Network Management Automation

Terry Slattery
Principal Architect

I’m a proponent of network management automation and found a related blog post, Why End Users Love BPM, by long-time friend Scott Menter, who is working at BP Logix.  BP Logix makes products for automating business processes. Scott’s post discusses what happens when people are forced to run errands for their computers, as described by Arno Penzias, former Vice President and Chief Scientist of Bell Laboratories, and a Nobel Laureate in Technology in People Services: Research, Theory, and Applications, by Macros Leiderman.

I find that most network management systems suffer from a similar failing: they require that the NMS administrator spend a lot of time performing tasks that the management system is better equipped to perform.  A lot of NMS setup tasks provide very little value for monitoring and managing a network.  I should be able to tell the NMS to discover the network devices in a part of the network and have it do the discovery, automatically identify the network devices, and populate its management device list.  I’ve used platforms that require that I enter the specific IP address of each device to be monitored and managed.  I once tried its automatic discovery mechanism and it found one 6500 by 30 different interfaces.  That wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t smart enough to figure out that all 30 interfaces were on the same device and determine which interface it should use to monitor the system and all of its interfaces.

I’ll bet you’re now thinking “But what if the selected interface becomes unreachable?”  The NMS has a list of all interfaces and their IP addresses.  When it can’t reach the device by the selected address, simply try all the other interfaces.  The interface may be down, or the network link to that interface failed, or routing to that interface failed.  In some circumstances, another interface may be reachable.  If no interface is reachable, the device may be down or there is a network failure that isolated it.  That’s the time to report the device as potentially down.  My gripe is that many NMS platforms require that I select a specific management interface and are dependent on me to perform the above actions.  There are many other things that I should be doing to provide more value to the organization.

Another example is performing basic analysis of the collected data.  Many systems collect a lot of data and make it available for analysis.  But the network administrator must perform the analysis.  Why can’t the NMS provide a mechanism by which I can write analysis rules that it performs regularly? For example, I want to verify that all Cisco device configurations contain the proper VTY, SNMP, NTP, and TACACS configurations.  Or I want to identify all HSRP groups where there is a single router in the group.  Why must I do that analysis on the collected data?  The NMS should do that analysis and make the results available to me.  These results are actionable, meaning that I can take specific actions based on the results.

Back to Arno Penzias’ comment about people copying data from one computer to another. I have used NetMRI’s excellent network discovery to export a CSV of known network devices. I then check the list of devices against what other products are monitoring and correct any discrepancies. Without using an API, this process can take a few hours to perform.  It would be much better to have an automated process that is run daily.  All of the above things are what I refer to as Network Management Automation. Ask your NMS vendor and their references how much work is required to keep their tools up to date with what’s on the network and whether you must perform the analysis of the collected data.  It will be good when we have tools that no longer make us slaves to their deficiencies.



Re-posted with Permission 

NetCraftsmen would like to acknowledge Infoblox for their permission to re-post this article which originally appeared in the Applied Infrastructure blog under


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Nick Kelly

Cybersecurity Engineer, Cisco

Nick has over 20 years of experience in Security Operations and Security Sales. He is an avid student of cybersecurity and regularly engages with the Infosec community at events like BSides, RVASec, Derbycon and more. The son of an FBI forensics director, Nick holds a B.S. in Criminal Justice and is one of Cisco’s Fire Jumper Elite members. When he’s not working, he writes cyberpunk and punches aliens on his Playstation.


Virgilio “BONG” dela Cruz Jr.

CCDP, CCNA V, CCNP, Cisco IPS Express Security for AM/EE
Field Solutions Architect, Tech Data

Virgilio “Bong” has sixteen years of professional experience in IT industry from academe, technical and customer support, pre-sales, post sales, project management, training and enablement. He has worked in Cisco Technical Assistance Center (TAC) as a member of the WAN and LAN Switching team. Bong now works for Tech Data as the Field Solutions Architect with a focus on Cisco Security and holds a few Cisco certifications including Fire Jumper Elite.


John Cavanaugh

CCIE #1066, CCDE #20070002, CCAr
Chief Technology Officer, Practice Lead Security Services, NetCraftsmen

John is our CTO and the practice lead for a talented team of consultants focused on designing and delivering scalable and secure infrastructure solutions to customers across multiple industry verticals and technologies. Previously he has held several positions including Executive Director/Chief Architect for Global Network Services at JPMorgan Chase. In that capacity, he led a team managing network architecture and services.  Prior to his role at JPMorgan Chase, John was a Distinguished Engineer at Cisco working across a number of verticals including Higher Education, Finance, Retail, Government, and Health Care.

He is an expert in working with groups to identify business needs, and align technology strategies to enable business strategies, building in agility and scalability to allow for future changes. John is experienced in the architecture and design of highly available, secure, network infrastructure and data centers, and has worked on projects worldwide. He has worked in both the business and regulatory environments for the design and deployment of complex IT infrastructures.