Consideration 1 of 3: Do management interfaces for your new network device really matter?

This is the first in a series of blog posts for product managers at network equipment providers. Each post will discuss the PM’s role and considerations in planning for management interfaces in new networking products.

When planning a new networking product, product managers are rightly focused on the features and functionality that will meet the needs of customers and create a direct competitive advantage. It’s increasingly important for product managers to also think about the management interfaces that will be required on the device and understand how on-device configuration management decisions will impact the product long-term.

Product managers who are specifying the next generation of network devices need to consider the underlying management methods that will need to be supported in order to future-proof devices and easily make configuration changes. Common management methods used to modify operation of devices today include: command-line interfaces (CLIs), an SNMP agent, a Web UI, NETCONF and REST. Consider some typical uses of traditional agents:

  • Support for SNMP is simply expected from operations teams and should work right out of the box with their installed based of monitoring software
  • Current generation network engineers have significant amounts of experience from using CLI to do expert configuration changes for both break-fix procedures but also for certain types of service configuration
  • The growing requirement for remote and programmatic access to the configuration and operational data of network elements have driven wide adoption of the NETCONF protocol

Traditional agents are protocol centric and are limited in ability to extend to new features in the underlying platform, which means there can be significant feature lag across the protocols. This approach simply won’t sustain the demands of future networks. Instead, network engineers and operators want networking devices with programmable interfaces and require a wide range of features ranging from APIs for third party software to role-based user management, and detailed audit trail capabilities. Today’s use cases rarely involve only one device but rather a set of devices at different layers – all of which need to be configured in one transaction – which adds to future-proofing complexities.

As the industry moves toward network programmability along the lines of software-defined networking (SDN), network equipment providers cannot afford to skimp on management features. At the same time, product managers cannot expect in-house design teams to deliver these capabilities in short order. Developers are seldom provided the time and resources needed to build a general framework to support future needs. This often means that supporting new features cannot be accomplished in time to meet competitive or market windows. Product managers should consider providing their developers with resources and tools to weigh the decision to build or buy software for on-device configuration management in order to reduce the risk of delays or feature shortage that is a natural part of any larger scale development project.

Learn more about how network equipment vendors can quickly and inexpensively deliver on-device configuration management functionality for their products here.

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