Ansible Automation with Cisco ASA Multi-Context Mode

I thought I’d share my experience using Ansible and Cisco ASA firewalls in multi-context mode. Right from the beginning I had a few issues deploying the configuration and the switch between the different security context didn’t work well. I got the error you see below when I tried to run a playbook. Other times the changeto context didn’t work well and applied the wrong config:

berndonline@lab:~$ ansible-playbook -i inventory site.yml --ask-vault-pass
Vault password:

PLAY [all] ***************************************************************************************************************************************************************************

TASK [hostname : set dns and hostname] ***********************************************************************************************************************************************
An exception occurred during task execution. To see the full traceback, use -vvv. The error was: error: [Errno 61] Connection refused
fatal: [fwcontext01]: FAILED! => {"changed": false, "err": "[Errno 61] Connection refused", "msg": "unable to connect to socket"}
ok: [fwcontext02]

TASK [interfaces : write interfaces config] ******************************************************************************************************************************************
ok: [fwcontext02]


After a bit of troubleshooting I found a workaround to limit the amount of processes Ansible use and set this limit to one in the Ansible.cfg. The default is five processes if forks is not defined as far as I remember.

inventory = ./inventory
forks = 1

In the example inventory file, the “inventory_hostname” variable represents the security context and as you see the “ansible_ssh_host” is set to the IP address of the admin context:

fwcontext01 ansible_ssh_host= ansible_ssh_port=22 ansible_ssh_user='ansible' ansible_ssh_pass='cisco'
fwcontext02 ansible_ssh_host= ansible_ssh_port=22 ansible_ssh_user='ansible' ansible_ssh_pass='cisco'

When you run the playbook again you can see that the playbook runs successfully but deploys the changes one by one to each firewall security context, the disadvantage is that the playbook takes much longer to run:

berndonline@lab:~$ ansible-playbook site.yml

PLAY [all] ***************************************************************************************************************************************************************************

TASK [hostname : set dns and hostname] ***********************************************************************************************************************************************
ok: [fwcontext01]
ok: [fwcontext02]

TASK [interfaces : write interfaces config] ******************************************************************************************************************************************
ok: [fwcontext01]
ok: [fwcontext02]

Example site.yml


- hosts: all
  connection: local
  gather_facts: 'no'

      username: "{{ ansible_ssh_user }}"
      password: "{{ ansible_ssh_pass }}"
      host: "{{ ansible_ssh_host }}"

    - interfaces

In the example Interface role you see that the context is set to “inventory_hostname” variable:


- name: write interfaces config
    src: "templates/interfaces.j2"
    provider: "{{ cli }}"
    context: "{{ inventory_hostname }}"
  register: result

- name: enable interfaces
    parents: "interface {{ item.0 }}"
    lines: "no shutdown"
    match: none
    provider: "{{ cli }}"
    context: "{{ inventory_hostname }}"
  when: result.changed
    - "{{ interfaces.items() }}"

After modifying the forks, the Ansible playbook runs well with Cisco ASA in multi-context mode, like mentioned before it is a bit slow to deploy the configuration if I compare this to Cumulus Linux or any other Linux system.

Please share your feedback.

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Ansible Playbook for Cisco ASAv Firewall Topology

More about Ansible network automation with Cisco ASAv and continuous integration testing like in my previous posts using Vagrant and Gitlab-CI.

Network overview:

Here’s my Github repository where you can find the complete Ansible Playbook:

Automating firewall configuration is not that easy and can get very complicated because you have different objects, access-lists and service policies to configure which all together makes the playbook complex rather than simple.

What you won’t find in my playbook is how to automate the cluster deployment because this wasn’t possible in my scenario using ASAv and Vagrant. I didn’t have physical Cisco ASA firewall on hand to do this but I might add this later in the coming months.

Let’s look at the different variable files I created; first the host_vars for asa-1.yml which is very similar to a Cisco router:


hostname: asa-1
domain_name: lab.local

    alias: connection rtr-1 inside
    nameif: inside
    security_level: 100

    alias: connection rtr-2 outside
    nameif: outside
    security_level: 0

  - route outside 1

I then use multiple files in group_vars for objects.ymlobject-groups.ymlaccess-lists.yml and nat.yml to configure specific firewall settings.


