Comparing NetBox and Solarwinds IPAM

At a certain point, every network administrator realizes that they need a dedicated IP address management (IPAM) solution.  IP address spreadsheets can do the job for a surprisingly long time.  Yet when networks reach a certain degree of scale and complexity, IPAM spreadsheets start to hurt network administrators more than they help.

When that turning point arrives, administrators have several pathways they can take for IP address management.  Some will want to jump straight to an enterprise scale DNS, DHCP, and IPAM (DDI) solution which integrates all three network services into a single package.

Most network teams, however, aren’t ready to commit to the full DDI package right away.  It can seem like overkill to re-architect your entire network for a DDI solution if getting rid of an IPAM spreadsheet is the only thing you set out to do.  If possible, most admins would rather pursue a separated, modular approach which solves the IPAM challenge in front of them right away.

NetBox vs Solarwinds: Comparing IPAM Software

NetBox and Solarwinds are both attractive options for network teams looking to upgrade their IP address management system without investing in a large-scale DDI package.  Both solutions offer simple, easy to use interfaces.  Both provide an authoritative network source of truth that serves as the basis for automated IP address management.  Both help to eliminate “fat finger” and manual configuration errors that can bring down a network through IP address conflicts.

The main difference between NetBox IPAM and Solarwinds IPAM isn’t what they do.  It’s how they do it.  More specifically, the way that NetBox and Solarwinds deliver automation is a fundamental difference between the two platforms – one that has potentially significant implications for how automation is implemented across the enterprise.

To best explain the difference, it helps to start with what NetBox and Solarwinds actually document.  Solarwinds creates an authoritative network source of truth for the operational state of your IP addresses.  It tells you how things are.  NetBox creates an authoritative network source of truth for the ideal state of your IP addresses.  It tells you how things should be, or how you want them to be.

That seems like a subtle difference, but it’s very consequential for the automation step that builds on that network source of truth.

The automation layer difference

When you enable IP address management with Solarwinds, you’re drawing on a Solarwinds automation layer to implement IP address changes across the network.  That’s why Solarwinds focuses on the operational state – it has to integrate organically with other pieces of their solution which deliver value by telling you what’s happening on the network at any given moment.

By routing changes through its own automation layer, Solarwinds effectively keeps its customers entirely within a Solarwinds-controlled ecosystem.  That’s great if you’re all in on Solarwinds and find value in using their entire network management suite.  It’s not as good if you want to integrate IPAM automation into non-Solarwinds solutions.

NetBox uses third party network automation platforms – Ansible, Terraform, and others – to implement IP address configurations across the enterprise.  Since NetBox focuses on the ideal state of your IP address map, all those automation platforms have to do is ask is, “am I allowed to do this?”

By separating out the automation layer, NetBox allows users to integrate a network source of truth into their larger enterprise platform for automation.  Instead of being restricted by what your IPAM system can automate against, NetBox allows administrators to automate anything and everything against its open architecture and standardized API.

Strategic vs. Operational Focus

There’s also a difference when it comes to the granularity of focus.  NetBox is designed as a strategic planning tool, and as such it organizes IP assets at a relatively broad scale.  If you’re mapping out the entirety of a network, NetBox makes it easy to see the big picture (your ideal state) and adjust that picture to meet your strategic goals.

The Solarwinds IP address management tool is designed for operational management – it focuses on narrower details of IP assets rather than the big picture.  If you’re implementing fine-tuned changes at the subnet level, Solarwinds makes it easy to see and manage those changes.

Learn more about NetBox IPAM.

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