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What is a network configuration management

29 Jun 2020 | Blog Network Configuration

Network configuration management is a system that manages the configuration of the network. Each device in the network is constantly subjected to network configuration management. The process consists of elements such as device detection, copying, tracking user activity and much more. Read this article for details.

At the very beginning let’s define what is a configuration management. According to wiki, configuration management (CM) is a system engineering process for establishing and maintaining consistency of a product’s performance, functional, and physical attributes with its requirements, design, and operational information throughout its life. Sounds quite enigmatic and complex? Not necessarily. 

Techopedia says, that network configuration management (NCM) is a broad term for the organization and management of a computer network. Network configuration management involves collecting different information about hardware devices, software programs and other elements of the network in order to support administration and troubleshooting.

The best way of learning something new is to try it out hands on. So, assume you have a network consisting of a few routers and switches of different vendors. It does not matter what kind of services or functionalities you have been using. In reality, sometimes it does of course, but for our purpose that is quite generic, it does not. You have the admin or network specialist who can configure and maintain equipment according to your needs and requirements. The configuration can be made manually, partially or fully automatically. Manual option is out of scope of this paper. The partial manual option too.  But to be honest we have to say, the partial manual option is the most popular. The explanation of such situation is relatively easy. Some vendors provide their own configuration tools that allow to automate a few aspects of configuration tasks. The weakest point of that tools is their limitation to the vendor’s devices only. Some tools allow to cooperate with 3rd party devices, but the scope of available functionalities is usually low.

So, what happens when you want to perform any configuration task in your network? Probably your network engineers log into your devices and put some commands manually. Maybe they use some scripts that automate some aspects of configuration. And that’s all. You think your network is good maintained and you do not spend too much money for that process than necessary. I’m afraid you are wrong! I guarantee that a lot of background work such as firmware verification and finding configuration mismatches and many other are don by your engineers and all these works consume time and money.

The only reasonable solution is full automation. It can give you more for less. More control over your network and its health. More time for your engineers to realize sensible works. Less money is being spend on configuration and maintain. How can it be obtained?

The answer is easy. You must change the way you think about your network. None of your routers, switches or any other network device have to be configured individually anymore. They should be configured according to some well-defined rules dedicated to the specific of your network.

The configuration management starts when you think about automating something. The first step into NCM is to realize needs avoiding configuration tasks on every device separately in vendor’s specific way. So, one day you wake up with an idea of having one button which performs all the configuration changes in the entire network just like that. Sounds good but a bit utopic? You are right. But head up – it can be achieved!

You should know there are few important aspects of configuration management. Listed below are some of those:

  • Network automation – it is responsible for performing rapid configuration across mutli-vendor environment. It reduces time required to finish repetitive tasks.
  • Network compliance – this feature allows to verify whether your network satisfy previously defined configuration rules and practices for every type of network elements.
  • Configuration backup – this feature periodically stores the configuration from your entire network. Thanks to that you are able to restore configuration in case of any unpredictable error or configuration mismatch.
  • Configuration compare – this function allows you to verify what changes was made and by whom. When correlated with other NCM feature it gives you rapid way to restore your network into previous stable state.

There is lot of possible options to implement NCM functionality for your environment on the market. Some of them has much more functionalities than given above. Depends on your preferences and IT awareness you can choose an opensource solution, on-the-shelf products or use a software development company(like: WASKO Software) for providing a custom software solution that will fits you best. Every option has its own followers. The pros and cons of given options can be subject of another article.

Regardless the solution you will choose it is a good idea to integrate it with CMDB (Configuration Management DataBase). CMDB will give you a single point of view into your whole technical environment including the network: hardware, firmware versions, configuration history.

Now, after all work has been done for implementing network configuration management tool, you can sit in your favourite armchair and expect effects, among which the most visible and important are:

  • Better usage of your technical staff. The number of works performed for nonsense activities will significantly decrease.
  • Network configuration standardization. Great number of your everyday configurations will be realized based on previously defined templates. What is more important, those templates will be validated automatically every time when it is used.
  • Access to configuration and firmware history. In case of any unstable behaviour of any of your network elements you will be able to restore network to the last stable configuration for both firmware and device configuration itself.
  • Compliance with company policy. Every configuration made manually will be automatically discovered and reported. Thanks to that you will be able to correct any inconsistency or attempt of uncompliant configuration implementation.

In this short introduction I defined what network configuration is, what are its basic models and what effect you can expect after implementing a network configuration management tool.