October 22, 2021
Takeaways from CDW’s Aruba Hackathon
Cross-team collaboration among networking and software teams leads to innovation in the Aruba Central cloud management platform.
CDW recently wrapped up a hackathon with Aruba focused on solving real world problems with Aruba Central, Aruba’s cloud management platform. This event was a hit with our engineers, and we want to share some insights into the event and hackathons in general.
Developing Proof-of-Concept Software Solutions
For those unfamiliar, a hackathon, according to Wikipedia, is “a design sprint-like event; often, in which computer programmers and others involved in software development, including graphic designers, interface designers, project managers, domain experts, and others collaborate intensively on software projects.” The goal of our event was to create proof-of-concept software that addressed real business needs faced by customers using Aruba Central. Our teams easily met this goal not only because they’re talented but also because the right pieces for the event were in place. Here are some of the things we’ve learned that make up that recipe for success.
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Ensure everyone has a base knowledge of network programmability and the technology you will be working with.
We invited engineers with core networking knowledge and various levels of skill in both Aruba and network programmability to the event. Some people were highly skilled in the Aruba ecosystem and others skilled in network programmability, APIs and automation. This wide spectrum of knowledge and skills allowed the teams to play off each other’s strengths and grow in areas where they weren’t as knowledgeable. We also made sure to conduct lead-up meetings prior to the event to provide high level education on key topics along with take away resources for them to learn more. That way, when the hackathon was underway everyone was better equipped to hit the ground running.
Define a goal and judging criteria.
In our hackathon, we gave engineers free rein to solve whatever problems they thought were important providing that the solution utilized Aruba Central. For other organizations, there may be a specific business/technical problem you’d like to see attacked. Either way, it's critical to define the goal of the hackathon prior to the event. Along with the goal it is important to have specific judging criteria. How important is function code, completeness of the idea, presentation, etc. That should all be outlined in advance so participants know what success looks like and aren’t crippled by decision paralysis.
Issues, both technical and logistical, are bound to come up in the hackathon. Having resources that can help the team through questions or assist them with their ideas is critical to success. CDW partnered with Aruba technical marketing engineers (TMEs) to provide the participants an overlay of resources that could assist with questions regarding product and process. The team had queries, ranging from lab help to questions on the inner workings of the Aruba Central SDK and Ansible role. Additionally, we came together for regular check-ins with the teams to help ensure that they were making progress and help with any logistical issues to ensure each team was getting value from the event.
The Value of a Hackathon
Hackathons can be time-consuming events, often taking people away from their day job to participate, which can be a hard sell to upper management. However, from our experience and from speaking to customers, these events can pay for themselves many times over with the innovation and the exploration that results from them.
We’ve been hearing people in the industry say for years that we are moving to a more programmatic and API-based approach to network infrastructure. As this messaging has spread, many engineers learn about APIs, Python, git, SDKs, etc., but do not really understand how to apply them in a practical manner.
Hackathons give these coworkers the room to explore how to use new skills they’ve been learning and apply them to real technical and business problems in the organization. We have found working on real-world solutions has further incentivized engineers to develop their network programmability skills. The outcome of the hackathon is normally a proof of concept for a final solution to a problem that the business can then invest further in to become a full solution.
Aruba’s Commitment to Programmability
As we mentioned previously, APIs, programmability and automation are in the forefront of networking conversations these days. Many vendors are coming forward with resources to address these technological developments with varying degrees of success. Fortunately, Aruba has been at this for a long time and has built this mindset into many of its products, often with an “API first” approach. One such example that has been around a while is ClearPass Exchange, which leverages microservices and APIs to support a huge amount of third-party integrations in a wide security ecosystem.
In addition to API integration being core to Aruba’s products, there is also a huge amount of information available for the end user to create their own tooling and automation. The Aruba Developer Hub is a one-stop shop for developer resources covering the entire Aruba ecosystem. The front page has links to community, videos, relevant GitHub repositories and the Aruba support portal. Each product-specific page has links to API documentation and tooling curated by the Aruba team. Anyone who has dipped a toe into the automation waters knows that there are many different toolsets to accomplish the same goal. Keeping this in mind, Aruba has provided extensive resources such as Python SDKs, Ansible roles, NAPALM drivers and Stackstorm packs. If that weren’t enough, there are also several “getting started” guides and example workflows for beginners.
Takeaways: Leveraging Aruba APIs
During our hackathon sprint, CDW engineers utilized Aruba Central to generate some cool solutions to common problems they see in the field. Participants built tools to do things like migrate another vendor’s switch configuration and deploy into a central-managed AOS-CX switch. We explored augmentation and expansion of dashboards to enhance the reports available in Aruba Central and tooling to enhance the rollout of APs with Aruba’s Installer App. One team even gathered data from multiple sources to present a single page of data aimed at environment monitoring to help MSPs like CDW better utilize Central.
CDW continues to build expertise in network programmability and automation to complement our expertise with Aruba products. If your business has an interesting problem to solve, CDW may be able to help utilize Aruba’s robust APIs across their product lines to develop a unique solution.
Will Kerr is a technical architect for CDW's networking team. In his role, Will ensures that enterprise networking solutions can be deployed with confidence by our field engineers. His responsibilities include setting standards for logical design, choice of equipment, software versions, configuration best practices, multivendor integration and more.
Colin Vallance is a technical architect for CDW with a focus on wireless technologies and automation/programmability. In his role, Colin is responsible for the development of Wi-Fi solutions and services to meet the ever-changing needs of customers. Colin has been at CDW for more than a decade, first as a delivery engineer and then as a technical lead, before becoming a technical architect. During his time in delivery, Colin surveyed millions of square feet, implemented dozens of networks and had the pleasure of working on several CDW stadium projects. He holds a CCIE Wireless, various certifications from Cisco, Aruba and Meraki as well as U.S. patent 10,789,846.