Using NetBox for Ansible Source of Truth

December 8, 2020 by Josh VanDeraa

Here you will learn about NetBox at a high level, how it works to become a Source of Truth (SoT), and look into the use of the Ansible Content Collection, which is available on Ansible Galaxy. The goal is to show some of the capabilities that make NetBox a terrific tool and why you will want to use NetBox as your network Source of Truth for automation!

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Source of Truth

Why a Source of Truth? The Source of Truth is where you go to get the intended state of the device. There does not need to be a single Source of Truth, but you should have a single Source of Truth per data domain, often referred to as the System of Record (SoR). For example, if you have a database that maintains your physical sites that is used by teams outside of the IT domain, that should be the Source of Truth on physical sites. You can aggregate the data from the physical site Source of Truth into other data sources for automation. Just be aware that when it comes time to collect data, then it should come from that other tool.

The first step in creating a network automation framework is to identify the Source of Truth for the data, which will be used in future automations. Oftentimes for a traditional network, the device itself has been considered the SoT. Reading the configuration off of the device each time you need a configuration data point for automation is inefficient, and presumes that the device configuration is as intended, not simply left there in troubleshooting or otherwise inadvertently left. When it comes to providing data to teams outside of the network organization, exposing an API  can help to speed up gathering data without having to check in with the device first.

 

NetBox

For a Source of Truth, one popular open source choice is NetBox. From the primary documentation site netbox.readthedocs.io, NetBox is an open source web application designed to help manage and document computer networks”. NetBox is currently designed to help manage your:

  • DCIM (Data Center Infrastructure Management)
  • IPAM (IP Address Management)
  • Data Circuits
  • Connections (Network, console, and power)
  • Equipment racks
  • Virtualization
  • Secrets

Since NetBox is an IPAM tool, there are misconceptions at times about what NetBox is able to do. To be clear, NetBox is not:

  • Network monitoring
  • DNS server
  • RADIUS server
  • Configuration management
  • Facilities management

Why NetBox?

NetBox is a tool that is built on many common Python based open source tools, using Postgres for the backend database and Python Django for the back-end API and front-end UI. The API is extremely friendly as it supports CRUD (Create, Read, Update, Delete) operations and is fully documented with Swagger documentation. The NetBox Collection helps with several aspects of NetBox including an inventory plugin, lookup plugin, and several modules for updating data in NetBox.

NetBox gives a modern UI from the point of view of a network organization to help document IP addressing, while keeping the primary emphasis on network devices, system infrastructure,  and virtual machines. This makes it ideal to use as your Source of Truth for automating.

NetBox itself does not do any scanning of network resources. It is intended to have humans maintain the data as this is going to be the Source of Truth. It represents what the environment should look like. 

 

Ansible Content Collection for NetBox

You will find the Collection within the netbox-community GitHub organization (github.com/netbox-community/). Here you find a Docker container image, device-type library, community generated NetBox reports, and source code for NetBox itself.

If you are unfamiliar with what an Ansible Content Collection is, please watch this brief YouTube video.

The Galaxy link for the Collection is at galaxy.ansible.com/netbox/netbox

The NetBox Collection allows you to get started quickly in adding information into a NetBox instance. The only requirements are  to supply an API key and a URL to get started. With this Collection, a base inventory, and a NetBox environment you are able to get a Source of Truth populated very quickly. 

Let’s walk through the base setup to get to a place where you are starting to use the NetBox Inventory Plugin as your Ansible inventory. First is the example group_vars/all.yml file that will have the list of items to be used with the tasks.

Example - group_vars/all.yml

---
site_list:
  - name: “NYC”
    time_zone: America/New_York
    status: Active
  - name: “CHI”
    time_zone: America/Chicago
    status: Active
  - name: “RTP”
    time_zone: America/New_York
    status: Active
manufacturers:  # In alphabetical order
  - Arista
  - Cisco
  - Juniper
device_types:
  - model: “ASAv”
    manufacturer: “Cisco”
    slug: “asav”
    part_number: “asav”
    Full_depth: False
  - model: “CSR1000v”
    manufacturer: “Cisco”
    slug: “csr1000v”
    part_number: “csr1000v”
    Full_depth: False
  - model: “vEOS”
    manufacturer: “Arista”
    slug: “veos”
    part_number: “veos”
    Full_depth: False
  - model: “vSRX”
    manufacturer: “Juniper”
    slug: “vsrx”
    part_number: “vsrx”
    Full_depth: False
platforms:
  - name: “ASA”
    slug: “asa”
  - name: “EOS”
    slug: “eos”
  - name: “IOS”
    slug: “ios”
  - name: “JUNOS”
    slug: “junos”

