IP address management takes a back seat - at a cost

Survey shows the technology and best practices around IP address management rank low on many network managers' to-do lists

Misconfigured DNS and DHCP servers can result in unavailable network services and cost companies money. Yet a recent survey shows the technology and best practices around IP address management rank low on many network managers' to-do lists.

International Network Services (INS), a consulting firm and provider of IP address-management products, last month polled about 125 IT managers on their IP address-management practices. A majority of respondents (45 percent) reported they are challenged with accurately allocating IP address space, but said their efforts to improve how they manage IP addresses have been thwarted by other IT projects. Secondly, about 39 percent said the cost of IP address-management products -- available from INS, eTelemetry, Lucent, MetaInfo, Cisco, Blue Cat Networks, Nortel and Infoblox -- is too high to commit budget dollars to commercial products.

Other reasons respondents cited for keeping IP address-management initiatives on the back burner are lack of in-house resources (40 percent), lack of management visibility into IP address-management issues (37 percent) and limited capabilities from existing tools (37 percent).

INS released the findings in a report this week and say the barriers to IP address management have decreased only marginally since the company's 2005 survey on the same subject.

"The results tell us that people know they should be doing better IP address management, but they still aren't able to," says Tim Rooney, director of product management at INS. "The tools need to get less expensive as that is the second-largest barrier to adoption, behind other IT projects."

While industry watchers say security incidents, availability problems or time-consuming manual processes have many customers looking for an easier way to manage their blocks of IP addresses, the INS survey found 42 percent of respondents using spreadsheets and 30 percent using IP address-management software, some of which in the past has been made available free by such vendors as Microsoft, but is typically considered not adequate for today's IP address-management needs at large companies.

"When the supposedly free solutions like Microsoft DHCP or stock ISC Berkeley Internet Naming Daemon (BIND) are compared to the requirements discussed above, their costs become more apparent," Daniel Golding, a senior analyst with the Burton Group, writes in a research report. "Over the past several years, network managers have started to recognize that this approach is unsatisfactory. This dissatisfaction stems from the inability of these piecemeal approaches to adequately meet enterprise network needs."

INS agrees, saying that as more companies look to deploy large-scale VoIP networks, accurate and automated IP address management will become more critical.

"Certainly, a network outage directly related to DNS or DHCP configurations is the main driver for adoption or upgrading the approach to IP address management," Rooney says. "But voice adds a new dimension of complexity to data networks that will be too difficult to keep up with manually."

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