What's wrong with provisioning tools?

A couple of times during NANOG25, from the floor and from the podium, it was identified that the tools available for managing networks were garbage. I was surprised to hear that even real basics, such as change control and configuration management, weren’t widely adopted. There definitely seemed to be an acceptance (and perhaps this is only true at some carriers) that many problems facing providers today are as a result of a dearth of decent tools to configure ‘best common practices’ into the routers - and as a result of this, the ‘problems’ with the networks were not with the h/w and/or the protocols they support, but with the people, and their lack of experience and/or ability to properly configure the boxes.

A couple of comments that I heard over the last few days:

  1. User interfaces are horrible and counter intuitive - I want ‘xyz’ out of my GUI
  2. Systems blindly apply bad configurations to routers - they should be able to do ‘some’ verification before crashing my network - and can’t roll back after they wreck things
  3. Change control either doesn’t exist, isn’t usable, or isn’t granular enough
  4. There isn’t anything to track non sanctioned changes to the network (i.e.: hacker induced re-configurations)

I would very much like to hear about “specific” needs for (provisioning) tools that would satisfy your needs - needs that are either being poorly met to today, or not at all. In the hopes of preventing a vendor-bash extravaganza, I would suggest as a point of reference, that the NMS recommendations presented by Avi Freedman during the conference (“Industry/Government Infrastructure Vulnerability Assessment: Background and Recommendations”. Of the recommendations pertinent to network management, many refer to future-features. As an additional attempt to constraint the discussion, I would recommend that the needs identified be realistic (i.e.: supportable on current equipment, the cost of the solution would be less than the cost of the problem, etc).





Almost all of what you’re talking about is network device configuration file management – there are several solutions out there today that do this. The rest is template-based configuration provisioning tools, which typically have no operational model of the network – so it should be no surprise that they generate the wrong configurations. So there are two questions:

The first is why aren’t operators using even simple config management tools (Is every single one lacking somehow, or is it operational intertia?)

The more interesting one, IMHO, concerns operational complexity. It seems that complexity is really what makes it hard to operate an IP network – even with highly skilled engineers – and is also the barrier to writing useful network provisioning and configuration software. What abstractions would make it easier to understand the network and hence figure out the right configuration changes to make, so software wouldn’t generate config changes that are broken?