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On the Road Again with NTS: Automation at the Edge Workshop

Insight from Rich Gallant, NTS Director of Software Sales

NTS recently held our “Automation at the Edge” workshop, showcasing how automation at the tactical edge can be done using MANTLE, our automation platform. We have found that many users are hyper-focused on building a cloud-native landscape for their enterprise systems. Still, much of that focus is not put on bringing automated cloud-native capabilities to the edge. This event intended to showcase to attendees what is in the realm of possibilities when it comes to edge automation and how MANTLE can assist in that effort.

The primary challenge NTS is solving with MANTLE is dealing with the complexity and burden of hosting systems and networks at the tactical edge, most commonly in disconnected environments. Time and time again, we have seen that not only do our users deal with a broad range of skill sets that may or may not have the ability to handle the massive configuration needed for their systems of record, but also the growing complexity and burden of that configuration. The burden of growing complexity is not only a detriment to successful operations at the edge, but it also has a significant impact on future innovations. Our customers are attempting to modernize their tactical edge infrastructure and move towards a more cloud-native landscape; this task is practically impossible without automation. This is what MANTLE was designed to solve.

Why does this matter?

Adopting edge automation allows our customers to push towards a true cloud-native landscape. One of the main tenants of cloud-native is automation and having an immutable infrastructure. Today, this does not exist, especially at scale. MANTLE is not a silver bullet to solve all automation challenges across the tactical edge, but rather is hyper-focused on Day 0 infrastructure, something that the general market has not put a large amount of effort into as it relates to the Department of Defense. At NTS, we have shown that MANTLE is a perfect way to jump-start customers on their automation journey and solve one of the more critical problems that exist today, automating the burden of standing up Day 0 infrastructure.

As with all things when it comes to software, MANTLE is something that will continuously grow and develop over time. From this workshop alone, we have had several feature requests that we see being added to our development pipeline to better support the community and enhance MANTLE overall as a product. The future today looks like a polishing of MANTLE when it comes to product use. We intend to add several quality-of-life features to MANTLE, as well as support for more types of devices that begin to pop up that need support moving forward. We have seen a large push in the space of more “IoT” like devices, not just Android EUDs, but radios and other ancillary devices. In addition, there has been significant development pushes in our MANTLE Mobile product for Android support. Although these coming features cannot be openly discussed in detail yet, these developments are critical needs based on user feedback thus far. Overall, the future is bright for MANTLE. This year has been a whirlwind for the product, but the biggest takeaway so far is that there is a critical need for this type of Day 0 automation capability, and MANTLE is one of the few products tailored made to solve this challenge today.

Hands-on Lab Overview

Lab 1: Physical edge data center automation using MANTLE edge automation 

This lab used MANTLE to automate a fully disconnected 3-node vSAN cluster on a Klas TDC. In this lab, we showed users how to upload JSON templates that we built, which include the automation of the BIOS for PXE, ESXi, VCSA, and vSAN, along with configuring the included 10G switch. Attendees were able to fully automate this build-out in about 48 minutes which finishes with the ability to automate the upload of a few key ISOs as needed for some deployments. This time domain does not include any automated application configuration as that is not a task for MANTLE at this time. In addition, we provided attendees with a full breakdown of what goes into a JSON and how these are built for MANTLE.

Lab 2: Automating a vSAN cluster in a nested virtual environment using MANTLE edge automation

Similar to our first lab, we were hosting four users at a time on a single Klas TDC where attendees were using MANTLE inside a nested environment to automate the configuration of a fully functioning vSAN cluster in the same method as in lab 1. We used a nested environment so that we could have multiple users operating at the same time off of a single TDC to get attendees more stick time with MANTLE.

Lab 3: Configuring Android EUDs using the MANTLE Mobile deployable system

In this lab scenario, we had a series of laptops running our MANTLE Mobile software locally, each connecting to an Android EUD. Users were able to log into the MANTLE Mobile application and execute the fully automated provisioning of an Android EUD, which included OS and application-specific configuration. The purpose of this lab was not only to show the automated provisioning of the Android but to show how this is possible in a fully disconnected state to provide a true local provisioning capability. Attendees were able to get a complete in-depth look at how MANTLE Mobile works and insight into architectures and use cases for the future of this product.

Lab 4: Provision and Configure Networking devices – physical and virtual

This lab was designed to allow users time with MANTLE to automate the provisioning and configuration of various networking devices we had on hand. In this session, we showed attendees how MANTLE can be used to automate the deployment and configuration of a CSR-1000V, which included automating the BIOS configuration of the server, loading ESXi, the CSR-1000V application as well as a full configuration, all in a disconnected state. NTS sees this as a large use case as more users are moving to adopt a virtual Cisco router platform, whether that is the CSR-1000V or the Catalyst 8000V. Additionally, we allowed attendees to use a beta version of MANTLE that we built to automate the configuration of Cradlepoint IBR1900. As networking devices do not take long to automate with MANTLE, we also took time with attendees to dig deeper into JSON and Jinja and how we use them.

We were pleased with the engagement from the hands-on labs that took place. With over 30+ attendees, every single person desired to learn about what was possible with automation at the edge, with excellent feedback to our developers about features and use cases that would be helpful to them and the units they support. Our team was able to have direct lines of engagement with users who truly support this infrastructure at the edge, and we were able to learn just as much from them as they did from us. The biggest takeaway from this workshop is that this infrastructure required to support our users at the edge is very complex to deploy, and the complexity that goes along with it is a massive detriment to the mission. Automation can solve this problem, and we are excited to continue hosting these labs to support the tactical community.

To learn more about MANTLE’s capabilities and how you simplify operations at scale and gain control of your edge operations, click here


NexTech Solutions is focused on systems and network engineering to support cloud, hybrid, and edge solutions. We devote our time to truly understanding the unique mission requirements of our Federal clientele by building mission-driven solutions that meet today’s and tomorrow’s demands. Offering a diverse and customizable set of classified and unclassified capabilities focused on mission support.