10 reasons you need a network configuration manager
On June 2, 2019, Google Cloud Platform had a major network outage that disrupted the services of Discord, Spotify, and Snapchat, among many others. The root cause was a benign misconfiguration coupled with a software bug that caused the loss of configuration data. The issue was resolved almost four hours later after the lost configuration data was rebuilt and redistributed.
This isn't an isolated case. Gartner's report on Network Configuration Management for Virtual and Cloud Infrastructure revealed that around 80% of all network outages are due to human error. In this blog, we'll discuss the limitations of traditional network changes and configuration management practices and why adopting a network configuration management tool is recommended.
10 challenges in traditional network configuration management
1. Human error
A leading cause of network outages is human error, like not knowing the correct procedure for a device's configuration. In 2017, a simple router misconfiguration by an employee at Level3, an internet service provider, resulted in a distributed denial-of-service attack. A route leak caused the internet traffic to route in the wrong direction due to incorrect information provided by Autonomous Systems.
Other factors for misconfigurations include insufficiently trained staff or incorrect documentation. When a documented and approved change is implemented using a tool, the chance of human error is considerably reduced since the same configuration update can be applied across devices.
2. Network security threats
Errors in manual change implementations can result in device incompatibilities in the network or become a backdoor for hackers to perform network attacks. Cybercriminals usually prey on technical inadequacy present in computer networks across the globe. Without configuration change tracking or role-based access, it's difficult to thwart unauthorized changes in the network. Network engineers need to strike the right balance between ensuring business continuity and protecting the enterprise's network security.
3. No centralized control
A centralized web GUI helps maintain versions of device configuration, schedule device configuration backup, pinpoint changes, and track user activity. Without centralized control in the network, changes in IT policies, like blocking a port or applying a critical security patch in an enterprise's heterogeneous network, are difficult to implement. Even if administrators need to revert to the last saved configuration or the proper working version, it becomes demanding.
4. Compliance violations and legal issues
Financial organizations store financial data in crucial assets of an enterprise network. The IT architecture must adhere to the cybersecurity framework and be conductive to network security. Regularly generating and auditing reports are essential to comply with various government regulations and industry standards, like SOX, Cisco IOS standards, PCI DSS, and HIPAA. The manual process of generating and auditing a report for compliance is prone to errors and could even escalate to legal issues if done improperly.
5. Outdated equipment causing hardware failures
Network devices used beyond their warranty period or end of life (EOL) have a high risk of malfunctioning which negatively impacts the organization if their data can't be replicated on replacement devices. Without a repository for device configuration backups, replacing a failed device with an identical one might have to be done manually. In a heterogeneous network with hundreds or thousands of mission-critical devices like routers, switches, and firewalls from multiple hardware vendors, manually reconfiguring them is a process prone to errors.
6. Loss of configuration changes
A running configuration resides in a device's RAM, so network admins should ensure that the changes in network devices are applied to the startup configuration of the device, too. If not, the changes could be lost when the device is turned off. When these changes are mission-critical, losses can lead to network disasters. Tools to sync the startup and running configuration of devices can remediate this issue.
7. Troubleshooting during network outages
Troubleshooting network outages can be demanding when device changes and configurations are haphazardly carried out. Configuration management becomes a Herculean task as administrators may lose track of the changes, leading to high mean time to repair (MTTR). Network outages directly impact end users and revenue, so it's vital to know the exact changes made and be able to roll back an errant device configuration.
8. Lack of accountability
A faulty configuration change can take hours to fix to get the network back up and running without proper accountability of user actions. Audit trails help pinpoint who, where, how, and when the configuration changes were carried out. Plus, IT managers may want to review reports on user activity periodically.
9. The need to train teams on multiple devices and device types
Teams should be trained on various network devices and device types to troubleshoot the network. Using a tool for network configuration shortens the learning curve for operators configuring or troubleshooting devices. Also, network engineers need to log on to each multi-vendor device to apply changes; without options to apply configuration changes in bulk to multiple devices, the engineer has to run the same custom script many times to get the work done.
10. Limited disaster recovery for network devices
Natural disasters, like earthquakes, tornados, or fires, can cause catastrophic effects on the network, and the business costs of network failures are expensive. Establishing a disaster recovery plan that provides a backup of critical configuration assets is imperative to stay on top of unforeseen incidents.
What is a network configuration manager and how can it help?
A network configuration manager (NCM) is a multi-vendor network change and configuration management solution that helps monitor configuration changes, compare configuration versions, and automate device configuration backups. NCMs help manage the network configurations for your devices with automated device configuration backups. This way, you can easily boost the IT infrastructure without having to scale the workforce.
Ensure a healthy, error-free network
Whether you're an enterprise in the IT, banking, or manufacturing sector or an insurance provider, managing the configurations of your network is essential as human error remains a leading cause of network outages. Gaining visibility into the changes made to network and device configurations helps track ongoing design changes in your enterprise.
Tedious manual configurations and troubleshooting issues due to network changes are a thing of the past. NCMs can help identify interdependence in configuration management, automate configuration tasks, and ensure compliance. Setting up audit trails, real-time alerts triggered by configuration changes, and bulk configuration changes is a breeze with an NCM at your disposal.
Site24x7's NCM is on its way to help you track network configurations and changes. Watch this space for updates.