Better Network Configuration Management promises a lot. Networks that are more reliable, and can respond as quickly as the business needs. But it’s a big jump from the way we've run traditional networks. I'm wondering what’s holding us back from making that jump, and what we can do to make it less scary.

We've all heard stories about the amazing network configuration management at the Big Players (Google, Facebook, Twitter, Amazon, etc). Zero Touch Provisioning, Google making 30,000 changes per month, auto-magic fine-grained path management, etc. The network is a part of a broader system, and managed as such. The individual pieces aren't all that important - it's the overall that matters.

Meanwhile, over here in the real world, most of us are just scraping by. I've seen many networks that didn't even have basic automated network device backups. Even doing something like automated VLAN deployment is crazy talk. Instead we're stuck in a box-by-box mentality, configuring each device independently. We need to think of the network as a system, and but we're just not in a place to do that.

Why is that? What's stopping us from moving ahead? I think it’s a combination of being nervous of change, and of not yet having a clear path forward.

Are we worried about greater automation because we're worried about a script replacing our job? Or do we have genuine concerns about automation running amok? I hear people say things like "Oh our Change Management team would never let us do automated changes. They insist we make manual changes." But is that still true? For server management, we've had tools like Group Policy, DRS, Puppet/Chef/Ansible/etc for years now. No reasonable-sized organisation would dream of managing each of their servers by hand. Change Management got used to that, so why couldn't we do the same for networking? Maybe we're just blaming Change Management as an excuse?

Maybe the problem is that we need to learn new ways of working, and change our processes, and that’s scary. I’m sure that we can learn new things - we’ve done it before. But A) do we want to? and B) do we even know where to start?

If you’re building an all-new network today you’d bake in some great configuration management. But we, as a wider industry, need to figure out how to improve the lot of existing networks. We can’t rip & replace. We’ve got legacy gear, often with poor interfaces that don’t work well with automation toolsets. We need to figure out transition plans - for both technology & people.

Have you started changing the way you approach network configuration management? Or are you stuck? What’s holding you back? Or if you have changed, what steps did you take? What worked, and what didn’t?