Ultimate Guide to Network Configuration Management Tools + Free Tool Comparison

By gns3-reviews on January 24, 2020

Networks are changing, and the demands placed on IT professionals are changing with them. From the Internet of Things and bring-your-own-device policies to cloud computing and software-defined networking, new technologies are having a seismic impact on how networks function and how they should be managed.

As these trends change the digital landscape and upend the way your network works, you should be asking yourself and your team a key question: are we equipped with the network configuration management tools necessary to keep up with the pace of technological developments? If you’re not sure, you should consider what’s required to make configuration changes run smoothly, as well as what different types of configurations call for.

For example, your team may need to manage updates across hundreds of switches, routers, and firewalls, not to mention controllers and other devices spread across your network. Likewise, preparing to launch a new service offering could require sweeping configuration changes that might take days or weeks to prepare and deploy. You’ll also have to keep routine tasks in mind, such as locating and resolving out-of-process changes or errors, recovering failed devices, router configuration management, and switch configuration management, and understanding when to update a given device.

It sounds overwhelming because it can be. However, with the right features, network configuration tools can help make the process easier.

What to Look For in a Network Configuration Management Tool

As you prepare to invest in a tool to help manage network configurations, whether it is free or paid, there are certain key features you should be looking for. The best products allow you to do the following:

Streamline Configuration Backups

It’s not a question of if devices fail, but when they’ll fail. You should be on the lookout for a configuration backup tool that makes it easy to schedule backups, alerts you when backup attempts have been unsuccessful, delivers organizational and searchable functionalities across past backups, streamlines size and retention rules, and allows you to restore backups quickly and intuitively.

Exercise Control Over Use Access

Today’s business networks should be managed with cybersecurity at top of mind. This means IT professionals should have the ability to easily assign roles and enable access for individuals as needed. Firewall configuration management tools should provide this kind of user management or interoperability with directory programs. You can even keep an eye out for tools supporting communication and collaboration among users.

Deploy Bulk Configuration Updates

Depending on your business, you may be developing services requiring network configuration changes across varied network devices. To make this easier, IT professionals should be able to design and test changes, as well as automatically push them out to all relevant network devices. Accordingly, you should be looking for tools—like switch configuration management software—to streamline the config standardization process, from updating firmware to building and recycling scripting snippets.

Audit for Compliance and Performance

Auditing is more than meeting standards set by security auditors. These days, IT professionals should be auditing their networks to save time ahead of regulatory checks and to make sure network devices work within preset operational standards. The right network configuration management tool will help your team prepare audit policies suited to your company and to report and automatically resolve any issues.

Monitor and Verify Configuration Changes

Business networks are complex—and keeping track of every configuration change is just as complicated. Your network configuration management tool should be able to pinpoint the changes being made, when they’re being made, who’s making them, and how often they’ve been updated. This will allow IT professionals to identify out-of-process changes and verify approved changes. Real-time alerts and automated self-correction are also a must.

Discover, Inventory, and Manage All Your Devices

To manage your network effectively, you need to know what devices are operating on it, what devices are currently being managed, and what devices are undergoing any kind of maintenance. Your network configuration management tool should have useful functions to this effect, such as auto-discovery, security alerts, warranty update checks, and key metric tracking.

Support the Wider IT Environment

Network management calls for integration across your tech stack—and the same goes for network configuration management tools. The right option for your team should work well with other IT applications supporting your network, server operations, storage functions, and more. Getting two-way API access for various network-connected devices is also key.

Best Free Network Configuration Management Tools Comparison

Best Free Network Configuration Management Tools

What Configuration Tool is Best?

While free network configuration management software might offer some of what you need, but it’s not going to provide the kind of control and confidence IT professionals require to successfully configure the modern business network. If you’re wondering what network configuration management tool can offer all of these benefits and more, I recommend SolarWinds® Network Configuration Manager (NCM). NCM may not be among the free network configuration management tools out there, but by offering critical capabilities such as config backups and IT ops integration, the savings in time and effort it brings will more than makeup for the investment.

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