Application of Open Source Scripting Tools for Automated Field Device Configuration

 

Automated Configuration Managers have been some of the most popular automation tools of late. They automate the configuration and updating of network devices, and this allows system and network administrators to focus their precious time on other tasks. Human/user error is also reduced as there is less human input regarding device configuration. This article will detail the application of open source scripting tools for automated device configuration.

Configuration Management Solutions

Configuration management refers to the process of organizing and maintaining management information regarding all the components of a computer network and the devices it contains. When a network device needs repair, modification, upgrading or expansion, the administrator the device configuration management database to determine the best course of action. Automated convenience is the name of the game. Devices save configurations in different formats and finding configuration information can be difficult when configuration or updating is required. With a configuration management system in place, configuration information is stored in a centrally located server, where device configurations can be easily downloaded to the device.

Open Source

Open source tools have also been increasing in popularity over the last several years and have intersected the trajectory path of device configuration management solutions. What this means is lower cost, more efficient solutions for automated device configuration management. This is due in part to the increasing use of Cloud computing, or more specifically, Open Cloud computing.

Open Source Scripting Tools for Automated Configuration Management

There are many device configuration management solutions available, and some of the best are open source. This means that there is generally a free version and a paid version to choose from. Below is a selection of open source scripting tools for automated device configuration management that you should explore if you are looking to add great benefit to your organization’s network.

Puppet

Puppet is one of the best configuration management solutions available today. Written in Ruby, it is an open source configuration management tool that that works on Linux, Unix, and Windows systems. Puppet performs administrative configuration tasks including adding users, installing packages, and updating configurations based on centralized specification and includes its own declarative language (JSON-like). It promises to deliver automation of infrastructure and software management plus delivery all in one platform, at scale.

Puppet boasts a smaller learning curve than other configuration management tools. Administrators that have limited coding knowledge will find that Puppet is a better choice for their configuration management needs than the other tools below.

Puppet performs the following functions:

  • Defining distinct configurations for every host and continuously checking and confirming whether the required configuration is in place and is not altered on the host. If the configuration is altered, Puppet will revert to a required configuration scheme.
  • Providing control over all your configured machines, so a centralized (either a master-server set-up or repo-based set-up) and the change gets propagated to all hosts, automatically.
  • Dynamic scaling-up and scaling-down of devices

Chef Automate

Chef Automate is another open source configuration management tool that many companies such as Facebook has been using to automate their configuration change needs. Chef Automate, which is domain specific, also borrows from the world of literal chefs and calls its configurations “recipes.” This translates into configuration customizations that are only used in the specific domain that they are working in. Chef is the name of the company that makes this tool and they also make Chef, Habitat, and InSpec.

Chef Automate leverages the open source power of Chef (Infrastructure Automation), Habitat (Application Automation), and InSpec (Compliance Automation) to create an information pipeline that crosses both internal and external boundaries allowing it to standardize environments and processes both locally within the Chef data center and in the cloud. This translates to a dynamic automation environment that is incomparably stable that can keep up with your application deployment and infrastructure change needs thereby improving IT functions within your environment.

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In short, Chef Automate allows you to build new environments (including testing) quickly, deploy your changes automatically, and manage your environment to better detect compliance issues. This is all performed under the Chef philosophy of configuration as code which enable the automation of many aspects of IT infrastructure provisioning, software configuration, and maintenance tasks.

CFEngine

CFEngine is another versatile open source scripting tool for automated field device configuration. Claiming the best security record on the market and written in C, CFEngine provides automated configuration and maintenance across your IT environment.

This tool is a bit older than the other tools mentioned above, being first created in 1993 but not commercialized until 2008 causing users to dub it the grandfather of configuration management tools.

Unlike the tools listed above, CFEngine is written in C which means that it has a much smaller memory foot printer, a faster runtime, and far fewer dependencies. CFEngine uses “promises” rather than “recipes” for configuration purposes.

A significant differentiating point for CFEngine is that it uses what is called a desired state model. Instead of gathering all the steps that are required to make a change to a target device, the administrator using CFEngine defines what the final state should look like. CFEngine then performs all the steps required to produce the final state which is called a convergent approach. These final state declarations are built up as promises or policy statements created by the administrator/user.

Users have reported that the learning curve for CFEngine is steep compared to other configuration management tools, because CFEngine requires you to understand the nuances of the different operating systems of the devices that CFEngine manages.

References

https://www.upguard.com/blog/puppet-vs-cfengine

https://searchitoperations.techtarget.com/feature/CFEngine-configuration-management-tool-up-close-and-in-depth

https://www.edureka.co/blog/what-is-puppet/

https://www.chef.io/automate/

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