5 Reasons Why You Should Include LAN Switches in Your NCCM Scope

We’ve been doing a lot of blogging around here lately about NCCM and the importance of having an automated configuration and change management system. We’ve even published a Best practices guide for NCCM. One of the main points in any NCCM system is having consistent and accurate configuration backups of all of your “key” devices.

When I ask Network Managers to name their key devices, they generally start with WAN / Internet routers and Firewalls. This makes sense of course because, in a modern large-scale network, connectivity (WAN / Internet routers) & security (Firewalls) tend to get most of the attention. However, we think that it’s important not to overlook core and access switching layers. After all, without that “front line” connectivity – the internal user cannot get out to the WAN/Internet in the first place.

With that in mind, today’s blog offers up 5 Reasons Why You Should Include LAN Switches in Your NCCM Scope

5 Reasons Why You Should Include LAN Switches in Your NCCM Scope1. Switch Failure

LAN switches tend to be some of the most utilized devices in a network. They also don’t generally come with the top quality hardware and redundant power supplies that core devices have. In many cases, they may also be located on less than pristine locations. Dirty manufacturing floors, dormitory closets, remote office kitchens – I have seen access switches in all of these places. When you combine a heavy workload with tough conditions and less expensive part, you have a recipe for devices that will fail at a higher rate.

So, when that time comes to replace / upgrade a switch, having its configuration backed up and a system which can automate the provisioning of the new system can be a real time and workload saver. Just put the IP address and some basic management information on the new device and the NCCM tool should be able to take off the rest in mere minutes.

2. User Tracking

As the front line connectivity device for the majority of LAN users, the switch is the best place to track down user connections. You may want to know where a particular user is located, or maybe you are trying to troubleshoot an application performance issue; no matter what the cause, it’s important to have that connectivity data available to the IT department. NCCM systems may use layer 2 management data from CDP/LLDP as well as other techniques to gather this information. A good system will allow you to search for a particular IP/MAC/DNS and return connectivity information like which device/port it is connected to as well as when it was first and last seen on that port. This data can also be used to draw live topology maps which offer a great visualization of the network.

3. Policy Checking

Another area where the focus tends to be on “gateway” devices such as WAN routers and firewalls is policy checking. While those devices certainly should have lots of attention paid to them, especially in the area of security policies, we believe that it’s equally as important not to neglect the access layer when it comes to compliance. In general terms, there are two aspects of policy checking which need to be addressed on these devices: QoS policies and regulatory compliance policies.

The vast majority of VoIP and Video systems will connect to the network via a traditional LAN switch. These switches, therefore, must have the correct VLAN and QoS configurations in order to accurately forward the traffic in the appropriate manner so that Quality of Service is maintained.

If your organization is subject to regulatory compliance standards such as PCI, HIPAA etc then these regulations are applicable to all devices and systems that are connected to or pass sensitive data.

In both of these cases, it is incredibly important to ensure policy compliance on all of your devices, even the ones on the “edge” of your network.

4. Asset Lifecycle Management

Especially in larger and more spread out organizations, just understanding what you have can be a challenge. At some point (and always when you are least prepared for it) you will get the “What do we have?” question from a manager. An NCCM system is exactly the right tool to use to answer this question. Even though NCCM is generally considered to be the tool for change – it is equally the tool for information. Only devices that are well documented can be managed and that documentation is best supplied through the use of an automated inventory discovery system. Likewise, when it is time for a technology refresh, or even the build out of a new location or network, understanding the current state of the existing network is the first step towards building an effective plan for the future.

5. New Service Initiatives

Whether you are a large IT shop or a service provider – new applications and services are always coming. In many cases, that will require widespread changes to the infrastructure. The change may be small or larger, but if it needs to be implemented on a number of systems at the same time, it will require coordination and automation to get it done efficiently and successfully. In some instances, this will only require changes to the core, but in many cases it will also require changes to the switch infrastructure as well. This is what NCCM tools were designed to do and there is no reason that you should be handcuffed in your efforts to implement change just because you haven’t added all of your devices into the NCCM platform.

