As networks have grown more complex, the need for network automation tools has become more necessary. On one side, the need for advanced network management and security skills has increased the IT budget, at the same time as management has exerted downward pressure on budgets.
One option is outsourcing, which has the benefit of fixing costs but at the expense of losing an element of control. The other option is to use network automation tools to assist with the design, operation and maintenance of the network infrastructure.
The current move is towards Software Defined Networks, (“SDN”) and ultimately to Intent Based networks (“IBN”). All the major manufacturers, especially Cisco already have SDN offerings.
Here are 5 Tools that can assist. The first is an automated network environment that users can migrate to, and the remainder are tools to assist with the management of an existing network:
Software Defined Networks
An SDN is a self-configuring, self-learning, self-healing network. Strictly speaking, not a tool, but an overall network environment.
Simply put, a Software Defined Network is split into two levels or planes – the physical level of equipment, and the software level which sits over the physical level and defines what the network looks like and how it operates. In essence, the network configures itself at the physical level as the equipment is added and it’s operating environment changes.
SDN automates the definition and management of the network itself from a central point. It does so using the parameters specified at the software level rather than by technicians configuring individual bits of equipment. This makes deployment and management of the network simpler and less resource-intensive. It is, therefore, cheaper and more effective.
It is a new technology and major IT companies, including Cisco, are fully embracing it, seeing it as a means of easily introducing new technologies into an existing environment. An ideal environment for coalescing cabled and WiFi environments and introducing the Internet of Things and BYOD.
However, not all networks are at the level where they can adopt SDN techniques without major change, and IT must look towards other software network automation tools to help manage their costs.
SolarWinds Network Automation Manager
SolarWinds offer the “SolarWinds Network Automation Manager”, and claim that it is the most complete network automation tool for scalable and enterprise networks on the market today.
It offers a comprehensive range of features allowing high-level policy management down to individual switch port management. For example, it helps with the tedious network IP conflicting address management by suggesting open IP addresses and enabling the DHCP and DNS reassignment in a single step.
At a management level, it offers capacity planning and forecasting tools, including wireless and wired network components. The network performance module is particularly powerful.
A taste and try version is available.
SolarWinds Network Configuration Manager
This tool provides a range of features designed to ease the often tedious network configuration process. A good exam[le is its ability to standardise equipment configurations so they can be configured easily and quickly.
It also offers a comprehensive range of network security features, including a vulnerability assessment, and a link with the National Vulnerability Database.
Change management also assists with the detection of unauthorised configuration changes/, perhaps by malware.
Again a free trial version is available.
Ansible (Open Source)
Many servers operate on an Open Systems platform. Ansible is the leading network automation tool for the Linux environment. It has been managed by Red Hat since 2015.
It operates using scripts, and unlike other offerings requires an SSH connection to the target device. Scripting in the YAML language allows automation of most CLI processes.
Network Configuration Manager
Supplied by ManageEngine, Network Configuration Manager positions itself as the complete change, configuration and compliance network manager. It claims to be equipment supplier agnostic and is compliant with the NCCCM standards, and is available in both Windows and Linux variants.
A reporting module provides standard and user-defined reports.
A very useful function is the automatic backup of the network configuration.
As networks become more complex and the cost pressures on IT budgets increase, network automation tools become a no-brainer. These are all good tools, but the longer-term strategy for the savvy network manager must be the move to a SDN environment.