Network change and configuration management primer

With network change and configuration management (NCCM), enterprises aim to standardize the way they implement network change without disturbing existing systems. That often means using NCCM tools to map and archive the entire network and its components.

Network monitoring graphUnderstanding network change and configuration management

Network change and configuration management (NCCM) is a strategic approach to minimizing the impact of change on a network or IT ecosystem. The goal is to create a company-wide standardized method to implementing both self-motivated, internal change, such as upgrades and troubleshooting; as well as externally required change, such as government regulations on data. The catch? Networking teams must tackle these changes with zero network downtime.

Configuration management plays a central role in change management since some tools enable networking teams to use software to create detailed maps of the location and configuration of each component and the link or connectivity between them. Network managers can do this either by working through geographical templates provided by the vendor software or in some cases by importing entire images of their networks into the application. These maps work with information from configuration management databases (CMDBs) that contain detailed recordings of the configuration of each component and all updates or changes that have been made along the way. 

The databases also track the provisioning and function of applications, operating systems patches, previous incidents, etc. That means every time a networking technician updates a configuration or implements something new on the network, they can check the database to be sure there won't be conflicts with existing functions. In turn, technicians are also required to input changes they make into these databases, though some CMDBs track all changes automatically.

Compliance plays an important role in configuration and change management. Mapping tools, CMDBs and network monitoring devices help companies be sure that all changes implemented do not violate government data regulations, such as HIPPA and the Sarbanes-Oxley Act.

More on configuration management and ITIL

Network change and configuration management tools

A multitude of NCCM tools abound on the market. Some tools focus on one element of change and configuration management, such as monitoring or archiving, while others attempt to be an overall solution. Network managers often find themselves patching together a number of applications for the right solution. NCCM tools contain the following features:

  • Mapping: The goal is to map as many components, configurations and functions of the network and systems as possible.
  • Database (CMDB): A complete, searchable archive of every component configuration and all changes that occur along the way. This database can also track network usage records, applications and service delivery, operating systems and more.
  • Documentation: Maintain configuration templates or standardized approach to all network and systems changes.
  • Monitoring: These tools monitor the network for the effects of change on performance, as well as for unplanned change. They also seek to ensure regulation compliance, especially on components that have automatic configuration and self-healing mechanisms.
  • Reporting: Databases and monitoring tools are used to create user-friendly reports that can generally be accessed via Web interface and viewed in multiple formats.
  • Interoperability: Increasingly these tools are being designed to work across network components and software platforms from multiple vendors to gather information.

CMDB Federation Specification and distributed networks
Because some enterprises must manage change across networks, they often require CMDBs that can collect information from a number of management databases. As a result, this year the Distributed Management Task Force (DMTF) created the CMDB Federation Specification (CDMBf). Vendors following the specification will create tools that enable organizations to integrate CMDB data across various products and tool sets.

Change management: What you need to know

Read all primers in this series to learn more on network change and configuration management:
Primer 1: NCCM 
Primer 2:
Viritualization change and configuration management

Primer 3: Storage area network change management

ITIL for network change and configuration management

IT Infrastructure Library (ITIL) is an internationally recognized set of policies and procedures for managing IT systems and services. It is like a library of industry best practices that offers a standardized approach to everything from cabling infrastructure to computer installation and service management.

Using ITIL policies, IT teams can more easily correlate the relationships between change and network performance. CMDBs are a clear fit for use in ITIL for change and configuration management since they readily provide extensive information for analysis.

Aligning ITIL, configuration management and business processes

Using ITIL best practices and CMDB tools, change management can be applied to business processes and applications in order to avoid service outages. CMDBs and mapping tools track the alignment between network hardware usage and specific business processes and applications. Networking teams generally start by tracking just a few business processes, and then they refine the approach over time. As they add more applications to analyze, chance of outages is reduced.

Network change and configuration management policy

Tools can only do so much when it comes to NCCM. Companies must also enforce change and configuration management policy among staff members. That means every IT technician must be required to check and update databases with every change and be cognizant of compliance regulations, etc.

Companies often appoint change advisory boards (CABs) that are charged with setting internal change policy as well as tracking external regulatory updates that will affect internal operations. These boards must be made up of members of various parts of the IT ecosystem, as well as other business units in the enterprise that can provide input on business processes and services.

To continue reading this series, view our Virtualization change and configuration management primer.

This was first published in September 2009
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