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Who Needs Network Configuration-Change Management Anyways?

Product Manager
Product Manager

If you’re in management, you may not understand the effects of changes on your network.  However, if you’re the network engineer you know exactly the effects and ramifications that come with a change on your network.  The slightest change can literally cause an outage.

So what’s the big deal with software companies that want you to buy Network Configuration Change Management (NCCM) software?  Well I know personally that a few of you have been in this exact position and on both sides of this ball.  As a manager you want to have a seamless network and keep down costs.  As the network engineer you want to be able to have a smooth running network and a happy manager.

What is the happy medium here?  When are too many software tools or too many diagrams on walls and an over-abundance of saved test files enough to know software is required to actually manage all of this?

SolarWinds offers a Network Configuration-Change Management package. Does this mean it’s the best?  No, as that is in the eye of the beholder and user. Does this mean that it is manageable and can save me time and my manager money?  You’re darn rightit can do both very easily!

Yes, there are other software tools that do all about the same thing with little differences along the way.  Just like I like thin pancakes and you may like fluffy thick pancakesin the end they are still pancakes.

Now to know what a good NCCM is regardless of the name across it, let’s go over the top 6 reasons to have such software.

  1. Making changes because you were told to…
    1. You want to be able to know if someone is in fact making changes immediately and have a way to revert changes if needed.  NCCM software allows you to do this and consistently backs up your devices in case such changes are incorrect and provides a complete barebones backup if needed for a new device.
  2. Scheduled device changes
    1. Planning IOS upgrades, change in ACL lists, SNMP passwords, or many other items on your daily tasks.  Having a program that will allow you to monitor and roll out these changes saves time and show results quickly.
  3. A second pair of eyes
    1. It’s good to have an approval system in place so that scripting and changes receive a second look before deployment.  This helps prevent outages and mistakes, and definitely is valuable when your network has service level agreements and high availability needs.
  4. BACK UPS…BACK UPS!
    1. I cannot say this enough…if you do not have regular backups of your system that are easily retrievable, you do not have a fully reliable network.  PERIOD. Backing up to your local machine is not acceptable…You know who you are
  5. Automation of the tasks you might rather forget...
    1. Being able to detect issues within your configuration through compliance reporting, real-time change detection, scheduled IOS upgrades, inventory, and many more automated tasks. This allows you to focus on the integrity and availability of your network.
  6. Security
    1. If you have certain required security measures within your configurations, then you need compliance reporting.  With NCCM software, you can schedule a report or run it manually and print out that your ‘state of compliance’ within seconds instead of per device.

Well there are a few valuable reasons to at least consider this type of software.  If you have any other thoughts, feel free to drop me a line! Add to my list or take away, I’m a pretty open mined individual.

If you’re looking for more information this has a solid outlook on NCCM and businesses.

12 Comments

I think just having a defined process that is followed is one of the major hurdles some organizations deal with.  Organizing a Board, convening the Board, and executing results.  Some changes should be "Boarded" and some probably should just have a peer review.  Just having a process is a step forward to achieve NCCM. 

MVP
MVP

I'm not the network admin at our place but you make some good points. If you have a solution that can perform all 6 tasks you listed then I'd use it over using a couple different tools and some scheduled tasks.

MVP
MVP

I use NCM and it does everything I want it to. So I've not looked elsewhere to see if there's anything better. I have used other products in the past but they were clunky and hard to manage. I have no such issues with NCM. So I'll keep using it

But your list is spot on.

MVP
MVP

You list of reasons should apply to all of IT.

Level 11

Good article, you could add testing the change in an isolated environment if you site is lucky enough to have one.

Level 14

Your list is spot on.  Change management is critical to our daily operations.

Maybe I'm too strict, but I can't imagine a practical business circumstance where Change Management and visibility, history of actions and archived configs, Compliance and Control, is not beneficial.

