Enterprise network managers looking to improve network uptime and optimize performance in their data centers should consider investing in network configuration management tools.These products, says the Yankee Group, can help reduce human error, speed problem resolution and automatically track activity on network devices, providing both management and much-needed security features. According to Yankee Group analyst Zeus Kerravala, who authored a report on the subject last month, network configuration management tools "can provide greater control of change, which leads to better network resiliency, security and scalability."Kerravala cites another Yankee Group survey performed in 2002, which found that in multi-vendor networks (with three or more vendors) 62% of network downtime is due to human error. The research firm also notes that 80% of IT budgets is used for maintenance and operations.These factors should drive network managers to consider network configuration management products from vendors such as AlterPoint, Configuresoft, Gold Wire Technology, Intelliden, Opnet, Relicore, Rendition Networks and Troux, among others. While each has its own delivery model, the vendors offer products that can store, track and automatically update server, router, switch and other network device configuration data. The idea is to automate a typically manual task, speeding the process and reducing the risk of errors.Meta Group analyst Glenn O'Donnell separately says that while the emergence of such products is a good sign of things to come, today's technologies still need some work. While automation can provide great benefits, it can't replace the human brain, he says."For one, there will always be more need to do sanity checks - is this configuration change going to work, or is it a foolish move?'" O'Donnell says. "Each vendor does some of this, but the real needs are immensely complex and will need to expand beyond the networking domain. Since configuration and change management are the very core of all IT functions, we can expect a myriad of such auxiliary (audits, governance and broader access control) purposes from products."Yankee's Kerravala concludes in his report that configuration management is "often overlooked" and says the benefits of configuration management tools are multifold. They can enable network managers to put consistent change management practices in place and incorporate workflow procedures across an enterprise network. Meta's O'Donnell breaks it down further."The best value is a means to automate tasks that are overtly manual. This improves process efficiency through faster execution, it maximizes accuracy by minimizing human error, and it enhances security through tight access controls and configuration audits," O'Donnell says.