Software-Defined Networking Using Simple Voice Commands
“Tea. Earl Grey. Hot.” Jean-Luc Picard of Star Trek’s The Next Generation made those lines famous as he requested a beverage to magically appear in the Enterprise’s replicator. That future is closer than it seems with apps like Apple’s Siri, Microsoft’s Cortana, Google’s assistant, and Amazon’s Alexa. And while currently, you can’t ask for your beverage of choice, Riverbed’s Romain Jourdan proved that with simple voice commands tying Amazon Alexa Skills API with Riverbed’s SteelConnect REST API, complex network environments can easily be deployed via spoken directives.
In the video below, Jourdan issues a similarly simple command: “Alexa. SteelConnect. I want a branch in London, UK.” In seconds, Alexa not only confirms the command but within the SteelConnect web portal, a new site is created called “Branch_London.” Within a few minutes of Jourdan directing SteelConnect via Alexa spoken commands, a network topology of various global locations is created—a boutique in Sidney, a plant in Geneva, a plant in Munich and a shop in Miami, Florida—all automatically networked to each other and to the branch in London through SteelConnect’s automated network orchestration.
Jourdan, who has been at Riverbed for three years, is the Solutions Engineering Director for Germany, Austria, and Switzerland (DACH) in EMEA. He manages a team of experienced engineers who support customers in their initiatives such as Digital Transformation, Cloud migration or IoT.
Interestingly, the Amazon Alexa integration with SteelConnect was not something requested internally nor by a customer. It was simply a prototype Jourdan undertook on his own time.
I asked Jourdan a few questions about his Alexa project.
Sheehan: Why did you create this project?
Jourdan: My goal was to show the power of business intent policies versus traditional CLI commands to setup and configure a brand new network architecture. Our solution is able to understand simple voice commands – as the business would ask the IT department—and orchestrate the network accordingly.
S: Did you do this integration as a “side project” to see if it could be done?
J: This project was indeed done during my spare time as a personal challenge and also to illustrate how cool SteelConnect is. We have a great product here and very much different from what could be found on the market so far. It is an unique value proposition that focuses on what really matters: translate and support business needs in a matter of minutes, not weeks or months.
S: How long did it take to build it?
J: It took me less than 2 weeks, working overnight and one week end but it is not completed yet. In fact, SteelConnect API is already really powerful so it made my job easier.
S: What are some of the features that Alexa can call via the SteelConnect REST API?
J: Today, we can ask Amazon Alexa to create sites in different cities/countries. When a site is created, a template config is applied (if “boutique” then we apply a network blueprint with specific VLANs, number of switches, gateways, uplinks, WiFi, etc.). This shows the design phase of a project with our concept of “shadow” appliances – a place holder for a network appliance that does not exist yet, that is not yet on site.
S: What features were not shown?
J: I am developing new features in order to instanciate the network once designed. One will be able to ask SteelConnect to register the appliances and have the configuration pushed to real appliances. You will be also able to ask to steer Facebook to the Internet link and have SAP run over MPLS or set the highest priority to Skype for Business.
What will YOU do with SteelConnect? If you have a cool idea on an integration or unique way to manage network infrastructure, leave a comment and let us know. And remember, you can test out SteelConnect’s power and flexibility for free now. Sign up and begin your own prototyping and integrations. (By the way, there are some handy getting started videos produced by Riverbed’s Vivek Ganti that I recommend you watch prior to diving into SteelConnect.)
Now if I could just tell my Amazon Echo to fix the Wi-Fi at my parent’s house this easily, I would be ecstatic!