Half the work of testing a network configuration management tool such as AlterPoint Inc.s DeviceAuthority Suite 3.5 comes before the product is ever installed.
IT managers must have a complete inventory of the make, model and operating system of all network devices, including switches, routers, wireless access points and load balancers.
In addition, testing will be greatly enhanced by documenting in detail the change management process. With an inventory list in one hand and a change management process in the other, IT managers should be able to determine quickly which change management products to bring in based on the support level these products provide for equipment and processes already in use.
The next phase of testing determines how much load the change management tool places on network bandwidth. And most important are tests to determine how much control the operator has over this load. Look for scheduling routines that allow phased rollouts of configurations.
Bandwidth measurements are relatively easy to determine. The impact of a network change management tool on IT processes is much more difficult to determine: This is where the documented change management procedure comes into play.
eWEEK Labs recommends that IT managers first see how well the network change management tool fits in to the existing process. Questions to ask are: "Does the product support the various levels of administrative users that exist in our workplace?" and "Can configurations be created and maintained to the standards already in place in the department?"
During this process, substantial efficiencies over the current method of change management should be readily apparent, and the decision on whether to purchase the product likely will be straightforward.
If process efficiencies are not easily discovered, managers might be tempted to look at the bells and whistles that are included in many change management products. One example of this is reports designed to show compliance with government regulation. However, these types of reports are usually just fancy doodads and not really a justification for investing in a change management tool, absent other compelling features.
For example, although we liked the Sarbanes-Oxley Act reporting tool in DeviceAuthority, there is no clear evidence that SarbOx requires managers to show this level of detail for network devices that merely transport data without storing or acting on the information.
Finally, its important to gauge the size of the job. Use network documentation to determine the correct number and placement of components needed to best support the change management product. Its a lot easier to avoid overspending on a project of this size if IT uses the pilot test to understand the best placement of usually expensive network configuration management components to ensure that only the correct number is purchased to do the job.