December 2, 2022

A brief index of networking configuration basics


In the advent of transformative networking initiatives, such as virtualization and intent-based networking, one universal aspect still remains critical: network configuration.

Network configuration is the process of defining network devices, policies, flows, and operations to support network communication throughout an organization. In other words, it is the network configuration. Ultimately, this results in a network topology that network teams can manage.

Recently, network configuration has moved from traditional, time-consuming, manual configurations to increasingly automated configurations.. These changes can help optimize security, streamline network maintenance and minimize human error in change management.

Network teams can use network configuration to reduce downtime because they can find and make changes in a timely manner. They can also update hardware and software components and identify where they want to improve visibility and accountability in the network.

Teams should archive all network configuration changes so that they can be rolled back if necessary. Device changes should also be managed consistently to ensure they don’t negatively affect other devices.

To get started with some basics of network configuration, it’s important to establish a vocabulary of the devices, processes, and methodologies involved. Dig into this cheat sheet for essential key terms, phrases, and additional information.

Network Configuration Basics Index

Router. A router is a device that transmits information between two or more packet-switched networks. Specifically, a router analyzes the destination of a packet, calculates the best way to reach that destination, and forwards information accordingly.

The different types of routers include core, enterprise, edge, and branch. Routers can be virtual or physical appliances, and other devices, such as switches or access points, can include built-in router functionality.

Beyond the basics of network configuration: Network teams configure routers so they can communicate with networks securely and appropriately. Traditionally, network teams configured each router manually using the command-line interface, so any changes could be a cumbersome task.

To change. A switch moves data from an input port to the specific output port which will move the data to its destination within the network. Two common types of switches are virtual switches, which are software only, and routing switches, which connect LANs. Switches make up the majority of devices that create a network topology.

Beyond the basics of network configuration: Like routers, teams configure switches so they can communicate securely with the rest of the network. Switches move data across different interconnects in the network topology.

Network topology. The topology of a network is its arrangement of devices, nodes, and connecting lines. Topologies are both physical – as in the physical layout of workstations – and logical, where the nature of the path signals follow from node to node.

Topology types include bus, star, ring, token ring, mesh, and tree. Logical topologies are sometimes the same design as the physical type, but sometimes they operate differently. For example, a physical topology may be a star, but the network may operate as a bus.

Beyond the basics of network configuration: Network topology is the end result of how the network is configured and how a team structures it. Organizations design their topology based on business size, performance requirements, data flows, and available connectivity, among other considerations.

Network configuration management. Network configuration management is the process of organizing and maintaining information about network components. Teams refer to the management database to determine the best course of action for repairs, modifications, expansions or upgrades. The database itself includes locations, IP addresses, default settings, updates and more.

Beyond Network Configuration Basics: Not surprisingly, network configuration management is the actual process of managing and maintaining a person’s network configuration. Network teams can use network configuration management to verify policies, fix errors, document, and analyze network changes. This can be done manually or by automation.

Automating. Automation involves the automatic configuration, provisioning, management, and testing of network devices by software. It can be used to deploy policy changes and software updates, among other features. Businesses and service providers use automation to improve efficiency, reduce the risk of human error, and reduce operating expenses.

Beyond the basics of network configuration: More and more often, teams are turning to automation for network configuration management instead of configuring it manually. Automation tools support many basic network functions and complex workflows. Any device or resource controlled with a command line interface or application programming interface can be automated.

Network Orchestration. Network orchestration is sometimes confused with automation. Although the two are similar, orchestration is the process of applying a series of configurations in an orchestrated way using automation. Orchestration can coordinate the hardware and software that applications or services need to function, for example. The goals of orchestration are to automate workflows and minimize the amount of human intervention needed to deliver applications and services.

Beyond the basics of network configuration: Teams can use orchestration to define their own gateways, routers, and security groups in a network configuration and to automate network workflows. Teams can use analytics to decide where to deploy resources to improve network performance.

Intent-Based Networking. Intent-Based Networking (IBN) is a network architecture that integrates advanced analytics, artificial intelligence, and machine learning to automate the administrative tasks of a network. Although IBN is still immature, it touts the ability to use network automation and orchestration to change the way network configurations are deployed.

Beyond the basics of network configuration: Instead of a network team making changes based on network topology, for example, they can submit queries to an IBN system that suggests possible configurations based on behavior of the network. If the team approves the configurations, the IBN system can implement them.

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