In a previous post, we discussed the top 5 reasons why IT admins should automate the network configuration and change management (NCCM) process. So, now that the need is clearly understood, let’s look at the various options available for NCCM automation, along with their pros and cons to help you choose the right fit for your network and business requirements.
1. Automation with In-house Scripts and Macros
Within the LAN, IT pros can write their own scripts and macros to automate some simple and repetitive change management processes which are typically time-consuming (and a bit mind-numbing), such as updating port settings, changing administrative passwords, or adjusting access control. These automation scripts can then be fed into those network products which support it using the command line interface available via telnet or SSH.
This process may be simple and quick to implement, but it depends on the scripting knowledge of the IT administrators to get the best automation benefit.
- Pros: No upfront licensing fee. This will suit the need of smaller businesses that don’t have thousands of network changes happening each day.
- Cons: The knowledge of the script will lie only with the IT admin who built it. This may complicate the process in a growing team with multiple admins. And, you must also consider the possibility that the script savvy admin could leave the organization.
2. Automation with Open Source Tools
There are many of open source tools and automation scripts on the Internet that can be used to address enterprise LAN network change and configuration needs. With no upfront licensing costs, smaller organizations with lacking budget can make use of the open source tools as an entry-level NCCM solution.
Although open source automation cannot meet all NCCM requirements within the organization, the portability and repeatability of these tools and scripts can solve the problem of “knowledge lock-in” with the IT administrators.
- Pros: Easily available and knowledge not restricted to a few IT pros. An entry-level automation option available gratis.
- Cons: No support except for posts and discussion threads on open source communities. And, even though it might be free from licensing fees, it can still add up with regard to total cost of ownership. Not an ideal long-term solution.
3. Vendor-Sourced Automation Solution
For organizations whose network hardware is primarily obtained from a single vendor, it might make sense to go for an automation solution that’s offered by that same vendor. It’s more likely that this solution has better compatibility with existing hardware and integrates well to manage changes and configurations. Support around this solution should also be good since it’s from the same vendor.
- Pros: Better integration with network hardware from the same vendor. Support and maintenance will always be available from the vendor.
- Cons: This is not very feasible in a growing heterogeneous network (as most networks are) since one vendor’s proprietary solution will not support other vendors’ network hardware. Additionally, pricing can again be a deterrent for SMBs since vendor-sourced solutions are targeted toward enterprise-level customers with enterprise-level budgets.
4. Third-party NCCM Automation Tools
This could be the most feasible automation solution for a network infrastructure that is growing both in size and complexity. Third-party NCCM solutions take a vendor-neutral stance when it comes to implementation in a heterogeneous environment. And, being commercial products, support, maintenance and upgrades will come fair for the price paid.
Scalable and robust to suit a growing network, compatible with devices from multiple vendors—a third-party NCCM automation tool could be just the solution for enterprise and SMB customers alike.
- Pros: Ideally-suited for heterogeneous networks. Scalable and flexible to meet the requirements of any size of network.
- Cons: Could be pricey if you’re looking at the wrong shop.
When you're evaluating NCCM solutions, be sure to look for one that is scalable, flexible, and easy to deploy and use. Also, look for key functionality that addresses the needs of today’s increasingly complex enterprise networks like real-time network change notification and compliance management and reporting.
SolarWinds Network Configuration Manager (NCM) provides automated network configuration and change management geared toward companies of all sizes. Check it out for yourself with the live online demo and see how SolarWinds NCM can help.