Managing your network device configurations is no easy task. As your network grows to thousands of routers, switches, firewalls and more across multiple locations, manual changes just don‘t cut it anymore. Keeping track of changes and ensuring a consistent security baseline across all those devices becomes a huge challenge!
In this comprehensive guide, I‘ll walk you through the top network configuration management solutions available today. I‘ll explain the key capabilities you need to look for, provide my insights on the leading tools, and offer recommendations to help you pick the right one for your needs. Sound good? Let‘s dive in!
Why You Need Automated Network Configuration Management
Let me start by reviewing why network configuration management is so critical in the first place:
1. Centralized view of all devices – You gain complete visibility into your inventory of network devices in one centralized database. No more manually tracking down configs scattered across folders!
2. Version control – Every change made to device configs is tracked and time-stamped. This audit trail enables easy rollbacks when needed.
3. Automated config backups – Devices are backed up on a schedule of your choice, enabling instant restores. This seriously reduces downtime from outages.
4. Change monitoring – Get notified in real-time whenever any change is made across your network. Quickly identify unauthorized or malicious changes.
5. Compliance – Enforce standardized configs and security policies across all devices. Identify non-compliant devices in an instant.
6. Bulk changes – Push updates to thousands of devices with just a few clicks. Automate those painful multi-device change processes.
According to Enterprise Management Associates, "Automated network configuration and change management (NCCM) tools deliver a 529% five-year ROI and payback in less than 6 months." The numbers speak for themselves – automated NCCM pays for itself rapidly.
Top 9 Network Configuration Management Solutions
Now that you know what to look for, let‘s explore some leading options:
rConfig is a user-friendly network configuration tool. With an intuitive web interface, it makes NCCM tasks easy for admins at any experience level.
Here are some standout features:
- Network discovery and inventory
- Granular change tracking
- Easy config restores from backup
- Customizable compliance rules
- Real-time alerts on changes
- Multi-user access and permissions
- Custom reports for auditing
rConfig is light-weight yet powerful. It‘s a great fit for growing mid-size networks on a budget.
Pricing starts at free for up to 3 devices, and paid plans scale up from there. For larger networks, enterprise pricing is available upon request.
2. ManageEngine Network Configuration Manager
ManageEngine NCM is likely the most well-rounded NCCM solution out there. It brings together all the critical capabilities you need at an affordable price point.
- Automated backup of device configs
- Restore configs or rollback changes in one click
- Compliance auditing against security benchmarks
- Real-time notifications on config changes
- Mobile app for monitoring on-the-go
- Ready-to-use reports on compliance, changes etc.
- Support for 200+ device vendors and models
With over 18,000 customers worldwide, ManageEngine NCM helps both small businesses and large enterprises manage network configurations effectively.
Pricing starts at $945 annually for 25 devices to over $7,000 yearly for unlimited devices. Free trial available.
3. SolarWinds Network Configuration Manager
SolarWinds NCM is one of the most powerful NCCM solutions available. With advanced automation capabilities, it meets the demands of complex enterprise networks.
Some of its key highlights:
- Network-wide configuration monitoring
- Automated policy-driven compliance checks
- Bulk editing for rapid multi-device changes
- Notifications on config changes via email/SMS
- Custom reporting with hundreds of templates
- Integrated with SolarWinds NPM and other tools
- Support for 4000+ device models
SolarWinds NCM supports the needs of large network teams with advanced use cases. It starts at $2,995 for up to 100 monitored elements, all the way up to enterprise pricing upon request.
NetBrain brings together network automation with powerful visualization. This gives network teams unmatched visibility and control across complex hybrid network environments.
Here are some key capabilities:
- Dynamic network maps with device configs
- Automated discovery of all devices/relationships
- Configuration version control and audit trail
- Compliance checks with auto-remediation
- Custom dashboards and reports for any team
- Integrations with workflow tools like Slack
- Collaboration features for managing team tasks
According to Gartner, NetBrain enables IT teams to “manage the new network complexity wrought by digital business transformation.”
Pricing is customized based on your environment. Contact NetBrain for a demo tailored to your use case.
5. Cisco DNA Center
Cisco DNA Center brings native configuration and policy management for Cisco infrastructures through intent-based networking. This provides deep visibility and control within the Cisco ecosystem.