Networks are complicated systems of many individual components spread throughout various locations with interdependencies that can be hard to comprehend without the help of network management tools. While the temptation may be to focus on the core systems, we think that it’s critical to view all parts, even the underappreciated LAN switch, as equal pieces to the puzzle and, therefore, should not be overlooked when implementing an NCCM system.

Top 20 Best Practices for NCCM

Thanks to NMSaaS for the article.


Key Factors in NCCM and CMDB Integration – Part 1 Discovery

Part I Discovery

Key Factors in NCCM and CMDB Integration - Part 1 Discovery“I am a rock, I am an Island…” These lyrics by Simon and Garfunkel pretty appropriately summarize what most IT companies would like you to believe about their products. They are islands that stand alone and don’t need any other products to be useful. Well, despite what they want, the truth is closer to the lyrics by the Rolling Stones – “We all need someone we can lean on”. Music history aside, the fact is that interoperability and integration is one of the most important keys to a successful IT Operations Management system. Why? Because no product truly does it all; and, when done correctly, the whole can be greater than the sum of the individual parts. Let’s take a look at the most common IT asset management structure and investigate the key factors in NCCM and CMDB Integration.

Step 1. Discovery. The heart of any IT operations management system is a database of the assets that are being managed. This database is commonly referred to as the Configurations Management Database or CMDB. The CMDB contains all of the important details about the components of an IT system and the relationships between these items. This includes information regarding the components of an asset like physical parts and operating systems, as well as upstream and downstream dependencies. A typical item in a CMDB may have hundreds of individual pieces of information about it stored in the database. A fully populated and up to date CMDB is an extremely useful data warehouse. But, that begs the question, how does a CMDB get to be fully populated in the first place?

That’s where Discovery software comes in. Inventory discovery systems can be used to automatically gather these critical pieces of asset information directly from the devices themselves. Most hardware and software vendors have built in ways of “pulling” that data from the device. Network systems mainly use SNMP. Windows servers can also use SNMP as well as the Microsoft proprietary WMI protocol. Other vendors like VMware also have an API that can be accessed to gather this data. Once the data has been gathered, the discovery system should be able to transfer that data to the CMDB. It may be a “push” from the discovery system to the CMDB, or it could use a “pull” to go the other way – but there should always be a means of transfer. Especially when the primary “alternative” way of populating the CMDB is either by manually entering the data (sounds like fun) or by uploading spreadsheet csv files (but how do they get populated?).

Step 2. Updating. Once the CMDB is populated and running then you are done with the discovery software right? Um, wrong. Unless your network never changes (please email me if that is the case, because I’d love to talk to you), then you need to constantly update the CMDB. In fact, in many organizations, the CMDB has a place in it for pre-deployment. Meaning that new systems which are to come online soon are entered into the CMDB. The could news is that our discovery system should be able to get that information out of the CMDB and then use it as the basis for a future discovery run, which in turn adds details about the device back to the CMDB and so on. When implemented properly and working well, this cyclical operation really can save enormous amounts of time and effort.

In the next post in this series, I’ll explore how having an up to date asset system makes other aspects of NCCM like Backup, Configuration, and Policy Checking much easier.

Top 20 Best Practices for NCCM

Thanks to NMSaaS for the article.

3 Reasons for Real Time Configuration Change Detection

So far, we have explored what NCCM is, and taken a deep dive into device policy checking – in this post we are going to be exploring Real Time Configuration Change Detection (or just Change Detection as I will call it in this blog). Change Detection is the process by which your NCCM system is notified – either directly by the device or from a 3rd party system that a configuration change has been made on that device. Why is this important? Let’s identify 3 main reasons that Change Detection is a critical component of a well deployed NCCM solution.

3 Reasons for Real Time Configuration Change Detection1.
Unauthorized change recording. As anyone that works in an enterprise IT department knows, changes need to be made in order to keep systems updated for new services, users and so on. Most of the time, changes are (and should be) scheduled in advance, so that everyone knows what is happening, why the change is being made, when it is scheduled and what the impact will be on running services.

