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How to Choose a Network Configuration Management Tool

Nate Lewis| August 29 2018

| monitoring, How to, Network Configuration Management, Sysadmin

network-configuration-management

Network teams have a lot on their plate. No one’s disputing that. Today, network admins are provided with a wide range of network management tools that can make their job just a bit easier. That said, it’s not as easy as just picking out a solution and crossing your fingers in hopes that it works for any given network environment.

These configuration tools can be finicky and don’t universally apply to all organizations. Choosing the right network configuration tool—and implementing it correctly—is absolutely critical.

What is a Network Configuration Management Tool?

This is as good a place to start as any: Network configuration management is the process by which network admins keep track of status and configuration of individual components of a computer network. During network repair, modification, expansion, or upgrading, network admins look to the network configuration management database to find the right next step. This information database stores the locations and network addresses of each network device as well as data regarding the settings, programs, and updates on the organization’s computers. With network configuration management tools, businesses can drastically cut down on network down-time and can offer network administrators insights into which changes are being made to the network. Furthermore, network configuration tools are able to cut down on configuration errors, optimize network security, and streamline maintenance and repair processes.

What Network Administrators Should Consider:

While automation is making its way into enterprise IT environments, humans are still a key part of the configuration process. Developing a process for automated configuration changes requires IT teams to develop and implement a highly detailed set of instructions for the system.

Network Configuration Features:

The most popular feature in a network configuration tool is the ability to find and replace functions on a network device should a network failure occur. Each network device is different, with configurations being saved in different formats. This can be a real headache for administrators. With network configuration management tools, configuration files can be stored in a central location where configurations can be easily downloaded.

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Admins can also use these tools to make wide changes to the entire network infrastructure from a single unified management console as it ensures that all network configurations are non-conflicting. Nearly anything a Network Configuration management tool does can be done by a member of the network team, however, this is time intensive and requires that IT teams manually access and log into each individual network device, and change network device settings one by one until the operation is completed. With something as tedious as this procedure, you can imagine that network team members are likely to make mistakes eventually. Network Configuration Management software allows admins to make the changes they need easily, and save valuable hours of labor.

Furthermore, admins can set permission levels to ensure other administrators can’t change too many configuration settings while still giving them the ability to request changes (pending approval). With NCM, network device configurations can be quickly and easily backed up and restored, standard network practices can still be assigned, and many software options can offer automation features to keep monotonous and time-intensive tasks at bay.

Network Configuration Best Practices

There are a number of best practices that network administrators should follow to ensure that their network configuration manager is being used to its full ability. We’ve rounded up our top five below.

Automate Network Management Tasks

With a network configuration manager, administrators can set tasks to automate administrative jobs like running configuration backups, adding and removing users, and updating firmware or SNMP string. With these features, automation can save network teams valuable time in addition to eliminating human error during routine tasks.

Schedule Routine Backups

For every traumatizing cyber attack, there’s a lesson to be learned. One of the most important lessons to be learned is this: Always Back Your Systems Up. If an organization is hacked and a network configuration is changed to facilitate the breach, network teams will want to address the exploit and recover as quickly as possible. With network configuration tools, admins can quickly recover recent configurations following these hacks, or any other mistake that affects configuration.

Automate Change Management

A good NCM will send automated alerts from network devices on the event of a configuration change. In WhatsUp Gold, you can set up Slack, IFTTT, SMS, or email notifications so that you're first to know when things change. From there you can set Action Policies to backup the new configuration or you can run a change analysis that produces a text-based comparison of old and new configurations highlighting the differences.

Define Configuration Policies

Network administrators need to ensure that certain network policies are administered consistently across all configurations, network configuration monitoring tools let you define configuration policies and automatically validate the compliance of new device configurations.

Schedule Periodic Compliance Audits

When network administrators aren’t enforcing configuration best practices for security and compliance with industry and governmental regulations, network teams can slip into a whole lot of trouble. There are plenty of network configuration tools including Ipswitch WhatsUp Gold that make staying compliant that much easier with configurations that meet certain requirements. Why take chances when network teams can quickly use out-of-the-box best practice network configurations? With the ability to automate audits of all running configurations, maintaining compliance and with regulations is a breeze.

The Bottom Line

The impact that configuration changes can have on a network is enough cause serious issues. These changes can affect network performance, result in failure to comply with governmental and industry regulations such as SOX, PCI, HIPAA, and FISMA, or even compromise an organization’s security. It’s important to find the right network configuration management tool to keep enterprise networks secure and reliable. By employing a capable network configuration management tool, admins can keep the network up and running and drastically cut down on downtime.

WhatsUp Gold’s Configuration Management module automates configuration and change management for the routers, switches and firewalls on your network. It archives and audits network configurations, and alerts and reports on any changes. It enables network admins to ensure that all devices are running authorized configurations, to secure the network and comply with regulatory standards, and to reduce the time and costs associated with manual and repetitive configuration and change management tasks.

Topics: monitoring, How to, Network Configuration Management, Sysadmin

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THIS POST WAS WRITTEN BY Nate Lewis

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