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What is Network Configuration?

Network configuration is a process that involves the assignment of network configurations, rules, controls, and flows. The configuration of a switch or router, the configuration of a host, the setup of software and a firewall, and the creation of a network architecture that can be managed using rest APIs are some of the fundamentals of network configuration.

The ability to configure a network provides a system administrator the ability to set up a network to satisfy certain communication goals. The following activities are included in the process:

  • Configuration of the router includes specifying the appropriate IP addresses and route settings, among other things.
  • Host setup is the process of enabling a network connection and communication on a host computer or laptop by recording the default network settings. These settings include IP addressing, proxy, network name, and ID/password.
  • Software configuration: To monitor network traffic, any network-based software, such as an intrusion detection system (IDS), is granted access and given the proper credentials.
  • In addition, network setup involves the sharing of the Internet and the local area network, the installation of software and applications, and the installation and configuration of a firewall.

Network configuration may be automated and controlled via the use of a centralized network configuration manager, which further decreases the amount of manual labor performed by network administrators and makes it simpler to:

  • Maintain the network
  • Modify the configuration settings
  • Monitor and report network activity
  • Relaunch devices

The proper network configuration is crucial for supporting the traffic flow on a network, and it may also support and improve network security and stability.

This article will discuss the different types of computer networks, the different areas in which network configurations can be used, the significance of properly managing network configurations, why you should make backups of your network configuration, and how you can automate the process of managing network configurations.

What are the Types of Network Configuration?

As part of the configuration management process, network administrators keep a well-organized information repository of the network devices. This repository includes facts about the devices themselves, such as their location, network address, and device settings. The administrators of the network may use this configuration database as a source of direction when making updates and modifications to the network.

In general, different kinds of network configurations are denoted by different types of network topologies.

As the number of personal and Internet of Things(IoT) devices that are linked throughout the globe continues to grow, the need for high-performance networks is also increasing and is transforming the way that individuals and organizations engage with one another.

Because of the progression of technology throughout the years, several topologies of networks have been developed to satisfy the varying requirements of users. It is possible that further technical innovation will result in the creation of even more network topologies in the years to come.

There is a wide variety of network configurations, each of which is designed to accomplish a certain goal and accommodate a specific group of users. There are now different configurations of networks that are known to exist, some of which are as follows:

1. PAN

A personal area network, often known as a PAN, is a topology for a network that has a small range and is meant for peripheral devices that are used by an individual (typically within 30 feet). The transmission of data between devices is the primary function of these kinds of networks, which do not need an active connection to the internet to function.

PANs may also be linked to LANs and other higher-level network types via the use of a single device that functions as a gateway. An everyday example of PAN is a Bluetooth keyboard that is linked to a smart TV. This kind of setup provides an interface that enables users to navigate the internet, watch previously recorded shows, and modify their preferences.

Wireless or cable connections may create personal area networks (PANs). For data-centric applications, wireless personal area networks (WPANs) make use of close-range communication protocols such as Wi-Fi, ZigBee, infrared, and Bluetooth. WPANs goes by the acronym WPAN. When it comes to Bluetooth, possible network topologies include the piconet, which consists of an enslaver and one or more slaves, and the scattered, which is a collection of interconnected piconets.

On the other hand, wired personal area networks (PANs) make use of the universal serial bus (USB) and ThunderBolt. While similar to other kinds of networks, the connection protocols used inside a PAN are not usually immediately compatible with those used in other kinds of networks.

2. LAN

You are making use of something that is known as the local area network(LAN) whenever you connect your laptop or mobile phone to the network at your home or workplace.

Local area networks, or LANs, are private computer networks that allow specific users to have unrestricted access to the same system connection at a central location. This location is always within an area of less than one mile, and the majority of the time, it is inside the same building. By doing so, they can communicate information with one another, share resources like printers, and share devices such as scanners as if they were all operating on the same system. Resource sharing is feasible when using an operating system that is aware of networks.

LANs were first used at academic institutions and research facilities; but, in today's world, they may be found almost everywhere, including in homes and companies. Different sorts of network topologies, such as bus, star, and branching tree, are used to achieve a variety of distinct objectives via the utilization of coaxial cables, twisted wire pairs, or optical fiber cables. Wi-Fi and TCP/IP Ethernet are two networking technologies that enable information exchange and communication between devices using a variety of topologies.

