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Network configuration tools try to address several pain points. They look to relieve the toil and error-prone task of managing network devices one at a time in data centers and campus or wide area networks.
These tools can help with network change management by centralizing and tracking changes to help with audits. They can relieve the network engineer from working on low-level details and enable engineers to focus on higher-level IT requirements.
The categories of network configuration management tools are as follows:
- Scripting systems. IT groups with DevOps or NetOps skills can use openly available, model-based scripting systems like Ansible, Chef or Puppet, which allow the IT staff to write scripts that define the network design. Alternatively, you can automate vendor-specific, command-line interface scripts. Model-based scripting has flexible logic for the configuration of large-scale networks. It also allows network teams to treat infrastructure as code, but IT must understand programming with scripting languages to reap the most benefits.
- Network configuration management tools. These tools include vendor offerings, such as Cisco Prime, or third-party vendor-independent tools that are sometimes included as part of wider network management suites. These tools may include capabilities such as auditing or approval workflows and are geared toward traditional networking teams without DevOps knowledge. Network configuration management tools are mature and easy to use for beginners, but it is difficult to extend their capabilities to add logic like model-based scripting can.
- Intent-based networking configuration management. Intent-based networking (IBN) -- or policy or declarative networking -- is a hyped term that refers to many things. Specifically, for configuration management, examples of commercial IBN systems include Cisco's Application Centric Infrastructure and Digital Network Architecture systems or Apstra's multivendor operating system. Network change management and configuration is only one part of these tools. They also enable network engineers to define configuration goals -- or the intent or policy -- at a high level. The system then determines how it can configure the network devices to achieve those goals. This is still a nascent area, but it shows long-term promise.