However, the fact remains that anyone with the correct passwords and privilege level can usually log into a device and make a change at any time. Engineers that know the network and feel comfortable working on the devices will often just login and make “on-the-fly” adjustments that they think won’t hurt anything. Unfortunately as we all know, those “best intentions” can lead to disaster.

That is where Change Detection can really help. Once a change has been made, it will be recorded by the device and a log can be transmitted either directly to the NCCM system or to a 3rd party logging server which then forwards the message to the NCCM system. At the most basic level this means that if something does go wrong, there is an audit trail which can be investigated to determine what happened and when. It can also potentially be used to roll back the changes to a known good state

2. Automated actions.

Once a change has been made (scheduled or unauthorized) many IT departments will wish to perform some automated actions immediately at the time of change without waiting for a daily or weekly schedule to kick in. Some of the common automated activities are:

  • Immediate configuration backup. So that all new changes are recorded in the backup system.
  • Launch of a new discovery. If the change involved any hardware or OS type changes like a version upgrade, then the NCCM system should also re-discover the device so that the asset system has up-to-date information about the device

These automation actions can ensure that the NCCM and other network management applications are kept up to date as changes are being made without having to wait for the next scheduled job to start. This ensures that any other systems are not acting “blindly” when they try to perform an action with/on the changed device.

3. Policy Checking. New configuration changes should also prompt an immediate policy check of the system to ensure that the change did not inadvertently breach a compliance or security rule. If a policy has been broken, then a manager can be notified immediately. Optionally, if the NCCM system is capable of remediation, then a rollback or similar operation can happen to bring the system back into compliance immediately.

Almost all network devices are capably of logging hardware / software / configuration changes. Most of the time these can easily be exported in the form of an SNMP trap or Syslog. A good NCCM system can receive these messages, parse them to understand what has happened and if the log signifies a change has taken place – is then able to take some action(s) as described above. This real time configuration change detection mechanism is a staple part of an enterprise NCCM solution and should be implemented in all organizations where network changes are commonplace.

3 Reasons for Real Time Configuration Change Detection

Thanks to NMSaaS for the article.

Why You Need NCCM As Part Of Your Network Management Platform

In the landscape of Enterprise Network Management most products (and IT Professionals) tend to focus on “traditional” IT monitoring. By that I mean the monitoring of devices, servers, and applications for performance issues and faults. That makes sense because most networks evolve in a similar fashion. They are first built out to accommodate the needs of the business. This primarily involves supporting access for people to applications they need to do their jobs. Once the initial buildout is done (or at least slows down) then next phase is typically implementing a monitoring solution to notify the service desk when there are problems. This pattern of growth, implementation, and monitoring continues essentially forever until the business itself changes through an acquisition or (unfortunately) a shutdown.

However, when a business reaches a certain size, there are a number of new considerations that come into play in order to effectively manage the network. The key word here is “manage” as opposed to “monitor”. These are different concepts, and the distinction is important. While monitoring is primarily concerned with the ongoing surveillance of the network for problems (think alarms that result in a service desk incident) – Network Management is processes, procedures, and policies that govern access to devices and change of the devices.

What is NCCM?

Commonly known by the acronym NCCM which stands for Network Configuration and Change Management – NCCM is the “third leg” of IT management with includes the traditional Performance and Fault Management (PM and FM). The focus of NCCM is to ensure that as network systems move through their common lifecycle (see figure 1 below) there are policies and procedures in place that ensure proper governance of what happens to them.

Figure 1. Network Device Lifecycle

Why You Need NCCM As Part Of Your Network Management Platform

Source: huawei.com

NCCM therefore is focused on the devices itself as an asset of the organization, and then how that asset is provisioned, deployed, configured, changed, upgraded, moved, and ultimately retired. Along each step of the way there should be controls put in place as to Who can access the device (including other devices), How they can access it, What they can do to it (with and without approval) and so on. All NCCM systems should also incorporate logging and auditing so that managers can review what happened in case of a problem later.

