Network Configuration, Monitoring and Management Explained

Network configuration entails setting up your network to support local or remote network communication. This configuration allows for wired or wireless connection and entails the installation of network hardware, software, and devices.

In this article, let’s take a look at network configuration, including the benefits, various types and tools, and how to monitor and manage the network.

What is network configuration?

A network is a connection between at least two systems or devices. Network configuration is the process of setting a network's policies, flows and controls to enable communication over the network infrastructure.

To explain better, let's start with a simple analogy:

You can easily access the internet through various wired or wireless networks, such as a router, Wi-Fi, or cellular network. Your internet provider has set up these networks to enable you to communicate with the internet through your device, such as your mobile phone. Because of this configuration, your internet provider can assign IP addresses to a variety of components on the network, including:

  • The host (you)
  • Routers
  • Switches
  • Gateways

This configuration will include setting up access lists and software installations on hosts and servers, as well as network controls, flow, operation, and security settings. In a nutshell, you can describe the network configuration as the layout of your communication network.

The importance of network configuration

Yes, network configuration is necessary for an organization's operations, IT efficiency, and connectivity—and there are several more reasons you shouldn’t overlook it.

Network configuration introduces visibility, traceability, and accountability into your network system. Because networks are constantly changing, tracking and reporting traffic flow over the network is vital to maintaining their stability. By properly configuring your network, you can:

In addition to improving network stability, network configuration contributes to network security and compliance. With a model network configuration, you can enhance agility, troubleshooting, and security processes. This reduces the chances of security breaches and downtime — and you can quickly recover when they occur.

Neglecting network configuration exposes your network's software and hardware to various risks while depriving end-users of a seamless experience, especially as your networks get more complex.

The role of configuration files

Data is stored in configuration files (config files) and databases in a network. Configuration files are editable files that store information about the user, server's hostname, infrastructure, application, settings, parameters, external service credentials, and much more. Consequently, they allow you to:

  • Manage the parameters
  • Tailor your environment
  • Govern your network's behavior

Although config files are structured in various formats, some standardized forms are YAML, JSON, TOML, and INI. 

Network configuration files are found in the /etc directory. Here, you will find several standard config files, like the /etc/hosts. The following are examples of network configuration files:

  • /etc/hosts are used to map IP addresses to their hostnames.
  • /etc/resolv.conf defines the Domain Name System (DNS servers) and the search domain to use.
  • /etc/sysconfig/network maps host information to your network interfaces.
  • /etc/protocols define your networking protocols, which define how devices exchange data across networks. Some examples include simple network management protocol (SNMP), internet control message protocol (ICMP), and much more.
  • /etc/services store information that clients' applications use.

Because these files define essential processes of your network operations, config files must appropriately manage them. Regular backups, versioning, and comparing configuration file updates can all help with this. By doing this, you can track, compare, and restore previous working versions, receive notifications, and detect harmful activity early.

Types of network configurations

Although there’s no set number of network configuration types, here are the six most common:

  • Local Area Network (LAN). LAN is a widespread network type, especially in businesses and organizations. It’s a private network system that connects multiple devices, making it perfect for corporate networks. 
  • Personal Area Network (PAN). PAN is a small network that connects one person to several other networks. For example, your Bluetooth connection is a PAN. 
  • Metropolitan Area Network (MAN). MAN is a network system that spans several miles, like a college campus. Although it allows data to be sent and received simultaneously, it is very security vulnerable.
  • Storage Area Network (SAN). SAN is a local network that can handle massive data transfers quickly within server-to-server and processor-to-processor applications. Therefore, it makes data retrieval and storage fast and easy.
  • Enterprise Private Network (EPN). Organizations usually use EPN to connect and share resources across multiple servers and locations securely.
  • Virtual Private Network (VPN). Privacy and security are key features of this network. It encrypts your data when connecting to other networks via a private network's virtual connection. Thus, it's ideal for sending or receiving sensitive data.

