Hands-on Report -Net LineDancer, a Network Configuration Management

A Tool Helping Novice Engineers Manage the Network

LogicVein, Inc. a leading NCCM vender,has now introduced Net LineDancer V13.08 to network management arena.

Since it is software aimed at enterprise-class switches and routers from vendors such as Cisco and Other network device venders, we have difficulties preparing those expensive devices, which led us to their office where the sufficient testing environment is available. In this article, we describe the impressive tool in Net LineDancer that they introduced in their demos and I played with.

Net StreetDancer, a free version of Net LineDancer network management software.

First of all, we will briefly describe Net LineDancer itself. It first collects the device configurations from various network devices (routers and switches) in the network and stores them into its database.
Then, we control the software via a browser GUI and it runs some config-related maintenance batch operations like backup and compare, which, without Net LineDancer, would be done via the command line interface.
It is capable of managing a large number of devices, e.g. it at least supports 50 devices at the least expensive license.

Net LineDancer Custom Field

These are the test devices at LogicVein.inc used for the demonstration.
LogicVein says that it is able to manage the configurations in these different devices from a user-friendly unified interface.

Control Everything in a Web Browser

In the demo, we were instructed from the very factory state and saw how the devices are registered, how to set the login password for the devices, how to take a backup of the configuration and so on. Finally, they demonstrated the comparison feature, which compares the old and new configurations.

In the comparison, changes are highlighted in red, yellow and green, which means deletion, change and addition respectively, much like colordiff convention.
However, with this software, we don't have to run a diff manually and the user is not required to switch to the shell prompt because the Net LineDancer automates the process.
Overall, it provides a good integrated GUI where almost all operations can be done in a browser.
Thanks to the integration, all changes are logged and backed up.
This is a great advantage when you have to let a novice administrator manage the network for two reasons. Firstly, you can easily know when and how the wrong configuration was made, because every management log is stored in the database and you can track down the cause of problem quickly. Secondly, you can easily fall back to the previous configuration. Restoring backup data is done in one-click in Net LineDancer.

Net LineDancer Configuration Mismatch feature

What they call a Configuration Diff screen. Deletion, change and addition are highlighted in a different colors

Their claim that everything that can be done in the browser GUI is best described by the behavior of a pane which shows the commands running in the devices.
Other management tools usually hide the information sent to/received from the device, and claims that it is user friendly. However, Net LineDancer focuses on a different aspect – it shows the critical part of the operations and help the users understand the network management.


Scaling Up Management with Templates and Variables – Smart Change

In actual operation, the problem inhibiting scalability of managing a network is that different devices require different configuration values.
For example, if you put a network device in each branch of your company, you have to assign a unique IP address and a device name to each router, switch etc. Managing those variations with a custom shell scripting language might be possible, but maintaining such a script requires a large effort and depends on the ability of an experienced engineer, both of which may well be a cause of trouble.

Net LineDancer offers template-based management of the configurations, a feature called Smart Change, where you can assign values to template variables.
You can build a template for the configuration and assign a value in each variable. Since you can reuse the template among devices, sending the management commands become much easier.

According to LogicVein, Net LineDancer actually reduced the management effort at NTT Data SMS corp., a company which manages the networks of its customers.

Each customer has its own local network, and eventually the number of devices is very large. Also, there are sometimes the same IP addresses in the different local networks, which makes things complicated. However, Net LineDancer provides a good support for making a distinction between the IP addresses in each local network.

Net LineDancer Smart Change

With the aid of Smart Change, building custom configurations is easy

Improved Security via Terminal Proxy

High security standard may be the important aspect for most network management companies, and one feature in Net LineDancer is said to improve the security. It is called Terminal Proxy, a feature which provides a connection proxy. Users can remotely log in to each device through Net LineDancer which automatically feeds the login name and password into the prompt for the user.

Not only does it make the login easier and faster, it improves the security because the username and password never flows through the network (and world-wide-web). Also, the commands that are entered within the session are stored into the database and the command history can be reviewed in the browser interface.

An interesting actual use case of this feature is performed by Softbank TeleComm Corp., which provides network connections management service for the enterprises. With Net LineDancer, it centralizes the access to the network devices in enterprises including LogicVein.

One day, a network error occured in their network, and the drill-down analysis on the log files successfully helped in finding the cause. Also, since the passwords are fed by Net LineDancer, the administrators in Softbank Telecomm did not have to know the login passwords in each of the enterprises – they just have to know the login passwords of Net LineDancer instances and NOT the device passwords, avoiding access to the critical security information in each company.

Net LineDancer Terminal Proxy Feature

The result of the operations can be reviewed on Net LineDancer.
Login authentication in each device is done by Net LineDancer. Login / Logout history is stored in the database.

Zero-Touch Allows the Remote Initialization of the Device

One feature that also sounds interesting is Zero-Touch. When a system engineer initialize a network device, they usually have to fly to the remote base that the device is going to work.

However with this feature, they just have to send a device, tell someone (not necessarily a engineer) to plug it into the network and run a command on Net LineDancer in their office. LogicVein actually demonstrated the feature in front of us, and I honestly felt this is quite useful.

For example, Sega Corp. is using this feature extensively in maintaining its entertainment centers with lots of slots and gaming devices. Upon building an international network service in those centers called ALL.net, they used to send an engineer each time a new center opens. Now they only have to use the Zero-Touch feature in their office.

LogicVein also said that, though the actual company names were not provided, many convenience-store companies and mobile network providers are also interested in this feature.

Net LineDancer Linkage with NMS

Sending a configuration for initialization. As of now, only Cisco routers are supported by this feature, according to LogicVein.

Summary: Let Newbies Try Management, and it is now SAFE!

After the demonstration, we got a good impression of the awesome features of Net LineDancer that ease the commonplace inconveniences in large-scale network management.

Though similar products already exist, they are usually made by companies outside Japan, so the companies using the devices made in Japan will benefit from this product because of their good support for YAMAHA, NEC and Fujitsu devices.

The price is not a "bargain sale" because it is for the enterprises

but they also offer a monthly license

called "cloud version", which is a reasonable candidate for a trial. Also, a 30-day free trial version is available on their website, so you can try it now by yourself before asking the management.

Network devices are sometimes maintained by a single experienced engineer who writes their own scripts to automate management. In these cases, Net LineDancer is not necessarily a candidate of choice. However, when such an engineer quits the job or moves to the different department, you would notice the importance of the product with a friendly interface, a product that allows average or even below-average engineers to manage large networks safely and efficiently.
The description of the product and its trial version, both on their website, are must-checks.

Net LineDancer can create reports on devices, inventory, configurations, and more. Separate reports can easily be created for each of your customers' networks as well as specific subsets of your inventory.

Download free 30-day trial to feel how much netLD can do to manage network configurations!

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