Community Is at the Center of ‘Getting It Right’ for the Internet2 Insight Console

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By Amber Rasche - Senior Communications Specialist, Internet2

Estimated reading time: 6 minutes

Part 2 of a Q&A with Mike Simpson, Internet2 Director of Network Systems and Software

Internet2 Insight Console logo

When we’re doing more, more quickly, and at higher levels of complexity than ever before, software-enabled automation and orchestration are key components of our collective success. It’s a reality the Internet2 community recognized when they embarked on the Next Generation Infrastructure (NGI) initiative years ago.

That’s the origin story of the Internet2 Network Services Infrastructure Systems and Software (ISS) team and the I2 Insight Console. 

Profile photo of Mike Simpson
Mike Simpson

In this two-part Q&A, Mike Simpson, director of the ISS team, shares his expertise across multiple IT disciplines and his passion for DevOps to introduce the I2 Insight Console. In case you missed it, in part 1, he shed light on what the console will enable for the research and education community and the technical components interoperating to make it possible. Now in part 2, he discusses the transparent, iterative, and collaborative process his team uses to take things from “good idea” to “running in production.” He also reflects on the community’s ongoing role in getting it right and shares what’s next on the horizon for the I2 Insight Console.

Last November, we spoke with Chris Wilkinson and Karl Newell about how software-driven automation and orchestration sets Internet2’s Next Generation Infrastructure (NGI) apart from any previous version of the network. At that time, your team was hosting a series of interactive design sessions with the community to test and get feedback on prototypes of the I2 Insight Console. Tell us more about that process and what you learned.

Mike Simpson: Over the last year, we’ve started to standardize our “delivery pipeline” – the overall process that takes things from a “good idea” to “running in production.” That pipeline generally involves a sequence consisting of initial user research, user experience design and user interface prototyping, front-end and back-end development, and usability testing. 

If you take a closer look at each of those steps, you can see just how involved the Internet2 member community is throughout the process.

Everything we do is intended to be driven by extensive, initial user research. That involves direct engagement with the community to identify major areas of need, specific pain points with currently-available functionality, and interesting ideas for new functions and capabilities.

User research leads to user experience design and user interface prototyping. We work directly with Internet2 members who have expertise or interest in the specific functionality under analysis to develop user stories, prototype wireframing of what the user interfaces might look like, and identify fundamental data models and concepts underlying the desired functionality.

The design work leads to two iterative activities that can occur either in sequence or sometimes in parallel: front-end development of the web pages in the I2 Insight Console that will implement the user stories, and back-end development of the supporting APIs and integrations with external systems that the console relies on to do its job. We bring the results back to our stakeholders for usability testing, adjustments, and fine-tuning.

The whole process is intended to be transparent, iterative, and collaborative. It involves frequent engagement with actual users throughout the entire process, again to make sure that the output service or product is as close to right as we can make it. Your stakeholders are the only people who can tell you if you’re getting it right.

What other work has your team been leading behind the scenes since then to develop and deploy the I2 Insight Console and how have you continued to engage the community along the way?

Mike Simpson: We’ve been doing a lot of foundational work on the I2 Insight Console, including session management, authentication and authorization, low-level infrastructure and workflow, and integrations with external services. As we’re driving all that out, we’re focused initially on three services and tools for the console:

  1. Looking Glass, which replaces our existing Router Proxy service,
  2. Virtual Networks / Cloud Connect, which will replace and enhance the popular OESS and Cloud Connect Portal, and
  3. Prefix Management, which is a new service we’re developing in coordination with the Network Services Security team that will provide streamlined prefix submission and better visibility into BGP peering sessions and active prefix lists. 

All of these are just the first steps along a path that will steadily add new services, tools, and functionality to the console environment over the years to come.

In July 2022, we conducted a closed-beta deployment of the basic Insight Console and Looking Glass service with about 50 volunteers from across Internet2’s membership. That helped us to refine the Looking Glass functionality and identify some things we missed or got wrong, which we’re currently working on fixing. It also was the first real shakedown of our InCommon-based SSO and authorization wiring.

Currently, we’re deep into the user research and front-end development work on the Virtual Networks / Cloud Connect service, which will expand and enhance the functionality of our current Cloud Connect Portal service. This will be the biggest and most complicated piece of work we’ve done in the console environment. It touches on some of the most important membership-facing functionality we have – so we’re taking our time and making sure we get it right.

At the same time, we’re finishing the back-end development work required to support the Prefix Management service, which is also incentivizing us to attack some early requirements around authentication/authorization and workflow integrations that will lead naturally into back-end development in support of Virtual Networks / Cloud Connect as the design and front-end efforts clarify requirements.

What is the timeline for the next steps in deploying the I2 Insight Console, including the Looking Glass, Virtual Networks / Cloud Connect, and Prefix Management functionality?

Mike Simpson: We’re aiming to deliver the first set of I2 Insight Console functions – the revamped Looking Glass and the new Prefix Management capabilities – by the end of 2022. Ideally, we’ll be on stage at TechEX22 in Denver this December demonstrating the new interface and services for attendees! Production rollout of the Virtual Networks / Cloud Connect service will follow, anticipated in Q1 of 2023. 

Another goal as we wrap up 2022 and roll into 2023 is to continue feeding that delivery pipeline that I mentioned earlier. We’re working with the Network Architecture, Operations and Policy Program Advisory Group (NAOPpag) and the Business Relations Management (BRM) team within Network Services to build structures that will help keep that pipeline flowing in terms of identifying and prioritizing what comes next, with a notional goal of always staying a couple of quarters ahead in that overall process of turning good ideas into delivered services. One of the early structures that BRM is establishing is a new Insight Console Roadmap Committee with community members who will work with Internet2 staff to provide input into the planning and prioritization of tools and services to become part of the Insight Console beginning later in 2023.

Join Us at TechEX22 to Learn More

Mike and the whole ISS team will be together in person at the 2022 Internet2 Technology Exchange! Register to join us in Denver, Colorado, Dec. 5-9, to meet the team and learn more about their work on the I2 Insight Console.