The first step is to create a site. Since NetBox models physical gear, you install equipment at a physical location. Whether that is in your own facilities or inside of a cloud, this is a site. The module for this is the netbox.netbox.netbox_site module. A task in the playbook may be:

Example - Sites Task

    - name: "TASK 10: SETUP SITES"
      netbox.netbox.netbox_site:
        netbox_url: "{{ lookup('ENV', 'NETBOX_URL') }}"
        netbox_token: "{{ lookup('ENV', 'NETBOX_API_KEY') }}"
        data: "{{ item }}"
      loop: "{{ site_list }}"

The next two pieces are the base to add devices to NetBox. In order to create a specific device, you also need to have the device type and manufacturer in your NetBox instance. To do this there are specific modules available to create them. Platforms will help to identify what OS the device is. I recommend that you use what your automation platform is using—something like IOS, NXOS, and EOS are good choices and should match up to your ansible_network_os choices. These tasks look like the following:

Example - Manufacturers, Device Types, and Platforms

- name: "TASK 20: SETUP MANUFACTURERS"
      netbox.netbox.netbox_manufacturer:
        netbox_url: "{{ lookup('ENV', 'NETBOX_URL') }}"
        netbox_token: "{{ lookup('ENV', 'NETBOX_API_KEY') }}"
        data:
          name: "{{ manufacturer }}"
      loop: "{{ manufacturers }}"
      loop_control:
        loop_var: manufacturer

   - name: "TASK 30: SETUP DEVICE TYPES"
      netbox.netbox.netbox_device_type:
        netbox_url: "{{ lookup('ENV', 'NETBOX_URL') }}"
        netbox_token: "{{ lookup('ENV', 'NETBOX_API_KEY') }}"
        data:
          model: "{{ device_type.model }}"
          manufacturer: "{{ device_type.manufacturer }}"
          slug: "{{ device_type.slug }}"
          part_number: "{{ device_type.part_number }}"
          is_full_depth: "{{ device_type.full_depth }}"
      loop: "{{ device_types }}"
      loop_control:
        loop_var: device_type
        label: "{{ device_type['model'] }}"

    - name: "TASK 40: SETUP PLATFORMS"
      netbox.netbox.netbox_platform:
        netbox_url: "{{ lookup('ENV', 'NETBOX_URL') }}"
        netbox_token: "{{ lookup('ENV', 'NETBOX_API_KEY') }}"
        data:
          name: "{{ platform.name }}"
          slug: "{{ platform.slug }}"
      loop: "{{ platforms }}"
      loop_control:
        loop_var: platform
        label: "{{ platform['name'] }}"

At this stage you are set to add devices and device information to NetBox. The following tasks leverage the ansible_facts that Ansible automatically gathers. So for these particular device types, no additional parsing/data gathering is required outside of using Ansible to gather facts. In this example for adding a device, you will notice custom_fields. A nice extension of NetBox is that if there is not a field already defined, you can set your own fields and use them within the tool.

Example - Add Devices & Interfaces

- name: "TASK 100: NETBOX >> ADD DEVICE TO NETBOX"
      netbox.netbox.netbox_device:
        netbox_url: "{{ lookup('ENV', 'NETBOX_URL') }}"
        netbox_token: "{{ lookup('ENV', 'NETBOX_API_KEY') }}"
        data:
          name: "{{ inventory_hostname }}"
          device_type: "{{ ansible_facts['net_model'] }}"
          platform: IOS  # May be able to use a filter to define in future
          serial: "{{ ansible_facts['net_serialnum'] }}"
          status: Active
          device_role: "{{ inventory_hostname | get_role_from_hostname }}"
          site: “ANSIBLE_DEMO_SITE"
          custom_fields:
            code_version: "{{ ansible_facts['net_version'] }}"

    - name: "TASK 110: NETBOX >> ADD INTERFACES TO NETBOX"
      netbox.netbox.netbox_device_interface:
        netbox_url: "{{ lookup('ENV', 'NETBOX_URL') }}"
        netbox_token: "{{ lookup('ENV', 'NETBOX_API_KEY') }}"
        data:
          device: "{{ inventory_hostname }}"
          name: "{{ item.key }}"
          form_factor: "{{ item.key | get_interface_type }}"  # Define types
          mac_address: "{{ item.value.macaddress | ansible.netcommon.hwaddr }}"
        state: present
      with_dict:
        - "{{ ansible_facts['net_interfaces'] }}"

Once you have the interfaces you can add in IP address information that is included in the ansible_facts data, I show three steps. First is to add a temporary interface (TASK 200), then add the IP address (TASK 210), and finally associate the IP address to the device (TASK 220).

