used the Git version control system and posted the code in my Usermapper GitHub repository

Topics I need to learn

I learned some programming during my Electrical Engineering degree program many years ago. After I graduated, except for some basic scripting, I’ve not had to do any programming.

These videos do not cover the basics of Python. I strongly suggest you read a book about Python, or watch some video training (see suggestions below) before you start working through these videos. Before I started recording this first video, I read the O’Reilly book, Learning Python, and wrote a blog post about what I learned in the first Continue reading

Python: The Minimum You Need to Know

Many network engineers and other professionals are transitioning their skills set to include programming and automation. Commonly, their previous programming experience comes from a few programming courses they attended in university a long time ago. I am one of those professionals and I created this Python programming guide for people like you and me.

In this guide, I explain the absolute minimum amount you need to learn about Python in order to create useful programs. Follow this guide to get a very short, but functional, overview of Python programming in less than one hour.

I omit many topics from this text that you do not need to know when you begin using Python; you can learn them later, when you need them. I don’t want you to have to unlearn misconceptions later, when you become more experienced, so I do include some Python concepts that other beginner guides might skip, such as the Python object model. This guide is “simple” but it is also “mostly correct”.

Getting Started

In this guide, I will explore the seven fundamental topics you need to know to create useful programs almost immediately. These topics are:

  • The Python object model simplified
  • Defining objects
  • Core types
  • Continue reading

Fixing a Thinkpad T420 battery problem on Linux

I upgraded my T420 because Ubuntu Mate 19.10 now supports the Nvidia Optimus drivers and includes a utility that lets me switch between Intel and Nvidia graphics cards. However, the upgrade seemed to break the power management on my laptop. When running on the battery, the laptop would suddenly lose power after only 10 minutes, even when the battery still shows ninety percent charge.

I installed Linux Advanced Power Management, TLP. TLP solved my problem. Also, for good measure, I upgraded the BIOS because, while troubleshooting this issue, I discovered is was very out of date.

In his post, I describe how to install and configure TLP and how to upgrade the BIOS on a Lenovo Thinkpad T420.

Install TLP

The Mate Power Management utility is part of the Mate desktop environment and provides basic configurations for power management. I don’t know why installing TLP solved my battery problem. I can only suggest that, if you are seeing a similar problem with your battery, try installing TLP before you spend money on a new battery.

TLP is in the Ubuntu repositories. Install TLP using the following command:

$ sudo apt update
$ sudo apt install tlp tlp-rdw
$ sudo  Continue reading

Run the Antidote network emulator on KVM for better performance

Antidote is the network emulator that runs the labs on the Network Reliability Labs web site. You may install a standalone version of Antidote on your personal computer using the Vagrant virtual environment provisioning tool.

In this post, I show you how to run Antidote on a Linux system with KVM, instead of VirtualBox, on your local PC to achieve better performance — especially on older hardware.

Why use KVM instead of VirtualBox?

Antidote runs emulated network nodes inside a host virtual machine. If these emulated nodes must also run on a hypervisor, as most commercial router images require, then they are running as nested virtual machines inside the host virtual machine. Unless you can pass through your computer’s hardware support for virtualization to the nested virtual machines, they will run slowly.

VirtualBox offers only limited support for nested virtualization. If you are using a Linux system, you can get better performance if you use Libvirt and KVM, which provide native support for nested virtualization.

When to use VirtualBox

If you plan to run Antidote on a Mac or a PC, you should use Antidote’s standard installation with VirtualBox1. Vagrant and VirtualBox are both cross-platform, open-source tools.

Continue reading

Install Azure CLI on your Android Phone

I installed the Azure CLI in the Termux app on my Android phone. This post describes all the steps required to successfully run Azure CLI on most Android phones.

Installing Azure CLI on Termux on your Android phone is an alternative to using Azure Cloud Shell on Chrome or Firefox, or to using the Cloud Shell feature on the Azure mobile app. It’s also a cool thing to try.

This post is based on the excellent work done by Matthew Emes, who wrote a blog post about installing Azure CLI on a Chromebook. Matthew’s procedure got me started, but I had to modify it to make Azure CLI work in Termux on my Android phone. Also, Azure CLI has changed since Matthew wrote about it and some of his steps, while they still work, are no longer necessary.