It's inconvenient to folks who make mistakes and try to hide them to avoid taking responsibility.  Hopefully all of us are mature enough to take the hit if we earned it, and hopefully our businesses are run by folks mature enough to understand mistakes happen.  And we all grow and are better workers for understanding any mistakes and for taking responsibility for our actions.

Level 17

Great Write Up! I can more easily track network changes with NCM. We have our separate paper work tools I only wish we could manage changes through NCM. Normally any change I do get a nice job created so I can enjoy the day or be in two places at once and just get that lovely email to know my change was completed!

Level 20

A couple of the people on this thread eventually helped convince me to move to NCM module... it's one of the most expensive modules but it really is nice and getting better all the time.  I'm really glad we finally ditched kiwi (it did what is was supposed to do but not much else).  Also nice badges now!

Level 8

Number one reason for having configuration management (in networks or software or pretty much anything else that can be configured), sanity!

I can make changes knowing if I mess up I can get back to something that works with a few mouse clicks. I can make changes without worry and no net loss of hair (And I work with nuclear reactors.)

And there are models and prices that work for anyone's budget just look and you will find them.

Level 8

People need to realize that to learn from mistakes you need to record them. And every work environment should be a place you can make mistakes without negative effects. That guy who never does anything because he is afraid to make mistakes would be a much more productive member of the team if his mistakes were acknowledged and taught from instead of used on his performance review to justify not paying him.

One of the unmentioned reasons that I found NCM so helpful occurred when my act became a team instead of a solo, and the new guy person wasn't yet mature enough to submit his change to the Change Administration Group before he'd pull the trigger.

I'd be on-call and things would go south.  Without NCM I'd take much longer to identify the problems and correct them.  WITH NCM, it became part of the troubleshooting to run a quick Config Change Report and see if he'd done something that would explain the problems.  NCM made that easy, and it was just as easy to see how to recover from a mistaken command.

NCM not only reduced the down time, it helped us grow him from a lone wolf into a team player who plans his work in advance, submits it for approval, and ensures the work is done with proper notification to customers--at their schedule instead of his.

About the Author
I started in networking and security around 2002 by taking Cisco Certified Network Associate and Security+ courses from Central Vo-tech. This is where I fell in love with technology in general. From there I venture out to internships and started using the Engineers Toolset from SolarWinds which made me wonder about software. The company I was with purchased Cirrus which is now Network Configuration Manager (NCM) and I was officially hooked. I searched out for SolarWinds and well you guessed it I started working for them and believe it or not in sales. That was the only position open but I knew I wanted to be here. So I quickly worked my way in to the support side and became the first Sales Engineer and then the first Applications Engineer. Since I am a very curious person I have since in my 9 years of being at SolarWinds decided to pursue more education. Security is always a fascination to me so I started taking classes on INFOSEC Assessment Methodology (IAM) and INFOSEC Evaluation Methodology (IEM) of the NSA. Then I went and took the CIW Masters for web development and ventured to databases. MCITP SQL Server and Development certifications that led me to a database development degree in college. I’m pretty much a jack of all trades and LOVE IT! This all applied to my work with SolarWinds as I wanted to be able to help customers solve their issues or needs. So knowing more information allowed me to do this successfully. I also dabbled in Cisco UCS management and currently taking classes to venture toward a CCIE (crossing fingers). NCM is a product that I have worked with since its beginning. I even had the opportunity to fly to the NSA to create templates for some of their devices. I used to be the sole MIB database controller so I’m definitely your huckleberry on MIBs and OIDs. As an Applications Engineer I focused on Network Performance Monitor, Network Configuration Manager, Web Performance Monitor, Enterprise Operations Console, Patch Manager, User Device Tracker, and the Engineers Toolset. See why I like to constantly learn new things I had a lot to be on top of! SolarWinds is a passion of mine still to this very day. My new role as a Product Manager for NCM is home to me. Funny how I circled around back to my favorite product that got me here in the first place. :) My goal is to educate and work with customers to leverage our products to their fullest degree!