  • Hostname: The task in main.yml uses the Ansible module asa_config and configures hostname and domain name.
  • Interfaces:  This role uses the Ansible module asa_config to deploy the template interfaces.j2 to configure the interfaces. In the main.yml is a second task to enable the interfaces when the previous template applied the configuration.
  • Routing: Similar to the interfaces role and uses also the asa_config module to deploy the template routing.j2 for the static routes
  • Objects: The first task in main.yml loads the objects.yml from group_vars, the second task deploys the template objects.j2.
  • Object-Groups: Uses same tasks in main.yml and template object-groups.j2 like the objects role but the commands are slightly different.
  • Access-Lists: One of the more complicated roles I needed to work on, in the main.yml are multiple tasks to load variables like in the previous roles, then runs a task to clear access-lists if the variable “override_acl” from access-lists.yml group_vars is set to “true” otherwise it skips the next tasks. When the variable are set to true and the access-lists are cleared it then writes new access-lists using the Ansible module asa_acl and finishes with a task to assigning the newly created access-lists to the interfaces.
  • NAT: This role is again similar to the objects role using a task main.yml to load variable file and deploys the template nat.j2. The NAT role uses object nat and only works if you created the object before in the objects group_vars.
  • Policy-Framework: Multiple tasks in main.yml first clears global policy and policy maps and afterwards recreates them. Similar approach like the access lists to keep it consistent.

Main Ansible Playbook site.yml


- hosts: asa-1

  connection: local
  user: vagrant
  gather_facts: 'no'

    - hostname
    - interfaces
    - routing
    - objects
    - object-groups
    - access-lists
    - nat
    - policy-framework

When a change triggers the gitlab-ci pipeline it spins up the Vagrant instances and executes the main Ansible Playbook. After the Vagrant instances are booted, first the two router rtr-1 and rtr-2 need to be configured with cisco_router_config.yml, then afterwards the main site.yml will be run.

Once the main playbook finishes for the Cisco ASA a last connectivity check will be execute using the playbook asa_check_icmp.yml. Just a simple ping to see if the base configuration is applied correctly.

If everything goes well, like in this example, the job is successful:

I will continue to improve the Playbook and the CICD pipeline so come back later to check it out.

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Continuous Integration and Delivery for Networking with Cisco devices

This post is about continuous integration and continuous delivery (CICD) for Cisco devices and how to use network simulation to test automation before deploying this to production environments. That was one of the main reasons for me to use Vagrant for simulating the network because the virtual environment can be created on-demand and thrown away after the scripts run successful. Please read before my post about Cisco network simulation using Vagrant: Cisco IOSv and XE network simulation using Vagrant and Cisco ASAv network simulation using Vagrant.

Same like in my first post about Continuous Integration and Delivery for Networking with Cumulus Linux, I am using and their Gitlab-runner for the continuous integration and delivery (CICD) pipeline.

  • You need to register your Gitlab-runner with the Gitlab repository:

  • The next step is to create your .gitlab-ci.yml which defines your CI-pipeline.
    - validate ansible
    - staging iosv
    - staging iosxe
    stage: validate ansible
        - bash ./
        - git clone
        - cd cisco-lab-vagrant/
        - cp Vagrantfile-IOSv Vagrantfile
    stage: staging iosv
        - bash ../
        - git clone
        - cd cisco-lab-vagrant/
        - cp Vagrantfile-IOSXE Vagrantfile
    stage: staging iosxe
        - bash ../

I clone the cisco vagrant lab which I use to spin-up a virtual staging environment and run the Ansible playbook against the virtual lab. The stages IOSv and IOSXE are just examples in my case depending what Cisco IOS versions you want to test.

The production stage would be similar to staging only that you run the Ansible playbook against your physical environment.

  • Basically any commit or merge in the Gitlab repo triggers the pipeline which is defined in the gitlab-ci.

  • The first stage is only to validate that the YAML files have the correct syntax.

  • Here the details of a job and when everything goes well the job succeeded.

This is an easy way to test your Ansible playbooks against a virtual Cisco environment before deploying this to a production system.

Here again my two repositories I use:

Read my new posts about Ansible Playbook for Cisco ASAv Firewall Topology or Ansible Playbook for Cisco BGP Routing Topology.

Cisco ASAv network simulation using Vagrant

After creating IOSv and IOS XE Vagrant images, now doing the same for Cisco ASAv. Like in my last post same basic idea to create an simulated on-demand  network environment for continuous integration testing.

You need to buy the Cisco ASAv to get access to the KVM image on the Cisco website!

The Cisco ASAv is pretty easy because you can get QCOW2 images directly on the Cisco website, there are a few changes you need to do before you can use this together with Vagrant.

