Thursday, 15th April 2021

Best-practice IPAM strategy: benefits for the whole organisation

By Rick Bylina, senior manager of product strategy, Infoblox.

Today’s rapidly expanding enterprise networks are becoming increasingly complex, meaning IP tasks have never been so crucial to maintaining the network. Yet with power comes responsibility, and as their importance grows so they become increasingly difficult to accomplish with speed and efficiency.

Traditional tools, such as spreadsheets and Address Resolution Protocol (ARP) tables, are no longer effective for network administrators to efficiently identify and respond to the changes and ever increasing threats within the IT environment.

An IP address management (IPAM) strategy could be the answer. An authoritative IPAM strategy takes into account every device with an IP address that IT departments manage and delivers a solution that spans different IT teams. This allows organisations to change the way they manage their IT infrastructure and resources – from the remote edges, right to the heart of the data centre.

The healthy network
The deployment of a best-practice IPAM strategy is a critical element for running a healthy network. You can’t protect that which you don’t know is there, and so the inventory is truly the most important aspect of any best-practice IPAM solution.

Networks are subjected to the never-ending addition and removal of devices, and the inventory of such a dynamic environment must be maintained continuously in as close to real-time as possible. A best-practice IPAM strategy can manage this without the need for human intervention - delivering a complete, accurate and thorough inventory of all connected endpoints, even while changes are occurring.

If teams are able to identify hosts by multiple criteria, such as operating system, hostname, type of software, region or model, then they can respond more quickly, and address any issues that may arise and affect similar groups of hosts.

And when putting out fires, which is a task which increasingly drives the managers of today’s network environments, a best-practice IPAM strategy provides the essential tools that allow a quick and accurate diagnosis of the issues reported by the network users. Port errors and tools such as dig, ping, trace route, packet capture and nmap are critical in quickly identifying and resolving any issues. The ability to use these tools directly from the IPAM solution means that, once identified as the source, administrators are able to start testing from the same tool.

Benefits reaching all elements of the team
Authoritative IPAM is a game changer for IT organisations, bringing benefits to the entire team – not just the administrators that assign IP addresses. By optimising the management of core network services, an authoritative IPAM strategy empowers all those who directly or indirectly deal with the network, and delivers benefits to both the IT teams and the business as a whole.

Whilst identifying and understanding everything with an IP address that is connected to an organisation’s IT network lies at the heart of all aspects of IT service delivery, the benefits to each team are disparate.

Desktop teams, the groups managing and administering internal user resources, need to understand what user networks exist, what’s connected to them and how they’re organised. With a significant number of tasks relating to the deployment and management of end-user systems, regardless of their structure, the clarity that a best-practice IPAM strategy provides will deliver more accurate and efficient task management.

An important benefit for the desktop team is creating a more streamlined process, where the team that owns the resource being deployed carries out the bulk of the work done. For tasks such as adding a printer, for example, this allows the desktop team to move away from their dependence on other teams, like the network team or server team, and deliver a more efficient process. This helps mitigate the risk of a whole process being delayed by any one group involved.

Server teams need a similarly clear picture of the servers connected to their network, and the services delivered by these servers. This is increasingly difficult as modern IT systems require an ever-growing and changing service environment. And yet it has never been more important given the recent developments in both virtual environments and internal cloud services, the management of which commonly fall to the server team.

The ability to spin up a virtual environment now requires little time and few resources. Instead the holdup is often due to the human interaction element, which is required to get all the related network resources allocated, security tested, and approved. A best-practice IPAM strategy can remove the multiple environment and architecture checks that the security team must provide, as all groups gain a single view into the network. Access to this information helps both the security team and the server team accomplish their tasks more efficiently.

Network teams are seeing their workloads increase no end. Whilst the management of complex and dynamic network environments has become a full-time job in itself, the team is subject to constant additional demands from desktop, server and security teams.

In organisations where responsibility is divided across different IT teams, inter-dependency can quickly lead to the degradation of response and deployment times. It’s clear therefore that any level of self-sufficiency that a best-practice IPAM strategy can provide these other teams will only improve the daily operations of those in charge of the management of the network.

Empowering the desktop and server teams to be more self-sufficient with regards to edge port usage and configuration is of particular benefit to the network team. Similarly allowing for final approvals to be made by the network team means that other teams which don’t have the knowledge to make a final decision can at least be self-reliant for the bulk of the work.
Security teams will also be able to use the search and action tools provided by a best-practice IPAM strategy to find, identify and isolate issues. This will massively reduce both response times and their workloads.

There’s no one-size-fits-all IPAM strategy
No two networks are the same. At the same time as delivering an up-to-date and accurate inventory, a best-practice IPAM strategy must also mirror the natural structure of the organisation to which it applies. By properly modelling the strategy on each unique network, administrators will find that any subsequent searches and address changes they carry out will make more sense.

The impact of the increasingly common use of virtual devices must also be considered, as the information that they contain will be equally impactful on network management as that contained within their physical counterparts. A best-practice IPAM strategy requires that information held on virtual machines, such as operating systems, IP and MAC addresses, and virtual hostnames, should also be integrated into an organisation’s IPAM database.

Finally, administrators can carry out searches using historical data based upon specific requirements. This then enables them to generate reports which they can then use to track issues and optimise their networks and all its connected devices.

The improved visibility and efficiency, coupled with the enhanced data accuracy that a best-practice IPAM strategy can deliver, provides benefits which will be felt both by an organisation as a whole and by its individual IT teams, as they all are able to better manage their networks in today’s increasingly dynamic environment.

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