IP address management (IPAM) has always been an essential component to ensuring the effective operation of any network. And with the proliferation of connected devices, many making their way into and out of networks minute to minute, it may be even more important than ever.
And by 2023, Cisco forecasts that a staggering 29.3 billion devices will be connected to IP networks.
Without an effective IPAM solution in place, organizations are putting their networks at risk from a number of issues, not just poor connectivity. Let’s take a closer look at IP address management and why it’s vital to your network.
What’s IP address management?
A quick refresher on the basics of IP
To answer the question, “What’s IPAM?”, we need to start with the basics. IP, or Internet Protocol, is a Layer 3 networking protocol devices use to communicate with each other on a network. There are some alternative protocols, but IP is the more or less the universal language of networked devices.
IP addresses are the identifiers for different devices connected to a network. They allow devices to find each other correctly (and repeatedly) so they can communicate. You have to have an IP if you’re going to use the network.
What is IPAM?
IPAM, in simple terms, is any way to plan, track, and manage IP addresses on your network. Remember, hardwired or wireless, every device on every network has an IP address. And that’s just as many addresses as you think!
Enterprise-sized networks can have tens to hundreds of thousands of IP addresses. Trying to manage all these manually is impossible. And while IPAM is more than just assigning IP addresses to devices, that task alone would be beyond manual ability.
Effective IPAM also means changing addresses, deleting addresses when devices are no longer connected to the network, resolving conflicts, assigning addresses for cloud or application use, setting up subnets, and more.
Introduce Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol, or DHCP, to a network, and things get even more complicated. DHCP servers assign IPs dynamically, meaning any device that’s given an IP address won’t necessarily get the same address every time it connects (it gets what’s available).
Things get even crazier once you layer on things like mobile devices that roam from one subnet to another, such as a device moving between floors or buildings in the same corporate network. This is because IP addresses are only valid on a particular subnet, so the device needs to be assigned different IPs any time it crosses a subnet boundary (and don’t forget to release that now-unused IP back into the wild for another device to use!).
Attempting to keep up with all this work manually would be a nightmare.
The goal with IPAM is to bring order to all this chaos. There are a number of tools that make IP address management easier by helping network administration teams track, manage, and plan how they use IP addresses and related resources. You’ll have constant access to a real-time inventory of assigned and unassigned IP addresses, including information such as subnets, hostname, status, associated hardware, and more.
How does IPAM ensure seamless connectivity?
For an organization’s employees, the network needs to “just work”. The expectation is that their computers will always be online, software and files will always be accessible, Wi-Fi will always work, etc. That kind of connectivity requires almost zero issues in connecting, assigning IP addresses, and managing all the devices coming on and off the network in real-time.
IPAM ensures that level of seamless connectivity because it resolves many of the challenges associated with manual IP address management that lead to the breakdowns end-users will notice. Here’s a quick look at some of the most common problems you’re likely to encounter when trying to get by without IP address management.
1. No real-time data
As you read above, the idea of keeping track of IP addresses in something like a spreadsheet would be a never ending task. It would mean monitoring and gathering data on every IP address in the network, and then recording the state of each address, namely which IP was assigned to which device and when. It’s beyond challenging.
Things become even more complex when numerous admins are modifying documents due to an increased risk of mistakes occurring. It’s entirely possible to cause more harm than good if no one’s communicating effectively.
Without IPAM and network visibility software, your admin team will end up wasting a lot of time trying to document and track IP addresses.
2. Human error
High volumes of IP requests and changes on large networks mean that records require modification almost every minute. Keeping track of all these changes and updating your network documentation manually will lead to mistakes.
The errors might be minor, but they add up and can lead to end-user frustration and network outages.
If the documentation isn’t centralized, that can also cause IP conflicts, which can be difficult to detect without a user reporting the problem. All this is solved with the assistance of an effective IPAM solution because updates are automatic. As a result, the likelihood of errors plummets as records are updated in real-time.
Constantly chasing down these little fires can quickly become expensive and time-consuming, which is why it’s better to address them in advance with quality IPAM.
3. Managing multiple DHCP servers
As the network grows, so will the need for multiple DHCP servers. While often serving different segments, adding multiple DHCP servers to your network does introduce chances for human error and misconfigurations, resulting in issues similar to rogue DHCP servers.
The benefits of IPAM
IPAM offers a wide range of benefits, including a more efficient network and admin team.
1. Centralized information
IPAM creates a centralized repository for all your IP addresses, networks, and subnets. Having all that critical data you need in one place, and knowing it’s accurate and up to date, changes the ballgame. You’ll be able to efficiently manage IP address assignments and know the status of every one.