Boot the ASAv QCOW2 image on KVM and add the configuration below:

conf t
interface Management0/0
 nameif management
 security-level 0
 ip address dhcp
 no shutdown

hostname asa
domain-name lab.local
username vagrant password vagrant privilege 15
aaa authentication ssh console LOCAL
aaa authorization exec LOCAL auto-enable
ssh version 2
ssh timeout 60
ssh key-exchange group dh-group14-sha1
ssh 0 0 management

username vagrant attributes
  service-type admin
  ssh authentication publickey AAAAB3NzaC1yc2EAAAABIwAAAQEA6NF8iallvQVp22WDkTkyrtvp9eWW6A8YVr+kz4TjGYe7gHzIw+niNltGEFHzD8+v1I2YJ6oXevct1YeS0o9HZyN1Q9qgCgzUFtdOKLv6IedplqoPkcmF0aYet2PkEDo3MlTBckFXPITAMzF8dJSIFo9D8HfdOV0IAdx4O7PtixWKn5y2hMNG0zQPyUecp4pzC6kivAIhyfHilFR61RGL+GPXQ2MWZWFYbAGjyiYJnAmCP3NOTd0jMZEnDkbUvxhMmBYSdETk1rRgm+R4LOzFUGaHqHDLKLX+FIPKcF96hrucXzcWyLbIbEgE98OHlnVYCzRdK8jlqm8tehUc9c9WhQ==

Now the image is ready to use with Vagrant. Create an instance folder under the user vagrant directory and copy the QCOW2 image. As well create an metadata.json file:

mkdir -p ~/.vagrant.d/boxes/asav/0/libvirt/
cp ASAv.qcow2 ~/.vagrant.d/boxes/asav/0/libvirt/box.img
printf '{"provider":"libvirt","format":"qcow2","virtual_size":2}' > metadata.json

Create a Vagrantfile with the needed configuration and boot up the VMs. You have to start the VMs one by one.

berndonline@lab:~/asa-lab-vagrant$ vagrant status
Current machine states:

asa-1                     not created (libvirt)
asa-2                     not created (libvirt)

This environment represents multiple VMs. The VMs are all listed
above with their current state. For more information about a specific
VM, run `vagrant status NAME`.
berndonline@lab:~/asa-lab-vagrant$ vagrant up asa-1
Bringing machine 'asa-1' up with 'libvirt' provider...
==> asa-1: Creating image (snapshot of base box volume).
==> asa-1: Creating domain with the following settings...
==> asa-1:  -- Name:              asa-lab-vagrant_asa-1
==> asa-1:  -- Domain type:       kvm
==> asa-1:  -- Cpus:              1
==> asa-1:  -- Feature:           acpi
==> asa-1:  -- Feature:           apic
==> asa-1:  -- Feature:           pae
==> asa-1:  -- Memory:            2048M
==> asa-1:  -- Management MAC:
==> asa-1:  -- Loader:
==> asa-1:  -- Base box:          asav
==> asa-1:  -- Storage pool:      default
==> asa-1:  -- Image:             /var/lib/libvirt/images/asa-lab-vagrant_asa-1.img (8G)
==> asa-1:  -- Volume Cache:      default
==> asa-1:  -- Kernel:
==> asa-1:  -- Initrd:
==> asa-1:  -- Graphics Type:     vnc
==> asa-1:  -- Graphics Port:     5900
==> asa-1:  -- Graphics IP:
==> asa-1:  -- Graphics Password: Not defined
==> asa-1:  -- Video Type:        cirrus
==> asa-1:  -- Video VRAM:        9216
==> asa-1:  -- Sound Type:
==> asa-1:  -- Keymap:            en-us
==> asa-1:  -- TPM Path:
==> asa-1:  -- INPUT:             type=mouse, bus=ps2
==> asa-1: Creating shared folders metadata...
==> asa-1: Starting domain.
==> asa-1: Waiting for domain to get an IP address...
==> asa-1: Waiting for SSH to become available...
==> asa-1: Configuring and enabling network interfaces...
    asa-1: SSH address:
    asa-1: SSH username: vagrant
    asa-1: SSH auth method: private key
    asa-1: Warning: Connection refused. Retrying...
==> asa-1: Running provisioner: ansible...
    asa-1: Running ansible-playbook...