3. WLAN

Wireless technologies have been a huge advance in both business and personal communication. This has opened up a wide variety of possibilities, including mobile wireless, fixed wireless, portable wireless, and infrared wireless, among others. In these settings, the devices that are connected interact with one another via something that is known as a wireless local area network (WLAN).

Wireless local area networks (WLANs) allow devices to connect via the use of high-frequency signals, lasers, and infrared beams instead of wires. Users can more freely navigate a coverage area thanks to this form of flexible data connection, which eliminates the need for cables to keep them connected to a network as they do so.

The Wireless Local Area Network (WLAN) offers a high data transmission rate and often operates at either the 2.4 GHz frequency or the 5 GHz spectrum. Bluetooth devices, cordless telephones, and Wi-Fi radios are some examples of devices that operate in the 2.4 GHz band via a WLAN. Laptops may be linked to the 5 GHz band of a wireless local area network (WLAN) if the user is interested in trading some signal strength for increased transfer rates.

4. CAN

Universities, colleges, and corporate campuses that share a common area might link the local area networks (LANs) of their many departments using something called a campus area network (CAN). This brings together networks that would otherwise be dispersed, creating a collective network that enables access to information at lightning-fast rates while also assuring the required authentication to close any privacy gaps that may exist.

How CANs are operated is comparable to that of LANs. However, the scale of these two kinds of networks is distinct. Users who access a CAN from a variety of devices often do so via the use of hotspots, Wi-Fi, and Ethernet technologies.

5. VPN

A virtual private network (VPN) provides users with an encrypted connection that effectively hides data packets while they are using the internet. This is beneficial for users because cyberattacks are possible with every click and that sensitive information may be mined, intercepted, or even stolen.

This is accomplished by establishing a virtual private network (VPN) tunnel between the two devices that are connecting. This tunnel encapsulates and encrypts the data that is being exchanged between the two devices. In most cases, a virtual private network (VPN) is used whenever two devices are linked to one another using a public network, such as the internet. The additional safety provided by the VPN tunnel protects sensitive information such as IP addresses, browsing history, contact with a corporate office, or even travel plans from being revealed online. This is accomplished by encrypting the data sent over the tunnel.

The sort of virtual private network (VPN) tunnel that is being used determines the amount of security that is surrounding a data packet. The point-to-point tunneling protocol (PPTP), the secure socket tunneling protocol (SSTP), the Layer Two Tunneling Protocol (L2TP/IPsec), and OpenVPN are examples of common VPN tunneling protocols.

Layer 2 Tunneling Protocol (L2TP), which makes use of Internet Protocol Security (IPsec) protection, often does so using AES-256 bit encryption. This is a sophisticated encryption standard that is thought of as being the most secure option available for all different kinds of network connections.

There are several variations of virtual private networks (VPNs), most of which fall into one of two categories: remote access VPNs and site-to-site VPNs. Users can connect their devices to the corporate office safely and securely when they utilize remote access VPNs. The link between a corporate office and a branch is established via a site-to-site virtual private network.

6. MAN

In the modern world of computer networking, the most important considerations are speed and efficiency. While some technologies can provide both of these benefits, others provide just one or none of them at all. Fiber optics, dense wavelength division multiplexing, and optical packet switching are only some of the technologies that may be used in a metropolitan area network (MAN), which satisfies both requirements.

MANs, which are more often known as medium-sized networks, span an area that is greater than that of a LAN but less extensive than that of a WAN. These networks are made up of several local area networks (LANs) that are linked together using point-to-point high-capacity backbone technology. They can cover multiple buildings or a whole city.

MANs can take the shape of cable TV networks or even telephone networks that deliver high-speed DSL lines by using the common regional resources of their communities.

7. SAN

In a world that is becoming more competitive, network storage is connected to maintaining business continuity. For a company to maintain its competitive advantage, it is necessary for the company to discover methods that will maximize data access and data storage, as well as to guarantee that crucial backups are performed regularly. Utilizing a storage area network is one method that may help accomplish all of these goals and more (SAN).

A storage area network (SAN), sometimes known as the network behind the servers, is a high-speed computer network designed specifically to provide access to storage in any direction. The primary objective of a storage area network (SAN) is to facilitate the transmission of data between various storage devices as well as between storage devices and the computer network.

Block-level I/O services are a common feature of storage area networks (SANs). Fiber channel technologies, such as fiber channel host bus adapter (HBA) cards and fiber channel switches, as well as other technologies, such as hosts, switches, and disk arrays, may be utilized in various components that make up a storage area network (SAN).

