IP addressing is probably the most basic building block of modern networks, including the Internet. Without IP addresses, computers can’t talk to each other. Browsers can’t reach websites. Emails are not delivered and Instant messaging grinds to a halt. Many things we’ve come to take for granted rely heavily on IP addresses to do their magic. But IP addresses are not an unlimited resource. And to get the most out of them, it’s important to manage them properly. For instance—and this is just one example—care must be taken to avoid duplicate IP addresses on a network. Managing IP addresses can turn out to be a huge part of the daily work of many administrators. Fortunately, tools called IP Address Management (or IPAM) systems can help. But how do you find your way around the many tools offered? This is where we come in as we’re about to review the best tools for managing IP addresses.
Before we get to reviewing the best IP address management tools, we’ll first explain IP addresses, what they are and how they work. We’ll also discuss DNS as it is a complementary tool to IP addresses and they both work together. Next, we’ll talk about managing IP addresses, what it means and what the challenges are. And finally, we’ll have a word about DHCP, which can be thought of as an extension of IP address management. Only then will we be ready to review to best IP address management tools.
IP Addresses, What They Are And How They Work
IP addresses are used to uniquely identify each and every device connected to an IP network. This IP network could be your home WiFi network, the network at your place of work or the Internet. Although each of these may be interconnected, they are individual networks. An IP address is in many ways similar to a street address. Its primary purpose is to help in transporting data from an origin to a destination.
IP addresses are binary numbers which are 32 bits long. But since it would be awkward and error-prone to write them in binary, they are split into four chunks of 8 bits each which we usually represent as a suite of 4 decimal numbers between 0 and 255 separated by dots. For instance, the IP address 11000000101010000000000000000001 becomes 192.168.0.1, a much easier to read format.
An IP address is comprised of two parts, the host and the network or, more precisely, sub-network. This has to do with IP routing which is used when sending data to an IP address on a different network—typically a different location. Now, which part of an IP address represents the host and which part represents the network is the most complicated aspect of IP addressing. It is complicated because it left to networks designers and administrators to determine it. The boundary between the subnet, as it is often called, and the host can be at any bit within the address’32.
Communicating what part is subnet and what part is host is another complicated matter. At the beginning of IP addressing, we used what was called classful addressing where certain predefined address ranges had predefined boundaries. For instance, any address starting with 192.168 had 24 bits for the subnet and 8 bits for the host. That worked well but it was not flexible enough so classless addressing started to be used where the boundary can be anywhere.
In order to indicate what part of an IP address is the subnet and what part is the host, two different notation schemes have emerged. The first way is to specify a subnet mask along with the IP address. This is another dotted decimal number where each 1 indicates a subnet position and each zero indicate a host position. For example, the 255.255.255.0 subnet mask indicates 24 bits for the network and 8 for the host. Another notation which is often referred to as classless addressing requires adding a forward slash followed by the number of subnet bits to an IP address. For example, one would write 192.168.0.2 /24.
DNS, A Close Friend Of IP Addresses
IP addresses are great for computers to use to locate each other and exchange data but they are not really user-friendly and easy to remember. At the beginning of IP networking, each computer had a “hosts” file where the correspondence between IP addresses and hostnames were listed. That enabled a user who wanted to connect to a remote computer to use its hostname rather than its IP address.
The Domain Name Service was later created to enable a distributed database of hostname to IP address correspondences. Instead of looking up an address in its local “hosts” file, a computer would query a DNS server which, through a rather simple yet elaborate process, would eventually—within a matter of a few tenths of a second—return the corresponding IP address. IP addresses and DNS work together at enabling computers and their users to easily locate remote systems.
