Network Configuration & Change Management (NCCM) tools – What are they & Why?.

By 2013, according to Cisco CTO Padmasree Warrior, the number of devices connected to the Internet will reach 1 trillion, up from 500 million in 2007. We’re heading, she says, into the Internet of things.

With smart phones, net books, home automation and intelligent appliances, network usage is exploding within the retail consumer side. Network service providers are under an ever increasing demand to maintain and keep their networks functioning flawlessly or risk losing customers. Trends such as cloud computing, interactive video, virtually hosted desktops, converged networks and the interconnected enterprise are also putting a larger demand on corporate networks of all sizes as well. Those coupled with regulatory compliance, security issues and an evolving/changing technology landscape, corporate IT departments in general, and networking groups in specific, are constantly battling with how to best maintain their growing networks.

Managing a network infrastructure has primarily been a labour-intensive, manual process mainly relying on network engineers to remotely access individual devices and typing commands into vendor-specific command line interfaces. Savvy network engineers have often developed custom scripts to ease retyping requirements for commonly repeated configuration tasks or to quickly solve network problems. With the attitude of “just get it working for now”, these engineers often gave little consideration to rigorous configuration and change management disciplines needed for compliance audit, disaster recovery or rollback process required when the change is the cause of a problem.

 

Welcome to Network Configuration and Change Management (NCCM). Simply put, NCCM is a strategic approach to minimizing the impact of change on a network, regardless of the type of change applied. NCCM is mainly focused on managing the configuration of network devices throughout their lifecycle, from deployment to retirement, which will inevitably change. NCCM is different from Network Management Systems (NMS) in the sense that NMS is mainly focused on network fault and network performance monitoring – not managing device configuration.

The NCCM market offers customers a variety of choices with multiple products from many vendors and tools available from the open source world. Regardless of vendor or product, when considering an NCCM product, the ideal tool needs to provide, at a minimum, the following features:-

  • The ability to discover network device.
  • Backup & restore network device configuration.
  • Provision a new network device.
  • Make configuration changes.
  • Ability to distribute software, or operating system, updates.
  • Detect and alert on configuration changes.
  • Perform differential audit between configuration versions.
  • Establish and enforce compliance with network device configuration policies.
  • Provide role based access control.
  • Reporting on all aspects of network device configuration and change.

Other selection consideration can include scalability (number of devices that can be managed), device types supported by the tool, product/tool support and upgradeability and, as in everything else in life, cost too.