Most network engineers understand the frustration of ip address management, especially when you work with a very large network. Being able to quickly and accurately find available ip addresses, know where each ip network range is located within the network, avoiding duplicate ip address assignments, and even still, know if the ip addresses in use is crucial.
Most network teams use spreadsheets of some kind or another to track ip addresses and this can work fine when your network is small. But as your network grows, the use of spreadsheets makes it harder and harder to accurately track and assign ip addresses.
With many organizations planning to migrate to IPv6, ip address management (IPAM) is being looked at more and more as a must have application, allowing the engineer to seamlessly track and plan the migration of your infrastructure to ipv6.
Having your ip addresses in a database is the easiest and most scalable approach to managing ip addresses. The problem with this solution is that is becomes exponentially more complex to setup your own database.
In this article we are going to review a few of the better ip address management solutions and let you know what we found was to be the best ip address solution for a very large network with a large network team.
Desktop IP address management solutions
For network engineers who have a small to medium sized network and possibly only one or two engineers managing the ip address space we recommend Solarwinds IP manager included with the Solarwinds Network Engineer toolset. The application has been around for a LONG time and it is extremely useful. I think most people the engineer tool kit just for this one tool. The Solarwinds Engineer’s Toolset isn’t cheap though, the current list price is about $1395 but it includes an entire suite of helpful tools for day-to-day use.
Client Server IP Address Management
When you start looking at server based IPAM solutions, most come integrated with DNS and DHCP. This allows for monitoring and management of not only your ip space but also the health of your DNS and DHCP servers.
Solarwinds again has a server based IP management application that is part it their Orion set of network management applications. This tool performs really well though in our test scenario it was running as part of the full Orion application set so we were not able to test scalability and performance. The nice thing about being part of Orion was that all of your network discovery data, switch port analysis, link status, etc., could be seen quickly in one Window.
IP PLAN is a free (GPL) web based IP management solution. The best part about IP Plan is that it’s FREE! It runs on most any linux distribution (also free) and runs well even in a VM.
IP plan supports ipv6 and even has a template system to extend the ip database to include extensible attributes allowing to you have fields for vlan, circuit ID, asset information, and any other information you may have stored in your excel spreadsheets.
The biggest drawback we found with IP Plan is that you have to be very comfortable with databases, linux, php and have the time to work with this tool to get it working and looking the way you want. Also, if you run into any issues at all, you’re on your own. IP Plan has no support center to call to bail you out when you screw up your database.
Straight out of the box it’s not pretty but very functional. If you have the time and skills to dedicate to setting up your IPAM tool then this is highly recommended.
Little known BT Diamond IP is similar to IP Plan but definitely a step up. They’ve recently cleaned up the interface quite a bit in their recent release and this tool is looking very shiney… like a diamond? ( sorry I couldn’t resist)
This tool has all of the benefits of any of the widely known IPAM tools available today. Diamond IP is available as an appliance or as a software install for your own hardware. Supports ipv6 as well as templates and extensible attributes to allow for your database to grow and have extra information attached to your networks and hosts. It integrates well with existing DNS and DHCP services already existing in your environment. It is also fully supported so if you get yourself in a bind, you have the warm fuzzies of knowing that there are experts you can call 24×7. At least your boss will feel warm and fuzzy. And your finance and accounting team will love it as BT Diamond IP was the most affordable of appliances in our round up (besides IP Plan of course).
We reviewed Bluecat networks 4 years ago and we touted it as the best solution out of our round up at that time. This year however we found Bluecat just a little lacking in a couple areas. It is still an amazing product and if you’re a fan of Bluecat then you will continue to be happy.
Bluecat used to be only available as an appliance and they have moved away from this model and incorporated software distributions of their applications that you can run on any VM in your environment. The interface is very clean and polished. If you are familiar with Microsoft DNS and that style of user interface then you will feel right at home with the Bluecat IPAM. We do have to admit that we only tested their Proteus IPAM product and did not look at their Triton Orchestration product. However for our requirements Proteus did most everything we needed it too.
The one area where Bluecat seemed to be lacking was in extending the database and adding templates and extensible attributes to your IPAM information. This for us was a big deal and was the main reason for giving Bluecat a slightly less spectacular review. One other ding for Bluecat was their price. They were the highest priced solution out of our round up.
Finally in our review is Infoblox. Infoblox has come a long way and has always been a leader in DNS/DHCP/IPAM solutions. Any network engineer who owns or read the O’Reilly DNS book has seen the author name Cricket Liu. Cricket works at Infoblox and was Integral to the DNS grid architecture that Infoblox has become famous for.
With the Infoblox tool, DNS, DNCP, NTP, FILE Distribution and IPAM are all integrated into one appliance. Separate licensing unlocks each feature for use. The biggest benefit of the Infoblox IPAM solution was it’s scalability. This is due to the Infoblox signature grid technology that enables the various databases to be distributed and replicated throughout your environment. Rights and permissions were easy controlled throughout the distributed architecture. Authentication could be done by either Windows AD, TACACS, or local user.
Another big winner for Infoblox in this review was the extensibility of the database and templating. This was the best in our round up, by far, out of any of the other solutions. Attributes are easily added to either the network or the host. Attributes could be a simple text string, drop down list, email, date or URL. Also attributes could be required to force certain information to be included when an IP address is assigned. This we found was really helpful on a large team with many people many updates.
We also found the database to be easy to work with in bulk. We ran into a couple scenarios where we had to make sweeping changes to the entire ip database. To do this we were able to quickly and easily export the data into a CSV file, use Excel to make the modifications, save and re-import.
The one drawback we found with Infoblox IPAM tool was in the discovery. There was no ability to run scheduled scans of your ip space. You could only do manual discovery/scans. But what we did find was with the addition of Infoblox’s NetMRI tool our discovery issue was solved.
With NetMRI and IPAM together we had more data in one window than we ever had in any of the other tools combined. An example of some of the information you can see from this combination was: upstream switch name, port, vlan, link status, link speed, version of IOS of the upstream switch, mac to ip correlation, and more. Also NetMRI provides configuration management that is a must have in any large environment. The big problem was that you HAD to have NetMRI in order to have this level of functionality and detail in conjunction with IPAM.
Overall the Infoblox solution of IPAM/DNS/DHCP/NetMRI was cheaper than the Bluecat Adonis/Proteus combo and provided much more value by having a greater level of detail, network status and configuration management.
Depending on your personal scenario each solution was a winner in it’s own right.
If you were limited on your budget and had the skill set then we would recommend IP Plan. If you had a bit more money and wanted or needed the tech support and a more polished look, Diamond IP was your best bet. If you had a Windows shop and a team of engineers who were comfortable with the Windows style user interface, then Bluecat might be your choice.
But overall our recommendation is for the Infoblox product.
With the scalability of their grid technology, the extensibility of the database, and coupled with NetMRI for higher visibility and configuration management, this is an amazing tool that will make your day to day life so much easier.
What is your experience with IPAM tools and managing IP addresses? What is your favorite tool? Leave us a comment and let us know.