Managing IP Addresses, An Essential Task
Managing IP addresses is among the most important tasks of network administrators. It mainly serves two purposes: making sure each device is assigned an IP address and making sure no IP addresses are duplicated within a network. Back when networks used to be small(er) manually managing IP addresses was the way to go. Administrators typically kept a text file or Excel spreadsheet where each assigned IP address was documented. As networks grew bigger, this method started to show serious shortcomings. For starters, how can you assure that each and every change to the network will be reflected in the documentation? Also, how do you assure or verify that the IP addresses that are configured on devices are those that were assigned? Also, how do you make sure that any change in IP address assignment is added to the local DNS server?
Automating IP Address Management
Automation is the key to avoid many of the issues mentioned above. And this is why IP Address Management, or IPAM, tools were first created. These tools vary greatly in their functionality with the most basic simply being glorified versions of the text files or spreadsheets of yesteryear while others are complete automated systems which will connect with other related systems—such as DNS and DHCP—to offer the most robust of solutions.
A Word About DHCP
The Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol, or DHCP, is also closely related to IP address management. As its name suggests, it is used to automatically configure hosts with the proper IP address and other network interface settings. Computers using the protocol will contact the DHCP server upon startup to get their IP address, subnet mask, default gateway, DNS server(s), and a few more configuration parameters dynamically. Many IP address management tools either include a DHCP server or can communicate with an existing DHCP server, ensuring that the information they contain is what is actually configured on the networked computers.
Our 7 best DDI/IPAM Systems
We’ve searched the Internet for the five best DDI/IPAM systems we could find. Some of the products we found include all three functions in one and can truly be considered DDI systems. Other might not include DNS or DHCP functionalities but they will often integrate with many popular DNS and DCHP server such as those we find on Windows and Linux.
SolarWinds is one of the best-known names in network management. The company makes some of the best tools to assist administrators. Its flagship product, the Network Performance Monitor consistently scores among the top network monitoring tools. SolarWinds is also known for its free tools. The Kiwi Syslog server and the Advanced Subnet Calculator are two such tools.
To manage IP addresses, SolarWinds offer the IP Address Manager. This tool features built-in DHCP and DNS servers but it can also interact with DHCP and DNS server from Microsoft and Cisco so you won’t have to replace your existing infrastructure.
The SolarWinds IP Address Manager lets you allocate IP addresses in different ways. You can, for instance, use reservations for servers and other equipment and use dynamically allocated addresses for workstations. Everything gets seamlessly integrated into the DNS. Furthermore, a setup wizard is included to assist in configuring DHCP scopes.
The SolarWinds IP Address Manager lets you set up user accounts with different access levels. You could, for instance, give only partial access to some junior admins or let managers view the reports but not change anything. The tool’s logging system which records every change with a time stamp and the username of the operator making the change is more than just a nice-to-have, it can help with compliance issues.
Prices for the SolarWinds IP Address Manager are based on the number of managed IP addresses and start at $1 995 for up to 1024 addresses. If you’d rather try the software before purchasing it, a free fully functional 30-day trial version is available.
2. Blue Cat Address Manager
While BlueCat might not be as famous as SolarWinds, it is still one of the industry leaders in the field. The Blue Cat Address Manager is better suited for larger organizations with a network management team. The company’s IPAM system also includes DHCP and DNS functionality but it can also interoperate with DHCP and DNS servers from Microsoft.
The BlueCat Address Manager can work with both IPv4 and IPv6 addresses at the same time. It’s a great tool to use when migrating from one version to the other. The system has workflows and approval chains as well as user accounts with hierarchical rights for the best possible security.
This tool uses a concept called network templates. They enable the administrator to use information layouts that ensure essential tasks cannot be overlooked and that all important data is present. In summary, the BlueCat address manager automates as many network administration tasks as possible. As a result, the risk of a problem caused by human error is reduced.
The BlueCat Address Manager is a premium package so you can expect to pay premium prices but if you’re managing a large network, it is well worth the investment. Detailed pricing information can be obtained by contacting BlueCat.
