Network Configuration Management

Network Configuration Management

What is Network Configuration Management?

Network configuration management (NCM) is a process that every device on the network is subjected to throughout its life cycle. It spans device discovery, inventory maintenance, configuration backup, monitoring configuration changes, and compliance, tracking user activity, and troubleshooting, by executing appropriate network operations, whenever necessary. If your network environment is handled manually, network configuration management (NCM) becomes a tedious task for admins. But, if network configuration management can be automated according to one’s needs and specifications, it will enhance the efficiency of your network infrastructure many-fold and also reduce the management overhead of admins.

Network Configuration Management is a crucial aspect of network administration that involves managing, controlling, and maintaining the configurations of networking devices within an organisation’s infrastructure. Proper configuration management ensures network reliability, security, and performance optimization.

Network Configuration Management: The Benefits & Importance

Configuration management is one of those network management topics people often neglect. It’s not very exciting but it’s incredibly important. Administrators rely on network configuration management in a variety of circumstances. Let’s discuss what network configuration is, delve further into the importance of network configuration, and explore the benefits of configuration management.

What’s network configuration, and why is it important?

In this context, the “configuration” of a network device consists of all the commands and settings necessary to set up the functions on that device. If you had to replace the device with a new one, the configuration file contains every piece of information you need to replicate the original device’s functionality.

And that should explain exactly why network configuration management is so important.

The main purpose of configuration management is to allow you to quickly replace the functionality of a piece of network equipment after a failure. If you don’t have a recent backup of that device, you’ll be starting over from scratch to configure a new device based on whatever scraps of functional documentation you can find.

It’s best if configuration files are backed up in a human-readable format to get all the benefits I’m going to talk about in this article, but some equipment only offers binary configuration files.

Most common network devices like switches, routers, firewalls, and load balancers allow you to download some sort of flat text file that looks like the set of commands you’d type at the command line interface.

Text files are the most useful format because you can easily copy them around, store them on file servers, read them, and write scripts that either read them for reporting or create them for mass rollouts. 

Features of network configuration management system:

A primary feature of network configuration management is its ability to replace the functions of a network device in the event of failure. Different network devices save configurations in different formats and finding configuration information can be difficult when a particular device has to be replaced. With a network configuration management system in place, configuration information will be stored in a centrally located server, where device configurations can be easily downloaded.

Devices that rely on a command line interface need a reliable administrator using a standard protocol such as the Secure File Transfer Protocol to obtain the necessary information, but backups can also be automated, often through a third party.

Advantages of network configuration

Network configuration can reduce downtime by allowing system administrators to rapidly identify changes being made in the network. It also helps ensure that software versions and hardware components are up to date and comply with licensing agreements. Visibility and accountability are also improved, as system personnel has an easy way to determine the identity of components and software operating on the network.

In addition, network configuration can :

  • Streamline the processes of maintenance, repair, expansion, and upgrading.
  • Minimize configuration errors as part of change management.
  • Optimize network security.
  • Ensure that changes made to a device or system do not adversely affect other devices or systems.
  • Roll back changes to a previous configuration if system updating or replacement efforts are unsatisfactory.
  • Archive the details of all network configuration changes.

Network configuration Management tools:

Network configuration Management tools can be vendor-neutral or vendor-specific. Vendor-neutral tools are more common and are designed for networks containing hardware and programs from multiple vendors. Vendor-specific tools usually work only with the products of a single vendor and can offer enhanced performance in networks where that vendor dominates the market.

Configuration tools can be used for more than just relaunching a device after it fails. Some configuration management tools track configuration data on a daily basis to spot any changes in configuration files, which could reveal cyber threats and potential failures. Network configuration Management tools can be used to create bulk changes. For instance, a company could quickly roll out a blanket password change if password data is leaked. In addition to making changes in bulk, configuration management tools can be used for auditing and reporting. Although they do not display information such as memory or CPU performance, they can be used to display exact firewall rules or VPN parameters.

Network configuration management tools also have reporting capabilities, enabling system personnel to easily track information about network components.

Benefits of configuration management

1. Reports

The first use case is reporting. If the configuration management tool does a comparison between yesterday’s backup and today’s, it can immediately show you all the devices that changed and exactly what the changes were.


Is somebody making unauthorized changes to your devices? This is the easiest way to see it. And, if you’re using unique per-user login credentials, you can often see who made the change.

You can also see whether a scheduled change didn’t happen.

2. Automatic generation

One of the things that I use a configuration management tool to do is to create bulk changes. This is a highly useful benefit of configuration management tools. Suppose I need to change the administrator passwords on all my devices because somebody has left the organization (or because I think the password might have leaked). The tool is already logging into every device on a scheduled basis, so pushing out changes is an easy capability to add.