8. WAN

LANs and other kinds of networks can communicate with one another and send and receive data thanks to private lines, multiprotocol label switching (MPLS), multiprotocol virtual private networks (VPNs), wireless networks, and the internet. Cellular networks and wireless networks are also included in this category. A wide area network (WAN) is a sort of computer networking that provides access to a variety of types of media via a single designated provider. This type of telecommunications network is not confined to any specific territory and does not have any geographical restrictions.

WANs may be either point-to-point or packet-switched networks over shared circuits, making them either a basic or hybrid configuration. Many kinds of connections are used in the case of a hybrid wide area network (WAN) and a software-defined wide area network (SD-WAN). These connection types may vary from virtual private networks (VPNs) to multiprotocol label switching (MPLS). Communication channels inside a WAN often make use of a diverse assortment of technologies, which may include routers, FSO lines, I/O interfaces, and fiber optics, to name just a few.

WANs are ubiquitous in contemporary life, linking cities, continents, and even space; nonetheless, they are often overlooked because of their widespread presence. Examples of how far-reaching WANs have become include teleconferencing in real time, students being able to communicate with other students on different continents, and providing remote access to the headquarters of a corporation. There are also many other examples of how far-reaching WANs have become.

What are the Network Configuration Key Fields?

Network configuration is applicable and vital for the following usage areas:

  • Configuration backup and restoration: Since a network disaster may occur at any moment, an organization should routinely take network backups to be prepared for the future. By uploading the most stable versions of your device settings, regular backups enable you to rapidly recover from unforeseen situations such as equipment failure.
  • Device detection and management: Configuration management identifies devices in your network and saves their vital information, including port configuration and interface data, in a network inventory. Having an up-to-date inventory also allows you to rapidly produce reports using criteria like device type, device vendor, and device location. Inventory centralization facilitates management.
  • Automation: Among the best practices for configuration management is the automation of network administration chores such as device backups, firmware upgrades, and access rights changes. This increases the efficiency of your network employees in addition to minimizing repeated jobs and human error.
  • Change management: Maintaining correct change logs enables you to identify the network engineers responsible for a given configuration change. Although this does not necessarily minimize network difficulties, it may speed up error resolution. Important to configuration management, standardization of change management procedures guarantees that network-wide alterations are well-documented, quick, and traceable.
  • Compliance: Before making configuration changes, network administrators must develop comprehensive network rules to verify compliance with different security standards, such as PCI DSS. In configuration management, the implementation of network security policies and frequent compliance checks of device configurations is crucial.

Why is It Important to Back Up Network Configurations?

Configuration backup is the act of archiving your existing network configuration files and establishing a repository in which incremental copies of all versions are preserved. To provide a high level of security, configuration backups are mostly encrypted before being saved in the database.

The network configuration backup is the most vital component of any IT infrastructure's backup and recovery strategy. Typically, it is accomplished using network backup software. In the event of an emergency, such as a cyberattack, the data from a network configuration backup may be utilized to restore a single node or the whole network.

The most important use of configuration backups is to restore network operations in the event of a network failure. Incorrect configuration modifications might result in network catastrophes such as data breaches and outages. In such instances, network administrators may quickly restore the network by uploading a stable configuration version from the repository. However, network configuration backup is not just beneficial in the worst-case situation. It may also be utilized to restore mission-critical activities if the primary network is momentarily unavailable for a non-critical cause, such as maintenance. Configuration backups are also essential during auditing to determine where a specific error originated and for compliance checks.

Utilizing a network backup solution is essential since backups are a crucial component of any disaster recovery strategy. If you lose mission-critical data due to a cyber attack, data breach, or unexpected system outage, you will be able to restore the data if you have a backup.

There are several benefits to using network backup for your organization. When utilizing physical storage devices, tape drives, or manually backing up each device individually, it may be cumbersome to manage backups for many PCs and network-attached devices. A few of the efficient, time-saving, and error-reducing advantages of using a network backup system are as follows:

  • Reduces human mistakes: If your organization's data lives on several machines, network backup is a need. Remembering to plan backups for several machines increases the likelihood of mistakes in your firm. It's simple to mistakenly miss a day or a week, and before you realize it, you've permanently lost a file.
  • Enhances your disaster recovery capabilities: Utilizing network backup is part of a comprehensive disaster recovery strategy. Even a tiny mistake would be catastrophic for your small company if everything was stored locally on an external hard drive or without any backup at all. Not only is it intelligent, but setting up network backup for any device you and your staff use is surprisingly simple.
  • Automates backups: Incorporating network backup simplifies your backup procedures. If you pick a public backup service to handle your backups, your backup software will automatically back up all networked devices, from specific desktops and laptops to the shared data on your NAS devices.
  • Makes management easy: Network backup is more controllable and scalable than adding tape drives to each computer system since data is transmitted to a single, secure place. With network backup, data is transported to a single, safe place, making it simple to add more computer systems as the organization grows.

