October 8, 2021

A brief index of the basics of network configuration

With the advent of transformative networking initiatives, such as virtualization and intention-based networking, one universal aspect still remains essential: the configuration of the network.

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

Recently, network setup has moved from traditional, time-consuming manual setups to increasingly automated setups.. 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 determine 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. Changes to devices should also be managed consistently to ensure that they don’t negatively affect other devices.

To get started with some of the basics of network setup, it’s important to establish a vocabulary of the devices, processes, and methodologies involved. Immerse yourself in this cheat sheet containing essential key terms, phrases and additional information.

Network configuration basics index

Router. A router is an appliance 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 transmits the information accordingly.

The different types of routers include basic, enterprise, edge, and branch routers. Routers can be virtual or physical devices, 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 that they can communicate with networks in a secure and appropriate manner. Traditionally, network teams would configure each router manually using the command line interface, so any changes could be a tedious task.

Switch. A switch moves data from an ingress port to the specific egress 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 local networks. Switches are the majority of devices that create a network topology.

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

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

Topology types include bus, star, ring, token ring, mesh, and tree. Sometimes logical topologies are the same design as the physical type, but sometimes they work differently. For example, a physical topology can be a star, but the network can function as a bus.

Beyond the basics of network setup: 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 flow, 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, defaults, updates, and more.

Beyond the Basics of Network Configuration: Unsurprisingly, Network Configuration Management is the actual process of managing and maintaining its network configuration. Network teams can use network configuration management to verify policies, correct errors, and document and analyze network changes. This can be done manually or by automation.

Automating. Automation involves software that automatically configures, provisions, manages, and tests network devices. 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 operational expenses.

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

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

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

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

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


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