Example - Add temp interface, add IP address, re-add device with the IP address associated

- name: "TASK 200: NETBOX >> Add temporary interface"
      netbox.netbox.netbox_device_interface:
        netbox_url: "{{ lookup('ENV', 'NETBOX_URL') }}"
        netbox_token: "{{ lookup('ENV', 'NETBOX_API_KEY') }}"
        data:
          device: "{{ inventory_hostname }}"
          name: Temporary_Interface
          form_factor: Virtual
        state: present

    - name: "TASK 210: NETBOX >> ADD IP ADDRESS OF ANSIBLE HOST"
      netbox.netbox.netbox_ip_address:
        netbox_url: "{{ lookup('ENV', 'NETBOX_URL') }}"
        netbox_token: "{{ lookup('ENV', 'NETBOX_API_KEY') }}"
        data:
          family: 4
          address: "{{ ansible_host }}/24"
          status: active
          interface:
            name: Temporary_Interface
            device: "{{ inventory_hostname }}"

    - name: "TASK 220: NETBOX >> ASSOCIATE IP ADDRESS TO DEVICE"
      netbox.netbox.netbox_device:
        netbox_url: "{{ lookup('ENV', 'NETBOX_URL') }}"
        netbox_token: "{{ lookup('ENV', 'NETBOX_API_KEY') }}"
        data:
          name: "{{ inventory_hostname }}"
          device_type: "{{ ansible_facts['net_model'] }}"
          platform: IOS
          serial: "{{ ansible_facts['net_serialnum'] }}"
          status: Active
          primary_ip4: "{{ ansible_host }}/24"

 

Ansible Inventory Source

At this point you have NetBox populated with all of your devices that were in your static inventory. It is now time to make the move to using NetBox as the Source of Truth for your Ansible dynamic inventory plugin. This way you don’t have to keep finding all of the projects that need to get updated when you make a change to the environment. You just need to change your Source of Truth database - NetBox.

You define which inventory plugin to use with a YAML file that defines the characteristics of how to configure your intended use of the plugin. Below is an example, showing you are able to query many components of NetBox for use within your Ansible inventory. You may wish to only make an update to your access switches? Use the query_filters key to define what NetBox API searches should be executed. Take a look at the plugin documentation for updated supported parameters on GitHub or ReadTheDocs. The compose key allows you to pass in additional variables to be used by Ansible, as such the platform from above would be used with the ansible_network_os key. This is where you see the definition and what would get passed from the inventory source.

This definition also has groups created based on the device_roles that are defined in NetBox and the platforms. So you would be able to access all platforms_ios devices or platforms_eos as an example, based on the information in the Source of Truth.

Example - netbox_inventory.yml

---
plugin: netbox.netbox.nb_inventory
api_endpoint: http://netbox03
validate_certs: false
config_context: false
group_by:
 - device_roles
 - platforms
compose:
 ansible_network_os: platform.slug
query_filters:
 - site: "minnesota01"
 - has_primary_ip: True

 

Extending NetBox with Plugins

One of the more recent feature additions to NetBox itself is the ability to extend it via your own or community driven plugins. From the wiki: “Plugins are packaged Django apps that can be installed alongside NetBox to provide custom functionality not present in the core application” (GitHub Link). You can find some of the featured plugins in the community at that link. Some include:

There are many plugins available to the community for you to choose from—or you can write your own add ons! Search on GitHub for the topic NetBox Plugin.

 

Summary

NetBox and Ansible together are a great combination for your network automation needs!

NetBox is an excellent open source tool that helps make it easy to create, update, and consume as a Source of Truth. The APIs are easy to use and make updates to the DB with, even if you did not want to use the NetBox Collection available for Ansible. Having a tool that is flexible, capable, and accurate is a must for delivering automation via a Source of Truth. NetBox delivers on each of these. 

This post was inspired by a presentation done in March 2020 at the Minneapolis Ansible Meetup. For additional material on this, I have many of these tasks available as a working example on GitHub. The YouTube recording of the presentation from the Ansible Meetup is available.  

Where do I go next?

Where can I get a trial?
If you want to get a trial to Ansible Automation Platform, please visit red.ht/try_ansible

Where can I learn Ansible?

Are you new to Ansible automation and want to learn?  Check out our getting started guide lessons on developers.redhat.com: developers.redhat.com/products/ansible/getting-started

I missed AnsibleFest 2020. where is the content?

We got you covered, check out this video: AnsibleFest 2020! I missed it! Where is the content?  

Explore everything on-demand for free on www.ansible.com/ansiblefest

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Topics:
Network Automation, Dynamic Inventory, Inventory


 

Josh VanDeraa

I am a network automation engineer at Network to Code, LLC. I have been working in the networking industry for 20 years and has been automating networks with tools like Ansible for the past 4+ years. You can find Josh on Github here: jvanderaa or chat with him on Network to Code Slack: jvanderaa (slack.networktocode.com)


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