These controls are becoming more and more important in today’s modern networks. Depending on which research you read, between 60% and 90% of all unplanned network downtime can be attributed to a mistake made by an engineer when reconfiguring a device. Despite many organization having strict written policies about when a change can be made to a device, the fact remains that many network engineers can and will log into a production device during working hours and make on-the-fly changes. Of course, no engineer willfully brings down a core device. They believe the change they are making is both necessary and non-invasive. But as the saying goes “The road to (you know where) is paved with good intentions”.

A correctly implemented NCCM system can therefore mitigate the majority of these unintended problems. By strictly controlling access to devices and forcing all changes to devices to be both scheduled and approved, an NCCM platform can be a lifesaver. Additionally, most NCCM applications use some form of automation to accomplish repetitive tasks which are another common source of device misconfigurations. For example, instead of a human being making the same ACL change to 300 firewalls (and probably making at least 2-3 mistakes) the NCCM software can perform that task the same way, over and over, without error (and in much less time).

As NCCM is more of a general class of products and not an exact standard, there are many additional potential features and benefits of NCCM tools. Many of them can also perform the initial Discovery and Inventory of the network device estate. This provides a useful baseline of “what we have” which can be a critical component of both NCCM and Performance and Fault Management.

Most NCCM tools should also be able to perform a scheduled backup of device configurations. These backups are the foundation for many aspects of NCCM including historical change reporting, device recovery through rollback options, and policy checking against known good configurations or corporate security and access policies.

Lastly, understanding of the vendor lifecycle for your devices such as End-of-Life and End-of-Support is another critical component of advanced NCCM products. Future blog posts will explore each of these functions in more detail.

The benefits of leveraging configuration management solutions reach into every aspect of IT.

Configuration management solutions also enable organizations to:

  • Maximize the return on network investments by 20%
  • Reduce the Total Cost of Ownership by 25%
  • Reduce the Mean Time to Repair by 20%
  • Reduce Overexpansion of Bandwidth by 20%

Because of these operational benefits, NCCM systems have become a critical component of enterprise network management platforms.

Best Practices Guide - 20 Best Practices for NCCM

Thanks to NMSaaS for the article.


The Top 3 Reasons Why Network Discovery is Critical to IT Success

The Top 3 Reasons Why Network Discovery is Critical to IT SuccessNetwork discovery is the process of identifying devices attached to a network. It establishes the current state and health of your IT infrastructure.

It’s essential for every business due to the fact that without the visibility into your entire environment you can’t successfully accomplish even the basics of network management tasks.

When looking into why Network Discovery is critical to IT success there are three key factors to take into consideration.

1. Discovering the Current State & Health of the Infrastructure.

Understanding the current state and health of the network infrastructure is a fundamental requirement in any infrastructure management environment. What you cannot see you cannot manage, or even understand, so it is vital for infrastructure stability to have a tool that can constantly discover the state and health of the components in operation.

2. Manage & Control the Infrastructure Environment

  • Once you know what you have its very easy to compile an accurate inventory of the following:
  • The environment’s components provide the ability to track hardware.
  • To manage end-of-life and end‑of‑support.
  • The hardware threshold management (i.e. Swap-Out device before failure)
  • To effectively manage the estates operating systems and patch management.

3. Automate Deployment

Corporation’s today place a lot of emphasis on automation therefore, it is very important that when choosing a Network Discovery tool to operate your infrastructure environment, it can integrate seamlessly with your CRM system. Having a consistent view of the infrastructure inventory and services will allow repeatable and consistent deployment of hardware and configuration in order to automate service fulfillment and deployment.

If you’re not using network discovery tool don’t worry were offering the service for absolutely free, just click below and you will be one step closer to improving your network management system.

The Top 3 Reasons Why Network Discovery is Critical to IT Success

Thanks to NMSaaS for the article. 

NMSaaS Webinar – Stop paying for Network Inventory Software & let NMSaaS do it for FREE.

NMSaaS Webinar - Stop paying for Network Inventory Software & let NMSaaS do it for FREE.Please join NMSaaS CTO John Olson for a demonstration of our free Network Discovery, Asset & Inventory Solution.

Wed, Jul 29, 2015 1:00 PM – 1:30 PM CDT

Do any of these problems sound familiar?

