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What is Netomata?

I walked into my local coffee shop this morning wearing my spiffy new "Netomata" logo baseball cap, and somebody asked me "what is Netomata?" Such a short question, with so many potential interpretations...

  • What are we building?
  • Why does the world needs what we're building?
  • Who are we?
  • Where does the name come from?

What are we building?

In a nutshell, we're building tools to automate the configuration of network systems, in order to make networks more reliable and scalable. We're going to make these tools available in a way that's accessible and affordable for even the smallest organization, while still providing a nice living for ourselves. And we're going to build a community around these tools, to support their growth and ongoing development.

Why does the world need what we're building?

Because it doesn't exist, and it should. The lack of widely available network automation tools leads most networks to be built and managed by hand, which means that they're less consistent than they could and should be, which in turn makes them less reliable and harder to troubleshoot.

My background is system administration, with a specialization on network design and management. Like many good sysadmins, I'm fundamentally lazy. I enjoy figuring out all the finicky details to make a system or network do what I want, experimenting with the configurations, and figuring out what works best to deliver a reliable and cost-effective service as cheaply and easily as possible. Once I've figured things out for a particular situation, though, I'm not especially fond of the routine, repetitive work that's usually involved in deploying and maintaining what I've designed and built. When it's done by hand, besides being boring, such repetitive configuration work is also very error-prone, which leads to inconsistent configurations, which in turn leads to unreliable services.

Given this fundamental laziness, I've long recognized the power of automation. When it comes to UNIX/Linux hosts, automation systems like Puppet and cfengine give me a great way to turn my designs into repeatable recipes that can be implemented over and over again. There seem to be similar tools in the Windows world, though I'm not as familiar with that space.

However, there haven't been similar tools widely and accessibly available in the networking world. Sure, if you're the average large enterprise and you've got a few hundred thousand dollars to spend, there are commercial packages you can buy. If you've got really unique requirements, and a couple of million dollars to spend, and a couple of years to spend on the project, you can build your own tools. But if you're the typical sysadmin who uses tools like Puppet or cfengine to handle your host configuration and replication needs, what would you use to handle your networking gear (routers, switches, load balancers, firewalls, VPN concentrators, and so forth) and services (Nagios, MRTG, Cricket, etc.)? There just hasn't been any equivalent platform in the networking space, and we aim to change that.

Like many sysadmins, I've often created shell scripts and similar tools to address this problem in a particular situation. These scripts and tools have always been very site- and situation-specific, though, tightly bound to the particular circumstances at hand. Every time I've written something like that, I've wished there was, instead, an easily available platform that I could have built on, as well as a community of users supporting that platform to learn from and share with.

I'm tired of waiting for somebody else to create that platform, and nurture the community around it, so that's what we're going to do.

Who are we?

My name is Brent Chapman; I'm Netomata's CEO and CTO. I've got 20+ years of experience in the system and network administration world, as everything from software developer to in-the-trenches sysadmin to consultant to director/manager of world-class network design and deployment teams at companies like Covad and Tellme. I'm the coauthor of what many folks consider to be a canonical reference book on Internet security (Building Internet Firewalls), the creator of a widely-used free software package for managing mailing lists (Majordomo), and the recipient of the 2004 SAGE Outstanding Achievement Award "for outstanding sustained contributions to the community of system administrators". In other words, I'm somebody who would otherwise be using the tools that Netomata will be building.

I'll let the other folks involved in Netomata introduce themselves in their own blogs here.

Where does the name come from?

Netomata is intended to suggest "network automata", similar to "cellular automata". The inspiration for the name was a comment by my spouse, Janet Salsman.