Thousands of enterprises use NetBox as their network source of truth. From network automation to IP address management (IPAM) to data center infrastructure management (DCIM), NetBox provides authoritative information about the state of the network to power a wide variety of enterprise software needs.
Every NetBox user faces a basic choice: should they host and manage NetBox themselves, or outsource those functions?
Until recently, self-hosting was the only option for NetBox. Yet now NetBox Labs has rolled out NetBox Cloud, both current and prospective NetBox users have the ability to turn hosting and management over to a third party.
Every company is different, and every network administrator has to consider the business requirements behind this key decision. In this post, we’ll compare the self-hosted option to NetBox Cloud, providing some context and considerations.
The Math Behind Hosting NetBox
There are three ways to deploy NetBox: fully on-prem, in your own cloud environment, or via NetBox Cloud.
If you’re going to host NetBox on-prem, then the operating cost of memory and storage comes from CapEx funding you’ve already spent. Then there’s the cost of administering, maintaining, securing, and (in the long term) replacing those assets. Just because those funds are laundered through departmental budgets doesn’t mean that the total operating cost is zero. It’s just difficult to separate out into a discrete line item.
It’s also worth mentioning that it takes time to set up and configure a self-hosted NetBox instance. Here’s what one NetBox Cloud customer told us: “The decision to use NetBox as SaaS vs on premises has worked out well for us. We were able to consume it right away. We don’t have to worry about installation or upgrades. Even though we have appropriate infrastructure, using NetBox as a cloud service was a big motivating factor for us.”
Maybe you want to host NetBox in a cloud instance that you own. In that case, you’ll need to spin up a CPU with enough RAM and storage to run NetBox. In the beginning, it’s probably not going to cost that much – NetBox doesn’t need a ton of resources to run a basic instance.
Yet over time, storage costs start to mount and more memory will probably be needed as well. Then there are all the bells and whistles (backups, reporting, load balancing), which can cause the cost of any hosted application to balloon pretty fast. And of course, you still have to manage it all.
NetBox Cloud is priced by tier according to the features you need, not by usage or consumption. If you need additional features like SSO, HA or auto-scaling, you can simply switch them on instead of going through a lengthy engineering process. Plus, you don’t need to manage the instance anymore. Which leads us to…
The Math of NetBox Management
Lots of tools are free, but any network admin will tell you that the care and feeding for any piece of software can add up quickly. NetBox is no different.
During the NetBox set-up process, you’re going to have to spin up and configure resources on a server to run the software. Those resources will require occasional care and feeding over time.
There’s a maintenance cost that comes with keeping NetBox up to date. As a dynamic, open source project, NetBox goes through frequent version changes as new features are added and bug fixes are addressed. If you’re self-hosting, each version change prompts a chain of decisions with potentially significant resource consequences.
You have to decide whether you want to upgrade or not. Then you have to look at how that upgrade might impact other services or integrations. Maybe you spin up the new version in a test environment to try it out first. During testing you may encounter, then need to resolve, upstream dependencies that the new version introduces. Then you have to schedule the upgrade to minimize disruption. Then there’s the upgrade itself, which usually involves more configuration work. Then you have to troubleshoot any integration issues once the upgrade is complete.
Many of those steps are relatively minor investments of time, and not every version of NetBox will result in an upgrade. Yet the sheer fact that they need to be done (and on a fairly regular basis) necessarily distracts from other, more important tasks. It’s not just the direct cost of network team effort and time. It’s also the opportunity cost of what else those hours could be spent on.
We’ve spoken to many teams who are implementing network automation across the enterprise. These teams are typically trying to claw back the time that they spend on manual processes as the business demands around them increase. Their time would be better spent “digging themselves out” of their manual processes by implementing network automation than administering NetBox instances.
With a hosted, managed solution like NetBox Cloud, much of the grunt work is done for you. You’ll always have the latest version at the click of a button, and the ability to restore a previous version should you change your mind. You offload the opportunity costs of network management, and get the peace of mind you need for a mission critical piece of software.
If you’re running NetBox yourself, you have access to NetBox’s huge and welcoming community for any support questions you have. Sometimes that’s enough, but not always. With NetBox Cloud, you have access to NetBox Labs support which can provide expert help on specific issues quickly.
Non-math Reasons to use NetBox Cloud
Not everything in the NetBox hosting equation comes down to price. There are qualitative and human factors that should be considered as well.
Turnover and institutional memory play a significant role in the long-term viability of a NetBox deployment. We’ve come across plenty of users who depend on NetBox every day, but are stuck with an older version that was set up by a contractor or former employee. They get trapped in a situation where they need and want to upgrade, but don’t have the information or access they need to do it effectively.
Skillset deficits are another factor that often arise with self-hosted instances of NetBox. Not every network team, or server/application team for that matter, has a Linux expert. Most don’t have the time to learn a significant new skill like that while putting out the fires that pop up during the course of everyday business. Many are also trying to carve out time to focus on network automation initiatives. There simply aren’t enough hours in the day.
In both of these cases, a NetBox Cloud acts as a form of insurance. You don’t need to worry about losing technical expertise on your team – all of that work is done on your behalf.
The value of NetBox Cloud isn’t just about hosted versus non-hosted. Feature access is a key factor as well. Enterprise capabilities like SSO support, test environments, high availability, and region-specific hosting are only available through the NS1-provided versions of NetBox Cloud. In most large companies, these are must-haves. Hosting, application support, and version maintenance just comes as a bonus.
Every network is different, and every network team is going to approach its NetBox deployment differently. In many situations, self-hosted (either on-prem or in the cloud) ends up being a fine solution. In others, a hosted, managed version of NetBox provides the value, ease of use, and peace of mind that make it worthwhile.
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