Bulk management capability can also be useful for rollouts. For example, I might need to implement a batch of new switches or turn up several new remote sites. I like to use the configuration management server as a central location for this type of thing.

I should note that I’m often uncomfortable with making changes automatically. I worry that something will go wrong during the update, like a syntax error in the configuration file, or maybe an SSH session will hang halfway through loading the changes.

But I can still partially automate configuration updates by automatically generating the change scripts, and then manually cutting and pasting the commands into the remote devices. This way I can immediately see if there’s a problem.

 And sometimes, if I have a lot of devices to update, I’ll manually input the changes like this for a few devices until I’m confident that everything is right, then have the tools do the rest automatically.

 3. Auditing and reviewing configurations

 When I’m asked to look at a network that’s having stability problems or might just be in need of updates, one of the first things I ask for is a set of all the configurations.

If they don’t have a recent set of configurations, the first thing I do is log in to all the devices and download them.

 The configuration files don’t tell you everything. They won’t show you dynamic information like ARP tables or interface error counts or whether the CPU is running high or the memory is running low. But they do give you an incredibly useful snapshot to start with.

The information is also useful for things like security audits. They show the exact firewall rules, VPN parameters, and how the IDS/IPS inspects traffic.

 4. Streamline processes

 Another benefit of configuration management tools is that they allow you to streamline processes. As your network grows, you need tools that make it easy for you to schedule backups and get alerted when backups fail. You want a tool that provides functionalities so you can search past backups and restore backups quickly.

5. Reduce errors

Automated network configuration management tools can substantially reduce the number of outages caused by configuration errors. This is because these problems often stem from human error in implementation or documentation. Configuration management tools identify changes, audit configurations, and simplify tasks all while automatically documenting any changes made with the tool.

6. Roll back any changes with undesirable results

 In the case where an administrator applies a change only to realise later that it resulted in a misconfiguration, configuration management tools can roll back changes to previous configurations saving time and resolving issues.

 Are you ready to make the most out of your network configuration management?

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Here are some key areas to consider when it comes to network configuration management:

  • Configuration Documentation:

      • Maintain accurate and up-to-date documentation of network device configurations.
      • Document network topology, IP addressing schemes, device models, and firmware versions.
      • Track changes made to configurations and maintain a change log for auditing purposes.
  • Configuration Standards:

      • Establish standardised configuration templates or baselines for different types of network devices.
      • Define best practices and guidelines for configuration parameters such as security settings, QoS policies, and routing protocols.
      • Ensure consistency across the network by applying these standards during device configuration.
  • Change Management:

      • Implement a formal change management process for making configuration changes.
      • Require proper approval, documentation, and testing for any configuration modifications.
      • Use a version control system to track and manage configuration changes.
  • Automated Configuration Tools:

      • Utilise network automation tools and configuration management systems to streamline the process.
      • These tools can automate tasks such as configuration backup, deployment, and compliance checking.
      • They can also facilitate bulk configuration changes and reduce human error.
  • Monitoring and Alerting:

      • Implement network monitoring tools to proactively monitor device configurations.
      • Set up alerts for configuration changes or deviations from standard configurations.
      • Monitor configuration compliance with security policies or regulatory requirements.
  • Regular Auditing and Compliance:

      • Conduct regular audits of network device configurations to ensure compliance with standards.
      • Perform security audits to identify vulnerabilities or misconfigurations.
      • Use configuration analysis tools to detect and resolve configuration issues.
  • Configuration Backups and Recovery:

      • Regularly backup network device configurations to prevent data loss.
      • Establish backup schedules and store backups in secure locations.
      • Test restoration procedures periodically to ensure data recoverability.
  • Security Considerations:

      • Implement secure management protocols (e.g., SSH, HTTPS) for accessing network devices.
      • Enforce strong authentication mechanisms (e.g., multi factor authentication) for configuration access.
      • Regularly patch and update network devices to protect against known vulnerabilities.
  • Documentation and Training:

      • Document network configuration management processes and procedures.
      • Provide training to network administrators on proper configuration practices.
      • Maintain a knowledge base or wiki with troubleshooting guides and configuration examples.
  • Compliance with Regulatory Requirements:

    • Ensure network configurations adhere to relevant industry standards and compliance regulations (e.g., PCI DSS, HIPAA).
    • Implement necessary security controls and configurations to meet regulatory requirements.
    • Conduct regular audits to ensure ongoing compliance.

By focusing on these areas, network administrators can effectively manage and maintain network configurations, resulting in a secure, reliable, and optimised network infrastructure.