- Central management for Cisco routers, switches, wireless
- Network inventory database with config history
- Automated configuration and compliance
- Integrated monitoring, troubleshooting and assurance
- Custom role-based access control
- Robust visualizations and actionable insights
According to Cisco, “Customers using DNA Center realized a 59% reduction in time spent on network operations." It promises simplified operations specifically for Cisco customers.
Cisco provides tailored DNA Center pricing based on your business needs. Get a free personalized demo.
6. Red Hat Ansible for Network Automation
Ansible for Network Automation brings the simplicity of Ansible to network engineers through powerful configuration management capabilities.
Here are some highlights:
- Agentless automation of switches, routers, firewalls
- Declarative YAML playbooks to standardize configs
- Idempotent change management – easily roll back mistakes
- Out-of-the-box compliance reporting
- Supports all network vendor devices
- Extensive community support
As an open source solution, Ansible provides unmatched flexibility. It integrates well with existing tools and workflows.
Pricing starts at $1,500/year for a small team in Red Hat‘s Ansible Automation Platform.
7. Netflix Nebula
Nebula is a proven open source solution built by Netflix to meet the demands of cloud-scale network automation. It provides robust configuration and secret management leveraging the Ansible framework.
- Automates network device onboarding
- Policy-based compliance checking
- Rotation and management of secrets/certificates
- Sophisticated role-based access control
- API integrations with monitoring systems
- Optimized for large-scale service provider networks
Nebula demonstrates the power of open source to enable robust automation for the world‘s largest networks.
As an open source tool, Nebula is free to implement and customize for your environment‘s needs.
Puppet offers a network device manager module that extends Puppet‘s powerful infrastructure automation capabilities to network configurations.
- Declarative model for device config management
- Agentless automation over SSH, NETCONF, SNMP
- Backup configs and track all changes
- Drift and compliance reporting
- Bulk config updates using templates
- Integrates into existing Puppet workflows
According to Puppet‘s 2019 State of Automation report, "78% of successful automation initiatives had significantly improved productivity".
Puppet offers flexible pricing starting at $99/node for up to 10 nodes. Volume discounts available.
des-af/netConfig is an open-source Python framework for network automation. It provides capable network configuration management in a lightweight package.
- Multi-vendor device configuration management
- Template-based configuration build
- Atomic change transactions
- Scheduling of commands and config updates
- Integration with provisioning and monitoring
- Backed by strong community support
As an open source project, des-af/netConfig offers a very flexible free option for capable automation engineers.
Key Capabilities to Look For
Beyond core NCCM features, mature solutions should ideally provide:
Multi-vendor support – Manage different routers, switches, firewalls, load balancers etc from leading vendors.
Scalability – The architecture should easily scale up to tens of thousands of devices.
Security – Mature access control, secrets management, integrations with NAC and AAA.
Compliance – Flexible policy checks and automated remediation to enforce configurations.
Integrations – APIs and out-of-the-box integrations with related systems.
Reporting – Custom reports on compliance, changes etc. for visibility.
Recommendations by Use Case
With many great options available today, here are my recommendations according to common scenarios:
Tight budget – rConfig is a full-featured free option for smaller networks. ManageEngine also offers solid capabilities for just a few hundred dollars per year.
Mid-size networks – ManageEngine or WhatsUp Gold balance capability with reasonable pricing for mid-size network teams.
Large enterprises – SolarWinds, NetBrain and Cisco DNA Center offer advanced scalability and features demanded by large organizations.
Service Providers – Ansible, Puppet or Nebula provide open source options proven to scale for SPs.
Mostly Cisco – DNA Center offers unmatched native support and automation across Cisco‘s portfolio.
Multi-vendor environments – Cross-platform solutions like SolarWinds, ManageEngine and WhatsUp Gold simplify multi-vendor networks.
I hope this guide has helped you understand the value of automated network configuration management and summarized the top solutions available today. The key is finding a platform that meets your team‘s needs today while providing room to grow as your network scales and matures over time.
It‘s worth taking advantage of free trials and demos to validate features, UI/UX, and integrations before fully committing. Feel free to reach out if you need any guidance finding the right fit! Automating network operations is a high-value initiative – the right NCCM solution will provide immediate gains in agility, compliance and reliability.