IP Address Management for Today’s Complex Network Infrastructures

This blog post is sponsored by SolarWinds and written by Amy Pace, SolarWinds Product Marketing Manager.

We live in a networked world. Nearly every company today, large or small, relies on TCP/IP networking to function—from basic services like email, file storage, and printing, to business-critical applications like e-commerce, customer relations, and supply chain management—and IP addresses are at the core, providing the foundation of network connectivity. Without IP addresses, there would be no network communication. In other words, the IP infrastructure is like oxygen for your network—you don’t see it or pay it much attention, but take it away and nothing works. This is why effective IP infrastructure management is so important and why choosing the right management option is so crucial.

What is IP infrastructure management?

In general, IP infrastructure management can be broken down into three major components – DHCP, DNS, and IP Address Management, collectively known as DDI.

Historically, IT professionals have managed each of these components separately and in a more manual process, which is labor-intensive, time-consuming and error prone. In addition, it leads to decentralized, fragmented, and outdated data. A simple request for a single new IP assignment can result in many hours of work, complex coordination between systems and admins, and the likelihood for errors and IP address conflicts, which in turn, can lead to a plethora of network problems. And, as networks grow and more devices, services and applications become network-based, DDI management becomes increasingly complex. Because all of these components go hand-in-hand, the need for a centralized approach should be evident. By tightly integrating IP address management with DHCP and DNS, IT professionals can better manage their entire IP infrastructure through a single-pane-of-glass.

There are several key issues driving the need for better DDI solutions. First is the increasingly dynamic nature of today’s corporate networks—led by the onslaught of personal mobile devices like smartphones and tablets. More and more companies are embracing BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) in the workplace, whether they want to or not. And, it doesn’t stop there; IP-enabled devices are everywhere—from wireless projectors to badge card readers, to surveillance systems. The result is IP address proliferation and the exhaustion of IPv4 addresses, which has brought the need for effective IP infrastructure management to the forefront.

Another driver for improved DDI solutions is the use of distributed, multi-vendor environments. Many businesses are using different platforms for their DHCP and DNS services. For example, a company might use a combination of Microsoft® and Cisco® DHCP, along with BIND DNS. This requires the use of multiple management consoles, which further increases the complexity of IP infrastructure management.

Key capabilities to look for when evaluating DDI options

  • Maintain a centralized repository for all IP address information
  • Automate and consolidate DHCP, DNS, and IP address management
  • Optimize IP space allocation for current and future needs
  • Track IP address usage in real-time and historically
  • Monitor and proactively alert on scope and subnet utilization
  • Coordinate team access through role-based permissions
  • Simplify the sharing of IP data and reports
  • Provide activity logs for IP-related events and changes
  • Integrate with existing IP infrastructure

DDI Management Solutions

There are a several different DDI management options in use today, including Excel spreadsheets, “homegrown” tools, appliances, and software overlay solutions. And, of course, there are pros and cons to each.

Spreadsheets are still very prevalent when it comes to IP address management. The obvious advantage to spreadsheets is that they’re free. The obvious disadvantage is they’re static, which means they’re not an ideal solution for the dynamic nature of today’s networks. Spreadsheets may have worked in the past because there weren’t that many IP addresses to manage and the IP addresses didn’t change that often. However, that is no longer the case with the mobile device, BYOD movement as mentioned earlier.  The manual aspect of spreadsheets means they’re prone to errors and outdated information. And, because they’re not integrated with DHCP and DNS systems, spreadsheets often contain incomplete IP address details. Plus, the sharing of spreadsheets is very cumbersome and significantly increases the chances for erroneous information.

Homegrown tools are typically viewed as a step up from spreadsheets when it comes to IP management. These tools are typically derived from open-source software that is free or costs very little to purchase, which is a plus. However, you have to take into consideration the total cost of ownership (TCO) when considering homegrown tools. It can be very time-consuming to configure and maintain homegrown applications, and often requires one or more dedicated programmers who can fix bugs or add new features.

On the opposite end of the spectrum are appliance-based DDI solutions.  Appliance-based solutions are known for being feature-rich, but come with a hefty price tag. And, to get the full set of advanced features advertised by these vendors usually requires you to “rip and replace” a perfectly good underlying DHCP/DNS infrastructure to install a proprietary appliance. Plus, setup and configuration can be complex. This might be acceptable for businesses where the infrastructure itself is a limiting factor, but it’s a sledgehammer to a nail for the rest of the market. The value proposition around advanced features like orchestration and workflow control might be appealing, but require the luxury of deep pockets to pay for such functionality. The majority of businesses just don’t need these extra features.

This brings us to software overlay solutions, which can be seen as the happy medium of DDI management options—the right mix of features, performance, value, and price. Statistics show that the majority of companies are leveraging the built-in DHCP and DNS functionality of the Windows Server operating system or the DHCP capabilities in network devices like Cisco routers, so the need for dedicated appliances to replace these services is extremely low. However, the need for effective management tools to maintain, control, and scale these existing DHCP/DNS services remains extremely high, which is why software overlay solutions often make sense. Software overlay solutions can be seamlessly integrated into existing IP infrastructure without the need to buy specialized or dedicated hardware to run the software—allowing businesses to save money, as well as save time on deployment.

Conclusion

Effective IP infrastructure management is crucial in our IP-dependent world. The rising complexity of today’s networks necessitates that companies carefully consider the various DDI management options to ensure they implement the right solution to meet their needs. With the right DDI management solution in place, IT professionals will gain improved manageability, reliability, and operational effectiveness of their networks.

  • http://www.facebook.com/shineydiscoballs Thomas McLean

    Would this include ipv6? I’m sceptical at the moment due to its slow take up rate in the enterprise.

    • Alexandra Stanovska

      I would say so. For IPv6 it’s a must – while admin’s head or spreadsheet can contain IPv4 scheme, I cannot quite well imagine doing this with 128 characters long gibberish words. DNS is a must too.

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