Termux

Install Termux on your Android phone. Termux is a terminal emulator and Linux environment that runs on most Android devices with no rooting or setup required. You can use Termux as a terminal emulator to manage remote systems and it will run a large number of Linux utilities and programming languages directly on your phone. Install it from the Google Continue reading

Run a script on virtual machines when the host is shut down

I want to show you how to configure a host server so, when it is shut down, it executes a script that runs commands on any running virtual machines before the host tries to stop them. I will configure the host server to wait until the script completes configuring the virtual machines before continuing with the shutdown process, shutting down the virtual machines, and eventually powering off.

I had to learn how Systemd service unit configuration files work and some more details about how Libvirt is configured in different Linux distributions. Read on to see the solution, plus some details about how to test the solution in Ubuntu and CentOS.

Solution Summary

Create a new Systemd service named graceful-shutdown that runs a script when the host system shuts down, but before Libvirt shuts down any virtual machines. Ensure that the libvirt-guests service is already started and enabled, and is configured appropriately.

The graceful-shutdown.service unit configuration file

Create a new Systemd unit configuration file named graceful-shutdown.service and save it in the directory, /etc/systemd/system, where it is advised you put custom configuration files.

For example:

# vi /etc/systemd/system/graceful-shutdown.service

Enter the following text into the file, then save it:

 Continue reading

Video chat about NRE Labs

Yesterday, I participated in a screen-cast with Derick Winkworth, aka @CloudToad, to discuss my blog posts about installing NRE Labs Antidote network emulator on your PC and creating lessons for NRE Labs. We also covered some general points like contributing to communities, how to get started blogging about technical topics, and more. Check it out, below:

This video, and other NRE Labs videos are available on YouTube. Also, the NRE Labs team runs a live screen-cast every Monday at 1:00 PM using the Discord app. Join the NRE Labs Discord channel and engage in the discussion.

Create lab lessons for the NRE Labs Antidote network emulator

The Antidote network emulator, part of the Network Reliability Engineering project, offers a web interface that presents network emulation scenarios to users as documented lessons. Each lesson is presented in a window running Jupyter Notebooks and contains commands that the user can click on to run them on the virtual nodes in the network emulation scenario.

nrelabs lessons

The NRE Labs developers intend for Antidote to be used as an educational tool. Its lesson-focused user interface supports students’ learning progress. This post is a tutorial showing how to create and test two simple, but different, Antidote lessons.

Lab documentation

At the time I wrote this post, the Antidote documentation does not provide enough practical information about how to create new Antidote labs. However, useful information is spread around in a few different locations, which I list below:

Install the Antidote (NRE Labs) network emulator on a Linux system

Antidote is a network emulator combined with a presentation framework designed to create and deliver networking technology training. Its user interface operates in a web browser, including the terminals that students use to run commands on emulated network devices and servers.

Antidote is the engine that runs the Network Reliability Labs web site. Antidote is an open-source project, released under the Apache license. A standalone version of Antidote may be installed and run on your personal computer using the selfmedicate script. In this post, I will install Antidote on my Linux laptop and make a few changes that improve Antidote performance on my Linux system.

Antidote documentation

The Antidote documentation is being expanded regularly but, at the time I am writing this, the most helpful information is in the NRE Labs blog and in the videos produced by the developers. Most of these are accessible from the NRE Labs Community Resources page.

Also, Antidote is in active development and it is changing quickly as the developers create new features and content. Keep that in mind when following this blog post. Some things may already have changed about the way Antidote installs or operates.

Install prerequisite software

Antidote requires that you Continue reading

The Wistar network emulator

Wistar is an open-source network emulator originally developed by Juniper Networks and released under the Apache license. It simplifies the presentation of Juniper products on its graphical user interface by making the multiple VMs that make up each JunOS virtual router appear as one node in the network topology.

Wistar also supports Linux virtual machines and, interestingly, uses cloud-init to configure Linux routers from the Wistar user interface. Wistar also supports generic virtual appliances, in a basic way. In this post, I will install Wistar and use it to work through two examples using open source routers.

Wistar Documentation

The Wistar installation procedure is documented in the Wistar GitHib page. The Wistar user guide is available at the Read the Docs website and some unpublished chapters are available on GitHub. Juniper published a presentation about using Wistar. In addition, there are a few other other blog posts available about using Wistar and comparing Wistar to other network emulators.

