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If you consider yourself as a novice to networking or Cisco equipments, then you should use the GUI (Graphical User Interface), SDM, or any Web Interface configuration tool that is available already in the Cisco equipments to configure.
However a lot of time Cisco Web Interface has bugs and somewhat unreliable. In addition, the Web Interface may or may not available in the equipment or are uninstalled. Also, you can only configure basic feature when using Web Interface.
The most direct and reliable way to configure Cisco equipments is always using CLI (Command Line Interface). For those who are novice to networking or Cisco equipments, most of the time it would be overwhelming when configuring Cisco equipments using CLI for the first time.
No worries! Check out this forum FAQ. There are also topics how revive the SDM when it is not working; even the very basic step to CLI introduction as follows.
»Cisco Forum FAQ »The most straight-forward way to configure Cisco router: Introduction to CLI
»Cisco Forum FAQ »Straight-forward way to configure Cisco PIX Firewall/ASA: Introduction to CLI
»Cisco Forum FAQ »My SDM/CRWS (web configuration mode) doen't work. How do I revive it?
Explore all topics on FAQ. In no time, you should have your Cisco equipments up and running.
Network Device Configuration Management
In a network where there are multiple network devices such as multiple routers, switches, and firewalls; there are alternatives of how to configure them. One traditional way to log into each device and configure it. When you have to configure multiple devices, sometime it is preferred to just log in once and push the configuration to multiple devices simultaneously to minimize human error and to save time, especially when same exact command lines are applied.
Should there be a need to push same exact command lines to multiple network devices, having a centralized configuration manager software is preferred. In some organizations (typically large organizations), using such software is a must or even required as a standard implementation procedure.
Basically what the configuration manager software does is logging into all of those network devices, enter the command lines, and save the configuration; typically similar to manual configuration. The advantage of using such centralized configuration manager software are removing the need of doing tedious manual redundant configuration to multiple network device, faster command implementation, and reducing chances of human error typing incorrect commands.
Further, the centralized configuration manager software is able to store or backup current configuration of all network devices to some servers automatically. When the software never backs up the configuration from specific network device, the software considers the network device as newly-implemented device and stores the configuration as new device.
When the software ever backs up the configuration at least once from such network device, the software compares the current configuration with the stored configuration. If the configurations are identical line by line and word by word (verbatim), then the software assumes no configuration changes are in place hence the software does not back up the current configuration. Should the current configuration not be identical as the stored configuration, then the software assumes configuration changes are in place hence the software backs up the current configuration and time stamps the configuration to identify that by such date different configuration is detected and recorded.
Such process of comparing and backing up configuration can be done automatically or manually. When you like the software to do such process automatically, you will need to set the software to do so on every same time (i.e. every day, every Tuesday, or so). You also have a choice to set the software to just do such process outside preset time by manually choose the time and the device.
The advantage of storing network device configuration is to keep track what configuration changes have been done on specific network device since the network device in question is in place. From operation perspective, it would be much simpler to reverse any network configuration changes on network devices should the configuration changes not behave as expected. From configuration management perspective, it would be easier to track what date the configuration changes are in place on specific network device and by whom.
Depending of the software features, a centralized configuration manager software could be able to check if configuration on network devices comply with standard or contain command lines that might present network security risk. Some software only work on specific network devices from specific vendor, and some other software work on many network devices from wide range of vendors.
There are many centralized configuration manager software available out there. Some organizations use Kiwi Cat Tools which is light, simple to use, and affordable enough. There are also solutions from Solarwinds, Cisco, HP, or even free UNIX-based open source. Check out the following thread for more info.
»Network Config Management