Tools for network configuration

While various network configuration tools and managers can help you manage your networks, choosing the proper one isn't always easy. However, choosing the right one for your organization will let you focus more on other business tasks.

Ideally, it’s best to get a tool that offers you total visibility and insight into your networks—a tool that lets you be proactive with a fast troubleshooting strategy and configuration adaptability from a single administrative panel.

Monitoring network configuration

Network monitoring involves managing all the devices within a network and your network efficiency. To ensure that your network functions properly, you must monitor everything from network performance and traffic to security, backups, and configuration changes.

Now, let's look at network monitoring practices that help you achieve unified monitoring across your network.

Define what you’ll track

First, determine the networks, devices, and metrics you want to track. Uptime, throughput, IP, CPU usage, error rates, disk space, and bandwidth usage are just a few of the network performance metrics available. Generally, any network device that generates data can be monitored. 

In addition to the hardware layer of your network, you have the software layer of your network to consider. This layer checks network data flow within your network environment using network protocols like DNS, SNMP, and ICMP. If you monitor all of these, you can rest assured that your network is healthy and working at its best.

Choose the right tools

Next, you'll need a tool to monitor network traffic and analyze performance natively or other network monitoring tools. While various network configuration tools and managers can help you manage your networks, choosing the proper one isn't always easy. However, choosing the right one for your organization will let you focus more on other business tasks.

Ideally, it’s best to get a tool that offers you total visibility and insight into your networks — a tool that lets you be proactive with a fast-troubleshooting strategy and configuration adaptability from a single administrative panel.

(See how Splunk offers full-stack, end-to-end visibility.)

Network configuration management & reducing the costs

Reducing the cost of network configuration management is all about identifying ways to manage your networks in a less labor-intensive, error-prone way — without compromising security and configuration policy compliance. This can be accomplished by incorporating automation, agile processes, and DevOps cultures into network configuration management. 

Network automation

Network automation offers scalability and reduces the possibility of human error in your process. Additionally, network automation can help you

  • Save time
  • Prevent disruption
  • Improve network performance across your routers and firewalls from various vendors

You should know that network automation goes beyond automating configuration changes. Instead, network automation involves automating most ITOps workflows through DevOps concepts. These DevOps concepts include configuration testing, security vulnerability checking, intent-based configuration, version control, deployments, automated alerts, pre-check, and post-check process support.

By introducing these Ops concepts, you can:

  • Implement changes without breaking and restructuring the entire network infrastructure.
  • Roll back changes via version management
  • Have more effective security testing by using security instances, automated tests, and vulnerability checks

Network as code

Network as code is a relatively new concept that explores the transition to a DevOps strategy for networks. It embodies the DevOps philosophy, which treats our network infrastructure as code

Network as code involves having standardized configurations in a templated format with source control and transforming the network configuration process. A few peeks include consistency, scalability, network stability, traceability, and accountability.

Managing network configs

When striving to achieve business goals, network engineers frequently neglect the relevance of network configuration and miss the big picture. Configuring your network involves much more than simply setting it up. It's all about managing your network in a flexible and agile way to ensure that everything runs smoothly and securely for your end-users.

What is Splunk?

The original version of this blog was published by Ifeanyi Benedict Iheagwara. Ifeanyi is a data analyst and Power Platform developer who is passionate about technical writing, contributing to open source organizations and building communities. Ifeanyi writes about machine learning, data science and DevOps, and enjoys contributing to open-source projects and the global ecosystem.

This posting does not necessarily represent Splunk's position, strategies or opinion.

Stephen Watts
Posted by

Stephen Watts

Stephen Watts works in growth marketing at Splunk. Stephen holds a degree in Philosophy from Auburn University and is an MSIS candidate at UC Denver. He contributes to a variety of publications including CIO.com, Search Engine Journal, ITSM.Tools, IT Chronicles, DZone, and CompTIA.