Wistar documentation is good enough to get started, but seems to be incomplete.

Install Wistar

I installed Wistar on my laptop computer running Ubuntu 18.04 LTS. I modified the Wistar Continue reading

Vrnetlab: Emulate networks using KVM and Docker

Vrnetlab, or VR Network Lab, is an open-source network emulator that runs virtual routers using KVM and Docker. It supports developers and network engineers who use continuous-integration processes for testing network provisioning changes. Researchers and engineers may also use the vrnetlab command line interface to create and modify network emulation labs in an interactive way. In this post, I review vrnetlab’s main features and show how to use it to create a simple network emulation scenario using open-source routers.

Vrnetlab implementation

Vrnetlab users create Docker images for each type of router that will run in their network. They package the router’s disk image together with KVM software, Python scripts, and any other resources required by the router into the Docker image. Vrnetlab uses KVM to create and run VMs based on router software images, and uses Docker to manage the networking between the network nodes.

Virtual nodes

Vrnetlab users create Docker images that incorporate the router’s qemu disk image, along with software packages such as qemu-kvm, and the other resources needed by the router, such as a launch script and license files. The new Docker image represents a “virtual router” that comes with all the software and Continue reading

Build a network emulator using Libvirt

I want to explore some of the network virtualization and emulation building blocks available on a Linux system. In this post, I create a simple network emulation scenario using Libvirt, the Qemu/KVM hypervisor, and Linux bridges to create and manage interconnected virtual machines on a host system.

Libvirt provides a command-line interface that hides the low-level virtualization and networking details, enabling one to easily create and manage virtual networking scenarios. It is already used as a basis for some existing network emulators, and other applications and tools. It is available in almost every Linux distribution.

The network emulation scenario

As you work through the examples in this post, you will create a very simple network topology which is intended to demonstrate the use of Libvirt and other virtualization tools to build a network emulator and is not intended to emulate a real-world network. However, once you understand its operation, you may use Libvirt to create large, complex network topologies intended to emulate real-world network scenarios.

The example I created for this post consists of three virtual machines serving as routers connected to each other in a ring topology. On each side of this emulated network, you will create Continue reading

Python: the seven simple things network engineers need to know

Are you like me? Are you a network engineer, or other professional, transitioning their skill set to include programming and automation? Does your programming experience experience come from a few programming courses you attended in college a long time ago? Then please read on because I created this Python guide for people like you and me.

In this guide, I explain the absolute minimum amount you need to learn about Python required to create useful programs. Follow this guide to get a very short, but functional, overview of Python programming in less than one hour.

When you begin using Python, there are a lot of topics you do not need to know so I omit them from this guide. However, I don’t want you to have to unlearn misconceptions later, when you become more experienced, so I include some Python concepts that other beginner guides might skip, such as the Python object model. This guide is “simple” but it is also “correct”.

Getting Started

In this guide, I will explore the seven fundamental topics you need to know to create useful programs almost immediately. These topics are:

  1. The Python object model simplified
  2. Defining objects
  3. Core types
  4. Statements
  5. Simple programs
  6. Modules
  7. Continue reading

Create a nested virtual machine in a Microsoft Azure Linux VM

Microsoft Azure unofficially supports nested virtualization using KVM on Linux virtual machines, which makes it possible to build network emulation scenarios in the cloud using the same technologies you would use if you were using your own PC or a local server.

In this post, I will show you how to set up a Linux virtual machine in Microsoft Azure and then create a nested virtual machine inside the Azure virtual machine. This is a simple example, but you may use the same procedure as a starting point to create more complex network emulation scenarios using nested virtualization.

Prerequisites

To follow this tutorial, you need an Azure account. Microsoft offers a free-trial period that provides up to $300 in credits for up to 30 days. Creating a free trial account is easy: follow the instructions at: https://azure.microsoft.com/free.

If you have not used MS Azure before, I recommend the free training offered on their web site. The first course you should take is the beginner-level Azure Administrator course, which demonstrates all the basic topics you will need to understands when managing virtual machines in Azure.

In this tutorial, I will use the Azure CLI to create and manage Continue reading

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