Cisco’s automate plan may mend old ad hoc ways

Cisco’s recently released configuration management software suite should save network managers time by reducing the number of network outages caused by configuration errors, notes one industry expert.

Research from IT consulting firm Yankee Group shows the biggest cause of network outages is misconfiguration, says Yankee vice-president Zeus Kerravala.

“Here’s an opportunity for network managers to address the number one issue causing network outages by putting some systems and processes in place,” he notes.

Cisco’s Proactive Automation of Change Execution (PACE), unveiled in late July, encompasses a range of products and services designed to automate configuration changes, secure access to configuration control and ensure compliance rules are met.

Two of the products are existing Cisco offerings: Secure Access Control Server and CiscoWorks LAN Management software. The other two products are new to Cisco.

The company is delivering them through an OEM deal with Opsware, which accounts for PACE’s support of multi-vendor networks.

The CiscoWorks Network Compliance Manager handles bulk changes and offers the ability to custom deliver particular configurations.

Cisco’s Configuration Assurance Solution provides vulnerability assessments based on device configurations.

There are a lot of point products that do the same things as parts of PACE, explains Karen Sage, director of marketing for Cisco Systems Inc.

“What we’ve done here is pull them all together, so you’re not looking at a single element of change,” she says.

There are three main reasons network managers need an automated configuration change tool, Sage says.

The first is that regulatory standards are higher.

The network plays an essential role in regulatory compliance, but a lot of network managers don’t know how compliance translates into network technology. PACE can help them make that translation, Sage says.

The second reason is network growth and the move to converged networks.

New technology installed on a converged voice-data network can have implications for QoS that must be addressed.

The final reason is different parts of the network are controlled by people with different areas of expertise. An enterprise’s change infrastructure needs to allow people to make changes in areas they understand without impacting other areas they don’t understand, Sage says. “For example, often you’ll have a guy who’s an expert in VoIP, but you don’t want him configuring your BGP.”

Configuration management in products from the traditional management vendors has been lacking, notes Yankee Group’s Kerravala.

“The only competitors to this are little companies like Opsware, Voyance and Intelliden,” he says.

The biggest roadblock to implementing a product like PACE will be resistance from staff, Kerravala believes.

“I think there’s a lot of ad hoc management done and I think people like it that way,” he explains. “If you’ve got a handful of people in an organization who know how to really run the network and now all of a sudden you put the systems in place to make them accountable, that I think winds up being a bigger challenge than any technical issue.”

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