You’ll also have access to vital information in real-time, including:
- Available IP addresses
- Hostnames associated with IPs
- Devices associated with IPs
- Subnet usage (size and who is using them)
- Temporary and permanent IP addresses
- Default gateway assignment
2. Better overall network administration
A good IPAM solution will also automate various tasks, including DHCP setting configuration and DNS record creation, freeing up valuable time for your team to dedicate to more high-value tasks.
IPAM also provides other functionalities that are essential to effective network management, including reporting.
3. Improved reliability
An IPAM solution reduces the likelihood of problems occurring from the use of manual spreadsheets such as IP conflicts, overlapping subnets, and misconfigurations. It also reduces network downtime and reduces the time needed to identify and solve any issues that may arise.
4. Increased security
Network security is a priority for most organizations, and IPAM helps admin teams better protect the network. IPAM solutions provide data like which IPs are currently in use (and which should not be), what devices they are assigned to, where it is, and who is using it. That can help teams find and identify possible threats, data breaches, and unauthorized devices on the network fast.
5. Ensured compliance
IPAM also helps organizations maintain regulatory compliance, which may require tracking current and historical information on IP addresses. The software provides all the necessary information, including logs and audit trails, without the need for admin teams to do any additional work.
How can IPAM help your network?
IP address management tools are essential for any network, small or large. Even if your network seems small enough to manage manually, a wide range of problems can arise, especially considering the increase in BYOD, IoT, and IoMT.
When you employ IPAM, though, you’re making big improvements to your network in ways you might not think of, including:
- Improved capacity planning
- Simpler transition to IPv6
- Better resource management
- Improved ability to act on data
- Access to the information you need
Improved capacity planning
Without monitoring your IP addresses accurately, you run the risk of running out of IPs. Period. This means no new devices will be able to join the network, causing intermittent connectivity issues. Conversely, the more IP addresses you have on your network, the more you need IPAM to manage them effectively.
A few years ago, I spent a whole morning troubleshooting a network connectivity issue, only to realize the issue was actually IP address exhaustion. Having a better approach to IPAM would have alerted me before a probelm even occurred.
Simpler transition to IPv6
IPv6 addresses employ a 128-bit scheme, whereas IPv4 uses a 32-bit one. As IPv6 is so much more complex than IPv4, admins need tools to manage these addresses—because simply remembering them is no longer feasible (they are basically unreadable to humans).
If you already have an IPAM solution, you’ll find the transition to IPv6 easier, especially since you can track both IPv4 and IPv6 resources using the same tool.
Better resource management
IP addresses are finite, which is why it’s essential to have an efficient system in place to organize and manage them. This is especially true with public IP addresses: they’re not only finite, but cost money as well. Without a good IPAM solution, you’re burning budgets on low-level tasks, ignoring important or potentially critical issues, and never making the move to more proactive network management.
Improved ability to act on data
Collected data is only as valuable as the actionable insights you can derive from it. IPAM solutions allow you to gather the data you need and transform it into those essential insights. It also allows you to manipulate data more efficiently for improved resource and network management.
Access to the information you need
IPAM solutions provide easy access to the information you need when you need it. Many solutions allow you to customize the different alerts you may receive when the situation warrants it, and you can generate reports when necessary. All this boils down to improved network efficiency and improved cost-effectiveness.
What should a good IPAM solution include?
Choosing the right IPAM solution depends on the size of your network and your organization’s needs. You have plenty of options to choose from, each with its own unique features. However, at the very least, your IPAM solution should:
- Automatically track IP addresses, allowing for active management of IPv4 and IPv6 addresses.
- Provide integrated DNS, DHCP, and IP management, meaning active scanning will allow you to find and manage subnets and the associated blocks of addresses.
- Include tools that allow you to track IP address usage and provide alerts and reports to fix IP conflicts, subnet depletion, and inaccurate DNS entries.
- Offer support for multiple vendors to help you save time and minimize errors by being a single platform to manage all your DNS and DHCP servers.
- Allow you to reserve static IP addresses quickly, and to track IP requests for compliance purposes.
- Include API support so your IPAM can easily integrate with other third-party software.
- Cover your entire network, including integration of your virtual environments.
- Provide cloud DNS monitoring to centralize tracking of cloud-based records and spaces.
Avoiding network outages is essential to any business, and the best way to do it is by employing the right tools. No matter how small or large a network, IPAM software is one of the keys to efficient network management. With IPAM solutions, your network will operate seamlessly, but you’ll also be better able to plan and more easily scale your network in step with the growth of your business.