PLAY [all] *********************************************************************

PLAY RECAP *********************************************************************

berndonline@lab:~/asa-lab-vagrant$ vagrant up asa-2
Bringing machine 'asa-2' up with 'libvirt' provider...
==> asa-2: Creating image (snapshot of base box volume).
==> asa-2: Creating domain with the following settings...
==> asa-2:  -- Name:              asa-lab-vagrant_asa-2
==> asa-2:  -- Domain type:       kvm
==> asa-2:  -- Cpus:              1
==> asa-2:  -- Feature:           acpi
==> asa-2:  -- Feature:           apic
==> asa-2:  -- Feature:           pae
==> asa-2:  -- Memory:            2048M
==> asa-2:  -- Management MAC:
==> asa-2:  -- Loader:
==> asa-2:  -- Base box:          asav
==> asa-2:  -- Storage pool:      default
==> asa-2:  -- Image:             /var/lib/libvirt/images/asa-lab-vagrant_asa-2.img (8G)
==> asa-2:  -- Volume Cache:      default
==> asa-2:  -- Kernel:
==> asa-2:  -- Initrd:
==> asa-2:  -- Graphics Type:     vnc
==> asa-2:  -- Graphics Port:     5900
==> asa-2:  -- Graphics IP:
==> asa-2:  -- Graphics Password: Not defined
==> asa-2:  -- Video Type:        cirrus
==> asa-2:  -- Video VRAM:        9216
==> asa-2:  -- Sound Type:
==> asa-2:  -- Keymap:            en-us
==> asa-2:  -- TPM Path:
==> asa-2:  -- INPUT:             type=mouse, bus=ps2
==> asa-2: Creating shared folders metadata...
==> asa-2: Starting domain.
==> asa-2: Waiting for domain to get an IP address...
==> asa-2: Waiting for SSH to become available...
==> asa-2: Configuring and enabling network interfaces...
    asa-2: SSH address:
    asa-2: SSH username: vagrant
    asa-2: SSH auth method: private key
==> asa-2: Running provisioner: ansible...
    asa-2: Running ansible-playbook...

PLAY [all] *********************************************************************

PLAY RECAP *********************************************************************

berndonline@lab:~/asa-lab-vagrant$ vagrant status
Current machine states:

asa-1                     running (libvirt)
asa-2                     running (libvirt)


After the VMs are successfully booted you can connect with vagrant ssh:

berndonline@lab:~/asa-lab-vagrant$ vagrant ssh asa-1
Type help or '?' for a list of available commands.
asa# show version

Cisco Adaptive Security Appliance Software Version 9.6(2)
Device Manager Version 7.6(2)

Compiled on Tue 23-Aug-16 18:38 PDT by builders
System image file is "boot:/asa962-smp-k8.bin"
Config file at boot was "startup-config"

asa up 10 mins 31 secs

Hardware:   ASAv, 2048 MB RAM, CPU Xeon E5 series 3600 MHz,
Model Id:   ASAv10
Internal ATA Compact Flash, 8192MB
Slot 1: ATA Compact Flash, 8192MB
BIOS Flash Firmware Hub @ 0x0, 0KB


Configuration has not been modified since last system restart.
asa# exit


Connection to closed by remote host.
Connection to closed.
berndonline@lab:~/asa-lab-vagrant$ vagrant destroy
==> asa-2: Removing domain...
==> asa-2: Running triggers after destroy...
Removing known host entries
==> asa-1: Removing domain...
==> asa-1: Running triggers after destroy...
Removing known host entries

Here I have a virtual ASAv environment which I can spin-up and down as needed for automation testing.

The example Vagrantfile you can find in my Github repository:

Read my new post about an Ansible Playbook for Cisco ASAv Firewall Topology

Data centre network redesign

Over the last month I was busy working on an data centre redesign for my company which I finished this weekend in one of the three data centre’s.

The old network design was very outdated and bad choice of network equipment; Cisco Catalyst 6500 core switch for a small data centre environment with 8 racks is total overkill, two firewall clusters Juniper ISG2000 and Cisco ASA 5550 which were badly integrated and the configuration was a mess.

For the new network I followed a more converged idea to use a small and compact network to be as flexible as possible but also downsize the overall footprint and remove complexity. We adopted parts of DevOps “I like to call it NetOps” and used Ansible to automate the configuration deployment, the whole network stack is deployed within 90 seconds.

Used equipment:

  1. Top two switches were Dell S3048-ON running Cumulus Networks OS and used for internet- and leased-lines
  2. Under the two Dell WAN switches are two Cisco ASR 1001-X router for internet and wide area network (OSPF) routing.
  3. Under the Cisco router, two Dell S4048-ON core switches running Cumulus Network OS and connected existing HP Blade Center’s and HP DL servers. The new Tintri storage for the VMware vSphere clusters was also connected directly to the core switches.
  4. Under the Dell core switches are two Cisco ASA 5545-X in multi-context mode running Production, Corporate and S2S VPN firewalls.
  5. On the bottom of the network stack were existing serial console server and Cisco Catalyst switch for management network.

Now I will start with the deployment of VMware NSX SDN (Software defined Network) in this data centre. Ones VMware NSX is finished and handed over to the Systems Engineers I will do the same exercise for the 2nd data centre in the UK.

About Cumulus Linux and VMware NSX SDN I will publish some more information and my experience in the coming month.