3. ManageEngine OpUtils IP Address Manager
Next, we have a tool from ManageEngine, another company famous for its network management tools. The OpUtils IP Address Manager provides centralized management of the IP address space and it can handle both IPv4 and IPv6 addresses. Its built-in IP manager software assists network administrators in identifying whether an IP address is available or not. The tool performs periodical scans of subnets and keeps the availability status of IP addresses in each subnet up to date.
The IP Address Manager’s tools can be used to quickly and easily verify whether a particular IP is reserved or available. The tool accepts multiple subnet inputs, which helps in scanning the entire network to get the status of all IP addresses.
Although a free version is available, it is limited to managing a single subnet. While this is enough to give the product a test run, you’ll want to acquire a license to use it. Pricing can be obtained by contacting ManageEngine.
4. Infoblox IPAM & DHCP
The Infoblox IPAM & DHCP system is another software that’s better suited for larger networks. Like other similar-sized systems, it has templates to automate routine tasks. It also comes with some excellent standard reports. And if the existing templates or reports don’t seem to offer what you’re looking for, you are free to customize them at will.
The Infoblox IPAM & DHCP lets managers track the usage of key resources. It also features tracking functions which can help manage DHCP usage more effectively. From a security standpoint, this is a great feature as it also includes the ability to identify out-of-scope addresses and isolate rogue devices. You won’t find that on other systems. It goes to show how Infoblox is as concerned with security as it is with IPAM and has built major safeguards right into its system.
Pricing information for the Infoblox IPAM and DHCP software can be obtained by contacting Infoblox. A free evaluation version of the product is also available from Infoblox.
Our next tool might be from a company that is not as famous as the previous four but don’t let that fool you. GestióIP is an excellent piece of software. And it is free and open-source. The website states that “GestióIP is an automated, web-based IPv4/IPv6 address management (IPAM) software. It features powerful network discovery functions and offers search and filter functions for both networks and host, permitting Internet Search Engine equivalent expressions. This lets you find the information that administrators frequently need easily and quickly.”
What can be added to such an eloquent description? Concretely, this is an excellent system, especially for smaller businesses that might not be able to afford the larger systems such as those from Infoblox or BlueCat. Despite being free, this is a feature-rich tool which has all the functionalities a network administrator might need without the high price. And it does come with a few unique features such as a subnet calculator and an IP address plan builder. This is certainly a package worth looking into.
6. Diamond IP
BT(AKA British Telecom) probably needs no introduction. But not everyone knows that the company makes network administration tools. One of them is the Diamond IP, an IP address management tool. It can facilitate multi-cloud IPAM with virtual appliances for AWS, Azure, Oracle VM, VMware, Hyper-V and others. The tool’s cloud automation feature dynamically automates the assignment and tracking of private and public cloud instance IP addresses and DNS names.
This is a unique tool in that it is available as an appliance, as a software to install on your own hardware or as a cloud-based, fully-staffed managed solution making it ideal for companies with a small IT department or those who don’t have a centralized IT staff. Whichever version you choose, the tool integrates with existing DNS and DHCP services on your network.
Pricing for the BT Diamond IP software can be obtained by contacting the vendor.
7. LightMesh IPAM
Last on our list is a lesser-known product called LightMesh IPAM. This offers the same basic functionality as other IP address management tools. However, a user-friendly and sophisticated GUI allows the tool to stand out among the crowd. This tool not only does a very good job at presenting the data and information in a way that is intuitive and efficient but its functionality is also excellent.
The tool includes IP planning and visualization features, Network discovery, audit history, permissions management with multi-group security permissions. LightMesh IPAM can easily integrate with your existing DNS and DHCP servers to provide you with an integrated IP address management solution with a view of all your IP, DNS, and DHCP information, no matter where it resides.
LightMesh IPAM is subscription-based and prices start at just $200 per month for up to fifty subnets and ten thousand IP addresses and $500 per month for five hundred subnets and a million IP addresses. Furthermore, a free 30-day trial version is available.