Cisco Systems on July 31 let the next shoe drop in its bid to raise its stature as a management software provider to its networking customers when it launched its Proactive Automation of Change Execution suite.
The suite, made up of both products and services, is aimed at helping the network operations team implement a more mature change management process that can map to the regulatory requirements of Sarbanes-Oxley Act, HIPAA and other industry-specific regulations.
Rather than focus specifically on the automated network configuration management capabilities it acquired through its deal with Opsware, Cisco opted to broaden its approach to help solve several problems.
Cisco customers now are grappling with best-practices policy and regulatory compliance implications for the network while struggling with increased complexity in the network for handling new types of traffic.
At the same time, many network operations groups are still performing manual configuration changes, where "even small errors can cause problems," said Karen Sage, director of marketing at Cisco in San Jose, Calif.
"We also heard a lot of concern from customers about being squeezed to death by auditors, who require expensive documentation of processes," she added.
"This allows us to make changes with a lot more confidence. These are a set of tools and expert systems validating configuration changes across the network and at a network element level," said Cliff Meltzer, senior vice president of Ciscos network management technology group.
"You can find erroneous conditions across multiple switches and routers that you dont see looking at a single network element," he added.
The PACE set of tools and services address those problems by providing secure and centralized access to changes, and by providing a consistent view across configuration changes in the network.
They also provide for controlled automation of bulk changes. And they provide pre- and post-validation of changes to insure they dont violate policies.
"For example, if you were a university with a medical department, [validation could] make sure the communication of medical data was encrypted at the right interfaces," Sage said.
"They also act as a synchronization point to make sure each change made takes full consideration of what was done before in a very organized manner," Meltzer added.
The tools in the suite include the CiscoWorks Network Compliance Manager, based on the Opsware automated configuration management technology; the Cisco Configuration Assurance Solution, which provides advanced analytics and modeling for change scenarios; and a new release of the CiscoSecure ACS (Access Control Server) with tighter password control.
The suite also adds integration with the CiscoWorks LAN Management Solution, allowing it to reside on the same server with the other tools in the suite and share data.
On the services side of the equation, Cisco has created for the suite three consulting services.
Those include operations consulting services, technical consulting services and deployment services.
The aim of the suite is not only to insure regulatory compliance, but to improve operator productivity and improve network availability by reducing configuration errors that cause outages.
Although PACE is initially focused on preventing mistakes that cause outages or compliance issues, Cisco intends to broaden its focus to be able to integrate with an enterprise configuration management database so that "it ties into the entire IT management system," said Sage.
PACE is due July 31.