Configuration Change Management Software is more than backing up configs!
This will be a three part series focusing on NCM
Generally speaking we all should know that backing up configurations and being able to see when a change was made is crucial to network infrastructures. But what happens when you have the basics done like automation backup and real-time change notifications? Has it just become the infamous saying of “set it and forget it”? The answer is NO! There is a whole world to SolarWinds Network Configuration Manager (NCM) that is just waiting for you to use in your everyday work life.
This blog will focus on some of the "out-of-the-box" features that are available like:
- Asset Management
- Change Approvals
- Script Management
- Compliance Reports
with a quick overview on their uses.
The next blog will be more in depth on setup and uses for your security needs and how NCM has your back! The third one will focus on 7.4 with more in depth information on how to use the new features.
I'm hoping you have the basics of nightly backups and real-time change notifications (RTN) setup. (Crossing fingers, but if not here is the tech tip on setting up your RTN Enable RTN) So let’s get started.
Let’s talk about a network inventory. Seems boring but what does this really provide you? Asset management, ugh, I know it’s a dreaded word that provokes thoughts of monotonous, tedious, and timely work!
Stop wasting hours of punching numbers and gathering information. Use NCM to run a nightly inventory or a one time inventory to gather information like Model, Serial, IOS version, cards in routers, chassis switches etc. BOOM, you freed up your time instantly by using what you already have.
Use the Cisco inventory and route tables to help you quickly see neighbors and routing information on your monitored devices. IOS image lists and memory pools also offer you detailed information to help you know what you are working with in your environment.
Change Approval System
Prevent unexpected downtime or incorrect roll outs BEFORE they happen. Wait… did she seriously say prevent downtime? Sure did , with NCM’s Change Approval you can be emailed when someone on your team is wanting to change a configuration on the network you’re responsible for. Once you have the email you can login to the NCM web site and then see the change that is being requested, edit, approve, or deny it. Now you have instantly prevented issues before they even happened.
Change approval is more than preventing errors. This can be a valuable training tool for your team. Stopping and preventing potential issues and\or errors allows you to teach\coach the person that was making the change to prevent future endeavors.
This is crucial in fast pace environments that are consistently growing with new devices and protocols. It’s always better to teach and learn from almost mistakes then scrambling around recovering from them.
Change Approval View
How about NCM’s script management? I’m sure you and your team have an arsenal of scripts you use daily or even certain policy updating scripts. With script management you are able to store, name, edit, and use scripts from within NCM.
You can access these for compliance remediation (more on compliance in a moment), jobs to be scheduled, configuration templates, and even from the node details. Gone are the days of saved notepads or google searches.
Script Management View
Compliance Reports benefit more than just Government and Healthcare companies. All networks should take security as a priority and be able to show they are secure. NCM helps you do this seamlessly with detailed customization to fit your organizational needs. Use the reports out-of-the-box to quickly assess your network configs to common standards we have gathered.
You can also customize the existing reports or create your own. Take your security policies and create your own rules to look for and use for policies. Then you’re able to report on these as a whole and remediate any out of compliance issues.
The compliance reports are queried against your configurations within NCM. This helps you with standardization and security compliance by knowing if a command or verbiage is present or not. Talk about instant security and auditing checks available within your product.
Being ahead of the game or even if you’re catching up, NCM eases you into compliance and takes the frustration out of auditing. Remediation by using scripts already stored also helps you to quickly address any out of compliant needs efficiently from the same report.
Compliance Report View
What about the need for troubleshooting network issues while they are happening? Would NCM be beneficial in assisting you in anyway? The answer is undeniably, yes! You are able to use CDP neighbors, ARP information, routing configs, and run your show commands instantly from within the product.
This is the perfect product to use for troubleshooting network devices as this is where all your data is being stored already. You can see past implementations, monitor any changes, monitor the effects of changes, and use for recovery of devices in failure.
Troubleshooting View Example
How many times does upper management refuse your budget for device refreshes, but then 3 months later when you can’t get support (because the box is now 3 years past EOL) they blame YOU for not making it clear? That’s why EOL and EOE reports are so valuable.
With almost NO effort from you, you can generate a detailed report of all (or part) of your inventory and when those devices WILL BE falling out of maintenance. That allows you to escalate potential support issues before they happen, and plan budgets accordingly.
As you can see your basic Network Configuration Change Management (NCCM) needs are more than backing up and change notification. There are features like Change Approval, Compliance reports, and Troubleshooting within NCM that are begging to be leveraged. Even if you’re currently not tracking or using these features it’s time to step it up and be knowledgeable on your infrastructure.
Which leads me to my next blog which will be over the dreaded word, security… We all know we need it, but how can NCM help you to implement and maintain security? I will drill in to some of the security features like Real-time change and Change approval within NCM and how to implement and use these together among other features. Typical use cases and ideas on why you would want to use these features among your environment.
If there is specific topic that you would like to learn more about please let me know. I would be happy to dive in to those and post step by steps and how to's for anything related to NCM.