IP address management solutions: Overlay vs. replacement

IP address management (IPAM) solutions are generally considered low preference, but they can make enormous change for a little investment.

In the first installation of this three-part series on IPAM strategies, we explored the DNS, DHCP, IPAM trifecta. In part two, we compared free and paid software, as well as hardware options for IPAM solutions. Now in the conclusion, we'll sum up IPAM benefits and discuss the difference between overlay and replacement infrastructure.

The universal goal of IPAM solutions is to ease network configuration and improve reliability of delivery -- and these both result in reduced application outages and fewer desktop support tickets.

If you're one of the many companies still using a spread sheet to manage as many as 10,000 IP addresses, you're in good company -- plenty of smart engineers have yet to invest in an IP Address Management (IPAM) solution.

It sounds strange, but IPAM and IPv6 projects have a lot in common -- they both fall to the bottom of the IT priority list even though they're necessary -- but they also differ. The benefits of IPv6 don't immediately outweigh the time and risk of the transition. Yet moving to integrated IPAM is way easier than IPv6 migration, and it won't crash an IT project roadmap. What's more, the benefits become apparent quickly.

The universal goal of IPAM solutions is to ease network configuration and improve reliability of delivery -- and these both result in reduced application outages and fewer desktop support tickets.

IP address problems, such as subnet exhaustion, can stop users from getting online. Meanwhile, data center IP conflict can stall access to enterprise services, such as email. IPAM solutions can address these issues swiftly.

Two approaches to IPAM: Replacement and overlay

There are two general approaches to implementing a domain name system (DNS), Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol (DHCP) and IPAM (DDI) solution: replacement and overlay.

If you're a large organization with a decent budget, IP address delivery infrastructure replacement may be the best option. Organizations that are a conglomeration of technologies, address spaces, vendors and teams resulting from mergers and acquisitions (M&A) are especially good candidates because it's easier to get executive approval as part of the systems migration and integration. With a replacement approach, ensuring wide support from the business operations, the budget office, all levels of IT management and the implementation team is critical to success.

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However, IPAM overlay is more effective and easier to successfully implement in most environments. In general, organizations that already haveDHCP and DNS that reliably deliver day-to day services are more likely to choose IPAM overlay. What they typically lack in their existing technology is change management, new subnet configuration and IP reservation. They also, of course, are hoping to add automated network discovery, reporting, alerting and planning tools. An overlay IPAM product, generally in the form of software, connects to existing DCHP and DNS components.

The chief advantage of an overlay strategy is phased deployment that requires less staff time and lower risk because the service delivery components are left in place and functioning normally.

IPAM overlay products also allow for phased network redesign. Because overlay products must integrate with a wide variety of vendors and services, the same automation features used to initially deploy and discover can be used on one IP subnet, server or campus at a time to harmonize a fractured network.

Will IPAM turn an admin into a VP? Not quite, but ...

No single, glorious product will turn an admin into a vice president. However, implementing IPAM well does offer the opportunity for a smart administrator or IT manager to shine. With IPAM you can deliver a high visibility IT project that almost immediately improves user experience, increases IT agility and decreases support costs. Even better, these projects are relatively inexpensive compared with many other IT infrastructure undertakings.

About the author:
Patrick Hubbard is a head geek and senior technical product marketing manager at SolarWinds with 20 years of technical expertise and IT customer perspective. His networking management experience includes work with campus, data center, HA/DR and storage networks, as well as with VoIP/telepresence and VDI in both Fortune 500 companies and startups in high tech, transportation, financial services and telecom industries.

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