  • My network is complex and I don’t really even know exactly what we have and where it all is.
  • I can’t track down interconnected problems
  • I don’t know when something new comes on the network
  • I don’t know when I need upgrades
  • I suspect we are paying too much for maintenance

NMSaaS is here to help.

Sign up for the webinar NOW > > >

In this webinar you will learn that you can receive the following:

  • Highly detailed complimentary Network Discovery, Inventory and Topology Service
  • Quarterly Reports with visibility in 100+ data points including:
    • Device Connectivity Information
    • Installed Software
    • VM’s
    • Services / Processes
    • TCP/IP Ports in use
    • More…
  • Deliverables – PDF Report & Excel Inventory List

Thanks to NMSaaS for the article.


3 Steps to Configure Your Network For Optimal Discovery

3 Steps to Configure Your Network For Optimal DiscoveryAll good network monitoring / management begins the same way – with an accurate inventory of the devices you wish to monitor. These systems must be on boarded into the monitoring platform so that it can do its job of collecting KPI’s, backing up configurations and so on. This onboarding process is almost always initiated through a discovery process.

This discovery is carried out by the monitoring system and is targeted at the devices on the network. The method of targeting may vary, from a simple list of IP addresses or host names, to a full subnet discovery sweep, or even by using an exported csv file from another system. However, the primary means of discovery is usually the same for all Network devices, SNMP.

Additional means of onboarding can (and certainly do) exist, but I have yet to see any full-featured management system that does not use SNMP as one of its primary foundations.

SNMP has been around for a long time, and is well understood and (mostly) well implemented in all major networking vendors’ products. Unfortunately, I can tell you from years of experience that many networks are not optimally configured to make use of SNMP and other important configuration options which when setup correctly will optimize the network for a more efficient and ultimately more successful discovery and onboarding process.

Having said that, below are 3 simple steps that should be taken, in order to help maximize your network for optimal discovery.

1) Enable SNMP

Yes it seems obvious to say that if SNMP isn’t enabled then it will not work. But, as mentioned before it still astonishes me how many organizations I work with that still do not have SNMP enabled on all of the devices they should have. These days almost any device that can connect to a network usually has some SNMP support built in. Most networks have SNMP enabled on the “core” devices like Routers / Switches / Servers, but many IT pros many not realize that SNMP is available on non- core systems as well.

Devices like VoIP phones and video conferencing systems, IP connected security cameras, Point of Sale terminals and even mobile devices (via apps) can support SNMP. By enabling SNMP on as many possible systems in the network, the ability to extend the reach of discovery and monitoring has grown incredibly and now gives visibility into the network end-points like never before.

2) Setup SNMP correctly

Just enabling SNMP isn’t enough – the next step is to make sure it is configured correctly. That means removing / changing the default Read Only (RO) community string (which is commonly set by default to “public”) to a more secure string. It is also best practice to use as few community strings as you can. In many large organizations, there can be some “turf wars” over who gets to set these strings on systems. The Server team may have one standard string and the network team has another.

Even though most systems will allow for multiple strings, it is generally best to try to keep these as consistent as possible. This helps prevent confusion when setting up new systems and also helps eliminate unnecessary discovery overhead on the management systems (which may have to try multiple community strings for each device on an initial discovery run). As always, security is important, so you should configure the IP address of the known management server as an allowed SNMP system and block any other systems from being allowed to run an SNMP query against your systems.

3) Enable Layer 2 discovery protocols

In your network, you want much deeper insight into not only what you have, but how it is all connected. One of the best way to get this information is to enable layer 2 (link layer) discovery abilities. Depending on the vendor(s) you have in your network, this may accomplished with a proprietary protocol like the Cisco Discovery Protocol (CDP) or it may be implemented in a generic standard like the Link Layer Discovery Protocol (LLDP). In either case, by enabling these protocols, you gain valuable L2 connectivity information like connected MAC addresses, VLAN’s, and more.

By following a few simple steps, you can dramatically improve the results of your management system’s onboarding / discovery process and therefore gain deeper and more actionable information about your network.

3 Steps to Configure Your Network For Optimal Discovery

Thanks to NMSaaS for the article.