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While graphical user interfaces, or GUIs, have been around for decades, they've only recently become a popular way to manage enterprise networking hardware. There are a few reasons for this.
For one, a network GUI was often an afterthought for network vendors. The command-line interface (CLI) was the primary configuration and management method, with GUI being secondary. Thus, when comparing CLI and GUI, early GUIs were halfhearted attempts that offered just a small subset of the overall configuration options for networked routers, switches and firewalls.
The other major advantage of CLI is, with practice, configuration can be far faster compared to a GUI. With a few textual commands, a user can configure interfaces, routing protocols and access lists. These items would require multiple mouse clicks and hunting for proper pages and tabs in a GUI.
Additionally, command line can be scripted and easily pushed out with simple copy-and-paste functions using a scripting tool and a Secure Shell client. Thus, managing network devices that require individual, hop-by-hop management is far easier with CLI.
From a support and troubleshooting perspective, CLI can be used to find information quickly using various command shortcuts. This includes drilling into interface statistics, creating scripts for commonly viewed information, and using keyword or pattern searches. These methods show the true power of CLI over newer graphical methods.
CLI and GUI -- Getting to ease of use
Despite the advantages of CLI, web-based GUIs -- combined with centralized, cloud-managed architectures -- are overtaking CLI as the go-to interface. In fact, GUIs are beginning to get so good that CLI management can feel antiquated.
With today's modern network platforms, the GUI no longer takes a backseat to CLI in many cases. Thus, more time and effort have been put into ease of use, the ability to centrally push out configuration updates to multiple devices, and creating an administration user experience that provides a balance between simplicity and depth of configuration capabilities.
GUI tends to be more user-friendly, as well. With command lines, you have a longer learning curve before becoming proficient in the proper configuration and troubleshooting steps required. With a well-designed GUI, however, that same learning curve is dramatically reduced.
Additionally, the ability to see various network interface and device health checks in a visual format within a GUI can help to identify issues as opposed to looking at the same information in text format.
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