IP Address Management (IPAM) Explained

Posted by Kiley Nichols on May 25, 2023

IP address management (IPAM) plays a pivotal role in network administration, providing the means for organizations to efficiently oversee and distribute IP addresses and subnets. At the heart of every connection made to the internet or a local network lies an IP address—a unique identifier assigned to each device. Subnets, on the other hand, are groupings of these IP addresses, organized within the same network or range.  IPAM streamlines and centralizes the management of these IP addresses, and their subnets, aiding network administrators in maintaining accurate records and avoiding the potential chaos of IP address conflicts.

The History of IPAM

IPAM has its roots in the early days of the internet, when IP addresses were assigned manually. As the internet grew in size and complexity, it became increasingly difficult to manage IP addresses effectively. The first IPAM tools were developed in the late 1990s, providing a centralized system for managing IP addresses. However, early IPAM tools were often expensive and difficult to use, limiting their adoption.

For that reason, management of IP addresses has traditionally been done manually and sometimes is still tracked using spreadsheets. This effort is time consuming, error prone, and simply not scalable. Today it is understood that any network with over 250 devices or users which assigns IP addresses dynamically - any mid-to-large enterprise network - must use an automated IPAM system. These IPAM tools provide a range of features that automate the management of IP addresses. They make it easier to track IP address assignments, manage DNS records, and detect IP address conflicts.

How IP Addresses Work

An IP Address is a series of either numbers (IPv4) or hexadecimal (IPv6) characters that are assigned to every device connected to the internet or a local network. A subnet mask divides an IP address into two parts: the network identifier and the host identifier. The network identifier specifies the network to which the device is connected, while the host identifier identifies the device itself.

There are two types of IP addresses: IPv4 and IPv6. IPv4 addresses are 32 bits long, and are typically written in dotted decimal notation, such as IPv6 addresses are 128 bits long, and are written in hexadecimal notation, such as 2001:0db8:85a3:0000:0000:8a2e:0370:7334.

IP addresses are assigned by internet service providers (ISPs) or network administrators, who manage a pool of network devices. IP addresses can be assigned statically or dynamically. Static IP addresses are manually assigned to devices, while dynamic IP addresses are assigned automatically by a DHCP server.

The Challenges of IP Address Management

IP address management can be challenging for several reasons. Managing IP addresses manually can be time-consuming and prone to errors, such as outdated records. This is especially true for large organizations with hundreds or thousands of devices connected to their network. Secondly, IP address conflicts can occur when two devices are assigned the same IP address, causing network connectivity issues. Managing DNS records can be complex, especially in environments with multiple domains and subdomains. Third, the proper planning and tracking of subnets is vital to growth of any developing network.  Poorly planned subnet usage can lead to overlapping subnets or under utilized subnet space costing companies time and money to correct.

The Benefits of Automating IPAM

By automating IP address management, networking teams eliminate “fat finger” and manual configuration errors and gain full visibility into the state of their organization’s network infrastructure. They can more easily track and display usage information, monitor IP addresses not in use, and Identify traffic outliers that may indicate security issues. 

Smaller organizations or networking teams often start with an open source IPAM tool, such as NetBox. Used by hundreds of organizations and tens of thousands of networking professionals, NetBox acts as a network source of truth so networking teams can automate against it. 

To learn more about enterprise-grade NetBox for IPAM visit https://netboxlabs.com/ipam.

To try out enterprise-grade NetBox for IPAM for free for two weeks, visit https://go.netboxlabs.com/trial.