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Network Change and Config Management—It’s Not Optional

Level 15

It’s astonishing to hear that some network configs aren’t regularly backed up. One assumes that the reason engineers don’t do this is for one of the following reasons:

  • They think a configuration error is unlikely to cause any network issues
  • They have other things on their minds
  • They think that Network Change and Configuration (NCCM) products are too expensive
  • They think that NCCM products are too hard to use

So, let’s tackle the most obvious objection first. Many network engineers either have other things on their minds, or they think that configuration issues are unlikely to cause problems. I looked around and it was easy to find several examples of exactly the opposite situation. First, Spiceworks has a community thread about Network Configuration Backup Horror Stories. Remember that Amazon Cloud outage that took down several large websites over several days? You guessed it – the postmortem identified that a configuration error was at fault. Intuit also experienced a major outage tied to a network configuration error. Gartner calculated that 80% of network outages can be tied to a configuration error. With evidence like that, you really can’t afford not to back up your network – if disaster strikes or a change doesn’t go as planned, you need to be ready to restore or roll back as necessary.

Ok, moving on to price. While NCCM products *can* be expensive, they are a bit like cars. It all depends on the model and feature set. Kiwi CatTools is a basic NCCM product in the SolarWinds Kiwi line, and is just $750 USD. For that, you can back-up your configs, do bulk change management, and run some basic reports. Its feature set lends itself to more basic use cases, but we have options if you need more power. Next in the lineup, we have Network Configuration Manager (NCM). NCM costs just a bit more (starts at $2495) and adds functionality like auto-discovery, approval flow, integration with the rest of the SolarWinds product line, and compliance. If you want something highly specialized, I’m sure you can find a way to spend more, but you usually won’t need it for the majority of devices and use cases.

Ok, last but not least – there is the perception that NCCM products are hard to use. This may be true of products in the ends of the spectrum: open source and highly specialized.  Open source products that are more “do it yourself” can be truly complicated and hard to use, as can super specialized products that may be highly customized and built for certain specific use cases rather than streamlined usability. However, in the middle market, you’ll find that ease-of-use is a focus and evident in both NCCM products from SolarWinds.

Our advice – don’t put your network (and yourself) at risk. Give an NCCM product a try and sleep a little better from now on.

5 Comments
smartd
Level 13

The main problem for us is that NCCM is Cisco-centric.  Things like HP Procurve and Juniper are hardly supported.

jspanitz
Level 14

smartd - it would be really nice if NCCM could pull all of Juniper commits from a device.  Right now in it's Cisco centric way, we can download the same config whether we choose "Running" or "Startup" since those are only two configs Cisco supports.  JUNOS is so much more powerful when it comes to NCCM it would be nice to see it's features exploited for our benefit!

ctopaloglu
Level 14

We need this too. I mention them already but so far no improvements on this config issue. Also RTCD support for Juniper (JunOS) would be nice.

jkump
Level 15

The basics are always the most important!

novasamurai
Level 12

We have used Kiwi, and later moved to NCM. Backing up our configs is a must, but knowing when things changed is just as important.

About the Author
Christine joined the team in January ’09 and is currently a director of product marketing. She has experience in both very large and very small tech companies, and thinks that SolarWinds is just right.  She’s been in technology for about fifteen years doing project and product management. She loves Austin, but wishes CA would let us move Napa to Texas.