Today we conclude our seven part series discussing how to use a handful of overlooked best practices to improve network configuration management. Over the course of these posts we have highlighted the difficulty involved in managing hundreds or even thousands of switches and managing complex configurations consisting of hundreds of command-line statements. The probability for human error is high. Even the smallest of errors can adversely affect service. Therefore, every step must be taken to get it right. This is where Network Configuration Manager (NCM) and our five overlooked best practices come into play.
Today we’ll look at best practice #5 which advocates using a well-defined change control process for reviewing, approving and making changes to your device configurations and a process for tracking device end-of-life (EOL). The reason why this practice is so powerful is because once you have spent a great deal of time and effort implementing and stabilizing your configurations, you want to maintain that stability even as your environment evolves. Changes will be necessary so why not maintain them in a controlled fashion?
For this best practice, there are four activities we recommend you consider adding to your management regiment. These four activities are:
The first step is to create a baseline. To baseline a configuration is to create an internal standard that allows you to measure other configurations and future changes by. So it goes without saying that your baselines should be error-free and stable. Once you designate a configuration baseline then you can detect changes and determine whether those changes followed your change control processes.
Which is a great segue into our next practice – creating a well-disciplined change control process. Ideally you want to be able to review and approve all changes prior to implementing them in your production network. This is useful if you have teams of admins or engineers doing work. Using a change control process will help coordinate activities between teams. Or you may have less experienced admins or engineers making changes. Again, a formal change control process will allow you to review all changes and detect and fix errors before the change is made.
Our next best practice suggests using automation to deploy configuration changes – especially if the change needs to be deployed across many systems. Using automation can help ensure the change is made the very same way and error free. Automation is your friend.
The last recommendation deals with using change control to manage end-of-life (EOL) hardware devices. You may be wondering why tracking EOL devices is so important. We’ll it is and for the following reasons:
- Excessive Support Costs. The primary driver for increasing support costs for EOL hardware is due to vendor end-of-sale and end-of-life policies. As a device approaches end-of-life the support services can become both explicitly and implicitly more expensive. Failure to secure or renew a maintenance agreement before critical end-of-life dates expire will prevent you from receiving vendor technical support and maintenance upgrades. Therefore you may be forced to develop or maintain more expensive in-house skills or contract externally for needed services.
- Regulatory Non-compliance. Non-conformance costs will become an issue if the device is unable to achieve control objectives defined by your policies. This may be due to a lack of technical capability or because the device is no longer able to receive updates that address security vulnerabilities.
- Business Disruption. This risk often produces a broad spectrum of affects caused by catastrophic device failure and can lead to business disruption and accompanying lost revenue and/or brand damage. These problems are amplified when remediation occurs with a legacy device that consumes even more time because spares cannot be located or the replacement device requires extensive install and configuration effort.
- Diminished Productivity. IT technology is a significant business productivity driver. Therefore when new IT technologies are not adopted and utilized then opportunity costs may negatively affect bottom-line financial performance. This problem is also realized when the business wants to expand service only to discover that the underlying infrastructure won’t support the business requirements because it is no longer supported. This discovery then forces unplanned expenditures and cost overruns.
By carefully tracking EOL hardware you can work to eliminate these problems.
Experience informs us that when we follow these overlooked practices that you can eliminate network downtime. And if you are the one who introduces your teams to these practices and are noticed for it, then you will likely find favor with your boss – which is always a good thing when you want to ask for a raise.
Of course SolarWinds can help you with NCM v7.2. SolarWinds Network Configuration Manager (NCM) is a network configuration management solution. NCM is part of the SolarWinds Orion Management platform. The Orion platform offers integrated network performance monitoring, systems and application monitoring, network configuration management, security event monitoring and more. Using Network Configuration Manager, you can increase efficiency, reduce network downtime and manage configuration compliance by managing and automating major configuration management and change management tasks.
Why not try it today. Click here to download your free 30-day trial!
You can also find and read past posts in this 7-part series here