Network automation?

Brent Chapman Brent at GreatCircle.COM
Fri Mar 4 17:15:19 UTC 2005

What's the state of the art for automated network configuration and 
management?  What systems and tools are available, either freely or 
commercially?  Where are these issues being considered and discussed?

I'm not simply talking about network status monitoring systems like 
HP OpenView, or device configuration monitoring systems like RANCID, 
although those are certainly useful.  Instead, I'm talking about 
systems that will start from a description of how a network ought to 
be configured, and then interact with the various devices on that 
network to make it so; something like cfengine for network devices.

Over the last 15 years or so, much of the research in the system 
administration field has focused on automation.  It's now well 
accepted that a well-run operation doesn't manage 10,000 servers 
individually, but rather uses tools like cfengine to manage 
definitions of those servers and then create instances of those 
servers as needed.  In the networking world, though, most of us seem 
to be still manually configuring (and reconfiguring) every device.

Luke A. Kanies does a good job of explaining the logic behind this 
approach in an article he wrote a few years ago at

The key benefits that he sees from automation are:

1) Reducing the amount of time a given task requires.
2) Reducing the opportunity for error in a given task.
3) Reducing turnaround time for a given task.
4) Enhancing and perpetuating configuration consistency across 
multiple systems.
5) Providing a limited kind of process documentation.

I concur with him about all of those.  I think these benefits 
(particularly the 4th one, consistency) are critical if your goal is 
to offer a reliable service (increasing MTBF and decreasing MTTR).

So, like I asked at the top, where are we on this?

Brent Chapman <Brent at GreatCircle.COM>
Great Circle Associates, Inc.
+1 650 962 0841

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