How to Automate Configuration Management Using Software?

Configuration management is the process of preserving the intended consistency of computer systems, servers, network devices, and software. It is a method for ensuring that a system continues to work as intended while modifications are made over time.

Managing IT system configurations requires specifying the intended state of a system, such as a server configuration, and then constructing and maintaining such systems. Configuration management employs both configuration evaluations and drifts analysis to identify systems to update, reconfigure, or patch.

Configuration management's purpose is to keep systems in the intended condition. Historically, system administrators managed this manually or with proprietary scripts. Automation is the use of software to do operations, such as configuration management, to decrease expense, complexity, and mistakes.

A configuration management solution can set up a new server in minutes with less opportunity for mistakes thanks to automation. Additionally, automation may be used to keep a server in the appropriate condition, such as your standard operating environment (SOE), without the requirement for provisioning scripts.

Without automation, establishing and maintaining large-scale modern network systems may be a resource-intensive endeavor rife with the possibility of human error-induced danger. Utilizing a network configuration management manager and/or configuration tools may give a variety of advantages, such as:

  • Automated data monitoring and reporting enable administrators to detect configuration changes and possible risks or problems.
  • A simple approach to make mass adjustments, such as a password reset, after credentials have been hacked.
  • The capacity to quickly revert network configurations to a former state.
  • Reduced downtime as a result of enhanced visibility and the capacity to rapidly detect changes.
  • Streamlined network device (physical or virtual) and connection maintenance and repair
  • Thanks to unified storage management of device settings, it is possible to restart a failed device.

The primary methods for automating configuration management tasks are listed below:

  • Simple configuration backup and restoration: Network configuration backup entails securely saving vital network device data so that you may recover from network failure or catastrophe with little service interruption. Instead of visiting network devices individually to preserve their most current configurations or settings, you may schedule automatic backups for all of them using network backup software. In addition, you may arrange backups in the archive using criteria such as device type and rapidly restore them in the event of disruptions. These programs warn you of failed backup schedules in a timely manner, enabling you to resolve mistakes quickly.
  • Robust network evaluation: Automation tools may execute device discovery to build your network inventory with vital device information such as IP address, serial number, and so on. This saves your IT personnel many hours of tedious data collection and storage effort. By storing crucial device data such as end-of-life information, network managers may promptly locate and replace broken devices, therefore preventing expensive network downtime. Ultimately, these technologies expedite network evaluation processes by collecting, analyzing, reporting, and visualizing large amounts of data.
  • Baseline configuration and drift management: A device's ideal setup is its baseline configuration. By applying baseline settings to network devices, performance concerns may be avoided. By enabling administrators to build up, examine, and compare baseline configurations with the current configuration of devices, network automation solutions simplify baseline configuration management. This makes it easier to monitor new changes to device settings and undo unwanted modifications. Administrators may also compare operating and startup settings to find modifications that have not been preserved.
  • Real-time configuration change warnings for enhanced security: Across dynamic networks, configuration changes occur often. Continuous monitoring of these modifications is essential for minimizing their influence on other systems or processes. With network automation solutions, you may get alerts or notifications of any change in your network, including data such as the time of the change, the individuals involved, etc. Real-time monitoring also assures compliance with your internal and external policies for every remedial action implemented.
  • Detection of network vulnerabilities: Network automation tools may check your network devices for firmware vulnerabilities and then patch them via updates. Using automated tools, you can discover common vulnerabilities and exposures (CVEs) in iOS and Cisco network devices and fix them with patches and upgrades.

There are a vast number of tools and applications available for automating the administration of network devices. Some are paid, while others are free and open-source; selecting between them is by no means straightforward. A paid solution is not always a good value, and a free solution is not always useful. The top 10 network automation tools are as follows:

  • SolarWinds Network Configuration Manager
  • Kiwi CatTools
  • ManageEngine Network Configuration Manager
  • WeConfig
  • ConfiBack
  • Device42 Configuration Management Database
  • TrueSight Automation for Networks
  • rConfig
  • Net LineDancer
  • RANCID